Friday, April 6, 2007

Question Authority? Please, don't!

Question authority-but not mine. Haw-haw.

Actually, I've been resting uneasily with this slogan for some time. When I was younger, I embraced this as my right, but as I get older I question the wisdom of it.

Let me start off by saying that politically-I'm an anarchist. More descriptively, I'm a libertarian leftist according to "Political Compass" ( I'm more left than Gandhi and almost bottom out at the libertarian end of the scale. So, my leanings are toward individual self-regulation. Maybe because the Political Compass quiz only asks about large-scale positions, and doesn't use more personal or localized examples, I'm so anarchist. I am against the current administration and "Big Brother" with every ounce of my being. But, I respect our local mayor (he's not perfect but I believe him to be a good man).
I don't think all authority should be questioned always on principal just because they are authorities. Neither do I think authority should be thoughtlessly accepted and obeyed. I guess, what I believe is that, in some rare situations, authority must be obeyed-yes, just because it is authority- but generally authority should lead from a position of relationship built on trust. It is up to us to find and encourage those leaders we can and will trust. Cops are not the enemy just because they represent authority. Laws are not, in and of themselves, bad things. Yes, there are some bad laws and some bad cops (and bad politicians and bad clergy and bad just about everything you could think of-including anarchist "it's all good" hippies) but that doesn't make cops or laws or anything intrinsically bad.

I used to occasionally drive past a Universalist Unitarian church who's marquee read: "To Question is the Answer". I totally disagree with that. To question one's assumptions is often good and necessary but it is no answer. To question is the beginning. To keep an open mind and a willingness to keep growing but to stand for something greater than oneself is ideal, to me. But to question for questionings sake is ridiculous. To believe that questioning is any kind of answer seems very selfish and immature, to me.

I have a bunch of friends who have raised their children to question authority. To me, questioning authority without thought is as wrong and potentially dangerous as accepting authority without thought. The young people seem to believe that all authority is wrong so they have a right to question everything said by every person with any kind of implied position of authority. One kid, who was in First Day School at NFM years ago, about drove me crazy. I'd try to lead a discussion about something-Quaker history, global warming, the parks department-and, whatever it was, he would question everything I would say, ask or suggest. We couldn't have any kind of linear discussion because his interrogational questioning derailed all attempts.
I've had a bunch of kids like this in homeschooling classes, too. In encouraging their kids to be think freely, to never accept anything at face value, these parents are denying their kids an understanding of basic respect for others-the teachers and the other students. Let's assume that if a parent voluntarily puts a kid in a class (homeschooling, First Day School, whatever) that parent trusts the teacher. If the parent trusts the teacher, the teacher is probably pretty trustworthy-not perfect or infallible but earnest and sincere (and, I might add, willing to do something that other people are not). There's a lot I don't know. When I'm teaching a class, I'm always happy to have other people-kids or adults-interject more about the subject or project to give more information. That's what's cool about homeschooling groups, we SHARE experiences and information. But there's a big difference between sharing and questioning. Questioning implies that the teacher is wrong simply because the teacher is presenting information to a group of others. Questioning suggests that a willingness to put oneself out is, in itself, enough "authority" to corrupt the teacher and make her "the man". Very little positive can happen in that environment.
I would say that maybe the problem rests with me; that I have never learned how to create a positive dynamic, earning the respect of the students so they trusted me and were willing to participate, but I know that's not the case. I've seen these "question authority" type people in other situations, with other teachers, do the same thing. I've been in classes in which the majority of the kids were of this mind-set and, let me tell you, nothing happens unless the kids get so bored with the class that apathy reigns and the teacher can then lead uninterrupted, but that's not a fun and engaged learning environment. The questioning seems especially wrong when one considers that the learning environments I have experienced this in have all been "democratic" meaning that the kids freely chose to participate. Why choose to be in a situation and then question everything about that situation?

OK-rant over. See ya later!

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