©2004 Edward G. Rozycki, Ed. D.

edited 4/20/14


Corpses never cooperate. This is not to say that corpses are always uncooperative; but, rather, that corpses are not capabable of being either cooperative or uncooperative.

Likewise, rocks, worms, imbeciles and sleepers. It is not inanimacy, but rather incapacity to intelligently interact which precludes our describing, except, perhaps, facetiously -- "See how this worm cooperates in getting itself impaled on the hook!"-- , the corpse, the rock, the imbecile and the sleeper as cooperative.

The victim of a robbery is not cooperating with his assailant by handing over his money. The rapist does not importune his victim's cooperation. Duress is generally thought to be sufficient to deny the description "cooperation" to the actions of those who suffer it.

Indeed, the criteria for cooperation are stronger than this. If someone willingly engages in an activity that will lead to his or her disadvantage or harm, we tend to call such engagement "cooperation" only with the reservation that such a person is ignorant, or unthinking, or masochistic, or the like. Cooperation, it would seem, requires of the cooperator a sense of desired outcome common with those with whom he cooperates. This is why we are pressed to attribute madness to a Gary Gilmore who implores his executioners, "Do it!"

What is this "cooperation" for which students receive grades in many schools? A strange beast, indeed, when a teacher may admonish, "Johnny, you're not cooperating!" But Johnny is doing very much what he wants to be doing in so provoking the teacher's remonstrance; and it is only with more or less coercion that he is brought to engage in the activity desired by the teacher.

Flat off, this would appear to be a case of educational Newspeak: what the teacher wants is obedience, conformity, not that cooperation we have identified early above as requiring intelligent engagement in a common, beneficial pursuit.

To put it most distastefully: the teacher is a hypocrite, a bureaucratic tyrant invoking concepts inappropriate to the circumstances to disguise -- out of cowardice? -- his manipulation of the student.

We may want to avoid indulging our self-righteousness here by considering what circumstances might lead schoolpeople to describing as cooperation what is obviously not cooperation. If one believes that the child is often incapable of perceiving his or her own good, or easily distracted from the pursuit of the same; and if one believes that the perception of that good is best made by adults in certain positions, e.g. parents, teachers, etc., then that a given child does not perceive a given course of action as pursuing his good, does not negate that criterion for the use of the concept "cooperation".

On this paternalistic -- or maternalistic -- model (this designation is not meant to be derogatory) the action of the child toward an end only clearly perceived by his caretaker is "cooperation". This conceptual stretch may still cause those of us who prize a preciser English some discomfort, but the institutional usage is very well established.

But let us not accept this "cooperation" with too much equanimity, lest we overlook that possibility that the goals perceived by those superior visionaries are less than good for their vulnerable charges.