Many would agree that education, as found in schools, as an obligation to socialize students to help them fit into society. With this goal in mind, it is logical to conclude that there will be different views on how to socialize students. The two main extreme positions on this continuum of socialization would be
- Socializing through the preservation of cultural form on generation to the next
- Socializing through the questioning of prior norms and pushing for social change
As I have already mentioned, these may be the two extremes on a continuum going from complete and total cultural preservation to complete and total anarchy. In this post, we will focus the discussion on schools as agents of cultural preservation.
School as Cultural Preserver
In the view of the school as a cultural preserver, the responsibility of the school to society is to support the dominant ideas and views of the culture. This is done through teaching and explaining things from a dominant group’s perspective and excluding or censoring other viewpoints to some degree. In other words, American schools should produce Americans who support and live American values, Chinese schools should produce Chinese who support and live Chinese values, etc.
This approach to schooling has been used throughout history to compel people from minority groups to conform to the views of the dominant group. In the US, there were boarding schools for Native Americans to try to “civilize” them. This was also seen in many parts of Asia in which ethnic tribes were sent to government schools, forbidden to use their mother tongue in place of the national language, and pledge devotion and loyalty to the dominant culture. Through the process of weakening local identities, it is believed by many that it will help to strengthen the state or at least maintain the status quo. If you are in a position of dominance either of these would benefit you.
What this view lacks in diversity, due to minority views being absent, it makes up for it through stability. Schools that support cultural preservation show students their place in society and how to interact with those around them. Through the limits of a specific predefined worldview, it lowers but does not reduce internal social strife.
Problems and Pushback
A natural consequence of schools as cultural preservers is a strong sense of pride in those who belong to the culture that is being preserved. This can lead, at times, to a sense of superiority and pride. Of course, if you are not from the dominant culture, it can be suffocating to constantly have other people’s values and beliefs push upon you.
This sense of exclusion can lead to serious challenges from minority groups. There are countless examples of this in the United States where it seems everyone is pushing back against the establish dominant culture. There are those who are pushing for Black, Latino, Asian, feminist, and other worldviews to be a part of the education of the school. This is not inherently a problem, however, if everyone has an equal voice and everyone is talking at the same time this means that nobody is listening. In other words, a voice needs an ear as much as an ear needs a voice.
It is convenient to take an extreme position and say that using school to preserve culture is wrong. The problem with this is that the people who say this want to preserve the belief that using school to preserve culture is wrong. In other words, it is not the preservation of culture that is the problem. The real battle is over what culture is going to be preserved. Whether it is the current dominant view or the view of a challenger.