Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see – Neil Postman

Gatto’s lesson two: Class position

In the previous post, I outlined the first of Gatto’s seven lessons of school, confusion. In this post, I want to explore the links between theory and the second lesson, knowing where you sit in a hierarchy.

Gatto (1992) argues that schools establish a hierarchy. He states that children are numbered by age, hence age based classes which, as Penelope Trunk argues, is just for convenience. He also states that children are tested so that they are classed based on their performance on these tests.

My job is to make them like being together with children who bear numbers like their own … If I do my job well, the kids can’t even imagine themselves somewhere else because I’ve shown them how to envy and fear the better classes and how to have contempt for the dumb classes.

(Gatto, 1992, p. 5)

Bourdieu (cf. 2000) terms this symbolic violence. Bourdieu argued:

The agent engaged in practice knows the world … too well, without objectifying distance, takes it for granted, precisely because he is caught up in it, bound up with it; he inhabits it like a garment … he feels at home in the world because the world is also in him

(Bourdieu, 2000, pp. 142-143)

This is symbolic violence because, without knocking anyone on the head, or holding a gun to their ear, people are made to stay in their place. Bourdieu (cf. 2000) was particularly interested in how schools function to teach us all how to behave, to belong with some people and not others and to judge ourselves harshly in light of a given set of criteria to which we may be unable to aspire.


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