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The Democratic Classroom: Sharing Power to Improve Learning and Educate Citizens
Unformatted Document Text:  Democratic Classroom 9 and 2) such control is used as a barrier against our feelings of vulnerability in the classroom. In short, we keep a firm grip on our power in the classroom because of blind tradition and fear of failure. Because of the deep-seated resistance of many faculty to power sharing, it is necessary to outline the benefits of this pedagogical approach. First, similar to Barr and Tagg’s discussion of responsibility for learning, Weimer notes that power is not given entirely to students but rather shared with them. To give up power completely would in many cases be an unethical breach of professional responsibility. I say in “many cases” because if the goal of learning-centered teaching is a self-sufficient, autonomous individual, the hope is that students are eventually able to handle complete control over their learning. Practically, this means that “power is redistributed in amounts proportional to a student’s ability to handle it” (Weimer, 2002, p. 29). Weimer provides the example of an introductory class given the ability to select the textbook as an unethical transfer of power. In contrast, an ethical transfer would be one where the instructor gives the students a choice among several books with a structured process for making a recommendation for selection. This example also shows another way to share power responsibly – giving students input into decisions and using that input to make the final decision. A good example of this would be to ask students for input on criteria for a familiar assignment (such as a class presentation) and then using these criteria when writing the grading rubric for that assignment. Both of these ethical examples show that “giving students the chance to offer input or make recommendations is not the same as letting them make those decisions” (2002, p. 29). This control helps students become better learners and also improves the classroom environment through ameliorating the effects of teacher and student fear. As Weimer puts it, “because they no longer feel powerless, they are much less likely to resist your requirements” (2002, p. 31).

Authors: Price, Christopher.
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Democratic Classroom 9
and 2) such control is used as a barrier against our feelings of vulnerability in the classroom. In
short, we keep a firm grip on our power in the classroom because of blind tradition and fear of
failure.
Because of the deep-seated resistance of many faculty to power sharing, it is necessary to
outline the benefits of this pedagogical approach. First, similar to Barr and Tagg’s discussion of
responsibility for learning, Weimer notes that power is not given entirely to students but rather
shared with them. To give up power completely would in many cases be an unethical breach of
professional responsibility. I say in “many cases” because if the goal of learning-centered
teaching is a self-sufficient, autonomous individual, the hope is that students are eventually able
to handle complete control over their learning. Practically, this means that “power is
redistributed in amounts proportional to a student’s ability to handle it” (Weimer, 2002, p. 29).
Weimer provides the example of an introductory class given the ability to select the textbook as
an unethical transfer of power. In contrast, an ethical transfer would be one where the instructor
gives the students a choice among several books with a structured process for making a
recommendation for selection. This example also shows another way to share power responsibly
– giving students input into decisions and using that input to make the final decision. A good
example of this would be to ask students for input on criteria for a familiar assignment (such as a
class presentation) and then using these criteria when writing the grading rubric for that
assignment. Both of these ethical examples show that “giving students the chance to offer input
or make recommendations is not the same as letting them make those decisions” (2002, p. 29).
This control helps students become better learners and also improves the classroom environment
through ameliorating the effects of teacher and student fear. As Weimer puts it, “because they no
longer feel powerless, they are much less likely to resist your requirements” (2002, p. 31).


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