Erosion is a big problem, isn’t it? The internet tells me there are four basic types of erosion: hydraulic action, abrasion, attrition, and solution. Storm surge and flooding can cause dangerous erosion, and weathering and deposition of soil can create serious problems for our planet.
But my readers know me well enough to know I’m not interested in that kind of erosion.
When I was in high school in Arizona in 1969 I had a substitute teacher in English class, a substitute that was there for an extended period of weeks. He was a small, frail man who always wore sweaters, and he trembled almost constantly as he taught. [I learned before he left us that he had been a Marine with extensive training in karate, and he trembled because of hypoglycemia; this information came out after a German Shepherd went berserk and attacked him one Saturday – he killed the dog with one strike as it leapt for his throat]
And in that class there was a rather large boy who always sat in the back of class. He was extremely belligerent, uncooperative, and disrespectful to the substitute teacher. One day, after being reprimanded, he shouted some profanity, threw his classroom textbook, and stormed out of the classroom. I couldn’t believe his attitude, his lack of respect, his incorrigible manner.
Even though the 1960s were years of protests about police brutality and government abuse of power (against hippies, Vietnam war protesters, blacks, etc.), there was still a sense of propriety, and a respect for authority that prevailed in most places. The Berkeley and Kent State disasters were not the norm. There was still an overriding respect for authority.
I didn’t begin teaching high school myself until 1979, but the topic of respect for authority still surfaced regularly. But when we had a teacher from Vietnam join our staff he expressed his dismay at the difference in level of respect for teachers that existed between Vietnam and the United States. [BTW, we were on the low end of that comparison]
After nine years of teaching I was away from it for a number of years before returning to it in 1993. And the difference in respect had eroded markedly during that time. In fact, the administration of that school did not agree with my approach to education and suggested I reward students with candy when they complied rather than punish them when they did not. Erosion. It’s a problem.
That was 27 years ago. I wonder if things have gotten better . . . .
What I hear from teachers, of course, is that it has not! Erosion doesn’t improve without erosion control methods. And our society has become more lax with regard to control methods. As Allan Bloom pointed out in his monumental book, The Closing of the American Mind (1987), Americans have their minds closed in the open position. And that was over three decades ago.
When I was last teaching I had a student (not one of mine) who was distracting my class by looking into the small window in our classroom door. I stepped outside quickly to get him to stop, and I took hold of his arm as he walked away. He said, “You can’t touch me!” I was shocked. I didn’t have the presence of mind to say, “Why? Are you invisible?” (as a seasoned south Chicago area teacher suggested later that I should have).
We have reached a time in our society where “authority” is equated with “enemy.” Many feel they have the right to question anyone in authority, and have their queries answered to their satisfaction before they comply with authoritative instructions. And no one seems to care that this free wheeling (and often cavalier) attitude is eroding the foundations of our society.
We are so drunk on our own definition of FREEDOM that we define everything in terms of how it affects us as individuals, and not us as a corporate body, as a nation.
This lack of respect for authority has colored our sight so much that anything that smacks of restriction, or limitation, or anything verboten, is immediately suspect. For many years now the entertainment industry has battled against anything forbidden, and our society is showing the effects of that “freedom.”
Many think they are standing up for justice. But they do not see the ground eroding underneath where they stand. Erosion is often gradual. We notice the times when it isn’t, and we are appalled at the damage. But when it is slow . . . we are like the proverbial “frog in the kettle” (thanks for that phrase, George Barna), we are cooked before we know what has happened!
Erosion can occur in any sector of our society. It can occur in politics (and it has), law enforcement (and it has), legislature (and it has), religion (and it has), private enterprise (and it has), and social organizations (and it has), etc.
We need to get back to basics. Before it’s too late.
Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment so cogently. I can only say that it is interesting to me to see the divergent points of view that have resulted from the the incident with George Floyd and others, even to the current day. There is certainly a point at which to appropriately question authorities in the wrong, and hold them responsible. But I think our current socio-political climate is sometimes forged out of a rebellion-first attitude, a show-me-why-I-should-respect-you (before I comply) point of view, which does not work in society when it comes to law enforcement. I certainly don’t want cops to have to get permission from criminals, possible criminals, or even law abiding citizens before they ask them to “step out of the car, please.”
There is more going on in these incidents than is usually reported, unfortunately. And it would benefit us all to speak with law enforcement about, and lawmakers about why this divergence has come about. Social media and the News media are no longer impartial witnesses to whom we can go.
I would say that matter is more an erosion of trust than an erosion of respect for authority. THAT is authoritarianism. Fear of authority and earned trust (which yields respect) are two completely different things. I am not justifying the definition of ‘freedom’ as doing anything one wants no matter whom else it hurts. But another commenter on your post made a valid point. Abuse of authority given by the people yields distrust by the people and in many instances these days, that distrust had been earned and it is the DUTY of the people to call it out.
You say that there was still ‘respect’ for authority during the protests in the ’60s.’ Thé protests themselves were against the misuse of that authority, which was then turned on them – for example, the students killed at Kent State. There was no excuse – and no authority that justified those deaths. If the protests against authority in the ’60s out of abuse if that authority had resulted in earning the people’s trust through just treatment of black Americans, much progress could have been made and we would not have had the brutal killing if George Floyd and so many others and the protests last summer would not have been needed.
In the case of children, at school or elsewhere, teachers must also continually earn children’s trust. This is done by respecting children as individual people. This should not translate into the kind of ‘freedom’ to do whatever one wants no matter what, but it does involve rewarding good behavior with praise and allowing what should be natural consequences to occur when trustworthy authority is not respected. I do not believe that ‘punishment,’ especially corporal is an appropriate way to deal with this mistrust. I do believe that imposing consequences in some form is appropriate when someone exercises their sense of freedom in a way that adversely affects others. Rewards should be praise and a sense of accomplishment, not candy. And under no circumstances should what we knew as ‘authority’ growing up be a violation of respect for one’s personhood or ideas. Challenging authority can be a good thing and we should teach students when it is appropriate to do so and ways it is appropriate to do so. But this notion of ‘respect for authority’ just because someone has power over you is wrong in every aspect. Respect for authority is based on trusting that the person who is teaching, leading, or caring for you has your best interests at heart – visibly and regularly demonstrated – and if there is a question about that by those under one’s authority, then that is the issue to focus on. Why that trust has eroded, not why respect had eroded.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
I agree with you that respect for teachers has got out of hand.
Thanks so much for your reading and reflective comments. As I state in the last paragraph, this erosion has occurred in all sectors. As you say, where it is present it is incumbent upon leaders to set the stage to repair it. I agree! Unfortunately, in concert with that erosion, respect for authority has eroded as well, making for a mammoth task ahead.
Well written Mr. Benson (which you’ll always be to me!:).
Unfortunately, I do believe that some of the backlash against authority is justified and a response to the lack of understanding nd misuse of the power that the position holds. When the leaders in politics, law enforcement, legislature, religion, private enterprise, social organizations, and especially family unit, ignore the weight of thier responsibility and sherk thier necessary duties, it only intensifies the “rate of that erosion”.
The danger and ignorance in this backlash toward leadership is the lack of understanding of the necessity of these hierarchies for a functioning and civil society.
However, when the trust is broken between a leader and its constituents/team/kids, it will only then require a more intense focus and sacrifice on the part of the leader to repair that relationship than what was expected or required before! This phenomenon, (of a spiral or feedbackloop is how I envision it), I believe works both ways… in the positive or the negative.
For me, the next logical question is how do we slow, stop, or dare I be so optimistic to suggest reverse, this erosion?
Thanks for the post Mr. Benson! 🙂
Thank you, my dearest! We are on the same page there.
Great illustrations! I’m praying we all get back on track with God at the center of our lives! Good job!