moral authority

If we are heeded it is mainly because people see us as deserving of respect. If we are not then people will ask why should they listen to us; why should our example be followed; and even why bother to engage in conversation with us? 

photograph: salmon youth centreFew informal educators can be unaware that people learn from their example. Our behaviour, attitudes and values will be scrutinised by those we work with and for. There will be those seeking a role model and others straining to detect hypocrisy. Informal educators are pressured to step-in whenever they encounter unacceptable behaviour. It is not easy for us to overlook such things as bullying or intolerance. People can look to us to set boundaries, to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. This means we must learn, for instance, how to indicate disapproval towards say racist or sexist language without being seen as prigs or killjoys. We develop a repertoire of techniques so we may influence people without alienating them. This is easier said than done. It can demand great skill, and sometimes courage, to sustain dialogue without sanctioning unacceptable views or behaviour; to remain in a group yet apart from it.

Those we work with may at times make fun of certain values such as honesty, reliability or selflessness. That said, informal educators are expected to be fair, truthful, punctilious about fulfilling obligations, and thoughtful and unselfish in their conduct. However great the temptation to go with the moral flow we really have no choice. We must aspire to embody such values because our right 'to be listened to' largely flows from this. It does not necessarily come from our having superior knowledge. The way we conduct ourselves, and the care we take with people, are recognized. Gradually, we may be seen as people who can be trusted, have integrity and are wise. It is qualities such as these that allow us to play a part in people’s lives. They give us a chance to deepen learning opportunities for others in different situations, and to ask questions about what might be good or bad. In other words, they underpin and express our ‘moral authority’. Those who possess them gain a capacity to influence situations and to prompt people to think of their, and others, well-being.

infedcov.jpg (18462 bytes)Taken from Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith (2005) Informal Education. Conversation, democracy and learning, Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.

© Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith
First published November 1999. Last update: July 08, 2014