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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor of the School of Education and Psychology

Authority challenged: do "liberal" parents educate better?

Wed, 06 Feb 2019 09:50:00 +0000 Published in ECD Digital Confidential

In not too distant times, young parents used to ask committee to their own parents about how to educate their children. They did so because they valued a style educational based on authority and the development of values linked to it: discipline, respect, effort, etc. Currently, on the other hand, this enquiry is infrequent, due to the fact that the traditional Education is branded as authoritarian (often without reason, because it confuses moral and educational authority with authoritarianism or authoritarian style).

This confusion leads many people to think that authority and freedom are opposed to each other. This incompatibility occurs only in a relationship of authoritarianism: children obey through the coercion of power (authority as potestas) that seeks unconditional submission. On the other hand, in the relationship of moral authority (auctoritas) the learner inwardly accepts the educator's demands because of his credibility and because he does not seek to dominate, but to serve.

The authoritarian style is characterized by an arbitrary authority, with changing criteria and behavioral guidelines prescribed from top to bottom. As a consequence, children discover freedom only in a reactive way (against something or someone).

Etymologically, the word authority is derived from "auctor" and "augere" (to increase and make grow). It is force and positive influence to sustain and increase the psychological development and freedom manager of the educated. The Education would not be possible without the fruitful conjunction of authority and love. Parental authority is positive and elevating. It is a reinforcement of good behaviors and resource to foster human virtues, among them, fortitude and obedience.

Children deprived of parental authority do not know the limits or "red lines" of their behavior, so they do not accept family norms, thus making coexistence very difficult. In the words of John Paul II, "they are orphans of living parents".

Parents who currently opt for a "liberal" Education , bring "innovations" such as the following: being "colleagues" of their children, not correcting them if they disrespect their teachers, tolerating their disobedience by system, etc. Parents aspire to win the affection and admiration of their children by procedure never to damage their "untouchable" self-esteem.

 If the traditional educational style has the risk of exercising authority as authoritarianism, the liberal Education has the risk of falling into permissiveness, where the requirement is replaced by an unlimited faith in motivation. Authoritarianism tends to provoke rebellious children, but not spoiled ones, while liberalism fosters children who only follow the law of desire and whim.

In which of the classic styles of parenting Education collected in the pedagogical literature does the now fashionable liberal Education best fit?

It is very clear that not in the authoritarian one. Nor in the overprotective one, in which parents tend to solve all their children's problems, give them unnecessary help and substitute them in decision making. Children get used to getting what they want without any effort.

Overprotective parents are often considered very good parents. In a cartoon by Rudy Pali, a mother is doing her son's homework, which consists of writing on a blackboard 40 times the phrase "I must learn to do things on my own". When she reaches 39 the mom submission the chalk to the child while saying, "Here, you write the last one!"

Where the liberal Education fits best is in the permissive parenting style, which is based on compromise: there is affection but no control and demands; almost everything is allowed; no rules of conduct or limits are established. Children shy away from effort, which generates poor school results.

The authoritative or democratic style (nothing to do with the authoritarian), is considered by experts as the best, because it combines demand with persuasion; limits are set to the children's behavior but in a participative and stimulating climate; it favors freedom manager and creates a high achievement motivation.

For J. L. Pinillos, this style of authority "promotes autonomy manager and creative independence". Unlike others, it is not centered on the parents, but on the children, since it starts from their needs and encourages their participation; it also substitutes external demands for the appeal to self-demand; there is trust between parents and children, but not "equality". Authoritative parents take into account the opinion of their children, but know that the final decision is up to them.

 The authoritative style, unlike the others, does not fall into extremism. I think that its values are a good reference letter for the improvement of the other styles.