Which is most important, compliance or engagement?

by Steve Wyckoff on March 4, 2010

Compliance or engagement, which is most important? I am often concerned when educators talk about engagement that they are actually talking about compliance. Let me give you an example. I’ve seen several surveys that purport to measure engagement but when you look at what they measure they talk about students who get to class on time, students who turn in their homework, students who don’t miss school, and students to do their homework. To me those are all issues of compliance, students are doing what they’re told, when they are told, and how they are told.

Engagement on the other hand is much more about students that are so involved in what they’re doing that they lose track of time. So involved that they spend evenings and weekends working on schoolwork, not because they’re required to but because they want to.

But the most important issue around compliance and engagement is how well our students being prepared for their future. Students who are compliant are being perfectly prepared for algorithmic jobs. Those are the jobs that have established processes and procedures that lead to a defined correct outcome. That’s exactly what we prepare kids for in schools. Look at standardized tests, we want students to know exactly the right steps to come up with exactly the right answer. Algorithmic.

On the other hand, those jobs that don’t have established processes and procedures that don’t lead to one correct outcome make up about 70% of the new jobs being created in America. Yet in most schools little or no time  is spent with students in preparation for this heuristic types of work. Again, if you look at standardized tests they in no way reflect heuristic thinking.

So which is important compliance or engagement? Obviously the answer is engagement. Yet it’s not what we’re doing in schools. If we are going to prepare students for the 21st century  it’s important that they become self-directed, and problem solvers. And I don’t mean problems that have a well-defined process with one correct answer. For our students, having an educational system that is algorithmic by nature is boring and irrelevant. One of the keys to school change will be to quit focusing on standardized tests and instead preparing our kids for their future. That will mean making the educational experience heuristics in nature, not algorithmic. – Steve Wyckoff

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