How did we get into this mess? To answer this question, I follow Erich Fromm in distinguishing carefully between rational, irrational and anonymous modes of authority. These modes of authority are described in three of his books; Escape from Freeedom, The Sane Society and The Art of Loving. As I sketch the outlines of these heuristic schemata, I remind readers that the descriptions of rational, irrational and anonymous authority offered here are not carved in stone. Like all heuristic categories, these concepts are what Max Weber called “ideal types”, or ways of organizing and interpreting data, not actual entities whose properties or development are governed by natural law. Like all such schemata, they have their limitations. But used judiciously, they are splendid tools to interpret the vicissitudes of “being-in-the classroom” – from both a teacher’s and a student’s point of view.
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