I was just thinking
Cuzba and Page (1999) say empowerment is a process challenging our assumptions about the way
things are and can be. It challenges basic assumptions about power, helping,
achieving, and succeeding. According to
a World Bank (2002) report, the term empowerment has different meanings in
different socio cultural and political contexts, and does not translate easily
into all languages. An exploration of local terms associated with empowerment often
leads to lively discussion. I have often said my education in a small rural
American town allowed me to be a “Big Fish in a Small Pond” thus my perception
is my education was a very empowering experience. I never felt I was simply there to memorize
and repeat facts as the opportunity to participate in organizations, athletics,
and extra curricular events was woven into the fabric of my educational experience. The terms World Bank uses to describe
empowerment are very much in line with my perception. The terms they use include self-strength,
control, self-power, self-reliance, own choice, life of dignity in accordance
with one’s values, capable of fighting for one’s rights, independence, own
decision making, being free, awakening, and capability— to mention only a few.
These definitions are embedded in my local value and belief systems.
Jones (2006) says empowerment is the understanding an individual is truly empowered the moment
they recognize the inherent authority she possesses to control her own
life. Cuzba and Page (1999) say empowerment
is multi-dimensional, social, and a process. It is multi-dimensional as it
occurs within sociological, psychological, economic, and other dimensions.
Empowerment also occurs at various levels, such as individual, group, and
community. Empowerment, by definition, is a social process, since it occurs in
relationship to others. Empowerment is a process similar to a path or journey
and it develops as we work through it. Other aspects of empowerment may vary
according to the specific context and people involved, but these remain
constant. In addition, one important implication of this definition of
empowerment is the individual and communities are fundamentally connected.
Disempowerment according to United
Food & Commercial Workers Union Members for Democracy (n.
d.) it is a sense no matter how well one does they can never shake the feeling
of not being good enough/smart enough/ambitious enough/worthy enough to play in
the big leagues. It is reinforced
through various disempowering messages such as the use of video surveillance,
electronic monitoring and "secret
shoppers". The business reasons for the use of these "tools" are security, theft
prevention, ensuring good customer service and so on. The subtle message,
however, is we don't trust you, you can't be trusted to do your job properly;
you're lazy and need to be watched.
Disempowerment in the educational setting is also difficult to define. As educators we are slow
to admit what we do or teach in the educational setting might somehow be
disempowering to some individuals.
Misein (n.d.) states we alleviate through various authors’ works the
burning sensation left by the disappointment caused by the breakdown of every
great social project. If teaching and
education do not fulfill our ideal of empowering education for the masses then
we find some philosophy, writing or belief system which makes us feel better
about our inadequacy in fulfilling this mission.
McQuillan (2005) says various researchers show "student empowerment" is a great oxymoron of
our time. Although U.S.
schools typically express commitment to preparing students for the
responsibilities of democratic citizenship and the educational experience
should thus be an empowering experience is generally not the case. Most, American youth, some being eligible to
vote, are socialized for adult civic life by an institution which defines them
as largely passive and subordinate and treats them in ways which are anything
but democratic-from permitting searches of student lockers without a warrant,
to awarding administrators the power to censor school newspapers, to allowing
schools to test student athletes for drug use. In terms of formal power, U.S. students
are, for the most part, institutional nonentities. The Conflict Research Consortium at the University of Colorado (2005) states disempowered
occurs when one does not have an effective strategy for defending their
interests and resisting injustice. As a result, they give up and decide
to accept the injustice.
Both Cahn (1997) and Gutek (2004) discuss the concept of Liberation Pedagogy from writings of Paulo Freire. They say Freire describes the political nature
of education and the role of learning in achieving liberation. The discussion of the banking concept of
education in Cahn (1997) is fascinating analogy as the role of education is not
to empower students but is rather a disempowering knowledge dump in which the
knowledgeable teacher will knowingly or unknowingly dump information to serve
the means of some group who wishes to exert some sort of social control over
the unknowledgeable student. During the
course of this knowledge dump some students acquire enough contradictions to
begin rethinking their view of the world around them in a positive sense. However, other more passive learners will
simply become passive members of a society and others who might be the true
creative thinkers will branded in some negative fashion and disempowered as
they challenge the educational process. Cahn (1997) indicates according to Freire to
escape this process one must escape the traditional knowledge dump and replace
it with an environment which allows problem solving in the context of the
students world. Jones (2006) in
assessing the value of individual educational plans for students how it is
important for educators with our own unique flairs for teaching to find a few
key components for engaging students in discovering the power they have within
themselves to make meaningful and productive life choices.
As I reflect upon my educational experience I see myself starting the educational process as a passive learner who was challenged
to think about issues rather than just absorb facts and figures. At the same
time some of my fellow learners during this time never took encouragement to
heart and applied the lessons. We sat
in the same room but our perceptions and applications of the lessons led us in
much different directions and would lead us to very different conclusions about
the role of education in empowering the individual. Somehow I managed to take
in the passion of the teachers I had while others did not. Educators
should consider the privilege they have been given to either empower or
disempower each and every student they serve.
Schools at any level because of the sheer quantity of time they possess
the child /student’s time have the opportunity to exert extensive influence
over the student’s worldview.
Cahn, S. (1997). Classic and Contemporary Readings in the Philosophy of Education. NY:McGraw Hill.
Czuba, Cheryl and Page, Nanette. 1999 Empowerment: What Is
It? Journal of Extension Volume 37 5
Retrieved December 9,
2008 from http://www.joe.org/joe/1999october/comm1.html
Conflict Research Consortium University
of Colorado (2005) Disempowerment Problem / Tyranny of
the Powerful, International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict
Retrieve December 9, 2008 from http://www.colorado.edu/conflict/peace/problem/tyrannx.htm
Gutek, G. L. (2004). Philosophical and ideological voices in education (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson Education.
Jones, Melissa (2006). Teaching Self-Determination: Empowered Teachers, Empowered
Students. Teaching Exceptional Children, 39(1), 12-17. Retrieved December 15, 2008, from ProQuest
Education Journals database.
McQuillan, Patrick J. (2005). Possibilities and Pitfalls: A Comparative Analysis of
Student Empowerment. American Educational Research
Journal, 42(4), 639-670. Retrieved December 9, 2008, from ABI/INFORM
Members for Democracy (n. d.) The Tools of Disempowerment - Unplugged
Retrieved December 9, 2008 from http://www.m-f-d.org/article/toolkit/5wrbynyr3bq.php
Misein, Dominique, (n. d.) “At the Center of the Volcano” Retrieved November 19, 2008 from http://www.geocities.com/kk_abacus/kka/volcano.html
World Bank (2002) “Poverty and Empowerment: A Source Book” Retrieved December 10, 2008 from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTEMPOWERMENT/Resources/486312-...