Theories of Power: Does our education system employ the dimensions of power in order to reproduce inequalities of race and class?
John Gaventa’s theory of power examines how those in power “prevent groups from participating in the decision-making processes and also to obtain the passive agreement of these groups to this situation.” (Sadan, pg. 39, 1997). This can be accomplished through three different approaches to power: the one-dimensional approach, the two-dimensional approach and the three-dimensional approach. The first is also known as the “overt dimension of power” where the those in power can make those with less do something which they would have not done otherwise (Sadan, pg. 40, 1997). The second is also known as the “covert dimension” where those in power not only “triumph over the other participants in the decision-making process, but also prevent decision-making to exclude certain subjects…” (Sadan, pg. 40, 1997). The third is manipulation where the ones in power “influences determines and shapes” other’s will (Sadan, pg. 40, 1997).
How does this apply to our education system to perpetuate these power differentials? Our educations system is an extremely influential institution that we are exposed to from the time we are approximately five years old into adulthood. This institution is set up in a way so that it can sustain and at times increase the existing inequalities already present in our society. These differences are created by those in power to impact the youth. This is accomplished through the manipulation of geography, disproportionate availability of resources, and the hidden curriculum.
If districted in a certain way, schools can end up being mostly minority students or mostly white students because the neighborhoods are divided by economic status and race. The schools may have been ordered to integrate per the decision of Brown v. Board of Education, but geographically the neighborhoods are still very segregated today. This is clearly seen by the fact that 76% of Latin Americans attend schools where there are mostly minority students (Kahlenberg pg .291, 2005). Districting in this way leads to the poorer schools having bigger class sizes and less qualified teachers (Ore pg. 225, 2014). The wealthy can guarantee that their children go to schools were they will receive a good education by buying a home in a district with good public schools or send them to a private school (Kahlenberg pg .294, 2005). These geographical disparities can be imposed by those in power that choose how to district schools. In New York, for example,
“Section 2215 of the Education Law assigns the responsibility for boundary determination within his or her Supervisory District to the District Superintendent of Schools…The determination made is a matter of individual judgment, based upon the best information available at the time. The District Superintendent is not required to follow any prescribed procedure but may secure whatever information is felt to be applicable under the circumstances… Once it appears that all available information has been reviewed, a written determination is made by the District Superintendent(s) with copies to the Education Department, districts, proper town clerk, real property tax office and other interested parties.” (New York State Education Department)
This means that this one person has the power to make the decisions about school boundaries for their area. In this scenario, one person has the power to manipulate school boundaries and excludes others from having a say. This employs overt power, covert power and manipulation serving as an example of all three dimensions of power.
It is quite clear that there are school districts that have more resources than others. According to a report from The Center for American Progress , “Schools that enroll 90 percent or more non-white students spend $733 less per pupil per year than schools that enroll 90 percent or more white students.” (Kuczynski-Brown, 2012). The poorer schools have less economic resources meaning they have less supplies or lower quality supplies which can be linked to the fact that they get less funding, creating a class barrier between the individuals in different districts. This lack of funding, is done covertly through loopholes, but the results are overt. The lack of resources can then impact the students’ access to cultural capital. Cultural capital is defined as “social assets that include beliefs, values, attitudes and competencies in language and culture.” (Ore pg. 225, 2014). By keeping these students from acquiring the cultural capital that could help them be successful, those in power are keeping them in a lower class that is easier to manipulate.
In the institution of education in this country, the inequalities are also sustained by the hidden curriculum in schools. Hidden curriculum is defined as “the transmission of cultural values and attitudes, such as conformity and obedience to authority, through implied demands found in rules, routines, and regulations of schools.” (Ore pg. 225, 2014). Working-class students are taught things such as memorization without learning the process of how to get to an answer (Ore pg. 225, 2014).There is no decision making, no choices or explanation. This covertly takes away the power of the minority students so that when they are of age to participate, they feel they do not have the resources to impact the decision making process. Middle-class students are encouraged to understand how to get to an answer by understanding the decision making process (Ore pg. 225, 2014). The differences in the hidden curriculum result in some students getting a better education and therefore doing better on standardized tests. No Child Left Behind Act was created and schools needed to be up to standards with their success rate on standardized tests or there would be consequences that were meant to aid the students in getting a better education by replacing teachers, changing the curriculum, etc. (Kahlenberg pg .294, 2005). This law ended up turning into a law that increased segregation and inequalities because test scores for the schools were publicized, leaving schools and their students humiliated on a national scale (Kahlenberg pg .295, 2005).
Our education institution perpetuates inequalities based on race and class in many different ways. These inequalities are that much more detrimental to the children involved because of the fact that they are a part of this education institution at such a young age and for such a long period of time. It has a lasting influence on the lives of everyone who is a part of it. The first and second dimensions of power are employed immediately in many of the examples listed above but the third dimension of manipulations is something that although is a part of some of the examples, it is also something that is created and developed over the time the minority students spend in our education system. The inequalities in this society are ingrained and sustained because of this social institution and the effects are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to undo.
Kuczynski-Brown, Alex. 2012. “American Schools Spending Less On Minority Students
Through Federal Loophole: Report.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com.
Kahlenberg, Richard D. 2005. “The Return of ‘Separate But Equal’” in The Social Construction
of Difference and Inequality: Race, Class, Gender,and Sexuality.
New York State Education Department
Ore, Tracy. 2014. The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality: Race, Class, Gender,
and Sexuality. McGraw Hill Education.
Sadan, Elisheva. 1997. “Empowerment and Community Planning.”