Purpose Of Public Schools Essay, Research Paper
Purposes of Schooling Essay
Labaree examines the competing ideological traditions that have fought for dominance in our public schools since the nineteenth century and considers the social consequences when certification and degrees become more important than the acquisition of knowledge.
He argues that the central problems with education are not pedagogical, organizational, social or cultural in nature but are fundamentally political. He identifies three prominent educational goals that at times have undermined each other. He calls these goals democratic equality, social efficiency and social mobility.
The democratic equality goal seeks to prepare our young for citizenship. The social efficiency goal prepares students to carry useful economic roles, and the social mobility goal treats education as a commodity which purpose is to provide individual students with a competitive advantage in the struggle for desirable social positions. From the perspective of the citizen then, democratic equality is viewed as a public good benefiting society as a whole, (a public good is one whose benefits are enjoyed by all the members of the community, whether or not they actually contributed the production of this good. Police protection, street maintenance, public parks, air pollution control, etc…). The taxpayer and the employer see social efficiency as a public good too, designed to prepare workers to play useful roles in our economy. In social mobility however, the individual consumer views education as a private good to be exchanged later for higher paying jobs (a private good is one whose benefits are enjoyed by an individual).
The most political of the three goals, democratic equality, has three subgoals: the pursuit of citizenship training, equal treatment and equal access. Citizenship training is addressed through such courses as social studies, civics, government, US History and liberal arts. Equal treatment has been dealt with by the exclusion of public prayer and other religious practices from schools, desegregation, removal of gender stereotypes from textbooks, incorporation of experiences of nonwhites and females in the curriculum, multiculturalism, affirmative action, the reduction of discriminatory practices such as tracking and ability grouping, and equalization of financial support to school districts regardless of tax base. Equal access has been achieved by making education available to all segments of the population.
The social efficiency goal exerts its influence on schools in the form of vocationalism and educational stratification. The social mobility goal manifests itself as high tuition, exclusivity and stratified structure such as reading groups, pull-out programs, high school tracks, letter grades, comprehensive standardized testing and differentiated diplomas.
The three goals, though conflicting, do have some elements in common and interact in some peculiar ways. Social mobility and social efficiency both call for a high degree of stratification, which is antithetical to democratic equality. However, unlike the pursuit of social efficiency, social mobility has an aggressively individualistic instead of collective view of the market.
While the author admits that all three goals are necessary for a healthy society, producing good citizens, good workers and good social opportunities, he is very critical of the social mobility goal, which he blames for producing students who are well schooled but poorly educated. It has contributed to credential inflation, undermined the incentive for students to learn, and created the paradox of unchanging social mobility despite the rising levels of educational attainment. He is very concerned about the growing dominance of the social mobility goals over the others, and deplores educational institutions for adopting a balancing act that only seeks to minimize conflict.
The author does offer hope that the educational system is amenable to correction thanks to its openness and the checks and balances inherent in these three goals, much like the three branches of government. He is convinced that the public’s tradition for democratic equality and social efficiency are inherently hostile to the growing effort to privatize education. However, the author doesn’t offer an explanation to this anomaly, and seems to contradict himself, that if there is such great public hostility to the social mobility forces, then where, in a seemingly democratic society, is this impetus for privatization coming from.
Having received all my schooling overseas, and without experience of the US school system, it is difficult for me to comment extensively about US schools. Many societies around the world strive for the three major goals he discusses, with some of the goals being more dominant than the others, depending on the country, or whether the school is private, public or religious. All countries, even communist ones, seek to produce good citizens and productive workers. Many citizens of these and socialist countries strive for social mobility too, though the economic realities and politics may temper desires or make such goals unattainable. Many of the problems he has stated are universal, and no country, or school is immune to them. Even socialist countries such as Sweden, England, Iraq etc. have experienced credential inflation. The economies of many countries cannot provide the opportunities available in the US, and with education being free in these countries, there are many more graduates than jobs, with resultant high unemployment. Some of these countries practice their own form of tracking, stratification and vocationalism, even going as far as selecting your profession purely based on your grades.
Discipline and class management are far less of a problem in other countries, with students and parents playing a more active role and taking responsibility for their education. Teachers are paid better salaries and are afforded much respect, unlike in US. It is my feeling that this denigration of teachers and student apathy greatly compounds the already complicated political situation facing US schools. Unfortunately, Labaree felt this problem was too insignificant to devote any space to, instead choosing to focus on social mobility as the major evil creeping on US society, when I feel it is a basic human attribute like greed, jealousy, etc.