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Organization, Bureaucracies, & Schools

A school is a type of formal organization. An organization is a group of people who are working together as a body to do something. A formal organization is an organization that has rules and regulations. Another trait of many organizations is that they often have traits of bureaucracies. This post will explore different types of organizations and also explain the characteristics of bureaucracies.

Organization Types

There are several types of organizations. A voluntary organization is an organization that is based on a common interest. Many of the clubs that one would find in a school would qualify as a voluntary organization. Examples would include student council, art club, photo club, or drama club. These are generally voluntary in that students can choose or not choose to participate, and they often involve hobbies students enjoy. For teachers, voluntary organizations might include associations such as the National Education Association (NEA) or Kappa Delta Pi. Teachers are often the leaders of various after-school clubs and thus members of these organizations at the local school level.


Coercive organizations, as the name implies, are organizations people are compelled to join. School is a coercive organization for many students as many young people do not want to be there. Another example is a prison, as most inmates do not want to be inmates. This leads to the point that different people have different views of organizations. A teacher will probably not think of their school as a coercive organization, but a student might.

Total institutions are organizations that have sweeping powers over the lifestyles and choices of the members. Prison is one such example. In addition, many cults can have a large influence over the lives of their members in a way that is totalitarian. With time, schools have been given more and more responsibility for students’ lives to appear as total institutions. Schools’ responsibilities now include transportation, breakfast, after-school programs, sports, sex education, supporting students with disabilities, second language instruction, etc. Some of these examples are so old that they seem comical. However, there was a time when schools did not do these things.

Lastly, a utilitarian organization is an organization people join for a reward such as a salary or prestige. For example, teachers may see the school at which they work as a utilitarian organization because of the money. A student who goes to college may see the college as a utilitarian organization because of the reward of a degree at the end of their studies. Again, how a person views an organization can vary as one voluntary organization is another person’s utilitarian organization


Organizations often become bureaucracies which are simple, highly formal organizations. It is difficult to tell when an organization is a bureaucracy. However, organizations exhibit several traits of bureaucracies when they reach this stage of development, and they are…

  • Strong hierarchy
  • clear division of labor
  • explicit rules
  • impersonal
  • meritocracies

Burecraies have a strong hiearchy. At schools, it is clear who is in charge. Often, you will see a picture of the principal somewhere and the rest of the administrative team. At the university level, you will have a president, VPs, Deans, Chairs, etc., clearly mapped out for everyone. There are also clear lines of labor. Teachers teach while administrators deal with administration only at smaller organizations do these lines blend. When an organization is larger enough, clearly delineating these things is critical to order.

Bureaucracies also have clear, explicit rules. Again, we all know how obsessed schools are with rules. There are rules for the cafeteria, the library, the classroom, the playground; there are general school rules. Then there are policies for teachers, parents, administrators, and the list goes on and on. The large number of policies and rules are overwhelming, especially if one moves to the district or state level.

Bureaucracies are also highly impersonal. For schools, this applies if the school is really big, perhaps several thousand students. Universities are often viewed as impersonal monsters where nobody cares, and they are often personified when people or students want to complain about them. A common name is “the system,” as in “the the system fail such and such.” Another term common today is “systemic racism”; however, systems are not alive and thus cannot actually be racists. People can be racist through the rules they implement and enforce within the system, but the system has no life or conscience of its own.

Lastly, bureaucracies are based on merit. Within the government, promotion is generally based on years of service and some sort of assessment. To become a teacher, a person has to receive a certain amount of training. To become an administrator, the same idea applies. Honor students earned good grades, which is the way they are being honored. The point is that in bureaucracies, merit is a common trait.


Organizations are a necessary part of the human experience. Everyone belongs to one organization or another for whatever reason. With time, organizations can grow and become bureaucracies that have their own pros and cons.

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