What Schools Do - 4 Functions of SchoolsAccording to Reimer, schools have four social functions:
- social role selection
Let's consider each of these in turn.
The Custodial Function of Schools
- schools provide child care - this allows parents to get to work. If only Reimer could have predicted in 1971 the explosion of this function in today's world - he would have invested heavily in before- and after-school care facilities and made a million.
- communities that do not have schools do not seem to need this function
- as children get older, child care gets more expensive. Kids spend longer at school. And it costs more to educate older kids as well.
- the custodial function of schools prolongs childhood. Children are forced to stay in schools for many years. Some are still full time students at the age of 25. This prolonged childhood is unnatural, in fact the whole concept of "childhood" is a fabrication invented less than 300 years ago.
- children who are in the school system are not required to take responsibility for themselves, their families, their finances, their homes. Not so long ago, children were required to do all of these things. While this may not have been a good thing - 8 year olds working down the pit or in the mill - I'm not sure the current alternative - 25 year old dependents living at home - is much better.
Child labour in a coal mine
The Social Role Selection Function of Schools
- schools sort kids into the social slots that they will occupy in adult life.
- schools are part of the system designed to perpetuate privilege.
- "The major part of job selection is not a matter of personal choice at all, but a matter of survival in the school system. Age at dropout determines whether boys and girls will be paid for their bodies, hands or brains and also, of course,how much they will be paid." The longer you can survive "in the system", the better your chances of getting a high paid, white collar job. Unless of course you get stuck in Grade 3 for seven years - doing the same grade for seven years doesn't really count as seven years of education.
- tertiary education also plays a significant role in determining social position. Graduating from Oxbridge, an Ivy League college or one of the sandstone universities (Australia's equivalent to the Ivy League), will have a big influence on an individual's access to the top levels of social hierarchy.
- "It is no wonder, under these circumstances, that some children drop out while others work to win rather than work to learn."
The Indoctrination Function of Schools
- schools teach values that a student needs to accept in order to succeed (in school - not necessarily in life). Sometimes I think that we punish kids at school for the things that will help them achieve in the business world - cooperation, collaboration, creativity. These are not things encouraged in a formal exam context where each student is required to work by themselves, not communicate with anyone else and produce predictable responses to questions that have been prepared by someone else.
- schools teach the importance and value of conformity.
- schools give priority to "dominant languages, both natural and technical." Reimer points out the priority of Spanish over native languages in Latin America and also to Russian over other languages in the former USSR. This is also very true in Australia where indigenous students were forces to learn English and forget their native tongue. A similar pattern of events happened in many other countries, including Wales and Scotland, where children were punished for speaking their "home" language at school.
The "Welsh Not" worn on string around the neck if caught speaking Welsh at school. The wearer was expected to pass it to another child that they heard speaking Welsh. Whoever was wearing it at the end of the day got a beating.
The Educational Function of Schools
- while this might be thought to be the main function of schools, apparently as little as 20% of school time is spent in learning
- schools claim to be the sole purveyors of literacy and numeracy skills, yet Reimer quotes census data that records more literate individuals that the number of those who attended school
- schools are promoted as the only place where children can learn. Schools also teach children to depend on what they are taught, reinforcing the message that people cannot learn things for themselves. Many "unschooled" and illiterate people learn how to use money, to barter and trade efficiently, to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Not many people can do much more maths than this after 12 years of formal schooling.
- "Einstein, commenting on a short period he had spent in school preparing for a degree examination, said that as a consequence he was, for several years afterwards, unable to do any creative work."
The man himself, not a big fan of school
Looks like there is more to school than just learning stuff. I agree that there are many agendas underlying the education systems around the world but I am hopeful that the promotion of the inquiry process in schools is a good step away from students depending on what they are taught and a movement towards acknowledging the individual's responsibility for their own learning.