Society and Change - Individuals Using Authority to Push Others into Submission

Society and Change

In today’s society there are many social norms and situations that are broken by individuals that make up a group of people that is outside the box of normality. We as a normal society view those individuals as outsiders or criminals that don’t abide by the same governing ethical laws as the rest of the”normal” population. Many times individuals use his or her authority to push others into submission. There are many examples in today’s current events that reflect this type of behavior.

The conflict perspective of sociology is reflected in the teacher-student relationship in a number of ways and situations. The power the teacher holds over the student seeks to make him or her conform to what the teacher wants. Opinions or dissenting scenarios are not solicited or encouraged in this type of situation.

In the Fall Creek Falls, Tennessee state recreation area, an incident occurred on Thursday, May 10, 2007 on a school field trip. This incident and the events that occurred afterward emphasize the conflict between what the school board and teachers say happened, and eyewitness accounts given by the children who went on this trip. During the trip, the students were led to believe there would be a “scary story” time on Thursday night. This is an annual event on the last night of the field trip, and was expected to be a horror story. What actually took place was that the four teachers leading the trip pretended that there was a man in the woods with a gun, and that the children might be killed if the man came up to the camp. After several minutes, the children were told that there was no man in the woods, and that the story had been either a drill, or a joke, depending on the source of the story. Teachers and the school system have stated it was a drill; children and parents have stated they have spoken to at least one of the teachers on the trip that has referred to the incident as a joke.

The end result was that several children became upset and were crying that night; others were disturbed by what the teachers had done and told his or her parents when he or she got picked up at school at the end of the trip. Once the parents found out, the principal found out as well. The documented evidence was presented to the Rutherford County school board in a closed door meeting on Friday, May 18. Two of the four teachers have been suspended from teaching until the end of Rutherford County’s school year on June 1.The reaction of the community has been very diverse; a local paper’s comments site on this story has some well-versed comments discussing the suspension as well as disagreements. The general consensus of the commenter is that the teachers as well as the principal were in the wrong to do this. There are other’s supporting the teachers and the principal. Another part of the consensus is that the school system is putting a “spin” on the story and is now calling it a drill. The story and comments must be studied to gain a complete perspective on the actions of these four teachers, and the effect these actions had on the 69 children that went on this field trip. Essentially, the conflict boils down to the teachers’ authority versus the safety and emotional ability of the children they are

Another case in the news that has fascinated the world is Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau. Mary Kay was a 34 year-old married mother of four when she meet 12 year-old Vili Fualaau. Mary Kay was Vili’s sixth grade teacher at the time of the meeting in June 1996. By March of 1997 she was pregnant with his child. Did Mary Kay see this as a new beginning in her life, or did she know she was about to risk everything in Mary Kay’s life, marriage, and family? According to Mary Kay, she says this true love with Vili. After being released from prison and after serving seven years in jail, Mary Kay and Vili are married with two children.

The case falls under the social-conflict perspective. Mary Kay was in a position of authority. Did Mary Kay use her authority as a teacher to Vili as a way to push him into submission or was this a case of true love as Mary Kay has stated? The decision Mary Kay made, being the adult in the relationship, changed many lives. Mary Kaye gave up her children and husband, who may never be the same, for the love of her young student. Then we have Vili Fualaau, who was a father at 13, dropped at of school at 15, married at 21 to a woman that is twice his age. The social behaviors that this child should have learned while growing up was taken away from him. Vili has struggles with substance abuse and depression. One decision made in a single moment changed the social make up of so many people’s life. The world will have to wait and see if Mary Kay and Vili will live happily ever after or be a statistic.
The trust bestowed by a parent to a school or teaching faculty is hard to accept during the beginning of any child’s school endeavor. The students are taught that the teacher is the authoritative figure, which can be viewed as the parent while at school.

Each teacher must go through rigorous training in order to ensure that he or she can provide the student with the most value added life long learning skills for the individual to survive in the world after school is complete. An incident occurred in the past week concerning a teacher and student
relationship being made public. The student, now eighteen, was in a relationship with the 34 year old art teacher for the past several months. The teacher confessed to having the inappropriate relationship with the student after the individual turned eighteen (Kline, 2007).

The incident involving the female art teacher in a Franklin high school has, in many ways, challenged and introduced the conflict perspective of sociology. The current social hierarchy in schools consists of the social structure in which the teacher is the authoritative figure. In many cases, the parent heavily relies upon the teacher to teach the student skills and life’s lessons beyond the classroom because parents today do not have the time to student themselves. How do student’s benefit with having multiple teachers as their life’s guide? What happens when the guide has an alternative motive as an
apposed to learning? Is anything other than teaching the student life long lessons considered taboo?

Events such as the incident with the female teacher and student do go against the social norm. The incident did spark several quorums concerning if the matter was right or wrong. The social conflict in this instance strictly points to the social struggle for authority over a student concerning a teacher. The social norm can and will change but for now events such as this promote conflict and the conflict is not healthy because we as a society strive and feed off of the conflict. These sociological impacts may promote change to the norms but until the change occurs the conflicts will be viewed as taboo.

The aforementioned examples are only a few local issues that made the daily news. There are many more instances where this type of behavior occurs and goes unreported. The use of ones power or authority to push another individual into submission is currently viewed as a abnormality in our society. Ten or fifteen years from now, who knows what will be considered outside the social norm? This team believes that the world is changing and many things about that are for the good, but many social structures will be lost in translation due to the ever-changing times and beliefs.


Kline, M (2007, May, 16). Arrested teacher released from jail after posting bail. The Tennessean , Retrieved May 22, 2007, from

Mielczarek, N Two suspended in field trip prank. (2007, May 15). Tennessean, p. A1

Tate, C (2004, August). Letourneau, Mary Kay (b.1962). Retrieved May 20, 2007, from The Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History. Web site: