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Social Capital
Standing Alone
Last week's post discussed the power of rhetoric in persuading people's opinions. Today's post is related, but will explore how the lessons learned from scientific research conducted 50 years ago can provide valuable lessons as we work to shape our community.

In 1961, Stanley Milgram began a series of experiments at Yale University that would shape public perceptions of human behavior for decades to come. The first iteration of Milgram's study asked 40 males between the ages of 20 and 50 years old to 'shock' another individual when that person answered a question incorrectly. While Milgram originally thought only 1% of his participants would shock the other individual at the highest voltage, he was astounded that over 65% of participants did so.

Conventional interpretations of this study lead one to believe in the power of suggestion, that individuals will do whatever they are ordered to do. A recent podcast from Radiolab, suggests otherwise. When investigated further, Milgram conducted more than 20 variants of this experiment, finding fascinating results that should shape our behaviors as an residential school today.

Most notably, Milgram found when a participant knew there were other participants who refused to go on with administering electric shocks, only 10% would continue to the highest voltage. Zero compliance occurred when the experimenter directly ordered a participant to continue giving a shock. What does this tell us about human nature? What insights does it provide about the responsibilities of an individual within a society?

Throughout the 9th grade World History curriculum, classes explore the role of an individual in society. During dorm duty tonight, I worked alongside a ninth grader, Sam, as he formulated this thoughts for an upcoming World History paper. His thesis sought to exonerate King Leopold II from direct responsibility for the atrocities committed in the Congo during the late 1800s by placing immediate blame on those who committed the crimes. His belief that individuals must take responsibility for their own actions permeates all levels of society, but what would Milgram say about Sam's argument?

Perhaps individuals are able to put aside personal feelings when asked to act a certain way because they believe they are serving the 'greater good' of society. Individuals have a responsibility, however, to critically examine what is 'greater' and what is 'good'.

As we focus classroom discussions around this topic of individual responsibility, we encourage students to apply the conversation to their own lives in the Proctor community. How will they act when their personal morals are challenged by a perception of 'greater good'? Will they be willing to stand alone against their peers on moral principle? If so, will their action provide the necessary support for someone else to take a stand for what they believe as well? Can the actions of one individual impact the direction of a community?

In the aforementioned Radiolab podcast, the host notes, "People either act in a way to fulfill an identity or to escape one." By providing a positive identity toward which students can strive through our efforts in the classroom, and supporting students who are willing to stand alone on moral principle, our community will move forward in an exciting way.
Ninth graders explore the theme of individuals in a society in Proctor's World History curriculum.
The most recent unit studied focuses on atrocities in the Congo during the reign of King Leopold II.
Readings, seminars, and essays beg the question, "Should an individual stand alone on moral ground despite society saying otherwise?"
Students wrestle with questions about how immoral actions of individuals can be misconstrued by society to serve the 'greater good' of society.
It is our hope that students gain an appreciation for and a willingness to stand alone for that which they believe to be right.