The lost authority of teachers

One of the lamentations of modern day schooling is the decline in the authority of teachers. While cultural change explains part of this, there are other causes, and I’d like to focus on a major one.

First, we need to distinguish between authority and power. Power relates to coercion or force. Authority pertains to that important aspect of a consensual organisation or association, where the leader, or a person in a position of responsibility, assumes a position of influence and responsibility, in an organisation or association that is voluntary. The authority is granted by the consent of those governed or influenced by the agent of this organisation.

A long time ago, a school and school teachers had authority, because they were in existence due to the demands of a community. The current education system is one of power and coercion, a compulsory system where decisions are made far from where they are enacted. The people carrying out the decisions do not have the authority to implement them because they do not have the respect or consent of those they are overseeing. The result is a chaotic classroom where many students disrespect the teacher.

Emergent forms of schooling that are more localised, diverse and personal, will allow teachers to regain some lost authority and deliver more effective education. Until then, we will continue to see defiance and a lack of respect from many students towards their teachers and schools.