Respect for Authority
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- Subject(s): Cross-Cultural Understanding
- Region / Country: Asia & Pacific Islands / Mongolia
- Grade Level(s): 3–5, 6–8
Students will examine just how a Peace Corps Volunteer working in a culture steeped in subordination encourages local young people to challenge authority and participate in their governance.
After reading the letter and participating in class activities students will be able to
- Describe a process that can be used to make decisions for a group, such as a class meeting or town meeting.
- Explain how popular participation benefits democratic governance in school and society.
- Draw parallels between participation in the classroom community and participation in the local community.
- Cite and define three examples of respect for authority in school and in the community.
- Cite and define three examples of thinking for oneself in school and in the larger community.
- Respect for Authority by Jonathan Phillips
- Introduce the lesson by explaining that the class will learn about Mongolia, a country trying to build a new democracy. If you can, show an excerpt from the video Alice in Wonderland, or read from the book, highlighting the section where the Queen of Hearts responds to any question with: "Off with their heads." Ask the students if this section doesn't seem ridiculous—deliberately—and inquire what the author might have intended to show. If students do not note the satire, explain that Lewis Carroll is satirizing authority figures, especially monarchs, who are unable to respond to challenges to their authority in a reasonable way, but instead use the raw power at their disposal to try to maintain order. Discuss the reaction of the subjects to the queen's rule.
- Explain that the class is now going to participate in an activity that will demonstrate another way to govern and encourage cooperation with rules and laws. Hold a class meeting to decide on a new class rule or project. Encourage everyone to participate in an equal, respectful fashion. After the meeting, ask the students why this method encourages cooperation. Tell them that encouraging participation in democratic governance is the theme of the letter "Respect for Authority," by Jonathan Phillips.
- Have the students read the first two paragraphs of Jonathan's letter. Point out Mongolia's location on a globe or map, as well as the location of the former Soviet Union. Discuss with the students why Jonathan used the expression "under the shadow of" the Soviet Union. Explain briefly the concepts "socialist state" and "market economy." Review the two paragraphs. Point out the central theme: "But to me, coming from America, this subordination to authority seems more harmful than good in this day and age." Ask how this attitude might affect Jonathan's teaching, and why he might feel so strongly about it.
- Point out that, as with most opinions, there is another side to the issue. Write the statement "The school's role should be to help students learn to respect authority." Do the students agree with this opinion for their own school? Why or why not? Tell them they will be considering both options—thinking for oneself and blind obedience—and what their school experience teaches them, when they finish Jonathan's letter.
- Read the beginning of paragraph 3: "But in the example that follows, the Mongolian people amazed me—in a positive way—as they have in countless other situations." This sentence is the theme for the rest of the piece. Ask the students to read the next four paragraphs and trace Jonathan's emotions as he prepares to give his talk. Help clarify two expressions as they read—"culture of spontaneity" and "... I was ill-prepared."
- The next two paragraphs are Jonathan's account of giving his speech. Help the students understand the passage: "I was speaking especially conservatively because I had learned that it was neither culturally appropriate nor my place as a Peace Corps Volunteer to stir up controversy, especially in the sphere of politics. I also considered it rather arrogant and in poor taste to talk up my America as something that was superior, which Mongolia should aspire to." Trace the author's emotions as he gives the speech. Use a chalkboard or overhead to show his emotional ups and downs and how he uses audience reaction to determine what he will say next. Students may also benefit from and enjoy examining the artful way Jonathan conveys the building of interest as he proceeds with his talk—e.g., the interjections of clapping, the pounding on the podium—to convey the growing enthusiasm as it occurs.
- Record the four points Jonathan uses to conclude his speech on the chalkboard or overhead: youth being overly passive; the system would never change unless people made themselves heard; authority needs to be challenged at times; and people who live in a democracy have a duty to be politically active. Point out to the students that these points form the basis of a persuasive speech. Persuasive speeches have been an important part of history.
- Do a coordinated clap together, and see if students can explain the irony Jonathan refers to in the letter concerning this kind of clapping.
- At the end of the reading give the students a choice of two assignments, or assign them one.
- Refer to the two opinions from the beginning of the reading: "Subordination to authority seems more harmful that good in this day and age," and "The school's role is to help students learn to respect authority." Give three examples from your school practices that support each opinion. Discuss if it is possible for schools to teach both concepts in a meaningful way.
- Decide on a class project that will help your classroom, school, or community. Hold a meeting first to decide what to do. Get everyone's input, and use everyone's labor in executing your plan. Evaluate the success of your project.
"Although I had ceased being surprised months before by anything that happened to me in Mongolia, the news was slightly alarming, because I realized I was ill-prepared." This sentence of Jonathan's implies that he had faced many surprises in Mongolia. Brainstorm a list of other surprises you think he might have faced in Mongolia. Use his biography, a reference source on Mongolia, and his previous letter to help you.
Framework and Standards
- The democratic form of government depends on citizens' participation in political activity.
- The ability to persuade others is a powerful tool to create social change.
- How does one balance respect for authority with thinking for oneself in a democratic society?
- How does participation in rule-making and lawmaking help promote cooperation with rules and laws?