The empowerment educator as disguised ruler: The paradox of negotiating power and status in a college classroom

Pearl Marlene Rosenberg, University of Pennsylvania


This study considers the boundaries around which power and knowledge are negotiated in a college classroom between teacher and students. I argue that if students are to be active, reflective learners, what is needed is a way of viewing the teacher's authority, not as that which legitimates and exercises control over students, but as that which serves as a mediator for helping students situate themselves in relation to knowledge and interest. It therefore becomes necessary to consider the consequences of deconstructing authority in the classroom. For if teachers give up their exclusive hold in authority (of both rules and knowledge), what does that mean for (1) the experience of the individual student; (2) the class as a collective; and, (3) the teacher who is shorn of his or her official authority? This study uses broad-based ethnographic methods of participant observation and data analysis. Data which are drawn from field notes, audio-tapes of classroom dialogue, interviews with participants, and dialogue journals between teacher and student have been used as a way of systematically learning reality from the point of view of the participant, and that includes both teacher and student perspectives. The data are presented as analytic narrative vignettes, organized according to empirical assertions derived through both inductive and deductive methods. The study suggests implications for teacher research and critical pedagogy by recognizing the slippery notions of power and authority in the classroom. It is suggested that teachers desiring to enable their students to become more independent learners in the college classroom should consider the dialectical nature of the teacher-student relationship where the teacher's authority changes as the students evolve. Since years of school scripts have been ingrained in students, teachers in the critical classroom must be rulers in disguise, or mobile authorities (as Shor and Freire call them), while never becoming authoritarian, in order to set the scenes for learning experiences which students must ultimately work out for themselves.

Subject Area

Higher education|Curricula|Teaching|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Rosenberg, Pearl Marlene, "The empowerment educator as disguised ruler: The paradox of negotiating power and status in a college classroom" (1989). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI8922597.