The Perils of Selective Compliance

Some background info

Several years ago a teacher in our school district decided to show the modern version of Last of the Mohicans as part of her literature class. The movie is R-rated and one of the students protested. She said that she and her family “never watched R-rated movies.”

The teacher excused the student and told her to go to the library and write a book report. The teacher said she was trying to illustrate some of the points of the book by using the video.

But she had embarrassed the student by singling her out and increased her work by assigning her a separate written report. At that point, the teacher decided maybe she should send a permission slip home for the other students to have signed – to watch this R movie.

Well, the girl’s parent went to the school board and protested the showing. At the time, it caught me unaware and I didn’t know what to do about it. But I did a lot of thinking about this subject.

Fast forward a couple of years

The same teacher pulls the same stunt again. At this time, I am serving on the school board.

This time she didn’t send home any notes or anything. She just told the students they were going to see the Last of the Mohicans on such-and-such a day, and if any of them didn’t feel like they could do that she would give them a separate assignment.

Another student protested that her family had just made a deal that they wouldn’t view R-rated shows.

The teacher said, “The show is not really that bad. There is no nudity, just some violence.” She felt the students really ought to see the film. The protesting girl’s parent contacted me and asked me what I thought about it.

I polled some of the people that work at my firm and asked the mothers how they felt. Some were somewhat ambivalent, but most did not think it was smart to show the R- rated movie. Many told me stories about their kids being at school and having coaches and others showing R movies to the students without even the goal of teaching them something – just for entertainment.

I am in a difficult spot.

The day for the airing of the movie is rapidly approaching. I know they should not be showing these R movies and certainly not singling out students and sending them out of the room to do separate work. It just didn’t seem logical to me that you had to show an R-rated movie to teach a piece of literature. In fact, good literature should be able to stand on its own without the graphics of a movie.

I knew protesting the showing of the movie would run into the same argument as before. “This particular movie is not all that bad.” Or, “old R-rated movies are not as bad as the new ones.” “Some R-ratings were merely for violence.” “High school kids were getting older and needed to be exposed to this stuff.”

Obviously, any student that opted out was going to be ostracized by being sent somewhere else and jokes would be made about them. " What’s the matter?" “Too Good?” or “Miss Goody Two-Shoes”… or whatever.

A larger concern

At this point I realized what was happening is part of a much, much larger concern. That concern is Selective Compliance. Selective Compliance means to decide arbitrarily which laws and community rules we choose to observe.

For the next school board meeting I prepared to discuss this situation with the school board and the superintendent. So when the subject came up, I argued the following:

In my opinion, the school has absolutely no business going against any regulation whatsoever. And, in doing so, is teaching selective compliance. The morals of our community are in enough trouble without the school actually encouraging selective compliance of the laws.

At the corner of the school property there is a four-way stop sign. Imagine what would happen if a teacher taught her class they could selectively comply with the stop sign law. He or She would be corrected immediately.

R-rated movies were not to be shown to anyone 17 or younger. Technically, they were to have an adult sitting by the child during the viewing. In a movie theater, IDs get checked and kids younger than 17 are sent away.

A teacher who teaches selective compliance by showing an R movie in class is walking a dangerous line. It makes one wonder what the teacher would do if the students said, “You know, that was a stupid assignment. I don’t think I need to turn it in; besides you taught me that I only have to comply when I feel like it.”

After making my argument, several other board members agreed. I asked the superintendent how he felt. The superintendent said there would be no need for a board resolution: There would be no more R-rated movies at the high school.

At the next board meeting, the superintendent showed us a stack of R-rated movies that had been taken out of the library and other places. He let us know there was to be no more of these being shown at the school at all.

The temptation

The temptation to be selectively compliant is with us in all of our lives and all of our operations. We make decisions each day whether we will abide by the laws and ethics of our community or not. Certainly these are individual choices, but also just as certainly, it should not be taught by a teacher in any situation.

In addition, there is no excuse for a parent to run a stop sign and then excuse himself using selective compliance arguments to his children, and then expect his children to obey traffic laws.

This same exact principle will work with brushing our teeth, taking baths, running our businesses, etc. Whatever we do with our life, we need to always consider the effects of selective compliance.

June 7, 2004