Power Imbalance and Pedagogy

I had an idea for my class that online discussion postings that might be construed as uncivil could serve as a teachable moment in class to discuss and elaborate on.  My plan was not to shame or rebuke the students in front of the class, but to take it as a chance to reflect on the content of the idea and why it might be disrespectful to others.  I ran the idea by a colleague and she cautioned against it.  She pointed out that you never want to be seen as “picking on” a student or singling them out in front of their peers.

Then, I realized that I forgot about the power imbalance that exists between the student, the collection of students, and I when I stand at the head of the class.  Despite how I feel about whether I am truly a teacher, or if I’m closer to being their peer (compared to other teachers they encounter), I must remember that I am still their teacher.  I institutionally have more power; I stand in front of them as an authority.  I have power, whether I realize it or not.

Somewhere along the line, it was pointed out that picking on students picks them out from the amorphous mass that is your class and distances them from their peers.  They are free to stand themselves apart, but I cannot force them for the sake of a teachable moment.

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