It doesn’t take much thought to understand why a teacher might adopt an authoritarian approach in education. Many are saddled with classroom management issues that would challenge even the hardiest of instructors. Their students may be poor, undisciplined, hungry, and far behind academical excellence. Not only are teachers expected to work with students who are struggling with various challenges, they are also expected to perform near miracles when it comes to testing scores.
When someone is held accountable for so much, it is understandable that they would want to exercise full control over the educational process. Unfortunately, the result can be the development of teacher tyranny. The focus becomes whether or not students follow directions and come up with the right answers. While authoritarian discipline in education is a great talking point for populism oriented politicians, it’s an approach that can destroy critical thinking skills.
The Difference Between Authoritative, Authoritarian, and Permissive Teaching Styles
There are three approaches to classroom management. These are authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive. It’s rare to find a teacher who fits completely into one category. Still, they are helping to define where teachers will generally fit. Before defining the styles, it is important to note that a teacher can subscribe to any of these approaches with good intentions.
Authoritarian: This approach is taken by instructors who believe that they will get the best results if students listen, obey, and follow directives. They see this as a means to avoid disciplinary issues and conflicts. Many also believe it is the best way to ensure material is covered and objectives are met. The authoritarian approach often assumes that students are well-served in learning to listen to and obey authority figures. Consequences are often harsh and random. They usually focus on being punitive rather than teaching students to make better choices.
Permissive: This approach to leadership in education involves little to nothing in terms of rules, consequences, or expectations. Permissive teachers tend to want to avoid making students uncomfortable or force them to deal with negative feelings. Some permissive teachers want to be popular and feel as if developing a rapport will improve learning.
Authoritative: The authoritative teacher maintains classroom discipline by setting clear, developmentally appropriate expectations and reasonable rewards and consequences. They help students to learn good judgment and self-management. These teachers tend to have students who display the best behavior while still remaining well-liked by their pupils. The authoritative teaching style tends to have the best outcomes overall.
What is Educational Tyranny And What Does it Look Like?
Many students experience educational tyranny in the classroom. However, it is a school-wide issue. In lower grades, it can be found in the use of school resource officers to criminalize minor disciplinary issues. It’s school administrators threatening students who participate in political protests with suspensions or corporal punishment. In the classroom, it is punishing kids who question teacher’s methods or who simply have a different learning style.
In higher education, it happens when for-profit institutions are left unregulated to teach students according to corporate directives. It happens when professors punish dissenting thought with failing grades. It even happens simply by the fact that many who are likely to benefit from higher education and use it to push societal change are least likely to be able to afford it.
What Has Led to The Emerging Popularity of Authoritarian Teaching Methods in School?
The Authoritarian Approach in Education And Society is Often Part of a Reactionary Shift
Ultimately, authoritarianism is about keeping the status quo. Those who are in power stay in power. Those who are powerless remain this way. Spikes in authoritarianism often happen after spikes in progress. In the United States, there were eight years of social and economic progress. Now, we’re seeing the predictable, movement towards authoritarianism:
- Teachers And Administrators Encouraged to Focus on Punitive Disciplinary Measures
- Tolerance Even Glorification of Violence Against Those Who Protest or Question Authority
- Slandering Students Who Speak Out in Protest on Issues Relating to Their Education. Labeling them as Crisis Actors or Ridiculing them as ‘Tide Pod Eaters’
- Discouraging Higher Education as a Waste of Time Instead of Trying to Make it More Accessible
- Mocking Leadership in Higher Education as Being Out of Touch
The Authoritarian Approach in Education is The Goal of The Oligarchy
Supporters of authoritarianism in education often believe that students should simply sit down and listen to what they are being taught. They also tend to believe that education should focus on the basics and teach marketable skills. They often see fine arts, humanities, social studies, and liberal arts as being frivolous. What they don’t realize is that while the former is certainly important, the latter is how students pick up critical thinking skills. It’s how they learn civics, and how to debate and analyze ideas.
When educators take an authoritarian approach, they discourage students from thinking for themselves. As a result, they are more likely to learn the skills that will make them useful on the factory room floor, and less likely to learn how to think for themselves.
The Authoritarian Approach in Education Teaches People to Act Against Their Own Interests
There’s a reason authoritarian governments like poor education. Poorly educated people don’t act in their own best interests. They don’t question. It is easy to create fear in them and then control them. In an authoritarian classroom, students are often subtly divided into groups. One is the group that curries favor with the teacher. They are the good students. The other is the group that displeases the teacher. They are the bad students. On a smaller level, they do what governments do. They encourage animosity and an ‘us vs. them’ mentality that stops people from acting in their own best interests.
Reducing The Authoritarian Approach to Education
Authoritarianism thrives on lack of curiosity, limited resources, and hostility. Here are some steps that can reduce that:
- Limit the role of law enforcement officers in school
- Provide teachers with adequate resources
- Reduce focus on standardized tests and encourage creative expression and critical thinking
- Remove economic barriers to higher education
- Get rid of zero tolerance policies
- Give students creative outlets
- Recognize teachers who may be struggling with stress and burnout and offer them support
Teaching The Teacher: Authoritarian Vs. Authoritative Teaching in Higher Ed
For many teachers, the difference between taking an authoritarian vs. an authoritative approach is simply learning better classroom management. This means understanding what successful classroom management looks like. For example, if a teacher believes they are successful if students are quiet and obedient, that’s a problem. On the other, a hand a teacher who learns that a successfully managed class may be intense, a bit loud, and active they will be more likely to take an authoritative approach.