It’s the system, stupid

Research has shown that if a good person is put in an unethical environment, the environment will dominate over the individual.

This quote, from Peter Dean, sums up the need for system change to make lasting change – addressing causes not just symptoms.

Gary Stager, in The Pulse, discusses the well-known Milgram Experiments, conducted in the 1960’s to see how far people would go in administering electric shocks to learners. These experiments were recently replicated by ABC News and Stager picks up the direct link to public education [please read the whole article]:

One of the subjects in the television program was a 7th grade teacher who explained that she didn’t stop shocking the learner because as a teacher she had learned when a student’s complaints were phony. I thought to myself, “Has she electrocuted many students?”

The teacher asked the researcher, “There isn’t going to be any lawsuit from this medical facility, right?” When told that the teacher was not liable, she replied, “That’s what I needed to know.” It is however worth noting that this was after she induced the maximum shock and the learner demanded that the experiment be terminated.

This is why we need to change the entire system – constraining curriculum; compulsory testing; useless homework; irrelevant subjects; classrooms cut off from the world; systemic bullying; etc. More or better teachers won’t help; we need to change the system.

5 Responses to “It’s the system, stupid”

  1. anonymous

    This woman isn’t a product of our education system. She’s a product of America.

  2. Karyn Romeis

    It could. It would. Anywhere. Everywhere.

    The original shocking experiment was conducted in Germany. Follow-up experiments were conducted to explore what made Germans more predisposed to inflict fatal shocks upon fellow human beings. Surprise, surprise – it turned out they were no more or less likely than any other nation.

    But perhaps Anonymous is not entirely wrong: this woman isn’t a product of the education system. She’s a product of society.

  3. Dave F.

    I don’t want to get too tangential or too heavy, but nothing about unethical environments is location-dependent.

    At the Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation in Lyon, France, I read this quotation from Primo Levi (my translation):

    What we must know, what we must remember, is that when Hitler and Mussolini spoke in public, they were believed, applauded, admired. The ideas they proclaimed were in the main aberrant, stupid, cruel — yet they were praised and followed right up to their deaths by thousands of followers. These followers were not, with few exceptions, monsters; they were everyday people, ordinary people, ready to believe and to obey without question.

    ….That which has happened could happen again.


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