JH’s comment gives me food for thought. Herndon’s books have inspired me to take another look at what I’m aiming for in my autonomy class and why. On the other hand, it’s also a can of worms – opening up some issues I’d rather not think about because they complicate the picture.
Herndon did not believe in maintaining order in the classroom for the sake of maintaining order. He apparently wasn’t like most people who simply feel more or less uneasy when faced with a number of younger people who either don’t follow orders or don’t behave as expected. Herndon wrote about his ability to wait, to give young people (and himself) room to grow and develop on their own, not a reaction to what an adult is doing to them, nor something they are coerced into.
However, JH’s comment raises more questions: what if imposing order isn’t just for its own sake but vital for the safety of the students themselves or the teacher him/herself? What if, by not imposing order and allowing the students to “walk all over you”, you thereby demean yourself in your own and in students’ estimation? Possibly jeopardizing your job, or at the very least making your own job much more difficult? Why did JH feel forced into a type of teaching he did not believe in? Is this inevitable? Is it OK for a teacher to teach in a way he or she believes is right even though it may not be to the students’ advantage? What does JH mean by “best for the circumstances”? Am I prepared to teach in a way I do not believe in if the circumstances demand it (e.g. if the administration or students themselves were to insist on it)? What if a particular way of teaching, say a Socratic approach, irritates the majority of students (at least initially)? If the teacher is aiming at the students’ growth in the long term, is he/she justified in pursuing this approach in the face of student resistance? And to present the other side of that coin, is an approach justified if the students are perfectly satisfied with it, even though they may not be learning very much? (I remember a study was done on these lines once, which demonstrated that a language school run on certain principles was very popular amongst students, even though a variety of test scores showed very few students learnt anything meaningful or made any significant linguistic progress there.)