As I mentioned in Friday’s post, my students got their first report cards Friday afternoon. We reported to the new advisory groups I’ve mentioned, and we took time to record our grades – and whether we’d met our personal goals – in the “data notebooks” we’re keeping. For my seniors, it was a time of real celebration. Some have “always” been good or excellent students, but many have struggled in the past. They were delighted to see positive results from their efforts and goal-setting. I’m not sure what things were like in other advisory groups, but ours was a joyful way to end the week.
And yet something bothered me.
As I handed out the report cards, distributed the notebooks, and collected them again, something kept bothering me. I finally articulated it over the weekend:
Factory-model schools train students to depend on authority the same way Roman clients depended on their patrons.
The advisory system is an effort to change that dependency, to help our students rely on and celebrate their own efforts, not Mr. S’s or Ms. X’s benevolent largesse (“she gave me a 94!”) or cruel deprivation (“she gave me an 80!”). But what if dependency is built into the system itself?
Clientēla is one of the big themes of the Tres Columnae Project stories. Not only was it central to Roman life and thought, but it’s the kind of complex, multifaceted theme you can return to, over and over, finding new insights each time. My Latin I students have just begun to explore the relationships between patrōnī and their clientēs through the stories in Lectiō V, while my Latin III’s are looking at the effects on clientēla – and everything else – of a disaster like the eruption of Vesuvius through the stories in Lectiō XXX and (this week) part of Pliny’s account of the eruption.
We’ve looked for modern-day comparisons, we’ve talked about the various forms of mutual obligation, and the Latin I classes have even started planning salūtātiō conversations they’ll present on Wednesday. But no one has mentioned this uncomfortable truth:
Factory-model schools teach students to depend on authority just like Roman clients depended on their patrons.
We got close to it in some wonderful Google+ conversations over the weekend. I almost got there in this post for EdStartup 101, in the paragraphs about core problems of textbooks and schools. But then it hit me, suddenly, with startling clarity.
Factory-model schools teach students to depend on authority just like Roman clients depended on their patrons. And the authority is positional, not personal.
Is that why many teachers are angry and upset? “Those kids” and “those parents” and “those administrators” don’t respect “us” – the generous patrons dispensing knowledge to our clients the way wealthy Romans handed out sportulae.
Is that why many parents and community members are upset with educators? “Those teachers” and “those administrators” must be “bad and lazy” since they clearly aren’t “doing their job” of forcing kids to respect authority, the way a Roman client “respected” his patron or a terrified factory worker “respects” the foreman or the boss.
Is that why political leaders and business leaders are angry at “those spoiled, entitled teachers?” After all, “those teachers” sometimes don’t display “proper respect” for the political and business leaders, nor do “they” instill “proper respect” into “those bad, lazy kids.”
“Proper respect,” in both Rome and the factory, was respect for positional authority. But factory society is gone, and post-industrial society doesn’t run on positional authority. The more that factory-model schools (and their critics) cling to the past – the more we try to enforce respect for positional authority – the more irrelevant and irritating we become. Imagine a toga-clad Roman aristocrat waiting, with increasing fury, for a line of clients who never show up.
But if positional authority no longer works – if the pain-punishment tools are slowly failing us – what are we to do? When the clients don’t need you any more, what can a patron of information do? How do you establish personal authority when the positional kind is all you’ve ever known?
What do you think of the patron-client metaphor, and what about positional authority?