In my attempt to create more authentic learning within my class, today my AP World History students read the article "The Ophelia Syndrome" by Thomas G. Plummer. Named after the tragic character from Hamlet, the Ophelia Syndrome manifests itself in persons who don't think for themselves, but who pass that responsibility onto someone else.
I remember on many occasions as I was growing up when I would get frustrated with a homework assignment. During those occasions I would turn to my mother and ask for help and most of the time she would tell me "you have to learn to think, there's no use in me telling you the answer." I would get so mad when she would say this because I though "who cares!" "just give me the answer, I don't want to think." I now fully comprehend the lesson my mother was trying to teach me, but I worry about how to teach that same lesson to my students. When I refuse to answer their questions they often just think I don' t like them or that I am ignoring them in some way. I am desperate to get my students to think and really question the material and not just learn to be parrots of the material.
After I read the article to my students we had a brief discussion about it and then I had them write a response and analyze where they thought they fit on the Ophelia scale. I decided to post two of the responses that I received because it gave me hope. A few of them caught what the message was all about.
"I agree fully with the theory. Students should learn to think for themselves and today's society makes it hard for people to do that. However, I disagree in the sense that to go anywhere and to be successful in today's world you have to follow the rules. You have to play the game the right way. There are few people in the world that are in the positions to change this. Even so their bosses don't see it their way. Learning to think independently and doing the work to prove what you know have to be balanced. You need to be able to follow the rules along with not losing your individuality. This whole thing has to be a balancing act. You want to be successful but you don't want to be a mindless drone in the process. Now if everybody thought for themselves we'd all be in chaos. So we need people who follow and that are mindless, sheep in other words, or there would be mass conflict and chaos."
"It's only natural for people not to question authority. Over 80% of America is religious. Religion tells us it's a virtue to have faith, to not question authority, to cure doubt with scripture or prayer. Most of the workforce wants followers, not free thinkers. That's how it's been throughout history. America is the most religious country in the developed world and maintains the lowest test scores and graduation rates. Is this just a mere correlation? I suppose the politically correct thing to say is no, but I doubt it, although it is true that correlation doesn't necessarily imply causation."