Critical Theory and Knowledge/Power

Wang’s article on Foucault was particularly challenging, but the idea of the way knowledge and power are interrelated is one of particular interest to me. I am interested in how the dissemination of knowledge might help others become more powerful, particularly those who belong to typically underprivileged groups such as minorities and those living in poverty. Can education truly help individuals in this group escape the barriers imposed on them by race, ethnicity, or class and find places of power in a society that shows preference toward Caucasians of upper-middle class background? As we now have a well-educated African American president in office, it would seem to be that the answer to that question is yes. But many other African Americans would argue that their race continues to stand as a barrier to power.
Also, some would argue that our society puts people of race and people of poverty at a disadvantage when it comes to getting that education. Although all students can learn, not all educations are equal. Schools located in areas of poverty may find it tough to attract and retain high-quality teachers, and often lack the resources necessary to provide a quality education. Students may come to class hungry, and may have to balance school with before- or after-school jobs to help their families make ends meet. Others come home to empty houses as single parents work long hours or two jobs. These students have no assistance with homework and no funds for projects such as presentations or displays. Minority students may lack parental role models for education, as many have parents who never completed school or whose education ended with high school.
This brings me to my next question. If knowledge is equated with power, perhaps those in power want to keep knowledge out of the hands of the less powerful. This would explain the exclusivity of Ivy League schools and why those with a lot of power get a more exclusive education than the general population. With the best education contained in private institutions available only to an exclusive few, it is easy to see how those in power remain in power, and how difficult a revolution of power would be to achieve simply on the basis of the acquisition of knowledge.
Another scary thought is the move of the government to begin to standardize education. While standardization sounds like a great idea in practice, it is only good if the standards seek to bring all students to an equally high level. Unfortunately the reverse is true, and standardization has the tendency to reduce the quality of education to the lowest common denominator. I also worry that there is an unseen motivation behind this government control of education, and the eventual outcome will be similar to what you find in George Orwell’s 1984. If the government can begin to control what is taught in schools, it may begin to shape the nature of education itself and use that to control young minds. While it might be a stretch to think that students could be taught to believe that 2+2=5, we have already seen some of our history re-written to match political agendas. It is not unlikely that propaganda could determine what is included (or left out of) a standardized, government-controlled curriculum.
These are all the ways that the concept of knowledge/power intrigues me as an educator and a researcher. While I’m still relatively new to the concept of critical theory, I would like to take time to explore some of these questions in greater depth as I pursue my studies.

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