But the loss of authority in our schools can be seen on a much more elemental level as well. One need not be a tweedy classicist yearning for the bygone days when secondary school students all studied Latin to recognize this missing component in education. You don’t have to look at the books and lessons. You can see it on the faces of the teachers, in the cowed words of the administrators. They’re scared of their students.
I don’t mean that they think their students will hurt them physically. Rather, they are afraid to assert any real authority, to stand in the places of adults and representatives of a good and lasting order and pass any serious judgment on the habits and choices of their students.
But this fear has real consequences in classroom discipline, too. As one of my graduate students, a high school teacher at a public charter school, put it, “If my students realized the full extent of my legal powerlessness in the classroom, and if they were so inclined, they could ensure that we never learned anything for the rest of the year.”