Rethinking The Academy:

Authority and Power Issues in the Traditional System

Clearly, the traditional classroom is a place in which power is shared, taken, and given to students - just as it can be so shared, taken, and given to students in electronic classrooms.

That is, it is a given for this article that radical teachers can and often do give up power to their students, play the role of resource person rather than the more teacher-centered role of authoritarian, and can allow students to have control over the content of courses in the traditional classroom. I do not assume that it is only possible to be a radical teacher in a radical environment: good teaching - by which I mean radical teaching - can occur in any circumstances, given the imagination and concern of both teacher and students in what might at first appear to be the most unforgiving of situations.

However, it will be the particular concern of this piece to explore exactly what the power dynamic in traditional classrooms might be and how it might contrast to the power dynamic of electronic classrooms. Of course, there are certainly going to be authority and power issues in the virtual university as well as in the traditional classroom, but the question is always one of ease. Will it prove to be easier for teachers to share their power, given to them by the institutions in which they teach, in these new electronic environments or will it prove to be as possible - it is never easy - to be a radical teacher in both a classroom filled with desks bolted to the floor all facing a larger desk, or in a room full of computers all facing one monitor, the only one equipped with the ability to project its output onto a screen for all to see? Is there a theoretical difference between those two classrooms?

It is possible to turn the question around: we can also look at the differences in teaching between a classroom filled with movable desks that can assume multiple configurations, or in a computer classroom arranged in an non-hierarchical arrangement that does not privilege one person as "teacher."

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Last Modified: August 2, 1996

Copyright 1996 by Keith Dorwick