At first glance it seems that there are few similarities between a teacher and a policeman. To suggest that they both share their most important aspects seems ludicrous. So before you abandon this article, let us do a quick review of the evidence before us.
Teachers and police officers are generally seen as two of the pillars of the community in most western cultures, along with doctors, nurses, dentists, vicars and priests, bank managers, military officers, ship captains and so on. Why is this? Why aren’t hospital porters, dental nurses, bank clerks, private soldiers and sailors also seen as pillars of the community? Are they not just as important cogs in the great machine that is civilisation? In many ways they are. Without bus drivers, taxi drivers, delivery men and cleaners, civilisation would soon grind to a halt. So what is the one thing that pillars of the community have in common that everyone else does not?
Not all power is the same. Doctors, nurses, and dentists are pillars of the community because they possess knowledge that is hard to obtain and which we all, at some point in our lives, will rely on for our very survival. They possess a form of power that is similar to the shamans of the past.
Priests possess a similar sort of power. They have a mystical power; a power drawn from an initiation by semi-secret rites into a communion with a higher power still.
The power of the medical profession and the power of priests is drawn from the closed world in which they have acquired their knowledge; a closed world which the rest of us will forever remain on the periphery of – excluded by secret rites and jargon.
Bank managers possess a different kind of power to that of the medical profession and the religious fraternity. Bank managers possess a power over our financial world. They have the power to give us the means to have what we desire, and the power to take away from us what we already have, should we default on any of their rules.
Military officers, pilots and ship’s captains have power over those under their command. They have this power because they are managing situations which demand instant obedience from those beneath them. Having a bigger picture than their subordinates, they rely on their subordinates following their orders without question because lives depend on it.
So where does the power of teachers and police officers come from? It is not the “you can save me” power of the medical profession or the religious fraternity. It is not the “please lend me some money” power of the bank manager. It is not the “take me to your leader” power of the disciplined services like the army, navy or air force. The power of the teacher and the police officer is a power conferred by the people; a power that the people recognise as being necessary for the good of the community as a whole. It is a “we expect you to do what we don’t want to do” type of power.
This could be one reason why the power of the teacher and the power of the police officer are constantly being challenged. The police are often subject to criticism by the media for their perceived failings, while teachers are often subject to criticism by the children they are charged with teaching.
Having established that the power of the teacher and the power of the police officer come from a similar source, let us look at some of the other similarities that the two professions endure. The biggest similarity between a teacher and a police officer is that they are both authority figures, charged with exercising control over a segment of society.