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Why Is ANYONE Surprised that US Voters Seek an Authoritarian Leader?

August 4, 2016

Thomas Edsall’s column in today’s NYTimes, “The Eternal Return of Unenlightened Despotism”, is full of data on the emerging support for authoritarian leadership by virtually all sectors of the population. The article included this stunning chart from a recent Public Religion Research Institute (P.P.R.I.) survey of parent attitudes where the dark brown bars are “most authoritarian”, the light brown bars are “authoritarian”, the dark green bars are “most autonomous”, the light green bars are “autonomous”; and the tan bars are “mixed” :


While the survey results were used to explain the support for Donald Trump’s presidency, I found them revealing in explaining the support for the authoritarian approaches implicit in the so-called “school reform” movement. Given the authoritarian leanings of virtually all sub-groups I can see that my predilection for inquiry-based instruction, for constructivism, and learning-through-discovery are contrary to the desire for a rigorous, clearly defined, and punitive approach to schooling— the kind of schooling advocated by “reformers” who want to tightly control everything that is taught in schools and who see schooling as a means of cultivating a compliant work force.

But the practices put in place to ensure “safe schools” contribute even more to the fear-based campaigns of authoritarian leaders like Donald Trump. If you want to know why Mr. Trump’s approach is resonating with voters, consider how the presence of good guys with guns has increased, how surveillance cameras monitor entryways and hallways of a vast majority of our school, how students routinely experience drills where they hide from “shooters”, and how students are sealed behind locked doors for the entire school day. We have raised a generation of students trained to accept 24/7 monitoring and who are used to being cocooned. Given this background, support for an authoritarian leader is unsurprising.

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