Match the type of school to the prevailing culture

I hypothesise that autocratic school systems are more suitable for cultures that have greater reverence for authority figures, and democratic school systems are more suitable for cultures with less reverence for authority figures. Trying to impose teaching on a student that does not respect you or your profession is difficult, while democratic or liberal schooling systems that are child-centred will likely not work so well if students are overly concerned with the authority figures. A democratic/liberal schooling environment relies on the student taking advantage of the conditions/rules, while the autocratic system relies on subservience.

Australia’s educational culture has shifted towards less reverence for teachers, while maintaining a coercive, autocratic schooling environment. The result is constant conflict in the classroom, or passive disengagement.

In our current society of relative freedom and opportunity, I think subservience and excessive reverence for authority is not something to be desired. You need to dictate your own life, and reverence for authority in your formative years will likely leave you unprepared for adulthood. Fostering a sense of empowerment and responsibility is much more likely to equip a student for life. Therefore, we should be increasingly aiming for students to direct their own learning, and to engage with teachers in voluntary ways rather than coercive ways. A democratic/liberal school is most suitable to achieve these goals.

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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.