Understanding Authority in Classrooms: A Review of Theory, Ideology, and Research

March 2007

Source: Review of Educational Research, Vol. 77, No. 1,  4-27 (2007)

Authority is a fundamental, problematic, and poorly understood component of classroom life. A better understanding of classroom authority can be achieved by reviewing writings on social theory, educational ideology, and qualitative research in schools. Social theories provide important analytical tools for examining the constitutive elements of authority but fall short of explaining its variability and contextual influences.

Discussion of educational ideologies offers insights into the debates, historical contexts, and policy and reform agendas that shape the politics of authority while neglecting empirical realities. Qualitative studies present empirical data and analyses on the challenges intrinsic to classroom relations, but, exceptions aside, they often lack explicit attention to authority.

More research focused on classroom authority as a social construction is needed to address critical educational concerns for contemporary practitioners, policy makers, and researchers.

Updated: Jan. 15, 2008