Power and conformity

There is a line in the movie “The Interpreter” in which, referring to the fictional dictator Edmond Zuwanie, a U.N. representative says, “They all begin as liberators, and twenty minutes later they’re as corrupt as the tyrants they overthrow.”

We’ve all heard the expression that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  I wish I could say I don’t believe it; that it isn’t true.

Unfortunately most of the evidence points to humans being poorly equipped to handle power while remaining open-minded, diplomatic and just.

Liberators turned dictators are only one example.  The Puritans came to the New World for religious freedom and once they had it, persecuted anyone who did not conform to their beliefs.   Burned them at the stake as witches, even.   Our modern day Tea Party chastises any conservative politician who dares to work with the Democrats – Richard Luger is but one example of an intelligent, respected Senator who the Tea Party vilified & ousted based on his willingness to compromise.   He simply didn’t conform to their strict “no compromise” standards.

The ability of power to corrupt can be seen on every level,  even on a local scale, in businesses and schools.

Power and the demand for conformity go together.   Without conformity, power is threatened.  Democracy is supposed to mitigate this by not allowing anyone absolute power.   When done properly, it works.

Often it is not done properly, and the scary thing is that we as a society seem by and large not to recognize that fact.   We have gotten to the place where conformity is seen as righteous – those who don’t conform whether by design or by chance are to be feared, banned or cut down.   More often that not people look at censorship and say “Well they [the censored person] must have done something to deserve it.”

In my personal life I see this connection between power and conformity played out most often in the realm of education, and in fact I think that schools are a large contributor to our ‘conformity is always good’ cultural mindset.   As unschoolers, we are the radical fringe; we do not conform and our kids learn that just because someone is in power it doesn’t always mean they are right.

My recent exit from the Badass Teachers Association, which I wrote about on UnschoolingNYC,  happened due to the fact that a group that was built on inclusiveness and innovation took less than three months to become all about conformity.   Questions about why a certain thread was censored or why a certain person was banned were rebuffed.

Of course, Facebook is no democracy and group admins can do whatever they want, but I would hope that any group stating to be all about improving education would not practice censorship of those who share that goal.

So what to do?   Well, in the case of the BATs, the only thing to do is move on.   They’ve become as myopic as the people they seek to defeat, so I’ll leave them to it.

And in general?  I believe the more we can seek to encourage kids to learn outside of school and to not buy into the belief that conformity is always the righteous path, the better all of our futures will be.

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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