Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Negotiating Authority in an Undergraduate Teacher Education Course: A Qualitative Investigation

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Negotiating Authority in an Undergraduate Teacher Education Course: A Qualitative Investigation

Article excerpt

Research Problem and Purpose

Negotiating authority, a multifaceted, on-going process of mutual bargaining over the power to determine or the right to control, permeates all facets of teaching experience (Shor, 1996; Winograd, 2002). Considered by many educational theorists to be an outgrowth of collaborative dialogue and decision-making that helps foster active student engagement and investment in learning, different aspects of negotiating authority have been theorized as essential dimensions of democratic education (Barber, 1984; Boomer, Lester, Onore, & Cook, 1992; Shor, 1992). Classrooms in which authority is purposefully negotiated, however, remain more the exception than the rule in educational practice. Traditional conceptions of authoritarianism persist to such an extent that efforts to negotiate authority are commonly perceived as completely abandoning it (Oyler, 1996).

A starting point for teacher educators interested in democratizing classroom practices is to understand how authority is negotiated in the classroom. We know very little, however, about this process. Theoretical claims for how authority is negotiated have been instantiated with little empirical examination, and depictions of democratic classrooms have relied more on anecdotal accounts of teaching/learning practices than systematic research (e.g., Apple & Beane, 1995). What we do know is derived more from elementary and high school contexts (Manke, 1997; Oyler, 1996) than college classrooms (Fecho, Commeyras, Bauer, & Font, 2000). If teachers are to gain a deeper understanding of negotiatory practices, empirical support for their implementation, and practical guidance for structuring classroom authority relations, systematic empirical study of negotiating authority is needed. The purpose of this study was to help fill this gap by exploring how authority was negotiated in an undergraduate teacher education course.

Theoretical Perspectives

Three theoretical perspectives are particularly relevant to examining how authority is negotiated in teacher education classrooms. The first is Dewey's vision of democratic education, in which democracy is "more than a form of government" and is, in fact, "primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience," requiring the active participation of students in collective deliberation and inquiry (Dewey, 1966, p. 87). Second is Foucault's (1980) conception of power, in which authority is continually negotiated regardless of specific educational practices, since authority is considered a relational construct that is not owned as though a commodity, but is a force that continually flows through experience and is jointly constructed through mutual actions. Third is Freire's (1996) theory of liberatory praxis, which connects theories of democracy and power to reconstruct traditional conceptions of pedagogical authority defined by domination into alternative conceptions characterized by mutuality and dialogue. While these theories of democratic/liberatory pedagogy and power/authority in the classroom provide solid conceptual foundations for examining how authority is negotiated, they require systematic instantiation and investigation to discern implications for teaching practice.

For this study, I broadly defined authority as an interrelational act that is exercised rather than owned, involving rights recognized as legitimate by those under its influence to shape or control social circumstances (Amit & Fried, 2005). I defined negotiation as an ongoing process of mutual communication and decision-making that is concerned with reconciling differences when some interests are shared and others are opposed (Lens, 2004). In this conception, authority "operates in situations in which a person or group, fulfilling some purpose, project, or need, requires guidance or direction from a source outside himself [sic] or itself " (Benne, 1970, p. 392). …

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