The answer to this question largely depends on the theoretical framework in which one views the education system. I will present two different frameworks of viewing the education system, the managed/mechanistic system and the organismic/living system theories to further justify my claim.
If one views the education system as a mechanistic or managed system then they view the organization as organized as a top-down hierarchy. In such a system, Burns (2007) describes that “[o]ne also finds each person’s task more and more clearly defined by his superior” (p. 103). Thus, one would argue that in viewing the education system from the mechanistic perspective, the person in power is the person at the top of the hierarchy. So currently in Ontario Mitzie Hunter, the Minister of Education, would be perceived as having the most power in the education system since she is arguably at the top of the educational hierarchy. Although perceived from a more micro level of the organization the Director of a school board would be the person with the most power, subsequently followed by other members of the board office, principals, teachers and at the bottom of the hierarchy would be the students.
In contrast, the organismic system of management would argue that the power is dispersed across the education system. As such, Burns (2007) argues that within an organismic system “a lateral rather than a vertical direction of communication” is evident (p. 106). Within an organismic system, those who are members of the system are “expected to regard himself as fully implicated in the discharge of any task appearing over his horizon” (Burns, 2007, p. 104). Viewed in terms of this theory, there is a shared responsibility for the success of the education system amongst all stakeholders. Thus, the power is dispersed rather than centralized.
Now I do not believe that the current education system is reflected in either the definition of the mechanistic/managed system or the organismic/living system. Instead, I would argue that the education system is currently in a state of transition. Educators are transitioning away from viewing the education system as completely managed as is evidenced by the fact that schools are no longer operating as “machines in a building all driven by one prime mover, and preferably, of the same type and engaged on the same process” (Burns, 2007, p. 100). For example, when you visit a classroom today students may be engaged in a wide variety of different activities synchronously as teachers work towards providing differentiated instruction to meet the diverse needs of their students. Although, such learning is still largely managed by the curriculum expectations set forth by the Ministry of Education and thus I would argue is not reflective of a fully living system.
I would argue that teachers are not prepared to observe the education system “simply as a human construction, [that] they are then free to interrogate the continuing utility of its foundational assumptions, to construct another set of assumptions, and to build a school that is more energizing and life-enhancing” (Mitchell & Sackney, 2011, p. 36). Many educators observe the education system within a top-down hierarchy as a result of the perceived “coercive power” that those in positions of authority hold over them. For example, a principal has coercive power over a teacher because “coercive power” provides him/her the “ability to manipulate the attainment of valences” for/against the teacher (French & Raven, 1993, p. 309). The fear of a loss of employment operates as a source of power which impacts educators willingness to break the molds of a traditionally managed systems.
However, I would argue that both students and teachers hold a substantial amount of power within or education. As Hersey and Blanchard (1982) stated, “Followers in any situation are vital, not only because individually they accept or reject the leader, because as a group they actually determine whatever personal power that leader may have” (p. 150). The education system operates because stakeholders such as students and teachers operate accepting the authority of those above them on the social hierarchy. However, just as those who are in administrative roles have the power to construct new realities so do students and teachers. As Gergen and Thatchenkery (2004) noted “needed are scholars willing to be audacious, to break the barriers of common sense by offering new forms of theory, of interpretation, or intelligibility” (p. 242). Such a postmodernist perspective sheds light on how regardless of one’s position within the social hierarchy, anyone has the power to effect change if they are willing and committed.
Burns, T. (2007). Mechanistic and organismic structures. In D. S. Pugh (Ed.), Organization theory: Selected classic readings (5th ed.) (pp. 99-110). London, UK: Penguin. (Original work published 1963)
French, J. R. P., & Raven, B. (1993). The bases of social power. In M. T. Matteson, & J. M. Ivancevich (Eds.), Management and organizational behavior classics (5th ed.) (pp. 303-319). Homewood, IL: Irwin. (Original work published 1959)
Gergen, K. J., & Thatchenkery, T. J. (2004). Organization science as social construction. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 40(2), 228-249.
Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. H. (1982). Management of organizational behaviour: Utilizing human resources (4th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Mitchell, C., & Sackney, L. (2011). Sustainable learning communities: From managed systems to living systems. Journal of Educational Administration and Foundations, 22(1). 19-38.