Volume 20, Issue 3/4, 2014
Students’ Meaning of Power
A Challenge to Philosophy for Children as a Practice of Democratic Education
A classroom Community of Inquiry depends on the deliberation skills of its members and their willingness to share ideas, time and power, despite conflicting interests, in the process of social inquiry. This vision of sharing power is not without challenges to both P4C and other theoretical movements within the discourse of democratic education. The kind of theorizing that is missing should explore students’ perceptions, judgment, decision making, agency and the like, through meaning making in particular contexts of democratic education. To explore such challenges, I designed a qualitative study to unfold the meanings of power that middle school students constructed within a learning environment, which was influenced by democratic education principles. In explaining their meanings of power in democratic education, the participants explicitly challenged the pre-set notion of power equality between teachers and students, and between the members of a CI, and also the foundational concept of power that is based on redistribution of time and ideas. Arendt’s view of power mirrors the students’ perspectives. This notion of power in education explains why the students supported the teachers’ ‘power’, and why students used their power to different degrees. It is the way Arendt “stylized the image of the Greek polis to the essence of politics as such” (Habermas, 1986, p.82; Arendt, 1986, p.62) that explains how power should support democratic education according to the youths’ view.