Teachers, Power, and the Belief in School Meritocracy

Jonathan Edward Harvey, Fordham University


If our education contributes significantly to our position in society, then the belief that our education is fair is related to the belief that society is fair. System justification theory argues that, under certain conditions, people tend to defend and justify aspects of institutions and society as fair. This study drew on the literature of system justification theory to explore how teachers’ sense of powerlessness relates to defending and justifying aspects of schools and society as fair. Survey data were collected from two hundred schoolteachers across the nation, recruited by Mechanical Turk. Four scales measured teachers’ sense of power defined as financial dependence on their job and their perception of the school administration’s power over them. Four scales measured various beliefs that teachers had about 1) schools as institutions that reward based on merit alone, 2) the defense of societal conditions, 3) the justification of their school administrators’ behavior and 4) the explanation of one of their underperforming student’s academic work. Results showed that teachers who endorsed a perception of restrictive and directive schools tended to endorse the belief that schools rewarded based on merit alone. Further, they tended to explain academic failure as permanent and outside of student control. These teachers also tended to perceive their school administration as supportive, a perception that was correlated with the defense of societal conditions and the justification of their administration’s behavior. Financially dependent teacher participants tended to reject the defense of societal conditions. Future directions, limitations and implications were discussed.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Psychology|Political science

Recommended Citation

Harvey, Jonathan Edward, "Teachers, Power, and the Belief in School Meritocracy" (2024). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI30691748.