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Staying focused on what really matters: further thoughts on empowerment theory for professional school counselors.

We would like to begin by thanking authors Zalaquett and D'Andrea, Sciarra and Whitson, Schmidt, and Mitcham-Smith for their insightful critiques of our article. We also would like to thank editors Rich Lapan and Rick Auger for the opportunity to have this extended discussion.

In giving further thought to empowerment theory and in reviewing the critiques of the respondents, there are several issues that strike us as deserving additional consideration with respect to empowerment theory for professional school counselors. We would like to give further attention to the importance of the empowerment process for school counselors, the question of outcomes with respect to the empowerment process for students, and the operationalization of empowerment theory in schools. Addressing these issues should further assuage any concerns about the viability of empowerment theory as an appropriate theoretical orientation to guide social advocacy in school counseling.


As Mitcham-Smith and Schmidt in their responses both suggest, it is evident that if professional school counselors are to be successful in facilitating the empowerment of students, they must engage in a self-reflective process that leads to their own development of critical consciousness and sense of empowerment. This is especially crucial for counselors whose racial/ethnic background, socioeconomic status, ability, or sexual orientation gives them a position of power and privilege both in the school setting and the general society. Counselor educators would do well to facilitate the empowerment process for school counselor trainees; this would entail incorporating issues of social inequalities, leadership development, public policy, ethnic studies, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies, women's studies, and social justice into counselor education curricula.

For those professional school counselors who are already in the field, the following books are recommended to help them in the process of developing critical consciousness: Readings for Diversity and Social Justice: An Anthology on Racism, Anti-Semitism, Sexism, Heterosexism, Ableism, and Classism (Adams et al., 2000) and Class and Schools: Using Social Economic and Educational Reform To Close the Black-White Achievement Gap (Rothstein, 2004). Other insightful readings can be found in the References section of our original article.

Although we agree with Mitcham-Smith and Schmidt that professional school counselor empowerment is crucial to facilitating the empowerment of students, it needs to be clear that school counselors are not to assume a savior role with respect to students from marginalized communities. Student empowerment must evolve from student efforts. Therefore, counselors must be seen as important, but ancillary to the movement of students for personal and community empowerment.


Answering the critical question of what do we want to see empowered students accomplish, we envision the empowered student to excel academically and be an agent of change in the community. After all is said and done, student empowerment in the school setting must be, as Sciarra and Whitson suggest in their response, about student educational achievement. In a capitalist society, obtaining capital is necessary for sociopolitical advancement. For members of marginalized communities, educational capital is the most readily accessible. Thus, gaining the awareness, knowledge, and skills--which are part of the empowerment process--to successfully negotiate the educational system should pay off with significant educational capital for students from marginalized communities.

It is anticipated that as part of becoming empowered, students will achieve the necessary educational success that will ultimately benefit not only themselves but also help to empower their communities as well. Once again the social action component of empowerment must be highlighted. Students must be aided to realize that their educational opportunities are the product of a legacy of social struggle. As such, they owe a debt to the communities that have helped to give them the opportunities they now enjoy. They are responsible to "lift as they rise."

It is also crucial to highlight the need for curricular change. As Zalaquett and D'Andrea note in their response, there is a narrowing of the curricula in schools, which will likely lead to a more ethnocentric, monocultural curriculum. As school counselors, if we promote academic achievement in the current curricular paradigm, we are endorsing the assimilation of students into an ethnocentric, monocultural knowledge base--which is not empowering for students of marginalized communities. Therefore, we reiterate the call for school counselors to advocate for curricular change--for more inclusive, multicultural curricula--at their schools, in their school districts, and in their states.


As we focus on the practical notions that come from the comments of Mitcham-Smith, Schmidt, and Sciarra and Whitson, we also are appreciative of the perspectives on community counseling theory offered by Zalaquett and D'Andrea. Certainly the operationalization of an empowerment process in any school setting must be considered in a systemic fashion that includes the multiple levels of intervention for student development.


We hope that this intellectual exchange has been as thought provoking for the readers as it has for the authors. Additionally, we hope to have convinced the school counseling profession of the need for the empowerment of students from marginalized communities and, with the help of the respondents, to have provided a viable theoretical orientation with practical applications to facilitate this process.


Adams, M. A., Blumfeld, W. J., Castaneda, R., Hackman, H.W., Peters, M. L., & Zuniga, X. (2000). Readings for diversity and social justice: An anthology on racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and classism. New York: Routledge

Rothstein, R. (2004). Class and schools: Using social economic and educational reform to close the Black-White achievement gap. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute.

Carlos P. Hipolito-Delgado and Courtland C. Lee are with the University of Maryland at College Park.
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Author:Lee, Courtland C.
Publication:Professional School Counseling
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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