Understanding teachers' authority in Black schools in chronic crisis

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Black schooling has been plunged into deep crisis following persistent political and ideological assertiveness by users' against the intransigent State. Assertive practices in the State black secondary schools climaxed with the refusal by students to sit for examinations. Accompanying these assertive practices were the disintegration of order and the alarming failure rate, all of which put teachers in the midst of accusations from both the State and some users. The State blamed teachers for disorderliness, the lack of discipline of students and for not doing their work efficiently. Some users accused teachers of incompetency and often of sustaining the State hegemony. Teachers, however, redirected the accusations at the State for its authoritarianism. These labellings reflect the impact the interminable education crisis has had on teachers working within State schools which are the site of race and class struggle. The crisis bears heavily and negatively on teachers' authority to an extent where some scholars highlight that teachers have become professionally dysfunctional and have since lost authority (see below). The study takes these charges seriously and is geared towards understanding teachers' authority within the context of South African education system whose bias favours white, in particular Afrikaner supremacy and the domination of the ruling classes. This could mean that teachers' authority is either a creation of this supremacy/domination and its maintenance or a product of resistance towards such domination. In order to test this theoretical supposition, particular attention was given towards understanding the significance of teachers' authority, its social bases, the way it is exercised and its stability or instability in the context of the current education crisis. What came to light was the fact that teachers exercised a form of authority predetermined by the State whilst at the same time there were attempts to move away from that practice and establish an alternative authority. The new form of authority was interpreted as being influenced by an ideology whose ultimate aim was to transform the imposed status quo. The conclusions were that teachers' authority remained in crisis as did the schools, due to teachers' work which either conflicted with the educational policy or which propped up the system in the face of insurmountable resistance from users. It was suggested that teachers are likely to thrive in the crisis if they were able to collectively amass political professional power in alliance with the community to engage in counter-hegemony.

Bibliography: pages 126-137.