A process and a social institution
by Phil Bartle, PhD
Education is more than just about learning
Education, as well as a process, is a social institution.
It is a set of organisations designed to educate young people in society.
When children first go to pre school, kindergarten, elementary and secondary school, they learn new ways of operating, interacting with other students and staff in a new community, and necessarily must be socialised.
As with other secondary socialisation, this aspect of education is not usually planned, is not particularly part of the curriculum, and tends to be spontaneous and ad hoc.
The experience can produce some anxiety among pupils, and many schools have councillors who assist children in the required adjustment.
As among other institutions of where socialisation takes place, schools contribute to gender socialisation, with separate bathrooms for boys and girls, dress codes, and encouragement to take one course or another.
Fifty years ago girls were not expected to do well in maths and sciences, and were urged to take home economics rather than industrial arts.
Now there is more emphasis on encouraging girls to do well in the sciences, and more tolerance for aggressive and unrestrained behaviour by boys, reducing their saleable skills in society after they leave school.
An educational institution is one which creates and magnifies inequality.
Children of wealthy parents tend to go to “better” schools which have bigger budgets and more services.
The principle of "equal opportunity" really means the opportunity to compete and its result is always inequality. It does not produce equality.
Students are evaluated and graded and higher grades mean greater access to further educational opportunities, and later to more and better paid jobs.
In a complex post industrial society like ours, as in industrial societies, people usually are not known as whole people, but as the various roles they play.
This is a product and symptom of gesellschaft.
Many employers, therefore, offer jobs on the basis of applicants having certificates of education, even if the content of that education is not directly related to the skills and knowledge needed for the offered job.
We say, then, that we have a credential society.
This means some persons who can do a better job, are not hired while persons with the needed certificates, perhaps not the same level of ability, get the job.
Education performs a role of “gate keeping,” filtering some people out of access to some jobs, and letting in others.
See the lecture notes on Social Promotion.
We often distinguish between education and training.
Education is the acquisition of knowledge while training is the acquisition of skills, although there is considerable overlap between them.
In the Community Empowerment site, the training provided goes much further than the usual definition of training. See “Training as Mobilisation.”
As we would expect, sociologists looking at education tend to look at different things according to the perspective they favour.
Functionalists usually look at how education contributes to the functioning of society, providing training in skills and education in knowledge which help society to operate.
Gate keeping is seen as a necessity to the functioning of a meritocracy. Education helps in integrating individuals into complex society.
Education is seen as available for any needed social change.
Conflict sociologists, in contrast, see the role of education in maintaining inequality, and therefore privilege to some but not others.
They see IQ tests as culturally biased, and see unequal funding of schools, both contributing to inequality and maintenance of the vertical mosaic, serving the purposes of the power elite.
They describe the “hidden curriculum” as things taught in schools but not written in the curricula, obedience to authority, conformity to mainstream or bourgeois values, and norms, the Protestant work ethic, and other things which maintain the support by the middle class for the upper classes.
As usual, the symbolic interactionists examine at the micro level, looking at interactions between pupils, teachers, and any others in the classroom.
They find, for example, that teachers often make judgements in the first week or so, based on subtle hints such as dress, skin and hair, body language and dialect, and categorise pupils by ethnicity, class and family background.
On these they base expectations about how and how well the pupils will do in school. They then spend much of the remainder of their time ensuring that these were self justifying prophesies.
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