Saturday, 29 December 2012

School Is Dead - Chapter 4

How Schools Work

Reimer is very interested in the place of rituals in society and uses this in his explanation of the way that schools operate.

"Schooling is social ritual, bridging the gap between social theory and social practice."

We need these rituals because we don't always act in accord with our beliefs.

He identifies four ideologies that play a prominent role in society, examines their realities and then describes the rituals in schools that bring the two together.

1. The Ideology of equal opportunity

The ideology:
  • people can advance themselves solely on their own merits
The reality:
  • "all advancement is at the expense of others."
  • "one can rise to the top only over the heads of thousands."
  • "the odds of staying near the bottom (are) many times higher than the odds of getting to the top."
The ritual of schools:
  • annual progression to the next grade helps us believe that we are all going somewhere
  • "There are enough steps so that everyone can climb a few. Grades in school are easy enough at first, in rich countries, and almost everyone passes these early grades."

2. The ideology of freedom

The ideology:
  • all men have certain unalienable rights
The reality:
  • we have oppressive governments, wars and repression of these rights in many countries around the world, including some that describe themselves as democratic
The ritual:
  • Democratic elections can be a ritual that makes people believe that they have a say in government. Yet the choice of candidate is often manipulated by the hierarchy of political parties. These elected candidates have little personal say when it comes to voting in parliament, being required to vote along party lines.

3. The ideology of progress

The ideology:
  • everything is improving and will continue to improve forever and always
The reality:
  • things cannot continue to keep improving in a finite world with finite resources, serving a growing population
The ritual:
  • "The ritual of research induces the belief that new discoveries change the whole picture, that every day is a new day with a new set of rules and possibilities."
  • Curriculum renewal offers the promise of revitalised, more relevant and more effective teaching. And if we do it every  3-5 years, we will never have to stop and see if we are actually going anywhere or if we are just shuffling the deck chairs. 
Deck chairs on the Titanic

4. The ideology of efficiency

The ideology:
  • We can solve our problems by being more efficient
The reality:
  • We can employ more people if we are inefficient. Or, if we get too efficient, people will lose their jobs.
  • We spend a lot of time and money producing things we don't really need.
  • Efficiency is not always desirable or enjoyable.
The ritual:
  • "Schools learned a long time ago that the way to keep children from thinking is to keep them busy."
  • the ritual of activity helps us believe that we are doing something, that we are moving forward, that we are achieving something.


I quite liked this chapter. It was well structured and made some kind of sense. I do think that some of our "rituals" are based on self-deception (we don't want to see what the problem is), rather than some external conspiracy (someone else doesn't want us to see).

So good news - I will continue reading to see what other ideas will be presented. Looking forward to it.

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