In “A Bronx Tale”, the undisputed mob boss of the town, Sonny, takes his quasi-son, Lorenzo under his wing and in one scene speaks to him about becoming a leader. Among the few topics Sonny professes about is the topic of fear versus love. When Lorenzo questions him on his values pertaining to these two “virtues”, Sonny ambivalently applauds his young protégé and explains that while it is “good to be both…ultimately it is better to be feared than to be loved, because love lasts longer”. In the underworld of organized crime and unwritten rules, this seems to make sense. In education, it does not.
Unfortunately, there are some educators who extend this logic into the classroom.
By a minute extension of practical logic, “to be feared” as the teacher make surface sense: I mean, we only have our students for ten months and then we are shipped a new batch after a two month break. But the fallacy in this educational pedagogy lies in the fact that we are more than “bosses” or “rulers” of our classrooms. We are supposed to be leaders in the most Utopian of senses: we nurture, guide, protect and care for the students we have from morning to early afternoon, Monday through Friday. We must demand…yes demand, accountability, action, agency and an academic standard in our classroom, but we must do this through love and not fear.
We can shout and scream, and shoot, if no one is looking, even break a yard stick over a desk to get attention and demand compliance. And yes, once we take those actions we will surely get the compliance we are looking for. But when we foster compliance through quote unquote fear, we are establishing an environment that lacks trust and compassion for the actual learning that we want to foster in our students. In the case of fear tactics, it may last a while, heck perhaps even the entire school year if we press and prod hard enough, but this approach will lead to half-developed individuals. Not something that I would want my child or yours to endure.
No student has ever come back, after graduating, to visit the teacher they “feared”. In fact, many a child has probably dreamt of the day they moved on from that class, matured into an adult, and ran into said “feared” teacher at the grocery store. I imagine a greeting like that would be far from amicable. But they do come back to visit the teacher they “loved”. So in a sense, love does go further than fear…at least in the teaching world. Thus, as teachers, we must operate within this framework while leading our students.
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