Classroom Power Relations: Understanding Student-Teacher Interaction

By Mary Phillips Manke | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1

Who has power in classrooms? Most people would say it is the teacher who has power. Willard Waller, an early sociologist of education, wrote in 1932, "Children are certainly defenseless against the machinery with which the adult world is able to enforce its decisions: the result of the battle [between teachers and students] is foreordained" (p. 196).

Waller's statement expresses the understanding of classroom power that prevails for most people--teachers, administrators, educational researchers--in our culture. It is an understanding that focuses on opposition between teachers and students as well as one that assigns power to the teacher alone.

In this book, you will read about a much more complex conception of classroom power. It portrays students and teachers in power relationships they build together and calls into question common assumptions about the workings and results of power in the classroom.

Underlying Waller's statement is this belief: The teacher must have the power in the classroom. Let us work out some of what this belief implies. First, it seems to mean that power is something you can have, an object that a person can own. In this book, the understanding of power is quite different: Power is a structure of relationships--a structure in which teachers and students can build or participate. Power is not an object and cannot be owned by anyone. The structure of relationships is called power because it, rather than the individuals who create it, is what shapes people's actions.


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