I think one of the biggest problems in the non-educator world is that people are still imagining the classroom as authority-based. They think the students eagerly sit there, respecting the teacher and waiting for tutelage, even as they raise kids who expect to be influenced rather than listening to authority.
Of course educators know otherwise; in fact, one of the examples the webinar instructor used for influence without authority was a person who had a fancy title (Like, say, ‘Professor’, I added mentally) but whose seminar was filled with people who weren’t paying attention (Like, say, texting in class, I thought). But if they’re not paying attention, please note that it’s your fault because you’re failing to exert authentic influence.
As much as I don’t like the idea of consumer-driven education, this was one arena where I had to give in: there was no point in trying to exert authority in an influence-based culture.Worst Prof then asks "Does education require authority, influence, or something completely different?"
There's obviously a lot to talk about here. (Read the comments over at Worst Prof -- a lot of wisdom there.) I for one want students to have a certain skepticism about authorities, pedagogical and otherwise. It serves them well academically, especially (though not exclusively) when they study philosophy. But it is possible for anti-authoritarianism to go too far, transmogrifying from a healthy questioning of authority to a knee jerk dismissal of authority. Chris' recent re-posting of the Chronicle piece about student entitlement obviously resonates here, illustrating how the consumerist mentality among students can produce a complete disregard for instructor authority, a disregard that can manifest itself as outright disrespect or hostility.
But as Worst Prof notes, demanding respect from students won't win them over. The classroom isn't boot camp and we're not drill sergeants — and it makes us look faintly ridiculous. Ideally, I'd want students to extend us respect, and have us reciprocate not only with respect, but with good teaching that shows them that extending their respect was a smart choice on their part. We can have authority without being authoritarian.
In my mind, the larger issue here is that the educational process, when it fails, tends to devolve from a partnership into a power struggle. When students don't extend us basic respect, as described in the Chronicle piece, it's hard to resist the urge to angrily retract whatever respect we extended to them, clamping down and re-establishing our authority. Can that work? Sometimes. Maybe. But it merely ratifies the notion that education is a power struggle, instead of transcending it. And we're not much closer to the only possible model for true education: a role-defined partnership.