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

Steve Finley (Finley@TTDCE1.COED.TTU.EDU)
Thu, 5 Sep 1996 10:55:15 +0000


I agree with the idea that power (better when stripped of its nasty
zero-sum institutional and political connotations) is a real determinant of
what happens in the classroom. Psychologists' work on self-efficacy
comes to bear very much in this vein, I think, and essentially says
what anybody's who's taught for any length of time knows: If a
student believes that nothing she does matters anyway, you can expect
her to write like it. And likewise, if the course has no power to it (in
the sense of import or impact, not hegemonic overlording), then
why would even a student with a sense of her own power pay attention
to it? Power and worth really aren't separate concepts as the
separate words would imply, I think. And I don't think that
discussion of power in the classroom are always about who gets to say
how things operate (where if you win, I lose).

And, yeah, the word "empowerment" has become so identified with
trendy numbskull types that it's hard to hear it for what it is. But
I still think the original point was a good one (I can't remember who
in this thread made it, but I think it was Jeff Galin)--that if you
use the term to mean gaining some sort of broad political or
institutional power, it may not be a realistic or even meaningful
goal. In what kind of classroom would students be "empowered"? If
that means simply that students wouldn't be "slaves filling in the
blanks," I don't know many people who'd argue against that. But if
that means that "empowered" students would have, in some nebulous
way that I've never quite been able to identify, more power in an
identifiable, institutional, official sense, what would that look
like? I hate to sound like such a fuddy-duddy, especially at such a
tender age :-), but the fact is that, in one way, students generally
DO know less than teachers and do have things to learn from them.
That is not to say that they're all worthless slugs and that we ought
to think of ourselves as something between drill sergeants ("Pay
attention, worthless maggots!") and dispensers of all wisdom worth
knowing. I'm really not knocking down a straw man here: I've seen
people argue for the notion that teachers ought to act like they know
not one whit more about anything than the students do, that every
class ought to be nothing but totally inductive, reinvent-the-wheel kind
of stuff. Of COURSE I don't like a totally prescriptive approach to teaching,
even less so for writing than for other kinds of courses where there's a
bigger body of basic information that has to be learned. But it seems to
me that a good teacher of writing has to make right judgments about the
few instances in which prescription works well, where it doesn't work
at all, and how much power to leave with the students in terms of how
the class operates. But that kind of power--the zero-sum kind--is
not the only kind, as I've mentioned above, and maybe not even the
most important kind.

s finley