Power Relation And Teaching Literature English Language Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Authority and power in class have always been issues in the kind of relation the teacher and student share. Meanwhile, there have also been contradictory opinions around the nature of this relation. The controversy goes back to different allegedly proper sources from which power stems in the class. The share of power in academia falls into basic and long-held parts of the triangle of teacher, student, and text (as the representative of the power surmounting that of the former two). Dependent upon how much authority is granted to the teacher or the student, the nature of the pedagogical system can either be teacher/ or student-centred.

Power Relation in Teacher-Centred Pedagogy

Traditionally, the quantity of the lesson as well as the quality along with the flow of communication has always been upon the teacher to determine. Baecker is of the conviction that no matter to what extent learner or teacher-centred a class verges on, the authority and power will eventually fall in the hands of the teacher for the rights they enjoy such as syllabus-designing, logistical parameters of papers and so forth. Regarding the fragile nature of free flow of power she believes that "we [teachers] establish control, often using language that appears inclusive and collaborative but really is not" (Baecker qtd. in Weimer 24). This imbalance of power is mainly due to the conventional excuse that students are not capable of "expanding their maturity level," a shield behind which the vulnerability of the factually loosely-constructed power of teacher is hidden; for to give more authority to students may challenge the position of teacher in the classroom (Weimer 25). Traditionally students' educational experiences have made them ever dependent upon teachers as omniscient experts of "knowledge about the past and present; knowledge which is legitimized" on the side of the students when given back in appropriate forms (Roemer). This exchange involves learning, and consequently "empowerment: the students gain knowledge, and the teacher expands" their sense of power through the mirror-like feedback situation (Roemer). Yet, this method can render "little to develop independent decision-making skills" or speculative thought processes, those which add significantly to the "students' abilities to measure themselves and their environment against alternative possibilities" (Roemer).

Power in Learner-Centred Pedagogy

A major revolutionary approach to pedagogy is "Popular Education" which is also known as Critical Pedagogy in North America who was first established by Paolo Freire (Bartlett 345). There are common issues such as understanding the meaning of dialogue, transforming traditional teacher-student relations, and incorporating local knowledge into the classroom that popular educators encounter. "Educators" as suggested by Freire "should reject the 'banking' model of education, in which the teacher 'owns' knowledge and 'deposits' it in the students. Instead, [Freire promotes] a 'problem-posing' method in which both the teacher and student" become sharers of learning (Freire qtd. in Bartlett 345). This method counts on dialogical basis for knowledge and praxis and also relationship between the two parties. Dialogue to him is defined as "the encounter between [humans], mediated by the world, in order to name the world" (346). In other instances he uses the term interchangeably with 'praxis' which he defines as "reflection and action upon the world to transform it" (346). Students to Freire, are no blank sheets on which knowledge could be inscribed. On the contrary, their present concrete experiences are regarded as gadgets in the learning process. The imbalance of teacher/student power is because of the difference between their respective "local knowledge" and academic one held, through the interactions of which synthesis of true knowledge could emerge (345). The major point in Freire's method is to "learn the word and the world [through] an act of love" and "courage" within the dialogical process of local/academic knowledge (qtd. in Bartlett 347).

Problem-posing education then, relies on a transformed and transformational, respectful relationship between teacher and student. In this sense the new terms teacher-student/student-teacher would be formed which would categorically lessen the sharp distance between the two poles; hence, the remaining natural difference and distance between the educator and student will not be antagonistic.

It is assumed that by changing the process of teaching/learning from one of knowledge acquisition to learning process, the focus of power on only one party will definitely decrease. In the learner-centred method, it is mandatory for power to be shared by both teacher and student so as to reduce the anxiety and uncertainty of the learner about themselves throughout the process of learning experience. Students usually show some commonplace resistance towards faculty control in all teaching methods and diverse disciplines of study. Besides, it is believed by the advocates of the learner-centred teaching that learning can occur anywhere without the supposedly essential presence of the teacher. What the course books come to reach is a relative share of power between the two parties.

This anyhow, does not imply that power must totally be transferred to the student for it could lead to "an ethical violation of legitimate instructional responsibility" (Weimer, 29). One way, however to involve students in the academic power play, given their due responsibility, is to provide them with the chance to make an offer or recommendation upon the textbooks in consideration that are proposed to them by the teacher in the beginning of the semester; hence limiting the scope of decision which can end up in a gradual transfer of power. The benefits could be mutual; the students would shoulder the responsibility of determining for the class as the teacher will no longer endure passive presence and vacant look of the students. Besides, sharing power in this way, may bridge the hostility which has long been located between student and teacher and eventually the students could be more likely to yield to the demands of the 'class'.

Pedagogical Power Play, Literary Theory, and Other Disciplines

Appropriate to learner-centred pedagogy is the reader-oriented critical approach which can grant a similar share of power to the students of literature as well as the teacher with the promise of students' literary awareness. Despite being unsettling, this approach empowers students by increasing "their ability to understand how they process texts and" also by teaching them the value of what is brought to the classroom. Whatever the text is, reader-response method "teaches students that they are co-creators of" meaning for their active individualized interpretation of the text (Roemer).

Classes, especially those of literature have nowadays become a subject of interest in other approaches as Political Economy, Feminism, Marxism, Cultural Studies, Psychoanalysis, etc. Just like what happens in classes of varied disciplines, politics of literature, the designing of courses, and the creation of new ones are the denominators of power shifting from the teacher to the student and the other way around. Political pedagogy regards students and teachers, both, as produced political subjects, while defining the teacher as the transformative intellectuals. Paul Smith regards teaching 'literature' yet another political act which brings different responsibilities with it in the process of attaining knowledge (Myrsiades, ix). There are several factors as culture, ethnic background and citizenship of a given town, social class structure, gender, and relative share of knowledge that determine the power play in literature classes not only between the teacher and students, but also within the groups of students as well.

The value of literature today has changed from mere abstract knowledge to some commodity; in fact what distinguishes literature classes from those of other majors is the close entanglement of the discipline itself with factors rendering power among students and teachers as socially constructed subjects. It is suggested that literary genres are interesting in that they provide the talk about patterns of communication and conventions "in different cultures (i.e. hegemonic or subaltern), albeit in different ways, which are used as the points of "judiciousness" around which nodes of cultural power and disempowerment rise" (Lyotard qtd. in Arenas 124).

The alternative views to teaching strategies in opposition with the traditional ones emerged with the chaotic spin that postmodernism introduced to the world. Among all postmodernist thinkers Lyotard is the one who developed the critique of totality, universality, and reason and strongly stressed the play of language game and "dialectic of indeterminacy" and distrust in 'grand narratives" (Myrsiades 15). These postmodernist attacks to the mentioned concepts, in Laclau's opinion, opens up the chance for dialogue and argumentation and let the question of power bring about debates on "ideological and structural forces" as "race, gender, and class" and that how power works productively in these domains (17).

Some poststructuralists locate power not within the individual but rather in the cultural text (which is referred to in the beginning of the present paper as the third determining factor of power: text). For instance the idea of writing, to them, is disciplined by the power of the academic discourses than the individual. Bartholomae and Bizzel think that university discourses are "implicated in power relationships with the students"; therefore the teachers, students, their material circumstances, and the concept of resistance actually go blurred (qtd. in Myrsiades 126-7). Here what is generally taken as ignorance can be interpreted as resistance which very much likens the process to a psychoanalytic therapeutic session where the resistance of the analysand is highlighted in the form of lack of knowledge. Meanwhile the teacher as the knower seems to know something out there, whereas what they really have their hands on, Lacan argues, is the "textual knowledge," not the 'things in themselves' which definitely cannot pass from one to another (126). Therefore, learning has everything to do with the subject-position that the student and teacher occupy.

Bhaba's approach on colonization is analogous to pedagogical relationships. The colonized student mocks the colonising teacher which "in a narcissistic doubling" creates a "mirror relationship to authority" (123). The imitation of the colonized/student blurs the authority of the coloniser/teacher which distorts the image of education where ignorance is understood as resistance then interpreted as both productive and reductive. Resistance which often appears in the forms of "ignorance, stupidity, or wilful misunderstanding" can lead to fruition when viewed from the position of the oppressed (124). Novita Dewi also, assimilates the atmosphere of language classroom to that of colonial/postcolonial literature in that as quoted from Nayar "language teachers are likewise ambassadors of culture" (Nayar qtd. in Dewi 205). He suggests postcolonial literature as an alternative method for the current syllables of language classes. The same power-relation which is present between the producer/consumer and colonizer/colonized can be noticed in the teacher/student roles; so does the analogy of the major population of the colonized which wilfully render to the power of the minorly-populated colonizer. Insofar as Postcolonial literature tries to centralize the challenge of writing of the Empire, it can be a reminder of the pedagogical power play, attempting at writing back to the centre and in this sense being likened to language and literature classroom where the same notions of "history, nationality, hibridity, language, race, and place" come to be of importance (Dewi). From such a perspective, product and process are equally taken to be of importance and the kind of interrelationship between teacher and student stressed upon is one in which the former has the major role of conducting, creating, analyzing, and reflecting on new ideas.

Reading through Postcolonialism and Psychoanalysis, in all such forces the struggle appears between 'self' and 'other'. Of course as De Lauretis suggests, the knowledge as the ultimate outcome will have both "positive... and oppressive effects" (30). Myrsiades assimilates the hierarchically organized pedagogy of liberal American culture to colonization where authority and resistance double one another in "the mirror halls" where the resistance of students cannot necessarily be taken as pure critical practice (121). Julia Kristeva suggests that materiality of communication anchors "complex verbal and other symbolic forms of a culture, the power relations in which these forms engage, and their ability to create, mediate, and recreate forms of subjectivity for individuals" (Kristeva qtd. in Arens 138).

Yet the problem with postmodernist view of pedagogy lies in that according to Habermas it re-evaluates theory with no guarantee of truth and in redefining the relationship between power and discourses as education, destabilizes the faith in reason unlike what the modernist did; hence the negation of "productive features of modernism" (Myrsiades 10). The people attending the class turn out to be subjects and Derridean deconstructive activities will be limited in favour of the safety of what is in print which can interestingly be studied through ideological approaches determining how the social invisible power of ideology can eventually master all individual tastes. Still, it cannot be disregarded for being anti-rationalist for in opening up discursive conditions it is believed to end up in some "collective (democratic) sense of possibility (13). The notion of 'play' with its inherent undecidability recurrently attributed to postmodernism "challenges egocentric selfhood [of the teacher]... [for a better] understanding of the Other [the student]" for the floating notions of selfhood and otherness can change as the perspective does (22).

Nowadays, the discursive nature of academia along with notions of globalization and transnationalism do not take pedagogical approaches as exceptions to the rules. Today's world demands academic world to have a review on the notion of power and a better share of it between the parties in somewhat invisible struggles. This does definitely appeal to the proponents of traditional, pedagogical definitions of owners of power. On the other hand, the whole new view towards the issue may cause the cynical idea of finding the traces ideology and politics everywhere in such new determinations. Be they true or not, pedagogy needs to keep up with the interdisciplinary and discursive nature of other ingredients comprising our universe.

Works Consulted

Arenas, Katherine. "When Comparative Literature Becomes Cultural Studies: Teaching Culture through Genre." The Comparatist. (Project Muse) 29 (2005): 123-147. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/the_comparatist/summary/v029/29.1arens.html>

Bartlett, Lesley. "Dialogue, Knowledge, and Teacher-Student Relation: Freirean Pedagogy in Theory and Practice." Comparative Education Review 49, no. 3 (August 2005): 344-364. <www.tc.columbia.edu/faculty/bartlett/publications/pdf/49_3cer.pdf>

Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. Pennsilvania: Pennsilvania State University, 2001.

Dewi, Novita. "Teaching Postcolonial Literature: The "Know - What", the "Know - How" and the "Know-Why"." Phenomena: Journal of Language and Literature 9, no. 2 (October 2005): 205-212. www.ell.nie.edu.sg/.../16.Dewi%20_teaching%20postcolonial%20literature.pdf

Kostas Myrsiades, Linda S. Myrsiades. Margins in Classroom, Teaching Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1994.

Noblit, George W. "Power and Caring." American Educational Research Journal (American Educational Research Association) 30, no. 1 (Spring 1993): 23-38. <www.aer.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/30/1/23>

Roemer, Kenneth M. "Utopian Literature, Empowering Students, and Gender Awareness." Science Fiction Studies. 70, no. 3 (November 1996). < www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/70/roemer70art.htm>

Weimer, Maryellen. Learner-Centered Teaching. San Francisco: Jossy-Bass Company, 2002.