GSE Publications

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Journal Article

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The widespread disaffection of students from school is manifested in academic failure, indifference, and defiance. These problems can be alleviated, I argue, when an authority structure is developed that combines three components – freedom, power, and legitimacy. Authority understood as either power or freedom is apt to subvert students’ school attachment even while attempting to strengthen it; authority that combines power and freedom, when perceived by all parties as serving a legitimate mission, is apt to enhance engagement. The bonding potency of authority is augmented when it is joined to strongly marked school purposes and dispersed to students. The three components of authority are interwoven with school visions and student authority into various patterns: some schools lean more towards power, others more towards freedom; some operate under highly moralized and totalizing visions, others under vaguer, less moral, and less encompassing visions. The nature and interdependence of the three components and the trade-offs under various combinations are discussed. While legitimate authority has many faces, if schools are to be engaging places for students it is essential that the norms promoted are welcomed by them; advantageous to that process is ordaining students with authority to advance prevailing norms.


Goodman, J. (2010). Student authority: Antidote to alienation. Theory and Research in Education 8(3), 227-247. doi: 10.1177/1477878510381626

The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, Theory and Research in Education 8(3), 227-247 © SAGE Publications, Inc. 2010 at the Theory and Research in Education page: on SAGE Journals Online:



Date Posted: 09 May 2013

This document has been peer reviewed.