Machiavelli the teacher?

This is kind of interesting.

In reading and preparing for my lessons this upcoming week on Niccolo Machiavelli‘s rules for a prince or leader, I couldn’t stop thinking about his rules as if that leader was a teacher. Call it whatever critical lens you want, but it was interesting looking at his beliefs about leaders through the eyes of a preservice teacher. Without going into the specifics about what Machiavelli believes (you know, in case my students come across this post) he does offer some interesting questions about what a leader – er, rather, a teacher if you’re using this lens – should do and how he or she should act.

If you aren’t familiar with Machiavelli, he lived during the late 1400s and early 1500s. Living during the Renaissance, he was quite the humanist. He also held some power in Italian politics. His party (used loosely in comparison to contemporary American politics) eventually lost power in Italy and he was arrested, tortured and banished – and, of course, left without any political influence. Because of this, he ended up writing The Prince, in which he outlines, through personal mental struggle, how leaders should act in power.  It’s a really interesting read, but using my “Educator Lens” I couldn’t help but apply his beliefs to the so-called leader of the classroom, a teacher.

Here are some of those characteristics and roles of a leader, as suggested by Machiavelli, to think about:

  • Should a leader (teacher) do powerful and influential things that are virtuous but detrimental to personal well-being?
  • Should a leader (teacher) do weak and unchallenging things that will bring about security and positive well-being?
  • Is it better to be loved than to be feared, or the reverse?
  • Should a leader (teacher) be tough in order to succeed but be disliked by many?
  • Should a leader (teacher) be passive in order to be well liked but have his or her country (classroom) fail and be susceptible to attack?

I know where Machiavelli stands. Well, not in terms of a teacher exactly. But I think these questions work well in an adapted format. I’m not entirely sure where I would stand. Too bad finding the perfect mix isn’t easy.



Filed under Classroom management, Education, English, Lesson, Lesson planning, Personal, Student Teaching, Students, Teaching

2 responses to “Machiavelli the teacher?

  1. Hey Jay — this post was so awesome I just had to say a little something about it. I think this comparison is really relevant and I can’t stop thinking about the questions you posed! Mostly, I’m really caught up on the first two “teacher characteristics” — Should a leader (teacher) do powerful and influential things that are virtuous but detrimental to personal well-being? and — Should a leader (teacher) do weak and unchallenging things that will bring about security and positive well-being? Personal well-being to me has to do with esteem, self-knowledge, self-efficacy, identity etc. When teachers do powerful/influential things, they immediately effect personal well-being of students without a doubt. But because students’ identities are so fluid and they’re still working to discover their strengths and dreams, I wonder if we’re asking the wrong question if we’re scared of harming this well-being or making students less secure. Students need to feel a base level of safety and trust in our classrooms, in our abilities and in our senses of justice to be sure, but I think we need to completely jump off the safety ship when it comes to the actual learning. Learning should always feel a little bit risky, untenable, dangerous. Is there such a thing as a safe space full of a bunch of tempestuous learning? Perhaps. I suppose my ideal teacher/leader is one who is a safe person, a trustworthy person but who allows for dangerous or risky ideas–the safety makes the risks possible.

    Just some musings… thanks for the intellectual stimulation! 🙂 – Shea

  2. Hi, Jay!

    Your thoughts about Machiavelli’s views of leadership as a lens through which to consider our own views of teaching really got me thinking! I have been thinking a great deal about classroom management this week, and I found an interesting “classroom management profile” quiz.

    Essentially the quiz asks you to respond to a series of statements, indicating to what degree you agree with each on. At the end, you add up your scores for four classroom management styles: Authoritative, Authoritarian, Laissez-faire, and Indifferent. I scored a 10, 8, 14, and 7, respectively. The description for my preferred classroom management mode of Laissez-faire affirmed my growing recognition that I tend to avoid implementing classroom management because I am so fearful of harming my students’ well-being.

    After taking the quiz, your blog post really struck me. The questions, ” Should a leader (teacher) do powerful and influential things that are virtuous but detrimental to personal well-being?
    and “Should a leader (teacher) do weak and unchallenging things that will bring about security and positive well-being?” speak to my struggles with classroom management. Right now I see these two questions as this either/or type thing, but I hope that it is possible to start doing more “powerful and influential things” in my classroom without harming students’ “personal well-being.”

    Thanks again for sharing your interesting perspective!

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