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Is the teacher-student hierarchy justified?

+2 votes
In terms of young child to teens being taught by adults, is authoritative power justified? If so, when does it stop being justified? And what are ways you could explain this to a child?
asked Jun 4 by Ari
what do you mean by "justified"?

as nihilist and funky said in their answers, "justifying", "justice", etc. get defined by "the authorities", by hierarchical organizations. in that sense, authoritative power is always justified, because people in positions of authority define justice and justification, the words themselves and what actions apply or don't apply. i have no desire or interest in "justifying" anything.

if you mean, do i like/want/desire a hierarchical, authoritative relationship between young students and older teachers, i would answer: certainly not.

in my teen and pre-teen years, i hated that people assumed authority over me, whether my parents, or teachers at school (a place that all the so-called authorities forced me to go)....

and when young people tell me now (40+ years later) that they hate the power of teachers over them, i try to help them fight that authority in whatever ways i can. i express to them that i don't believe in that hierarchical power relationship, that i hate it as they do.

3 Answers

0 votes
It's only justified to the extent that the students agree to it, but children never have that option.

In anarchy how something "justified" is un important because it's based on voluntary human relationships. Justification is generally important in the authority business. For example: what is a court system other than a justification for the state?
answered Jun 5 by Nihilist (-720 points)
+3 votes

i see absolutely no reason why a "teacher/student" relationship need be hierarchical or authoritarian. the idea of expertise (often expressed as "authority", a poor choice of words imo) need have no relationship with the idea of hierarchy (or power/authority). i am more skilled at building rustic structures than my friend who is more skilled at growing food. there is no hierarchy there, simply individuals sharing freely.

the question of when a child is capable of making their own autonomous decisions is a tricky and nuanced one. but the extent to which modern humans (at least in my experience) coddle and over-protect young beings is a huge problem in the growth of strong, independent-minded beings, imo. and that coddling is typically done using authority (compulsory education?). analogous to the way nanny government tries to coddle and over-protect its constituency.

the idea of "justified" hierarchical/authoritarian relations sounds like chomsky's school of thought.

literally anything can be "justified" (or "unjustified"), based on one's perspective and situation. once the analysis goes beyond that, all kinds of assumptions and generalizations come into play. such as the idea that there is some singular, common baseline against which "justification" becomes relevant/necessary (that baseline is typically defined by authority). for me that is a completely individual thing.

answered Jun 7 by funkyanarchy (12,420 points)
funky, i think quite often about what you said in the second paragraph...

it seems like such a strange phenomenon, that young people so frequently get coddled/over-protected while simultaneously using the concept of authority....so they become catered to and ordered around at the same time....the message of both indicating to the young person "you can't think for yourself or handle anything yourself...i cannot trust you, you cannot trust yourself".
0 votes
while the previous two answers are the more clear responses to the provocation of the words "hierarchy" and "justified" i'll take the opportunity to trouble the answer a little bit.

hierarchy can be understood as one of the bad words for anarchists, but of course it has nuance, and it's the nuance that raises questions like this, i think.

i have been in plenty of classes in which the teacher doesn't know more than the students, or if they did know more, they didn't express it. this was frequently done in the name of not-maintaining/creating-a-hierarchy, but ultimately it seemed to me to be wasting the time of the students, and allowing the teacher to not take responsibility for the power that they had, by definition, in a classroom setting.

there's a lot of stuff mixed into this question - like, how do people demonstrate autonomy (or lack-of-hierarchy) as a student and as a teacher? is it ok to be ... submissive (? better word) for a period of time because it makes one more available to some kinds of information if one is not struggling to maintain oneself (i know, very controversial statement here--can cite many stories of apprentices who have to become humble before understanding what the teacher is trying to teach them--and of course, this is mostly articulated in stories about non-western methods, which is both orientalism but perhaps also a point about *how* westerners tend to value self, struggle, autonomy, etc, not just *whether* to value...)

i don't know exactly where humility fits into a question about hierarchy, especially a hierarchy that is chosen, as some (of course not most) teacher/student relationships are. and how a teacher's humility would/should be demonstrated differently from a student's...

also, not all teacher/student relationships are in classrooms, and not all are between adults/children. some teachers are state agents, and some  are not (ie they're outside of schools), some teachers are parents of the children they're teaching, some students are forced to be in classrooms, etc etc
answered Jul 26 by dot (52,800 points)
as you pointed out in a topic a long time ago on the same issue (involving the basic nature of hierarchy), is that there are at least a few ways that people think of hierarchy. The one that anarchists get upset about normally has to do with rigid hierarchies, where someone is generally thought to have the knowledge and ability to make judgment calls for/against other people, like with normal school teachers, or just some sort of assumption superiority, like with racism.

There are some types of hierarchies that can't be avoided though, like everyone has some sort of preference. For example, if i say "i like beer better than whine", this is an example of hierarchy.

Hierarchy isn't really a "bad word" for anarchists in as much as their whole philosophy is meant to specifically target human hierarchical social structures. This is really distasteful for most people, and is even distasteful for me sometimes, because to accept this is just to call every single ordering of things into question isn't how humans want to live. So, for the teacher/student hierarchy to be justifiable or non-offensive to anarchists, there needs to be an ability for the teacher and the student to walk away from the situation without too much hassle (which can't really be done in either compulsory schooling or college), and the students need to be able to participate in the educating...

Other than that, there needs to be "teachers" and "students", because humans can only learn from other humans and experiences. I personally wish there were more people around me who could teach me about plant varieties and such because just taking a book into the woods doesn't always cut it. When people can teach each other in a more private and less massified and regulated way, then this is ideal. The thing that im frustrated with in today's world as an adult is even though you can practically learn anything, there are a lot of barriers between social interactions and learning skills.

institutional, or otherwise imposed, hierarchies are ones that this anarchist is strongly opposed to.

" ...to call every single ordering of things into question isn't how humans want to live."

aside from the embedded assumption that you know how (all/most/many/any other than you) humans want to live,i know at least a few folks for whom questioning the "ordering of things" is not only not distasteful, but it is their preferred approach. question everything, but choose your battles well.

i definitely agree that "hierarchy" is a word that can be used in various ways, some of which should probably not have a negative connotation even for an anarchist. i also agree that taking a plant book into the forest can't come close to having a plant knowledgeable person there with you.

i am not sure i would place funk music hierarchically above new age music, even though that is my strong preference. individual preference as a hierarchy doesn't really fit in my mind, but i understand where it comes from.

while there may be barriers between many social interactions and learning skills, i disagree that is always - or even usually - the case. firstly, i think one can learn from almost any social interaction, though not necessarily a desired skill. more importantly, one can be more intentional in their social interactions, seeking out those that might help learn something they are wanting to learn. the distinction of "learning" from everyday "social interactions" is to me a result of typical modern human life, where life is divided into discrete and largely unrelated activities like "work", "school/learning", "play", "romance", "politics/activism", etc. that is absolutely not necessary, and to me it is undesirable. not that every social interaction has to be a learning experience (or anything in particular), but the possibility is always (or usually) there.

when you say "humans can only learn from other humans and experiences", do you mean humans cannot learn from non-humans? if so, i would strongly disagree with that. i myself have learned much from both plants and non-human animals.

"When people can teach each other in a more private and less massified and regulated way, then this is ideal."

i would word that somewhat differently, but i strongly agree with the basic point.

"when you say "humans can only learn from other humans and experiences", do you mean humans cannot learn from non-humans? if so, i would strongly disagree with that. i myself have learned much from both plants and non-human animals."

No, this is not what I'm saying, im just saying that humans are different from the rest of the world in terms of educational qualities, you can learn directly from human explanation and example, whereas the rest of the world is "experienced". It's largely uncontrollable unless you're willing to resort to some sort of industrial machinery.

"while there may be barriers between many social interactions and learning skills, i disagree that is always - or even usually - the case."

This is why I'm moving to somewhere a little more social and metropolitan, the place i've been living actually has a reputation for being stultifying and depressing. My situation does tend to paint my view of reality at times.

"aside from the embedded assumption that you know how (all/most/many/any other than you) humans want to live,i know at least a few folks for whom questioning the "ordering of things" is not only not distasteful, but it is their preferred approach. question everything, but choose your battles well."

I understand this and all, but there is a point where I need to just stop questioning and mulling over things, and reach a compromise with the way that other people who i actually know see things as well. It always seems like when i talk to anarchists on the internet (not talking about you specifically here, you tend to be pretty open and clear about what you have to say) they expect me to discard using generalizations in my language when they have generalizations that are equally as narrow and even less realistic and fair. Overall, anarchists largely seem to be paranoid and insular non-conformist-conformists in reality, which is largely why i have let anarchist modes of thinking disappear into the periphery of my mind so that I'm using it in a way that only benefits my egoism and the people around me to the extent that i can...

the dilemma of how to find meaningful relations in a world (society, culture, nation, whatever) primarily filled with people that think very differently from yourself (often oppositionally), is a massive one. it is the dilemma that inspired my changes from kinda lefty activist to kinda individually focused anarchist. this world is not cut out for folks that choose to think outside the "mainstream" box(es), unless their lives are completely detached from that thinking.

finding trusted friends/allies is not easy, even (especially?) in anarchist spaces. finding folks you trust that you also want to spend quality time with....? damn near impossible for me. so i am content to have very very few really deep relationships, and numerous less deep ones. i'm not suggesting that as a solution to the dilemma, it just kind of works for me.

good luck with your move, i hope you find whatever social interaction you are looking for.
Thanks for the well wishes, it is nice to encounter people, even if only through the internet, who understand how civilization has "being shitty and unnecessarily difficult" as a requirement for living.
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