CCK08: Reflection for Week 8 Part 1

Power and Illusion

In the Oct 31 Daily, Stephen Downes commented:

From my perspective, the power I (Stephen) wielded this week in forcing a ‘subscribe’ to the Moodle forums was actually an illusion of power. One student got it: “If Stephen hadn’t turned off the function as quickly as he did, I wonder if we would have taken power into our own hands, by simply not posting to the Moodle forums?” The power to do something else, to communicate using alternate means, to simply not use the Moodle forums, was always in the hands of the students – if they cooperated with each other.

I had been thinking exactly the same thing, but did not repond to Downes’ prompts to reply regarding the auto-subscription function in Moodle for precisely the reason suggested: because as an individual, not using the Moodle forum was how I chose to “communicate using alternate means.”

 In The Politics of Nonviolent Action: Volume 1: Power and Struggle (Extending Horizon Books, 1973) by Gene Sharp, the author remarks:

  •  Obedience is essentially voluntary (26).
  • It is not sanctions themselves which produce obedience, but the fear of them (28).

Being auto-subscribed to a Moodle forum is hardly an injustice in conventional terms. However, to the extent that Stephen was wielding his authority in a manner contrary to what students in CCK08 would expect, it begs the question: did an abuse of power occur? If we were to organize amongst ourselves as students to protest Stephen’s actions, first we would need to agree that a wrongdoing was committed. If it was agreed that an injustice had in fact occurred, then we would need to decide how we, individually and collectively, would choose to respond. Would we have agreed that collective mobilization was the course of action that ought to be taken? How would we have reached consensus about what was the best decision for us as a group? How would we implement our individual and collective responses? And finally, how would we move forward with the rest of CCK08 in a positive and constructive manner, shedding the abuses that have been conducted against us, if we chose to move forward with the course at all? Would we demand that Stephen resign from his role in the course? Would we demand an online apology?

The issues within which we find ourselves embroiled in the education system are so systemic that oftentimes it is impossible to identify how we ought to conduct ourselves when we know that injustices are being conducted against ourselves, our colleagues, and our students.

 John Taylor Gatto, voted both the New York City and the New York State teacher of the year, eventually chose to leave the teaching profession and is now a strong advocate of home-based education. He has reached the conclusion that working within the education system in order to try and transform students and/or the system itself cannot be realized. I believe that coercion plays a tremendous role in how we as teachers typically conduct ourselves in the classroom.

Especially if we are working with adolescents, for instance, classroom management is a reality that can require that students understand through no uncertain terms that unacceptable behaviours will have consequences. However, the affective and the cognitive domains must remain distinct in education, and therefore formal graded assessment is conducted not on the basis of a student’s behaviour or even engagement (for the most part) in class, but on a student’s ability to communicate knowledge and understanding back to a teacher through a variety of negotiated (some more forcefully negotiated than others) means. But the bottom line is that marks are the currency of the classroom. Even if students are promoted to the next grade whether on the books they have failed classes or not, formal assessment remains mandated by education authorities. Sure, we can be subversive about how we allocate marks; but we must allocate them all the same.

What options do students have? The vast majority realize that if they do not “play the game” at a minimum level their only option is to drop out of school, which their parents will not typically encourage.

But as educators, we all know this. Though I am no longer a teacher, I am still at a loss.



3 Responses to “CCK08: Reflection for Week 8 Part 1”

  1. arieliondotcom Says:

    At the beginning of one of the chats last week where Stephen was the only moderator it seemed as if the students were going to have a silent protest and refuse to speak but speak they did. I was disappointed as I saw it as a great experiment in control of the situation. But I think ego comes into play. Most “teachers” have a “show off” gene that won’t let them leave an open microphone alone. :). That need to “share” shall we say to be kind shows up in children playing school and finding it an socially acceptable way to be the center of attention which they are otherwise chided for. We may rant against the System and as a commercial here in the US says think we are “sticking it to the man” in our way. But I think educators will find, as the man in the commercial and as the prophet Nathan told murderous David, “You ARE the man!”. They will not easily surrender the illusion of being heard.

  2. Keith Lyons Says:


    What a thought-provoking post.

    I took Stephen’s role last week to be a didactic moment in the course. I have not been visiting the Moddle forums and realised I should be.

    I am not sure why I was surprised by course members’ responses to Stephen’s act but I thought that as we are voluntary participants we could act as our conscience and practice encouraged us to do. I wrote about it to make my thoughts transparent.

    I have been involved in the alternative school movement and understand why a teacher passionate about education might choose a different route from schooling.

    Thank you for the post. It provided yet another reflective opportunity in your takes on CCK08.


  3. I need a reading! « Jenny Connected? Says:

    […] have admired Adrian’s posts this week and was interested in his discussion about home-schooling and the seven deadly habits of […]

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