A Homeschooler’s changing perspective on authority figures

A parent on an e-mail discussion list posted questions about pulling her child from school to begin homeschooling, although it goes against some sort of “best practices” in her state, where it is recommended that this occur during a semester- or summer break. The mom feels that the situation warrants risking the school board’s displeasure, as her son is being “trampled underfoot” in school, and she is unwilling to let it continue through the end of the school year.

Despite her firm conviction, despite knowing what is right for her child, despite her mother bear’s instinct to protect her child, this woman is trying to muster the courage to face the school division, because, as she stated, “these people intimidate me.” I noted that, “It is common to feel intimidated by authority figures. After all, we learned that fear in school.” Who among us did not learn to fear being sent to the principal’s office, to tremble at the thought of facing that man in a suit, that man who had the power to rule our lives?

The mom asked for feedback that could help her “bravely face the school board demon.” My reply was simple: “When I have a demon to face, I look it squarely in the eye and consider what lesson it holds for me. Our demons are lessons in disguise.” This rule applies whether the demon is a specific person, an amorphous system of red tape and control measures, or a fear that we hold.

Freeing ourselves from the paralytic effect of authorities requires that we face each of them in the same manner. We must examine not only our reaction to them–a task difficult enough for many–but also the authorities themselves. We must question their authority, and ourselves. What actual power do they have? What power am I giving them that is not truly theirs? How does my fear give away my own power? How can I put their power in perspective, and reclaim my own? This examination takes courage, which has been defined as “going forward even when one is afraid.”

Authorities abound in America. We are subjected to them from birth to death. They dictate how mothers give birth, how children are educated, the definition of education, the recognition of education, the healthcare decisions we may make, the reproductive rights we have, how our taxes are spent or squandered, how we can die, and how we should be buried. In many instances, we actually pay these people to tell us what we may and may not do, to limit our choices. In conjunction with Madison Avenue, the system of authority has persuaded us to turn it-and our wallets-all over to them.

As a homeschool parent dealing with the local school division, I have encountered authority figures who have overstepped their authority, and I have used those encounters to better myself. There is something within that will not let me shrink in fear, and so I have mustered my courage numerous times. Each time I have faced the demon of fear, I have come through the process more empowered, more courageous, and more willing to question the next authority, whether it be school personnel and board members, doctors, lawyers, elected officials, teachers, or my own parents.

In dealing with these authority figures, I have learned that they are merely human beings like myself, and that authority is something that one a) assumes and b) is given by those under said authority. One can assume to have whatever authority they like, but in most situations, one cannot force others to recognize it.

Recognizing authority-and kowtowing to it-is a choice, and one that should be made thoughtfully. If we freely give authority to all who assume it, we give away our power, our choice, our convictions, our courage, and the very core of who we are. Here is to the little spark of human spirit that musters the boldness to ask what lessons the demons offer, and to hear and heed the answer.

(C) 2006, 2010, Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved. This article was originally published in the March 2006 issue of HEM’s Online Newsletter

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