Power and Consent Between Teachers and Students in the Classroom

During class on Monday February 25th, each member of the class took a turn reading a couplet from “A Cabin Tale” by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Several students (myself included) admitted that they found it difficult to comprehend what exactly was happening within the poem because they were focused on trying to find the lines they were to read aloud and how to pronounce them according to how Dunbar wrote it.

Later in the day I coincidentally saw this image on Instagram and I felt as though I could relate to it on a certain level based on the class exercise and past experiences in the classroom.

This then had me thinking about Jessica’s post pertaining to consent in the classroom and how exercises like this impact students such as her friend that she writes about who began to dread going to class in fear of having to read aloud.

As Dr. McCoy has stated, in her class we are never forced to read aloud. We have explicitly been given the option to say no. In past experiences however, I always felt as though I were being pressured to read aloud, in fear that the teacher would drop my grade if I didn’t. This reveals the power imbalance between the student and the teacher. The teacher will always have power over the student as they are the ones who determine whether or not the student passes the class or fails through the ability to assign grades.

This power dynamic between the student and teacher reminds me of the relationship between  Gan and T’Gatoi in Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” to a certain extent. The Terran and Tlic both rely on one another just as students and teachers do, but one group has more power over the other. In “Bloodchild” T’Gatoi coerces Gan into allowing her to impregnate him by saying “‘You know these things, Gan. Because your people arrived, we are relearning what it  means to be a healthy, thriving people. And your ancestors, fleeing from their home-  world, from their own kind who would have killed or enslaved them- they survived  because of us. We saw them as people and gave them the Preserve when they still tried  to kill us as worms’” (25). Similar to how students can be pressured into participating in classroom activities that they do not feel comfortable participating in, in fear of their grade, Gan was coerced into allowing T’Gatoi to impregnate him because she tells him that the Tlic are saviors to the Terran despite that the Terran tried to kill them. Gan feels in debt to T’Gatoi because she is the reason that he lives protected from the outside and expresses this again through saying, “It was a little frightening to know that only she stood between us and that desperation that could so easily swallow us” (5). In the end, Gan was pressured to carry T’Gatoi’s children because she ensures his safety.

To answer the question that Jessica raises, should teachers and professors ask for consent from their students when it comes to things such as reading aloud or being called on in class- I believe that the answer is yes. Students should not feel pressured to participate in an activity in class that they do not feel comfortable doing just as they should not feel pressured in any social activities outside of the classroom. Students should not be pressured to do something in fear of what may happen to their grades. It is important that in a power dynamic such as one between a teacher and student, that students and teachers respect one another’s boundaries and as Jenna said in her post, “It is important to engrave this idea that we are allowed to say no!”. 

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