Social Power and Education
The focus of this essay is to expand on the concept of social power and education. The phrase "social power" has been used by political scientist and philosophers to refer to the power that is exercised by individuals or groups within a society. The question of power in the educational context has troubled educators, off and on, for years. Ambitious students have attempted to change the landscape of education by injecting the power of the student body into the contemporary political thinking of college presidents and faculty. Political theorists have also attempted to rework liberal political thought but have once again thrust this issue to the forefront of the educational debate. This essay will also focus more intently on the African American college student during the time of the Civil Rights movement and the controversy related to South Africa and it's racism. These two historical events have shaped the way college students have instituted some type of power structure to challenge the powers that be. Appropriately. several recent philosophers of education have examined the issue of social power in the educational context. It is my contention that this issue must be explored before any meaningful revision of how college educational theory can be made. This paper is an attempt to contribute to the investigation of the important question of power in education. This approach will not be limited to the college level, I will also include the high school approach. Dennis Wong asserts that past attempts at classifying specific forms of power rarely succeeded in dispelling confusion, but rather have revealed "at least as much diversity as uniformity". Instead, I begin by looking at one educational theorist's view, before describing my own alternative. Then I draw from my view educational implications that seem important. Following this, I challenge the idea that power-over has control and show how the power of grading supports such a challenge.
Power As Conflict Of Interest
When developing a theory of social power in the educational context, Nicholas Burbules relies on Stevens Luke's well known discussion of power. Lukes defines power this way: "A exercises power over B when A affects B in a manner contrary to B's interest." Following this basic understanding of power, Burbules maintains that "power relations begin with a state of conflicting interests" A theory of power built only on the idea of conflicting interests is inadequate. Such theories are incapable of dealing with cases of professor and student paternalism. Paternalistic behavior is characterized by the use of power by one person over another in an effort to advance the latter's best interest. A professor who forces student to do a presentation even though the student has a stuttering problem is acting paternalistically, and, it seems to me, is obviously exerting power over the student. However, according to Burbules's view of power, the professor is not exerting power over the student since he or she is not effecting the student in a manner contrary to the student's interests. This seems to fly in the face of the ordinary understanding of power. In response to this problem, Burbules suggests that in situations like the one described above, the professor is meeting the student's long term interests. When viewed from a short-term perspective, the professor and student appear to have conflicting interests. However, from the long-term perspective, it is clear that they actually do not (TPE, 98). But this is very false. I argue that just because the student's long-term interest are not in conflict with his or her professor's interest, this does not mean that his or her short-term interest are not in conflict with the professor's interest. That is, his short-term interest of not being made to give a presentation is in conflict with his professor's interest to get the student...
Bibliography: 1) Dennis Wrong, Power (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), 65
2) Steven Lukes, Power: A Radical View (London: Macmillan, 1974), 27
3) Steven Lukes, Power: Readings In Social And Political Theory (New York Univ. Press).
4) Nicholas C. Burbules, "A Theory Of Power in Education," Educational Theory 36, no. 2 (1986): 97. This article will be cited as TPE.
5) James D. Marshall, "Foucault and Educational Research," in Foucault and Education (New York: Routledge, 1990), 25
6) The Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 12 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 259
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