Milgram’s Progress

I was subbing a Psychology class once, and I had them watch a video on the Milgram Experiment. Here’s the video:

And here’s a brief rundown:

“The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologistStanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.”

After watching the video, it was about time for class to be over. In what has become the style of the time, high school students have taken it upon themselves to line up at the door as either A) elementary students would or B)cattle would before being loaded onto the truck. This is a curious phenomenon that has only started to appear recently. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if the teacher is still teaching “to the bell,” the students will begin massing at the door.

Curiously, however, one of the students (by virtue of their smartphone) decided that the time had already passed for the class to be over, and good golly gosh, he or she wasn’t going to spend one more nanosecond in the classroom than he or she absolutely had to.

“Isn’t it time to go?” I heard from out of the melee.

“The bell hasn’t rung yet,” I answered simply, logically.

The student didn’t seem to think that was a good enough answer, and I heard the door open and the crush of people at the threshold, one by one, began to disperse. A few even looked back at me, just to see if there was going to be any consequence, but eventually all but two in the classroom left before the bell had indeed rung. And yes, the bell rung one minute late by the time on my phone… but what are you going to do.

Please note the curious irony here. The Milgram experiment, originally devised in the dawn after World War II, attempted to see if people would do possibly sadistic, possibly malicious things if they were just “following orders.” This came to mind after the war crimes trials of several prominent Nazis. It is meant to see just what people will do, or what they will risk, in the face of authority or expressed obedience.

Through no action of my own, and completely through their own means, the students had just recreated a Milgram Experiment in their own classroom, not ten minutes after watching the effects on a television program.

This is particularly ironic, as several of them had scoffed and said, in the usual teenage fashion, that they wouldn’t have gone along with such a thing, no doubt considering themselves independent thinkers. Most of those were following others out the door.

So, to recap: after watching a video where people were told to do something through an implied sense of authority, often doing things that were against their own moral codes… they went and did something against school codes because of an implied sense of authority, this time of the mob.

Makes you wonder who has the real authority in the classroom anymore.

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