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Constructing Authority in the Classroom

February 19, 2009

deluxe_robe_optionsI’ve noticed that in the classroom I often find myself saying that “scholars say ….”

I’m aware that when I do so I’m awarding a certain authority for whatever follows.

On the one hand, I’m a bit comfortable with that: it turns out the scholars who’ve studied these things their whole lives know a heck of a lot more about the subject matter than students. (In fact, pretty much anyone who’s read the assigned textbook knows more than the students.)

pope_350On the other hand, I’m uncomfortable with it for three reasons. First, it plays the authority card—what I’m saying is to be accepted just because some (presently absent) authority said so.

Second, it is problematic because I don’t want my students to become habituated to accepting the authority card. I don’t want to produce drones.

Third, it presents unity where none exists. “Scholars” are not a monolithic whole. There are few things about which scholars agree 100%. I chided a student a few weeks ago for saying “Science says …,” but I’m doing the same thing.

How can I pass through between Scylla and Charybdis? How can I appeal to substantial prior studies without reinforcing the idea that students should just accept things because they’re handed down by authorities?

A few weeks ago I told a group of students not to blindly accept everything I say without question. One of them retorted: “Okay, I’ll blindly accept your recommendation not to blindly accept what you say.”

Clever bastard.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. roland permalink
    February 20, 2009 6:47 pm

    That first picture reminds me of Annie Sprinkle’s famous picture of how to look hot when you’re not.

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