A few years ago I was traveling to George. Near Swellendam, as the N2 highway meanders to the Garden route, you often see flocks of sheep feeding at leisure on the various fields along the route. At one point I stopped my vehicle to admire +-100 sheep close to the perimeter fence of one of the farms. Within five minutes, the entire flock moved towards my position at the fence. I was fascinated by this. There I stood, eyeballing 100 sheep. I don't know what they were thinking but I'm sure it wasn't that I'm a good looking ram!
This incident often gets me reflecting on George Orwell's famous book, Animal Farm. I know many of you have read the novel and know the role of sheep in the manipulating hands of Napoleon. Two favorite quotes relating to the sheep are, "Four legs good, two legs bad" at crucial moments in Snowball's speeches. And because the sheep are huddling, they're easy to manipulate. At the end of the novel, the sheep start walking on two legs—so, Squealer teaches the sheep a new chant: "Four legs good, two legs better".
And this brings me to the psychology of being sheep. Some indicators are:
- Its primary instinct is to flock - they're gregarious and they gain safety from numbers.
- Sheep tend to follow other sheep, often to their collective peril. In 2006, 600 sheep drowned after the leading sheep attempted to leap over a ravine in Turkey.
- Sheep are instinctively fearful: they will stay with the familiar and not venture off alone.
- Sheep are conservative and don't easily embrace change. This links directly to their desire to remain safe within a group.
So what's the point I'm trying to make? You've probably cottoned onto it already. The last few weeks, I've seen too many educators adopting the persona of sheep. In a number of the situations I've encountered, often involving some form of conflict, professional persons preferred to huddle than tussle, seek the safety of numbers as opposed to being brave, scampering for group identity rather than standing up for their individual identities. It is a sad, sick stance in our discourse in Education. And it's all pervasive. You find sheep at all levels; the top echelons of our sector, heads of schools, middle managers, educators and among parents. And the consequence of this behaviour spirals straight down into the psyche of every learner.
This mentality spits-in-the-face of our need to build critical thinking, encourage risk-taking, explore creative spaces, follow your gut feeling, test the boundaries of existing parameters, re-shape practice and develop and reconstruct opinion. It castrates our need to move forward as individuals in the pursuit of the collective good. So we become paralyzed in the name of the flock. Safety first, seat belts on. Never mind that we are all standing still. We will move on but no one must move. For we are sheep, and our mantra is, "four legs good, two legs better".