Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rambling Thoughts on Deference, and Substitute Teachers

One of the threads of discussion on the Gates/Crowley affair is the issue of deference: does one owe deference to a police officer? How about to a learned professor?

Let me wander a moment--I'm personally rather deferential to most authority figures, and I'd be more deferential if I had good manners. But I was brought up to regard parents, elders, teachers, policemen, etc. as figures of authority to whom one deferred. In the Congress there may have been a time where Congresspeople gave great deference to the President, at least where Senators deferred to Presidential nominations. That appears to be dwindling now.

Back in 1770 Americans were brought up to know their betters and to defer to them. But there's always been a revolutionary, anarchic strain in our culture which resists deference, which asserts people are equal or that deference must be earned. I was struck in reading "Renegade", a bio of Obama focused on the Presidential campaign by the description of the pickup basketball games in which he plays: no deference observed, it's pure performance. But in pro basketball, where people have careers, people do get deference, both from their peers and from the referees.

So on the one hand we have the establishment and deference to establishment figures. On the other perhaps Dennis Rodman. Think of Shaq--he's the iconic big man of pro basketball. He expects and gets deference, based on past performance. But he's also an establishment figure. Rodman was a great defender and rebounder, amazingly so given his physique. He got little deference. Some respect, yes, but little deference. And he represented the anarchic strain quite well. And no rookies get respect or deference.

I'll circle back to substitute teachers. I gather things haven't changed much in schools. Consider a run of the mill school where teachers get some respect and deference in the early days of the year. A substitute teacher comes in for the day--he's got to earn his way in. There's just a little bit of deference. Perform and you get more; stumble and you get chaos.

[Added: There's the argument Sgt Crowley didn't offer proper deference to someone who was identified as living at the address, once Prof. Gates had produced ID. That's okay. But I keep remembering the Banita Jacks case in DC--there an officer went to the house, asked Ms. Jacks about her kids, saw three of them, and deferred to her assurance everything was fine. Some months, a year?, later, it's discovered her four kids are dead, and she's on trial for murder. The sergeant is being criticized for excessive deference to an obviously suspicious person.)]

So, is there a proper balance between deference and anarchy? As usual, I go with the Greeks who said everything in moderation.

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