Altering Power Relationships

Altering Power Relationships

A Chapter by Debbie Barry

An essay about power relationships in public policy and education. Written for EDU 108: Introduction to Policy & Education, based on an example in a textbook.


Altering Power Relationships

November 18, 2009

The case study presented by Fowler (2009) at the end of chapter 2 begins with a dangerous misassessment by Bob Mathews of the power wielded by Clyde Ruggles based on Bob's class bias and assumption that Clyde was a "harmless crackpot" (48). That should never be allowed to happen, but it does happen over and over again in our supposedly class-less society.

Bob and his board need to overcome several problems in order to resolve this problem in a positive, ethical manner(Fowler, 2009):

          1) Clyde's people are using emotionally charged language such as "devil [,]... Satanism, ... and witchcraft" (Fowler, 2009, 48) to build popular support for their position;

          2) The press is using Clyde's charged language to report the story in a sensationalized way, which also builds support for Clyde's position;

          3) Clyde is asserting that the school district is teaching a particular religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause, which is likely to stir a sense of patriotism in the local population, thus adding to Clyde's position; and

          4) There are also additional, related problems, most of which will be solved by a successful resolution of these three problems.

Bob and the school board need to defuse the language which Clyde and his group are using.  They need to remain calm and to present a strong, united front to the community as they explain that "Satanism, magic, and witchcraft" (Fowler, 2009, 48) are not accurate words to describe what is in the language arts books.  Unfortunately, this is not the time for a discussion of comparative religion, and it would probably be pointless for Bob to point out that Satanism and witchcraft are ideologically and religiously mutually exclusive, as the mob mentality has already taken effect and few people will care about the distinction, if they are even able to understand it at this stage of the problem.  Still, it is necessary for Bob and the school board to educate the local population about what is really contained in the books.

In order to alter the power relationships in this situation, Bob and the board first need to establish that they are not the "[c]owards" (Fowler, 2009, 49) that they have been accused of being.  The board needs to work from a position of strength, asserting the legitimacy of its authority (Fowler, 2009, 29) by demonstrating "competent authority" (Fowler, 2009, 30) and to show the community that it is confident of a positive, peaceful solution.  The board needs to draft a letter to the REA, reassuring the teachers that the school district is not practicing censorship even if it decides to stop using the current textbooks in favor of newer, less emotionally charged textbooks.  It should be stressed that any changes that may be made will be in the best interests of the students.  A similar letter should be sent to each of the school principals.

Mr. Brook and Mr. Trotwood need to be reassured that the board is looking into the complaint about the textbooks, and that it will address the situation in a rational manner.  It is important that both men know that the board has not lost control of the situation.  Charged words like "kooks" (Fowler, 2009, 49) should be avoided by Bob and by the board.

Pastor Powers and Pastor Bachfeld need to be reassured that the schools are not teaching Satanism, nor are they endorsing any religion.  It should be made clear that the separation of church and state is being preserved in the schools.  Both pastors should be assured that the board is taking Clyde's complaint seriously, and that it will investigate and deal with the complaint in a prompt, rational, and respectful manner.

Ms. Brouilette should get a statement from Bob that echoes the messages of reassurance to each of the groups above.  Under no circumstances should Bob or the school board tackle the subject of Satanism with the press.

Once all of the telephone messages -- including the inevitable flurry of similar messages in the following week -- have been addressed in a calm, rational, confident manner, the board must follow through by conducting an investigation of the material that was identified in the complaint.  This might be a very good time for the school board to examine potential new curricula, and to select a new language arts series that could be introduced in the schools in the next one to two years.

In a case like this, it is more important to preserve the public's confidence in the school's ability to address the problem and to provide sound educational leadership in the community than it is to defend the existing curriculum.  Curricula change frequently, for many reasons, and such a change could be presented to the community as a routine move.  Yielding to public opinion while maintaining the outward appearance of calmly conducting business as usual preserves the integrity of the school board.

In the future, Bob should be more careful when he assesses the power (Fowler, 2009, 42) of an individual or group, to avoid being caught unaware by his personal biases.



Fowler, F.C. (2009). Policy Studies for Educational Leaders: An Introduction (3rd ed). Boston:    Allyn & Bacon.

© 2017 Debbie Barry

Author's Note

Debbie Barry
Initial reactions and constructive criticism appreciated.

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Added on November 10, 2017
Last Updated on November 10, 2017
Tags: essay, education, political power, policy, public policy

A Journey through My College Papers


Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI

I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..