Re: (LONG) Re: grades & school reform (LONGER STILL)

Fred Kemp (
Wed, 4 Sep 1996 17:22:20 -0600

Steve, power is an important element in the classroom and the dynamics of
power have a lot to do with how engaged students become in classroom
activities. Howard Fast, in _Spartacus_ and _April Morning_ explores the
psychology of slavery and how people in powerless situations tend to
devolve their own capacity to make judgments and assume responsibility.
(Excited that I used 'devolve' as a transitive verb? "Coinage Kemp" they
call me behind my back.) Writing is nothing else if not the ability to
make judgments and assume responsibility. Having a slave fill in the
blanks you've given him, according to the instructions you've given him, is
not writing instruction.

But I agree that the word "empowerment," as with much banner terminology,
is badly used, not because it doesn't mean what it's supposed to, but
because it creates an adverse rhetorical effect, a rallying point for those
who would like to poo-poo all theoretical thinking to say, "see what
numbskulls these trendy educationists are?"

The nature of power and authority in the classroom is a vital issue that
links directly to the performance of the students.

Fred Kemp

>That discussion of "empowerment" as a term--even a deceptive one--was
>really fascinating. Seems like what people who feed on pop
>psychology, etc., really want is the FEELING of being in power, or
>more specifically, in control of their own lives, which now starts
> to sound like an empowerment-as-the-opiate-of-the-people
>kind of thing. In any case, I think it's a good point that getting
>an entire nation of students to feel more "empowered" really may not
>have that much of an effect, since they already have the power at the
>college level to go or not go to school, place themselves into this
>structure, etc. (a point I've made before to those who see the whole
>thing as an oppressor/oppressed relationship). Unless I misread you,
>it seems that your point is that if change is needed, as many or
>even most in this discussion seem to think, then surely it ought
>to be both real and significant rather than merely perceptual
>or even imaginary. Not everything we do to make ourselves feel that
>we've fought the good fight is really very effective; sometimes it
>just makes us feel good, and that's it. Is that about right?
>s finley