I was talking to a basketball coach at my new school about preparing our students (high schoolers) for life as adults. He observed that while his players are very faithful to do what he tells them to do in practice and during games, they usually do not exercise their own judgment to make good decisions on the basketball court independently of the coach’s orders. I mentioned a similar observation of students in my courses (even the more advanced ones): that they are very responsible to do what I tell them to do, but generally will not work independently to do more than what I tell them to master the curriculum, although I remind them often of the necessity of independent work. I also shared that his sports example also seemed like an symptom of underdeveloped executive functions.
At my previous school, it was common to have one or more students in in-school-suspension (ISS). The teachers were responsible to send work to the students who were in ISS for that day. I believed this duty was reasonable and so I was consistent to do it, but occasionally I would forget or just not get to it on a given day. The ISS supervisors would lament how students always used not getting work from a teacher as an excuse to do nothing. Even though students in ISS usually knew what chapter we were in or that we had a test coming soon, they would not exercise common sense to work independently by reading, working problems, etc., but just acted like they could not do anything unless the teacher told them what to do.
After noticing enough to detect a pattern, I had a sudden flash of insight: the more rebellious the students were (which is why they were in ISS in the first place), the more dependent they were, ironically, on authority. On the one hand they seemed to have contempt for my authority, but on the other they were completely dependent on my authority – they could not operate without me telling them exactly what to do. Without the abilities to self-govern, self-regulate/manage, set goals and make a plan to achieve them, etc., they needed me to largely do those things for them in my class.
It seems to me that having mature executive functions is essential for independent living vis-a-vis human authority. The basis for living in a democratic, free society is the practice of self-government among the citizens. Thus, the question arises: could a generation-wide problem of underdeveloped executive functions undermine or weaken substantially the foundations of a democratic republic? Please comment!
Scripture clearly calls us to submit to human authority (I Peter 2), but I also believe we have a biblical basis for challenging it and a biblical calling to live freely under it. I’d like to explore this topic more (with your helpful insights!).
Also, I plan to muse more on how to grow children to be independent self-governors.