You blew into the straw and bubbles emerge from the other end which is placed within a solution – what we commonly call ‘limewater’ (essentially a diluted aqueous solution of calcium hydroxide). And some powdery substance seem to appear in the solution, making it rather cloudy. Your teacher says the right description is ‘chalky’ and if you say it’s ‘cloudy’, you’ll get half the score and if you write ‘milky’ as the answer for a question asking you what happens when you blow into limewater, you’ll score zero.
And so it seemed not that important that you know what happened – at least within the context of education, which is such a waste. What exactly happened was that the carbon dioxide from your breath reacted with the calcium hydroxide and that produces calcium carbonate. But since calcium carbonate is insoluble, it floats around in powder form. And that brings us to the question, what if we described the solution as turning ‘powdery’ or what if we wrote that we will observe “a powdery substance emerging within the solution”. Your teacher might say, “Don’t try to test the system”. And so there you have it, the system rewards you for compliance, for getting the “understanding of knowledge”, in the right way. In fact, you are penalised for not following the way, for trying something new, for “testing the system”.
Fast forward so many more years when we graduate; having compounded such incidents several years and mastered the art of ‘compliance’, we enter the workforce and we wait around for instructions. We are rewarded for doing the things the boss wants us to do, we are given tasks that we have to do ourselves or ask those under us to do. And we keep on learning how to read the bosses’ mind and figuring out how he wants things done.
A compliant society works well when it is clear what is the solution to problems and when there are paths that are ‘right’ without a doubt. Now what if we make progress and suddenly chipping in is about pulling our own weight, doing our part, making our contribution, without being told how. There will bound to be a point when we need to figure out how we can contribute, by observing, by being present with issues, problems, challenges, and then giving our best shot at it. The issue with an education system that focuses on compliance and not contribution is that we train humans who wait around for instructions. Who wouldn’t ‘try’ new things; who wants to know simply ‘what is the normal way or the right way of doing something’.
But what if, making the society better is about contribution, more than compliance? Who would envision that better society?