The achievement of political freedom in a democratic system results from the conscious plans and actions of a human community. Once political freedom is identified as an aim, the true task inheres in developing social structures and institutional frameworks which create, nurture, and sustain that end. These structures and frameworks themselves are in need of care and support if the democracy they nourish is not to wither and atrophy from neglect. Yet desiring political freedom, accomplishing it, and maintaining it do not come with instructions. Modern history provides many examples of societies that lost their way and slipped into the darkness and despair of political oppression.

This essay examines the concept of authoritarianism and the ways it is reflected and fostered in school life and school structure. While there are other socializing forces which account for a population's levels of authoritarianism (e.g. family influences, nature of an economic order, impact of religious control, etc.), the public school is in the unique social position of gathering almost all the nation's young together for an extended common experience. Primary among the reasons for having public schools is education for democracy; their impact therefore cannot be overlooked. This foray begins with a consideration of the nature of authoritarianism and the descriptions and definitions provided by various scholars accompanied by a portrait of the authoritarian personality type. It then turns attention to an examination of those aspects of school life and structure which are reflective of authoritarian practices and orientations and can in important respects be tied to the development of authoritarian perspectives. Authoritarianism is a complex phenomenon and it is not my intent to treat it in all its detail but rather to unpack it and point to educational matters which should concern us all.