Classroom Power Relations: Understanding Student-Teacher Interaction

By Mary Phillips Manke | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Defining Classroom Knowledge: The Part That Students Play

Because schools are intended to be places where learning occurs, the question of what will count as knowledge is especially important. What counts as knowledge is a determining factor in what students actually learn. That is why this aspect of classroom power relationships--how students contribute to the process of determining what will count as classroom knowledge--is the focus of this chapter.

In traditional sociological and political analysis, the power to define what will count as knowledge is assigned to the teacher. The larger society--defined as the structure of the school, the expectations of administrators, parents, and community members, and all kinds of curriculum materials--is thought to influence the teacher's use of this defining power.

Although the actions of students described in this chapter are surely affected by the same larger society that influences teachers' actions, the analysis I present here focuses on student actions exerting influence on what will be learned in a given classroom. I stress this point because so many writers in education have focused on the influence of the teacher, or of society through the teacher. Some view this influence as a primary instrument for the oppression or control of students, particularly those who are culturally different from the majority; others see it as a necessary part of the transmission of the desirable aspects of an historic culture. Without denying that one of the ways teachers contribute to constructing classroom power relationships is to influence the definition of classroom knowledge, I look in this chapter at how students also influence this definition. In doing so I am opening up the possibility of looking at how the influence of the

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