The Forgotten Variable

The forgotten variable in the current education culture= legitimate power.

It’s very simple. Legitimate power is the influence that I allow another to have over me.  Very simple.  Illegitimate power is the control another attempts to have over me for an interest outside of my own.  Again, very simple.

Many psychologists argue that one of the core needs of being human is the need for power.  This all too often is seen as negative, because all to often it is associated with illegitimate power.  But power is healthy and necessary.  The question, is the source of my power legitimate or not?

Educators are necessarily put in positions of power of students.  Not bad or good in itself.  The question for educators, is what is the source of your power?  Does it come via your institutional position, your ability to give grades, enforce consequences, institute and follow policy, etc.  Or does it come from being a person that students want to follow?  (I recognize that it’s much messier in real life:  All educators lean on institutional power to some degree.  The best lean on it as little as possible.)  Because remember, we don’t have power as a given over students.  They ultimately have the power to allow us influence in their lives.  We may be able to get them to do what we want with rewards and consequences, sure.  But we will won’t have an impact in transforming their lives (and real learning is always transformative) unless they allow it of us.  This is the choice that life won’t let us take away from them.

So the most important question for us educators is, who am I becoming right now?  The answer to that has huge everyday ramifications for the students in our care.

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One response to “The Forgotten Variable

  1. Maybe this is the inner history-student-turned-cynic in me, but it’s also worth noting that in addition to being legitimate, you need to make sure the students perceive you as being such. Of course, a lot of the two concerns overlaps. But, for example, first impressions are really important the the second in particular.

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