“It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” Benjamin Franklin – Responsibility
Should you always follow the rules?
Everywhere a student goes there are rules, at home, in the classroom, and in society. The effectiveness of these rules depends on people’s willingness to obey them. Students like to question the rules, especially when they feel the rules are unjust or intrude on their happiness in some way. Students must engage in hard intellectual work in deciding when to follow rules and what criteria to use to determine fairness.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts for an unforgettable conversation about responsibility using the Teach Different 3-Step Method.
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Steve Fouts: 0:05
Hey everybody, Steve and Dan Fouts here. We are teaching different with founding father Benjamin Franklin with a quote about responsibility. “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” Now, the word authority can imply laws and rules. Students, and really all people, have to deal with laws and rules their entire life. The question, should I be following this rule, comes up in certain situations. What if I don’t agree with it? Is this something that I should just go along with, or should I step back? Should I critically examine which rules or laws I think I should be following? These are fair questions. We don’t always have perfect rules or laws to abide by. Sometimes we change rules and laws that are unjust. This is a really good quote that I think students are going to identify with. What claim is Benjamin Franklin making in this quote?
Dan Fouts: 1:17 – Claim
Question the rules. This is something students will really like to talk about. It is your responsibility as a citizen, it’s almost like your civic responsibility, to not blindly follow rules that are placed in front of you. You should question them, and think critically about whether that rule is just or not. You could obviously just ask the students, what are some rules that you question right now? Why don’t you think they are right for you? See if you can get them to come up with criteria for what makes a good rule. Why would you disagree with a rule. Naturally they’re going to have a lot of examples to talk about from school, from home with their own families, and rules in the larger society.
Steve Fouts: 2:17
I think that would be really good. Depending on your comfort level as the teacher, you could even ask about rules in your classroom that they’re participating in. Which ones do you disagree with? There should be plenty. Another way to push that conversation is to ask them if they’ve ever broken a rule. Is it something that you’re proud of, or do you see it as misguided? Do you see the value of rules? Just discussing the dynamic of what rules do, how they help, or how they hurt.
Dan Fouts: 2:58
Yeah. The quote also talks about questioning authority. You might want to ask them to give an emotional report. Is it difficult for you to question authority or is it easy for you to question authority? What are the risks that you take when you question authority? Are the risks worth it? Depending on which rule you’re questioning, if you decide not to follow that rule, what’s at stake? There’s a lot here.
Steve Fouts: 3:33
Definitely so let’s push back and come up with a counterclaim to this?
Dan Fouts: 3:41 – Counterclaim
Societies don’t work without authority figures issuing rules. That’s part of the social contract. When you belong to a society, you give up some of your freedoms and you obey authority above you. The first responsibility of every citizen should be to obey authority, not to question it. Because, if you spend all of your time questioning authority, then society won’t operate efficiently.
Steve Fouts: 4:16
Bringing it to the classroom level, what would it look like if everyone questioned all of the rules all of the time? What would that look like? How would that class function? You want the students to see the connection between rules in a school and a classroom to rules and laws of a society. With the Coronavirus in the spring of 2020, social distancing is a perfect example of a new rule that came out of nowhere. No one even knew what it meant. Now we need to abide by these special rules. In Chicago, right now you can’t go into a grocery store without a mask. These rules can just build and build and build. The question you ask yourself is if it’s your right or responsibility to question these things.
Dan Fouts: 5:33
You can make a resounding case that you do not have a right to question authority, going with the counterclaim here, when it comes to public safety. It’s not about your need to question authority, it’s about your need to fall in line.
Steve Fouts: 5:49 – Essential Question
This should be a really good conversation to get the students to confront what it means to have rules, and what a person’s individual responsibility is within a society or within a group with regard to rules. Should they be questioning them, or should they be abiding by them and respect them in that way?
Here’s an essential question you could ask to wrap up the conversation, should you always question authority, or students could write responses to this question and think about what authority means. Think about it as a situational thing. Is this something that they believe is an inherent right? Do they agree with Benjamin Franklin, or are they going to develop criteria for when questioning authority is appropriate and when it isn’t? You’re also going to get some students who say questioning authority is something you shouldn’t do. You have to find other ways to express yourself.
Dan Fouts: 6:59
The way that essential question is posed, it opens up the opportunity for kids to become more self-aware, as you said, of the criteria that they use when deciding to question authority. What an important thing to think about.
Steve Fouts: 7:18
Exactly. It does not have a simple answer. I think that would be a really good conversation.
I hope you enjoyed Benjamin Franklin this week. Make sure to check out our Conversation Library with all kinds of resources to make having these conversations possible. You can pick a conversation that’s perfect for your classroom. Take care, everybody.
Dan Fouts: 7:54
All right. Take care.