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The Democratic Classroom: Sharing Power to Improve Learning and Educate Citizens
Unformatted Document Text:  Democratic Classroom 8 of power” in the classroom to one where it is shared with students. If instructors are able to take this step, they will be less likely to wield disciplinary expertise (their most potent weapon in the classroom) in an inappropriate manner contrary to the goal of student learning since they no longer structure their courses in a dictatorial fashion. Before we deal with how instructors go about shifting the balance of power in their classrooms, it is necessary to ask how instructors can ascertain whether they are monopolizing power. Weimer recommends looking at your course syllabi. Are they written as an invitation to engage in a partnership of learning? Or, as is more likely the case, are your syllabi filled with “edicts, demands, and otherwise definitive directives” (Weimer, 2002, p. 24)? Here, many would object that the syllabus is like a legal contract in which the obligation to be authoritative and unambiguous trumps any concerns about power sharing. Weimer agrees that we do need to be clear with what we expect from our students “but must all those messages be communicated with heavy handed language” (2002, p. 24)? The “syllabus test” is therefore more a way to assess whether the tone and manner with which we communicate with our students betrays our practice of trying to exercise complete control over their learning experience. Some may agree that they need to modify their tone but argue that students are not prepared to share power in the classroom. This argument is a variation on the common complaint, usually made in conjunction with a commentary about “students these days,” that students are lazy, overly concerned with grades, and unwilling to take responsibility for their own learning. Weimer agrees that these observations are often true “but the fact that students need to be prepared to handle learner-centered approaches is not an endemic reason that justifies our making all the decisions about learning for them” (Weimer, 2002, p. 25). She suspects that the real reasons most faculty act dictatorially is because 1) it is the way it has always been done

Authors: Price, Christopher.
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Democratic Classroom 8
of power” in the classroom to one where it is shared with students. If instructors are able to take
this step, they will be less likely to wield disciplinary expertise (their most potent weapon in the
classroom) in an inappropriate manner contrary to the goal of student learning since they no
longer structure their courses in a dictatorial fashion.
Before we deal with how instructors go about shifting the balance of power in their
classrooms, it is necessary to ask how instructors can ascertain whether they are monopolizing
power. Weimer recommends looking at your course syllabi. Are they written as an invitation to
engage in a partnership of learning? Or, as is more likely the case, are your syllabi filled with
“edicts, demands, and otherwise definitive directives” (Weimer, 2002, p. 24)? Here, many
would object that the syllabus is like a legal contract in which the obligation to be authoritative
and unambiguous trumps any concerns about power sharing. Weimer agrees that we do need to
be clear with what we expect from our students “but must all those messages be communicated
with heavy handed language” (2002, p. 24)? The “syllabus test” is therefore more a way to
assess whether the tone and manner with which we communicate with our students betrays our
practice of trying to exercise complete control over their learning experience.
Some may agree that they need to modify their tone but argue that students are not
prepared to share power in the classroom. This argument is a variation on the common
complaint, usually made in conjunction with a commentary about “students these days,” that
students are lazy, overly concerned with grades, and unwilling to take responsibility for their
own learning. Weimer agrees that these observations are often true “but the fact that students
need to be prepared to handle learner-centered approaches is not an endemic reason that justifies
our making all the decisions about learning for them” (Weimer, 2002, p. 25). She suspects that
the real reasons most faculty act dictatorially is because 1) it is the way it has always been done


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