Examining Authority Use of Power in the Education System: An Arts-Informed Narrative Inquiry Toward a Liberatory Way of Being for Marginalized Students




Stride, Ashley

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The study used an arts-informed narrative inquiry design to better understand the perspectives and experiences of a former K-12 public school student (Haley) with a 504 plan and an emotional disability when navigating structures of authority in schools, in order to uncover factors that may facilitate or prevent stigmatization toward the population of students like her. The study aimed to understand Haley’s experiences and interactions with school authority regarding labeling and stigma, her struggles and challenges growing up, how she coped with these experiences, what she learned about self-awareness and personal growth, and how her experience can inform interactions between school authority and students with emotional disabilities. It is hoped that by understanding and critiquing these interactions through the lens of power, school staff can begin to gain self-awareness, reflecting on and acknowledging how their discourse may be marginalizing students, perpetuating cycles of dominance, and maintaining the status quo. The study utilized a critical theory framework rooted in the sociological discipline, critical discourse analysis (CDA), and semiotic visual analysis (SVA) to examine the institutional arrangements that push certain students to the margins of society and through such marginalization perpetuate social inequality, maintaining systems of power and dominance. CDA was used to examine how the micro-dimensions of discourse in classrooms are connected to and reproduced by social structures at the macro-level—how differentiating and selecting, including and excluding, with power as the central concept, impact people, groups, and societies (Blommaert, 2005). The analysis was informed by social conflict theory and Neo-Marxism at the macro level and symbolic interactionism at the micro level, the sociological concepts of labeling and stigma, and the overarching theme of disability and deviance as social constructs. While the results supported the literature in relation to authority abuse of power as a means of social control to marginalize perceived outsiders (e.g., labeled students), preserve the status quo, and maintain the authority’s position within the center of the status quo, other concepts emerged, including a description of supportive student-teacher interactions and a framework outlining how to build student-teacher relationships through the lens of power. The findings are discussed as follows: (a) critical theory and abuse of power interactions, (b) liberatory ways of being and supportive interactions, and (c) social change and building student-teacher relationships. The current study has presented a preliminary framework; future research should focus on the development of steps towards a testable conceptual model that can be used in teacher preparation programs and professional development.