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What makes education an education?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 5548 words Published: 18th May 2017

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Assignments. Exams. Projects. Papers. All these are matters of concern to every student undergoing schooling. It is truly inevitable not to endure the hardships brought by these school activities for they are part of education. Without them, education can never be the education most people have in mind. However, one may ask, “What makes education an education?”

For most people, especially parents, education is quite an important aspect in the course of human life such that they regard it as the only thing they can impart to their children as an inheritance. While for others, on the part of the students, education is the stage in their life which would prepare them for future jobs. Likewise, for those students who had a firm grasp of the essence of education consider it as a right to be upheld by the society itself. At the end of the day, there are numerous reasons on why not to take education for granted. However, more than the various connotation of education from different perspectives lay a complex meaning of education.

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As such, seeing schooling in the broader sense entails probing the sociology of education. The basic definition of the term “sociology of education” conveys that it is the “study of the institution of education in its broad social context and of various social groups and interpersonal relationships that affect or affected by the functioning of the educational institutions” (Reitman, 1981, p.17). With this meaning, it is but necessary to analyze education not within the four walls of the classroom but beyond the confinements of schools. The larger context then is the society in which schools, the main institution of education, are part of. Belonging to this social order are other key institutions and actors which are essentially significant when examining the sociology of education for these possess power, control and influence that can manipulate and alter the kind of education schools ought to promote and teach to young citizens. Hence, it can be inferred that schools are socially constructed establishments by which powerful elements have the capacity to shape education. Reitman (1981) supported the thought of how society can produce a great impact on pedagogical realm by stating the central principle of schooling which maintains that “schools normally reflects the society… it does not lead society in society’s effort to adapt and change. Schools tend to change after the rest of society changes, not before…” (Reitman, 1981, p. 39).

Under this assumption, a study on the role, whether explicit or implicit, of several factors constituting society in the molding process of education is vital to shed light on the issue of how pedagogical structures and methods are developed and set for the pursuance of effective education. It is also noteworthy to express the far-reaching implications of education in the sense that it affects almost every individual. Every person can perhaps be regarded as a stakeholder of education by which each of its aspects, if modified, can create an impact, no matter how minimal it may appear, sufficient enough to seize attention and stir the intellectual and emotional side of the people. Indeed, schooling and education undeniably involves a complex interplay of different elements to which it reacts and to which the produced effects yield to changes in the structure of schooling. These changes on the other hand are oftentimes attached to the interests of the dominant constituent of the social order.

To better illustrate this statement, the paper provides a clear-cut description of the nature of education and the scope of schools as an educational institution. Nonetheless, to further understand the technicalities associated with schools, there is a need to define schools as an educational institution, as well as, to expound the structure of authority evident among these institutions. Moreover, the political dynamics accompanying the sociology of education which may be apparent and obscure at the same time are elucidated under the contexts in which education operates such as the cultural and ideological setting of the politicization of education, the milieu of power configurations and relations, and the framework of globalization. Certain pedagogical implications are also explicated to illustrate the wide-ranging bearing of educational reforms or policies on concerned and affected individuals as a whole.

Understanding schooling and education in this approach allows the people to view and analyze schooling and education objectively and critically. In this manner, learners, educators, as well as those people who have no access to education, may no longer be mere passive recipients of the conceptions of education as prescribed by the society; rather, they may be the critics of diverse pedagogical perceptions who aim not only the betterment of education itself but the rectitude of knowledge and consciousness schools propagate as well. In connection with this, Henry Giroux (1985) asserted, “the need for a passionate commitment by educators to make the political more pedagogical, that is, to make critical reflection and action a fundamental part of a social project that not only engages forms of oppression but also develops a deep and abiding faith in the struggle to humanize life itself” (Freire, 1921, p. 5). It is certainly a conviction and a challenge all at once that is not simple and easy to actualize, however, displaying a demeanor of open mindedness and critical thinking, such may be achieved.

To realize this kind of goal is to take a step-by-step scrutiny of the sociology of education. Initially, a description of schools as an educational institution would help facilitate the study. Educational institutions are considered part of the society which exist “to help preserve or modify the conditions of life by promoting teaching and learning of one sort or another” (Reitman, 1981, p. 25). These institutions are also responsible for the continuity of social norms, values, customs and traditions in a certain societal area, as one generation passes after another. However, it is important to note that institutions of education do not necessarily denote schools for there are those which have no formalized curriculum or program of instruction, just like what schools have. Those belonging to this type are referred to as the informal educational institutions. These include, as enumerated by Sandford W. Reitman (1981), families, peer groups, mass media, work places, church, special-interest groups, social service agencies and the social class or the social stratum. Schools, on the other hand, are identified as the formal educational institutions. Nevertheless, it is surprising to know that the informal institutions have more encompassing influence than the formal ones due to the fact that they occupy a larger portion of the society.

Meanwhile, Reitman (1981) on his book entitled, “Education, Society, and Change”, explained that a changing society that moves forward to a more complex state requires, in effect, a more systematized process of cultural transmission which informal educational institutions cannot fully ensure. Thus, the formation of formal educational institutions or what most people commonly know as “schools” was introduced. Herein lies various views regarding the issues on what the schools ought to do as part of the society, on what pedagogical methods they should adapt, on how changes in society affect schooling per se, and on how schools consolidate different predispositions of several stakeholders and other equally significant considerations.

One of the perspectives delineated in relation to the above-mentioned concerns was the image of school as both a factory-like and temple-like institution. Deal and Peterson (1994) provided two metaphors which mirror contending perceptions about the purpose and design of schools. One metaphor portrays the image of schools being a factory while the other signifies them as cathedrals or temples. The former symbol perceives schools in a rational way such that schools function like a factory which “focuses on results, outputs, structures and roles” (Deal & Peterson, 1994, p. 70). Such comparison presupposes the goal-oriented approach of schools with regards to their main concerns: student control and academic achievement. In this manner, schools manifest organized, systematized and technical fashion of delivering their functions. Moreover, “this way of looking at school emphasizes the importance of managing their technical mission: instruction” (Deal & Peterson, 1994, p. 70).

On the other hand, the latter representation is the symbolic image of schools being envisioned as a temple by which the responsibility of schools to make sure that cultural patterns and practices adhere to the existing values and beliefs of the society is assured. Likewise, it is but necessary to state that “this conception embraces the importance of values, commitment, passion, vision, and heart-key ingredients of a beloved institution” (Deal & Peterson, 1994, p. 71). In this picture, Deal and Peterson (1994) stressed that the factory-like functions of schools are only “secondary” to that of the functions of the temple figure of schools. Such assumes that these “factory” roles are to maintain the “temple” character of schools.

Another view on the aspect of school as an educational institution was the belief that schooling opportunity can be considered as “one of the best investments a society could make to ensure its own future” (Hurn, 1993, p. 264). Christopher J. Hurn (1993) expounded such an optimistic notion of schooling prevalent during the 1970’s, stating that education reinforces cognitive competence among citizens of a country which the national economy would necessitate eventually from its populace. In addition to the ambiance of optimism, the “faith” in education emerged. This so-called “faith” mainly points out that education plays an important role in shaping “a more humane, tolerant, and democratic social order”. It is this idea that propagated the impression of how schooling molds the society towards “reason and knowledge rather than tradition and prejudice” (Hurn, 1993, p. 264).

Both of these perceptions of schooling constitute only a few out of the other diverse perspectives of the essence of education. It is important to note, however, the major difference between the two: the former assumes that it is the society which is responsible for the school’s make-up simply by comparing it with other institutions of the community, while the latter presupposes that the school and its educational structure primarily affects what the society would be like. Which among the two or the other views of education and schooling would be true is something relative to the interpretation of different people with different stake on education itself. Nevertheless, it is relevant to take into consideration the role of a variety of factors and the interplay of these elements that influence the manner by which people would interpret education. It is because such inclusion to the analysis of the nature and scope of education could perhaps account for the dichotomized, or even disparate, perceptions of schooling. Further explanations and details regarding this perceptual divide in aspect of schooling would be given specific focus under the discussion of the political dynamics in education found in the succeeding paragraphs.

On the other hand, to shed light on the true nature of education and schooling, objective analysis of the functions and the structure of formal education must be taken into account. Reitman (1981) coined the term “traditional ‘manifest’ functions” to refer to the functions of schools, particularly American schools, which are demanded by the society. These purposes that tend to serve the social order include the following: (1) selecting and sorting people out for adult roles, considered the most significant manifest function of schools by which students are classified according to academic merits which in turn became the basis for their ability to be qualified in the preexisting economic and social positions; (2) building and maintaining nationalism and citizenship, contextualized during colonial and revolutionary days schools have the duty to establish, inculcate and uphold into student’s mind allegiance to the national state; (3) transmitting traditional culture, as already mentioned in the previous paragraph, cultural transmission is a relevant obligation of schools that is realized through formal teaching of history and literature; (4) socialization, this, on the other hand, is concerned with the introduction of customs and traditions that are uniformly accepted by the society to the students; (5) propagating religious faith, this applies more to the function of schools in times of colonial period when widespread religious teachings were necessitated to establish colonization; (6) teaching basic skills, reflective of the life-styles and cultural patterns of the society; (7) vocational training, for the mitigation of unemployment in one’s economy; and (8) character education, many argued that this purpose is more vital than the first one since this incorporates moral and ethical norms of society which often change overtime (Reitman, 1981, pp. 36-39).

Aside from these traditional functions are the emerging school purposes which Reitman (1981) deemed “newer” and “controversial” in a sense that they incite deviance from the fundamental and traditional assumptions of education functions. Here are the additional eight functions schools are expected to follow: (1) personal and social problem solving, as manifested in social studies curriculum, schools must be able to adapt to the changing degree of complexity of the society by which individuals and groups are able to solve problems concerning their personal lives and their social environment in which they are part of; (2) social competence in a secondary society, recognizing alterations in the society’s operating contexts, one must be able to be adjust to meet new realizations imposed by the new society; (3) diffusion of new knowledge, innovations in technologies resulted to new discoveries that must be taught for students to learn how to cope with a new society different from that of their parent’s; (4) providing equality of opportunity for a social position, provision of educational opportunities that are accessible to everyone regardless of race, are, gender or economic/social status so as to promote equal competition in the economic marketplace; (5) sex and family life education, the issue of whether schools should involve participation of family and church institutions in teaching such topics which are of immense concern to both; (6) increased functional literacy, the introduction of modern communication aids like visual media put pressure on schools to redesign the “basic skills” component of their curriculum to integrate latest advancement in technology; (7) development of cosmopolitan attitudes, Reitman (1981) identified vis-à-vis the idea of cosmopolitanism the role of schools to educate their students to “live in such an urbanized, secular, global community” (8) existential creativity, development of the “free school” movement and the thought of “open classroom”, which perhaps paved the way for the modern idea of “academic freedom”, provide sufficient grounds for personal expressions of students (Reitman, 1981, pp. 39-43)

However, it is important to note that what Reitman (1981) had enumerated as “new” functions of schools may not necessarily imply the same thing today considering the year such purposes were observed. Yet, these are still relevant facts useful in the analysis of how the sociology of education goes about in line with these functions. Moreover, it is probable to infer that these functions are still regarded as profound insights of school purpose suitably addressed to third world countries.

With these purposes and roles of schools and the education that comes with them defined, the need for their fulfillment was to be embodied in the curriculum. The curriculum acts as the means by which the school put into action the functions intended to serve the society (Reitman, 1981). It is described as “an organized sequence of learning experiences” that seeks to strengthen the concept of education as a tool for the development of knowledge and understanding (Peters, 1991, p.5).

In relation to the curriculum schools choose to implement, Reitman (1981) distinguished two of its kinds: the official curriculum and the invisible curriculum. The former which is also known as the formal curriculum reflects the preferred educational purpose of the school and comprises mandated instructions regarding learning processes, usually characterized by the subjects included, the students will experience as they interact with their teachers. On the one hand, the second type of curriculum is called the invisible curriculum. It is “invisible” in the sense that schools have hidden curricular activities such that the invisible curriculum “may be understood as school activity that commonly takes place as part of the implementation of the official program, but which is not officially mandated” (Reitman, 1981, pp. 4-5). An example of the implementation of the invisible curriculum is when teachers try to reinforce a sense of superiority among students in the society, to motivate them to study and to maintain their grades qualified for college admissions through mentioning the school’s impressive record of getting its graduates into prominent universities (Reitman, 1981). As Hugh Sockett (n.d.) remarked on his article “Curriculum Planning: Taking a Means to an End”, curriculum is indeed the means which schools utilize to reach the end (Peters, 1973).

Looking at the curriculum-based facet of schools, it may appear that schooling has its own way of perceiving and analyzing reality objectively such that the institution itself has no place in the political spectrum of society. It is as if the school is out of the box, or in other words, it is apart from the society it studies, when in reality, schools are affected by the spontaneous and dynamic changes happening in the society. The fact that curricula are set by someone or some group of individuals belonging to the school administration or to a higher level of institution which has a say on the matter emphasizes the idea of school being a political institution, contrary to the belief that schools are nonpolitical institutions and that schooling, as an effect, is a nonpolitical affair. As Reitman (1981) reiterated the idea, he asserted:

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“….elementary and secondary schools, as well as most colleges and universities, have always been involved in struggles for power over the ends and means of education (underscoring mine). Today, public schools are increasingly forced to compete with other agencies of government for scarce financial and other resources. Schooling… has been a major political endeavor since colonial times….” (Reitman, 1981, pp.321-322)

This statement proves how schooling and education go beyond the four walls of a classroom. In addition, formal education is claimed to be a semblance of a political system and in effect, schooling is somewhat a “highly” political endeavor (Reitman, 1981). Herein, the taking into account of the structure of authority in formal education to better describe how school became politicized by various factors is necessary. Also, it is important to note that the structure of authority falls under two kinds, whether it be informal or formal: the informal aspect refers to the power and influence of interest groups in the realm of school or educational politics while the formal type implies the hierarchy of authority from the lowest division in the school administration to the higher offices of the state government (Reitman, 1981).

Reitman (1981) stated that it is in the schooling processes that school politics starts to develop. It is through these processes that different people want to benefit from in the forms of higher salaries, greater financial assistance for curricular and extracurricular programs, or larger funds for capital outlays for new buildings or updated textbooks, that developed the notion of school politics. With all these interests of different people consolidated according to their similarities, there form interest groups, considering that individual efforts will be likely ignored by higher school officials or decision-makers unless that person is the representative of the group or that individual possesses political influence due to financial and social resources. Participation of these groups to implement their particular educational concerns is made realized through political process (Reitman, 1981). Raywid (n.d.), as quoted by Reitman (1981), separated interest groups into two groups: the “legitimate” groups and the “illegitimate” ones. The difference lies in the three rules to which these groups abide in making and pressing their claims. The rules are (1) rules of evidence (is the truth being sincerely sought after and exposed when found?); (2) rules of democracy (is the group open and above board about its motives and methods?); (3) rules of common decency (does the group avoid smear campaigns and slanderous literature?) (Reitman, 1981, p. 329). Under the “legitimate” interest group category cited by most political scientists are the local teacher’s organizations, Parent-Teacher Association, civic organizations, civil rights organizations, local chambers of commerce and branches, and ad-hoc groups of budget-minded taxpayers. Whether these groups support or attack schools in favor of their interests, Raywid considered them legitimate for they adhere to the three sets of broad criteria mentioned above (Reitman, 1981).

Meanwhile, Bailey (n.d.) also classified interest groups into two basic types: those pro-school and those in opposition to schools. The former includes (1) educational academics (teachers of teachers) who are very important in initiating debate on many political issues; (2) state educational and political officials who bargain with lobbyist, pass laws, and issue directives; (3) professional educators; and (4) “surprise” actors, that is, coalitions of citizens who align with schools for various reasons. On the other hand, the latter consists of (1) the Roman Catholic Church; (2) tax-minded business groups or owners of commercial real estate; (3) rural groups such as farmer’s associations which tend to oppose increasing state involvement in education; (4) conservative politicians and state officials, whose pressures and exposure in the mass media often prevent additional spending for education; and ironically, (5) schoolpersons themselves for their “failure to understand, develop, and use political machinery available within their own ranks” to pursue educational improvements (Reitman, 1981, pp. 329-330).

Aside from the enumerated characteristics of interest groups that make each one different from another, Reitman (1981) concluded that ideological biases strongly influence varying perceptions of the informal nature of power and influence over educational reforms of interest groups.

Having discussed the informal aspects of control wielded by interest groups, the shift to the formal one is directed to the role of the state government and the personnel in position with respect on their influence in education. There are four essential authority personalities who correspond, though not entirely, to the formal structure of authority in formal education. The first one is the state governor or the chief executive. Recognizing the essence of state educational politics which according to Reitman (1981) is the bargaining between interest group and elected or appointed officials, the governor stands as the “key to the extensive bargaining that goes on between spokepersons lobbying for organized educational interests, such as the state teacher’s association or union or the state chamber commerce” (Reitman, 1981, p.343). The next two officials are under the local government: the school board and the school superintendent. The school boards, according to sociologist Norman Kerr (n.d.), have the responsibility to legitimize policies of the school system to the community, in contrast to the common notion that their task is to represent the community to the school administration in line with educational program. On the one hand, they hire school superintendents who are professional experts in the field of formal education. Hence, superintendents became agents of the boards such that they work with them to accomplish objectives at hand which were identified by the school boards and the community to be relevant given certain conditions (Reitman, 1981). The last wielder of influence would be the personnel closest and most accessible to those who need to be educated, the teachers or professors. Although they are large in number, most of them are passive recipients of pedagogical instructions set by those people higher than them in terms of authority. Often times, they are also not fully aware of the political aspects of education particularly those teachers of elementary and secondary schooling. In this regard, Reitman (1981) raised a challenge for the teachers to contemplate and deliberate on, saying that:

“Once teachers have seen through the defeating myth of nonpoliticalization of schooling and have begun to comprehend how the myth desensitizes teachers to objective diagnosis of some of their student’s genuine learning needs, they have reasonable chance to proceed realistically on behalf of their own and their student’s interests. Armed with the realization that no single one, but rather a variety of sophisticated interest groups possess political clout in this society, a teacher can, if so inclined, participate with other like-minded professionals in organizational efforts to develop political power in educational affairs.” (Reitman, 1981, p. 351)

Such strong and straightforward statement implies how great the capacity of teachers is in initiating actions calling for improvements in education. However, the implication of this idea also goes with the critical analysis of how formal influence and power to set the manner and content of teaching trickles down from the highest authoritative body to the lowest group of teachers, as educational perspective becomes modified through each level of authority.

In this respect enters the political dynamics occurring in the realm of education that entails departure from the confined conception of schooling. Here, it assumes that there exists a larger framework in which conflicting interests of those interest groups and the complex struggle over influence and power of those key actors discussed above are part of and are in the state of continuous interaction. Yet, this larger context also contains competing paradigms of ideological and/or cultural viewpoints which serve as the instrument that shape contrasting interpretations and perceptions of schooling and education.

The debate about what schools ought to teach emanated from ideological disparities. These differences on ideologies, on the other hand, resulted from the diverse assessment concerning the critique of the traditional belief of schools as an educational institution. This long-established principle holds that schools “taught fundamental skills and basic knowledge of the society’s culture and institution, promoted cognitive development, and fostered such essentially modern attitudes and values as tolerance, respect for rationality, and openness to new ideas” (Hurn, 1993, p. 270). This view was challenged by three major educational ideologies: the conservative, the liberal or reform and the radical or reconceptualist.

The conservative educational ideologies, as expounded by Reitman (1981), strive to “perpetuate” the socioeducational status quo. Herein lies three rationales, provided by Reitman (1981), that explain education in the angle of the conservatives. The first one is the ideological view of education as human engineering. It explains schooling as a “utility” designed at making students just the way the society requires them to be and not the other way around by which these students would likely become the critics of that society. This ideology is greatly exhibited in the school’s pedagogical measures and curricula such as career education, behavior modification, accountability, the competency movement (which subsumes competency/performance-based teacher education), programmed instruction and teaching machines, behavioral objectives, and performance contracting. The next rationale under the conservative ideology is centered on education as revival of the fundamentals. The idea of “revivalistic fundamentalism” fosters the back-to-basics principle such that supporters of conservatism eagerly demand for stricter school policies (i.e. hair and dress codes) as well as tougher academic standards and grading system. Such creed of conservatives is too extreme such that they even argued that new curricula and progressive teaching methods tend to undermine basic skills which may lead to educational “decline and decay” (Hurn, 1993). The third and last conservative belief is education as knowledge for the sake of knowledge. As the phrase implies, it basically advocates schooling as a tool directed towards guiding the students in their pursuit of personal intellectual development.

To further understand the conservative educational ideology, its basic difference to radical ideology would be helpful. Hurn (1993) stated that most of the arguments asserted by the conservatives negate the claims of the radicals. For instance, radical theorists argue that schools are “major props of the established order” while conservatives opposed it by claiming that schools, in fact, promote “cultural and moral relativism” which lead to the disintegration of the “homogenous set of cultural and moral ideals” of schools such that it further caused the decline of their authority “cajole or inspire the young to learn what they have to teach” (Hurn, 1993). Adding evidence to the divergence of both ideologies, Freire (1921) in his language of crisis and critique averred that conservatives claim that schools fell short in realizing its purpose to meet the demands and imperatives of the capitalist market economy, thereby, implying that conservatives preserve the status quo of the society, being capitalist in nature. Conversely, schools which act as “reproductive sites that smoothly provide the knowledge, skills, and social relations necessary for the functioning of the capitalist economy and dominant society” are merely “reflex of the labor market” in the viewpoint of the radicals (Giroux, 1985). In such image of schools, the means for critical thinking and transformative action are not embodied in the education they provide.

The second educational ideology was the liberal or reform type. Reitman (1981) categorized four conceptions about education under this ideological perspective which all seek to modify society as it changes continuously through time via educational processes. These are basically different from the conservatives in terms of their approach regarding norms and values that appear to be obsolete as time passes. Liberals or reformists prefer to preserve them and to integrate improvements for their continuity in contrast to conservatives who will insist in reviving such forgotten customs (Reitman, 1981).

The first one among the liberal/reform conceptions is the view of education as ethnic revitalization. This caters developments such as ethnic studies, multicultural education, bilingual education, and community control so as to represent schools as venues for the unification of the diverse nature of a pluralistic society in terms of ethnic differences. Next in line is the second belief which is education as social reengineering. Although this is somewhat similar to the notion of “human engineering” feature of education employed by the conservative theorists, liberals’ “social reengineering” boil


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