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

Schools teach the social order

Photo: © Samm Bennett
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/flapjax_at_midnite/6276338584/

Many theorists (cf. Durkheim, 1961; Apple et al., 1983; Giroux et al., 1983) posit a theory of a hidden curriculum. This hidden curriculum theory suggests that, on top of learning the ‘subjects’ that a school teaches, such as maths, English, History, Geography, Business Studies et al., students must also master a moral code. To quote from Durkheim:

In fact, there is a whole system of rules in the school that predetermine the child’s conduct. He must come to class regularly, he must arrive at a specified time and with an appropriate bearing and attitude. He must not disrupt things in class. He must have learned his lessons, done his homework, and have done so reasonably well, etc. There are, therefore, a host of obligations that the child is required to shoulder. Together they constitute the discipline of the school. It is through the practice of school discipline that we can inculcate the spirit of discipline in the child.

(Durkheim, 1961, p. 147)

This theory is shared by still others who may not use the term ‘hidden curriculum’. Basil Bernstein (2000), writing about the ways that schools construct ideologies that privilege certain knowledge over others, considers that there are two discourses that comprise the pedagogic discourse. He argues that there is what is known as the regulative discourse, the discourse of appropriate social conduct and the other is the instructional discourse, basically what the teacher is trying to teach (eg today, we’re learning that 2 + 2 = 4) (Bernstein, 2000). Bernstein (2000) argues that the regulative discourse is dominant because, without a code telling students how to act (such as that it would be inappropriate to shimmy up a pole mid-lesson singing Like a Virgin), lessons could not occur.

Drawing on Durkheim’s theories, Bernstein (1991; 2000) argues that the role of the school is to teach us the correct way to be. The role of schools, then, is to manage a population and make sure they behave in ways that suit the powerful in a culture. In future posts, I want to talk about how Bernstein (1990) talks about how some people are allowed to think the unthinkable (p. 182) while others, less privileged, are left at the level of concrete knowledge.

However, it makes me wonder whether this kind of control over the population is fair to leave on the heads of teachers who, I believe, have no real idea that this is what they are doing when they are regulating and managing the conduct of their student populations? Do you really want to trust a school to teach your kid how to be a human in this world? I ask because, just maybe, the school might produce the type of person you don’t want your kid to be.

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