Re: Re[2]: grading ourselves to death

Jeffrey R Galin (galin+@PITT.EDU)
Fri, 6 Sep 1996 11:39:51 -0400

Mike Hamenda wrote:

> Sharon Crowley says:
> " The aim of ancient rhetorics was to distribute the power that is
> resident in language among all of its students. This power is
> available to anyone who is willing to study the principles of
> rhetoric. People who know about rhetoric know how to persuade others
> to consider their point of view without having to resort to threats,
> coercion, or violence.

Mike, I would quibble with Sharon on this statement because it
ignores two important facts about power relations: they are neither
universal nor sufficient for manifesting authority. A gun speaks a lot
louder than words these days. You piss someone off at the wrong time in
the wrong place and you die no matter what you have to say. My point is
that power does not shift into the hands of the person who has
"knowledge." Power is only knowledge insofar as it enables the user to
gain access to positions of authority to mobilize socially recognized
power within heirarchal human relations. When the heirarchies fail, no
authority is awarded the speaker. Because the power resides not in the
individual, nor in the linguistic system, but in the mutual relationship
shared by the speakers and because there are numerous intervening social
relations that affect how hierarchies are percieved, power can only be
mobilized when a whole host of interrelated and often conflicting cultural
relationships are alligned.
An example: I might be able to talk the talk of investment
banking and be able to demonstrate an extensive knowledge by showing the
successes of my own investment portfolio, but Wallstreet bankers wouldn't
give me a glance unless I graduated from a small group of highly regarded
graduate MBA programs. Transfer this example into learning standard
English, or rhetorical moves, or even critical thinking. None of these
cases are universal or sufficient to make a difference for our students
within a range of different contexts.

All I am saying here is that "empowerment" is the wrong word. We
do not give power or provide a means for students to take power. As i
have said, power don't work that way. We may be working to enfranchize
students, or help them begin to see the ways in which power functions
within our society. And, we may genuinely feel good about what we have
helped our students learn and accomplish after they leave us. We may have
accomplished things that neither we or our students even recognize in
terms of motivation, or life direction. But we have not given power. I
have grown to distrust the word so much that it is nonfunctional for me
(similar to multicultural education).

Using empowerment to enhance citizenship is perhaps the most
complex of symbolic actions. Think about the implications of what this
means. First of all, good citizens are citizens to the nation-state
first, themselves later (at least this is what folks have implied here).
What makes a good citizen? Think about this question in light of the
1960s or the 1920s. From the state's perspective, a good citizen is one
who is complacent, happy, willing to work hard and fight for the state. A
good citizen is competitive and materialistic and contributes to the gross
national product. A good citizen does not challenge institutional
structures unless they somehow cross ideological lines that are shared by
a broad spectrum of other citizens. In recent rhetoric, a good citizen
does not demand PC--impose tollerance rather than teach it.

When we invoke the political language of citizenship we need to be
careful to say what exactly we mean. I'm betting the things I have named
here were not what you had in mind. But, because education is a function
of the state and we have been so imbued with the rhetoric of democracy
espoused by Dewey and others, it is nearly impossible to talk about
education or educational reform without invoking the discourses of
nationalism. THose are dangerous waters.


\ Jeffrey R. Galin
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