Milan, Italy. Wikimedia Commons


A Latin and Greek teacher at the Berchet High School in Milan, Elisabetta Cassani speaks of obedience at school: “If there’s no goal, if you’re not trying to get anywhere, obedience has no meaning”
Paolo Perego

Never as in these times has the concept of obedience appeared marginal–if not ignored–when speaking of school. Is this truly so?
The structure of the public school as an institution, in conformance, I believe, with the general disorientation of meaning characterizing our world, tends to substitute obedience with compulsion. We’re all somewhat governed by a mentality that sees obedience as synonymous with compulsion. Using the pretext that we have to keep to the protocol, we defend ourselves from having to engage ourselves as persons.

Why this disengagement?
There’s no obedience without freedom, nor without a goal; obedience is functional to an objective. If there’s no goal, if you’re not trying to get anywhere, obedience has no meaning. This is a primary aspect of the educative paralysis immobilizing our schools. By dint of preaching neutrality, theorizing the absence of absolute values, a teacher can’t then demand obedience. The “neutral school” isn’t capable of proposing a goal, educating, and at this point it also becomes impossible to exert compulsion, as we’ve all seen in recent episodes.

Thus, the “neutral school” does not educate and harms the student.
Not only. There is loss of credibility for the teacher who can’t in-segnare, the Italian word for teach, with the root of in + a sign, can’t show that reality is a sign. Refusing to explicate his own position in the name of a nonexistent and abstract freedom, he refuses to be authoritative but, in so doing, also finds himself deprived of authority, because he’s established a setting of relativism in which things no longer have incontrovertible evidence.

Why should a student obey?
I believe that precisely the educative relationship realized in teaching convinces the student of how greatly obedience is in his own best interests. As we know, education is openness to reality; thus, it implicates a cordial listening and following of the directions that reality itself places before us–something that happens in an educative journey. The student experiences freedom when he passes from compulsion to obedience. In the final analysis, for example, he knows well that it’s to his advantage to come to school and engage positively in his studies, but he needs someone who supports him in this initially fragile conviction. Without any rules, even though at times they may seem suffocating, you can’t attain freedom. But observance of the rules must be supported by the affectionate human presence of a “master,” a teacher/mentor who is the first to recognize their validity. For the master, for example, this means obeying those he has in front of him. Obeying my work as a teacher means, for example, not demanding that all the students attain a pre-established standard, but acknowledging that each one must be able to express himself according to his own history.