Compliance vs. Compliance

by Nicholas Forcier - Director of Admissions & Enrollment

I just learned that the word “compliance” has two meanings that seem to be in some sort of cognitive conflict with each other. Here they are, from Merriam-Webster:

  1. the act or process of complying to a desire, demand, proposal, or regimen or to coercion
  2. the ability of an object to yield elastically when a force is applied: FLEXIBILITY
The first definition implies rigidity: a demand is made and compliance means it is fulfilled or it is not fulfilled. There doesn’t seem to be much room for innovation there.

The second definition implies a world of possibilities. A force is applied, and the object is flexible enough to reshape to accommodate the force. I would imagine that the reshaping is determined by both the object and the force - and the synergy between the two.
Throughout the history of the United States, education has been about the first definition of compliance. Did you show up on time, did you follow the rubric, did you raise your hand before speaking?

Perhaps we should frame compliance in education to fit the second definition. Did you adapt when the circumstances called for it? Did you demonstrate flexibility to meet the needs of the moment? In my experience as an educator, some of the most brilliant work I’ve seen from students came out of ambiguity, not out of clear and inflexible directions. After all, it’s not the rule-followers who innovate - it’s those who don’t comply (the first definition.)

The Albany Academy

Albany Academy for Girls

Schellenberger Alumni/ae Center