Sei sulla pagina 1di 18

The Role of Education

in Maintaining
Social Order

This Essay is part of my larger PhD Thesis:

The Social Construction of an Architectural Reality in

Design Education.

Tony Ward
Any part of this document may be published or reproduced without the
written permission of the author providing acknowledgements are given
The Role of Education in Maintaining Social Order
Critical education theorist Michael Young suggests that the perceived role of
education in society has not been stable. At different times, its purpose has been
viewed differently. He roughly divides its perceived social role into three phases:

1. From the early 1900s to 1945 - as a means of social pacification

2. From 1945 to 1974 as a means of national economic productivity
3. From 1974 to the present, as a national economic burden.1

Initially, public education was seen, as a means of social pacification. As early

as the 1790’s in England, educators as well as politicians were well aware of the
danger of having a literate poor in society. As Lankshear points out, the British
educationalist Hannah More, who established a series of Sunday Schools in the
Mendips at that time was careful to make sure that her students only read the Bible,
and at no time where encouraged to learn to write. Replying to critics of her reading
programme who believed that it would encourage sedition among the lower classes
she said:

“I allow of no writing for the poor. My object is not to make them fanatics, but
to train up the lower classes in habits of industry and piety.”2

At different times since then, education for the poor has been viewed by the
wealthy and powerful as a threat, by the poor themselves as a means of social
emancipation, by the middle class as a means of social distinction and by the State as
an investment. From the end of the Second World War until the mid-1970s, according
to Young, education was seen, as a contributor, either potentially or actually, to the
national economy in most States. This view accords closely with the theories put
forward by Jerome Karabel and A. H. Halsey of education as a kind of investment in
cultural or human capital.3 According to this theory. the educational investment would
return an economic profit to the individual over a lifetime of employment. By the
same token, the cumulative economic profit accorded to individuals would by
extension flow into the competitiveness of the national economy, increasing
investment and exports and leading to general prosperity. During this era, this
philosophy developed alongside, and to a large extent influenced, a general expansion

Young, M., "Education", in: Worsley, P. (ed.), The New Introducing Sociology, Penguin Books, London,
1987, p. 167. A great deal of the research into the relationship between education, power, economics,
culture and class has evolved from the British experience over the last thirty years. The theories arising
from this experience have had a profound effect upon theorising in other Western States, particularly in
the USA.
More, H., cited in: Lankshear, C. with Lawler, M., Literacy, Schooling and Revolution, Falmer Press,
1987, p. 45. and in: Simon, B., Studies in the History of Education, 1780-1870, Lawrence & Wishart,
1960, p. 133.
Karabel, J. and Halsey, A. H., op. cit., 1977.
of the educational system and a massive investment in the educational budgets of
most Western States.
One of the structural characteristics of this system was that it tended to create
new pyramidical social structures which differed from the older traditional
(aristocratic) structures of privilege and power. These newer structures -
meritocracies, in Michael Young's fictional and futuristic rendering, were based upon
natural talent or intelligence.4 The idea that everyone in society had a natural potential
which was being stifled by the older hierarchical social structures equated with the
drive to liberate these potentialities by developing a system based upon individual
merit. It was in this sense that, after the War, the theoretical development of I.Q
testing was expanded and overlaid (originally and primarily in Britain) on the existing
public school system, to target precisely those children from poor families who had
this natural ability to take their place in the developing meritocracy. This was known
as the 11-Plus exam, which was designed to "stream" children into different levels of
education compatible with their "natural abilities".
From the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, significant numbers of children from
working class homes entered the University-directed stream, and as a consequence,
the State was called upon to significantly expand its educational portfolio, particularly
at the tertiary level, in order to absorb these increasing numbers of students with
increased expectations. 5

Education as National Economic Burden (1970-)

By the mid-1970s, though, the economic burden of these educational costs
began to outweigh their perceived economic usefulness to the system. The tax burden
which they imposed upon capital, with its consequent reduction in profits required
that economies be made. Education (particularly university education) became seen as
an economic burden rather than an economic investment. This was particularly the
case since research had been able to point to no actual economic benefits at the
national level, of the increased educational provision.6 Instead, increased levels of
educational achievement had simply increased the qualification demands of
prospective employers, creating what has been called "credential inflation".7
By the mid-1960s, it was becoming clear, in Britain at least, that the proposed
social stratification of children according to their "intelligence" measured by the 11-
Plus was not working. Researchers discovered that working class students were still

Young, M., The Rise of the Meritocracy: 1870-2033, Pelican Books, Baltimore,1965.
Young, M. F. D., op. cit., 1987, p. 168.
Berg, I., Education and Jobs: The Great Training Robbery, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1983.
Collins, R., "Some comparative principles of educational stratification", in: Dale, R., et. al., Education
and the State, Falmer Press, 1981, pp. 277-292.
largely unrepresented at the university entrance level.8 Gradually, under the labour
Governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, the streaming exam was phased
out and a system of comprehensive education was slowly and voluntarily established
in its place, with the intention of addressing the social stratification operating within
the larger British society, replacing the ethic of individualism and focussing instead
on a policy of social co-operation and understanding.9

Class Codes and Systemic Resistance to Change in Education

In spite of the changes to the British education system over fifteen years, by
1970, 80 percent of all judges, 83 percent of all ambassadors, and 86 percent of all
generals had been educated not in the public school system, but in private schools
such as Eton and Harrow.10 How this older social stratification continued to persist in
the face of so much expenditure and change to the education system itself became an
important source of inquiry among educational theorists. Basil Bernstein was the first
to point out that the cultural codes of working class children were significantly at odds
with the cultural codes of the largely middle class educational system which they were
aspiring to, and that this difference loaded children from poorer homes with an
additional intellectual and emotional burden which their middle class colleagues did
not have to carry. Bernstein suggested that it was as if working class children had to
leave their identities at the school gate.11
The implications of Bernstein's studies were wide-ranging. They implied, for
instance, that for working class students to reach positions of power and authority
within the existing structure, it would be necessary for the actual content of the
educational system itself to be transformed in more than cosmetic ways, and that this
could not be done without also addressing the influence which the dominant culture
had in its formulation and practice. In other words, and using Bernstein's
terminologies, the class codes and culture of the educational system would have to be
transformed to align with the understandings and expectations of the poor, and by
extension, that the power to shape education - what stands as valid knowledge - would
have to be wrested from the already-powerful. The fundamental question, then,

Young, M. F. D., op. cit., 1987, p. 170.
Bullivant, B., The Pluralist Dilemma in Education, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1981, pp. 23-5. But
old Establishment habits die hard. At last analysis, few education authorities had taken the opportunity to
adopt the Comprehensive model, and the older stratified system persists, not least in the "Public" Schools
- Eton, Harrow, Winchester, etc, where the sons of the elite are prepared to take the place of their fathers
at the head of the dominant culture.
Young, M. F. D., op. cit., 1987, p. 170. See also: Boyd, D., Elites and Their Education, National
Foundation for Education Research, London, 1973.
Bernstein, B., Class Codes and Control. Vol. 1 , Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1971. Bernstein's
findings were not unique to Britain. I noted earlier, a similarity of findings in the researches of Sennett
and Cobb in Boston, and it was this similarity which was one of the main reasons for the influential
power of British theorising at this time.
became one of what properly constitutes knowledge, and the relationship of this
knowledge to the social hierarchies in society at large - ie. who, precisely has the
power to decide this constitution (and perhaps more pertinently who has the power to
decide who decides).

Problematising Curriculum Content and Class Codes

All of this theorising pointed directly to the issue of curriculum: what should
be taught, and what should be left out and, most significantly, who had the authority
to decide. By the end of the 1960s, educational theorising was thrust into the forefront
of the student movement. I have already noted the critical commentaries of the
students at Berkeley in 1964 and at Nanterre in France in 1968. Implicit in all of these
protests was a radical critique of academia as the legitimate social gatekeeper of
knowledge, and by extension, of the role of academics as agents of social
reproduction. This critique took on sharper focus in the work of Theodor Roszak, Ivan
Illich, Paul Goodman and others, who questioned the efficacy of institutionalised
education per se, and called instead for community based "learning networks".12
These studies still responded to the two perceived tendencies in educational theorising
- one concerned with the achievement of individual potential, the other with the
gradual improvement of society, both being seen as interrelated.
In both contexts, a great deal or argumentation has taken place about what
properly constitutes the kind of knowledge which will lead to a positive outcome. In
other words, what kind of knowledge will lead to both self and social improvements.
The arguments have hinged around the issue of what knowledge is and, more
particularly, what are the precise social relations associated with its existence and
social construction. I noted earlier Michael Apple's assertion that educational
theorising has traditionally ignored the role of conflict in knowledge formation. Basil
Bernstein's work suggests that this is a significant factor in the process of social
reproduction. In other words, Bernstein is suggesting that the class codes which
operate between dominant and subordinate cultural groups do not exist in isolation
from each other, but that they are, at least potentially, conflictive. This leads to the
conclusion that the choice of what properly constitutes "knowledge" is in fact the
result of a conflict between opposed social groups. The traditional view has been to
distinguish between what we might call "real" knowledge - usually that which is the
province of the social elite and which is authenticated by them as a mark of superior
culture - opera, Shakespeare, Fine Art appreciation etc. Against this has been an

Roszak, T., The Dissenting Academy, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1969; Illich, I., Deschooling Society.
Harper & Row, New York, 1971; Goodman, P., Growing Up Absurd, Vintage Books, New York, 1960;
Goodman, P., Compulsory, Miseducation and The Community of Scholars, Vintage Books, New York,
increasingly articulate argument that such knowledge is used as a mechanism for
social distinction used to keep the lower classes "in their place", so to speak.

Knowledge Selection and Legitimation

What emerges from this critique then, is the notion that the knowledge
promulgated in schools is selected, and that the selection process is not carried out
even-handedly or democratically, but that it is heavily biased towards the values of
particular social groups. Through this process, there emerges a hierarchy of
knowledge, some of which is legitimated by the system and some of which is
delegitimated by it, corresponding to Michael Apple's suggested hierarchy of
knowledge forms which derives from the creation of a regime of "knowledge
scarcity". What is at stake, then, is what is within and what is outside the normative
legitimated form of knowledge which forms the curriculum. The battle is then waged
by curriculum critics to alter the content of the curriculum, to widen its cultural range
and to eliminate or at least reduce the dominance of those elements which currently
operate as an instrument of social division. Allan Bloom's argument to reintroduce the
Great Books into curricula stands as a conservative counter-argument to this struggle
as we shall see momentarily.
Beyond these more generalised social critiques of education, however, there
continued to take place an ongoing analysis by researchers in both the USA and in
Britain into the actual processes at work in the educational environment -
investigations into the interactions of students with the system. These were
supplemented by an emerging political critique of education, beginning increasingly
to be seen as an instrument of class domination rather than social liberation,
encapsulated by Geoff Whitty and Michael Young in their own extensive and
influential analysis.13 Following on from Bernstein, Whitty and Young built on the
twin fields of social phenomenology (following on from R. D. Laing) and
structuralism to suggest that any understanding of what happens in the domain of
education must begin with the meanings, language and knowledge that students and
teachers bring to their own interactions.14 These phenomenological theories were
extended into a critique of classroom practice by Nell Keddie, who showed that
teachers mentally categorised students in ways which affected their relationships with
them - seeing some as having more or less potential - so circumscribing the kind of

Whitty, G. and Young, M., Explorations in the Politics of School Knowledge, Nafferton Books, London,
1976; Whitty, G. and Young, M. (eds), Society, State and Schooling, Falmer Press, Sussex, England
1977; Young, M. F. D. (ed), Knowledge and Control, Collier and McMillan, London, 1971; Young, M.
F. D., "An Approach to the Study of Curricula as Socially Organised Knowledge" in: Young, M. F. D.,
Knowledge and Control, Collier and McMillan, London, 1971; Young, M. F. D., "On the Politics of
Educational Knowledge" in: Education in Great Britain and Ireland, Bell, R., (Ed.) Oxford University
Press, 1973.
Young, M. F. D., op. cit., 1987, p. 176.
learning experience that each student was able to have, and thereby stratifying
children into a social hierarchy and limiting the life-chances of those at the bottom of
the created pyramid.15

The Hidden Curriculum: Shaping Subjectivity

Early structuralist analyses of education, such as that conducted by Althusser,
looked at the ways in which the social stratification of the wider society reproduced
itself within the narrower domain of education. The most important work in this area
was carried out in France by the sociologists Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude
Passeron, and in Britain by the later work of Basil Bernstein, who showed that the
separation of school knowledge into "subject areas" isolated from each other as well
as from the everyday experience of the students, played a significant part in the ability
of the students to identify with the knowledge categories, and therefore to succeed in
the required examinations.16
Both of these forms of analysis emphasised the fact that these subject
categories were not isolated to the educational system, but were an integral part of the
larger society, and reflected the values and norms of that society and of the dominant
culture which hegemonically shaped its values. The implications were significant.
Their theory suggested that school, as an instrument of social reproduction, could not
be changed without first changing the cultural dominance of the social elite in the
wider society, and this brought into high relief the ways and forms in which this
cultural dominance was manifest in the educational environment.17
Besides studies in the ways in which curriculum content affected student
comprehension and achievement - the kinds of things included or excluded as
legitimate forms of knowledge - the study of the intimate interactions between
teachers and students by Keddie and others revealed other, more systemic forms of
reproduction. These existed outside the framework of the curriculum content per se,
and were inscribed in the structuring of the temporal and spatial constraints imposed
upon the learning experience. Researchers discovered that the organisation of the
classroom space, time and routines weigh heavily in the reproduction of specific
social relations within the framework of schooling.
Earlier I noted briefly how raked lecture seating influenced the subjective
experience of the social event of social experience of learning. In a similar vein,
Jackson found that the routinisation of classroom activities, the spatial and temporal

Keddie, N., "Classroom Knowledge" in: Young, M. F. D., op. cit., 1971, pp. 133-160.
Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J. C., Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture, Sage, London, 1976;
Bernstein, B., Class, Codes and Conflict, Vol. 3: Towards a Theory of Educational Transmissions,
Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1975.
Young, M. F. D., op. cit., 1987, pp. 177-8.
distribution of subjects, all mediated by the authority of the teacher, had a profound
subliminal impact upon students in what he referred to as the influence of the "hidden
curriculum".18 According to Jackson, this subliminal framing of knowledge within the
context of regimes of authority, discrete subject areas, temporally segmenting and
replacing of the "natural" bodily rythms of students with regular and artificially-
inscribed blocks of time/attention associated with teaching corresponded to and was
shaped by patterns of industrial production in the wider workplace. Students were
being trained in school to passively sublimate their natural inclinations to the authority
of workplace management, and to engage their attention in abstract activities in which
they otherwise had no intrinsic interest.
In addition to the issue of value extrinsicity, the styles, structures and political
and physical organisation of the learning setting also play a very powerful role in the
shaping of the learning experience, in the hidden curriculum. I have already noted in
depth, for instance, the powerful role played by regimes of individualism, competition
and hierarchy in mediating the quality of what is learned, and in producing in the
students an attitude of resignation and quiescent to adult (employer) authority. In
these instances, what is learned over and above that which is explicitly stated as part
of the material knowledge under consideration is really a way of life, a form of
unconsciousness, as Althusser would put it, and an attitude towards the world and the
others who people it. What is learned is compliance with a set of implicit social values
and social codes which order the social relations of everyday life and the way we shall
confront it. What is learned is a quiescence in the face of authority, irrespective of
what is morally right. Among other things, we learn "not to rock the boat", not to
"make a fuss over nothing", forgetting in the process that the nothingness of nothing
has been defined for us before the fact, that it is a social construction which we are
being pressured to accept as truth, as "what is normal", or, as we have seen, as "human
The concept of the hidden curriculum has been a very powerful tool in
educational theorising in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in helping to explain the
persistent failure of working-class children, the continuing reproduction of unjust
social relations and the continued dominance of a particular segment of the culture,
often in spite of being greatly outnumbered. The hidden curriculum has thrown light
on the behaviour of teachers and pupils in classrooms and in playgrounds, suggesting
how it is that knowledge comes to be viewed in particular ways and whose interests
these processes most serve. The hidden curriculum reveals unconscious levels of
influence which profoundly affect experience and behaviour not just in the classroom,
but later, in the realm of everyday life.

Jackson, P., Life in Classrooms - The Hidden Curriculum, Holt, Reinhart and Winston, New York, 1968.
The Correspondence Theory of Education
In educational theorising, the notion of the hidden curriculum shifted attention
once again from the detailed analysis of classroom interactions between teachers and
students to the system of education as a whole and its relationship to the domain of
industry and work - to its relationship, in other words, to the social relations of
capitalist production. In the United States where Jackson's theories were formulated,
the idea was taken up and extended by sociologists Sam Bowles and Herb Gintis in
what was later to become known as their correspondence theory of education.19
Studying a wealth of previously available material and statistics, they inquired why
decades of liberal educational reform did not seem to have transformed the social
structure of the wider society. What they found was that although the educational
system as a whole espoused individual personal development and the need to nurture
individual needs and aspirations, in fact, it worked on the contrary to create highly
stratified social relations corresponding not to the liberal educational imperative, but
to the stratified capitalist economic system of wage-labour. While their ground-
breaking book Schooling in Capitalist America was later to come in for significant
criticism, suggesting an over-determination of the cultural superstructure by the
economic base, it nevertheless established quite clearly that education and capitalist
economics were hegemonically related.20 As Michael Young puts it:

" school, pupils learn deference to authority and an acceptance of

powerlessness because these will be the principal features of their future
employment. They also learn that those who succeed do so on the basis of
individual merit, not because of any advantage of social position."21

The fact that what they learn about the relationship between merit and
achievement is largely untrue - that achievement is based overwhelmingly upon social
status, should alert us to the fact that education is seen here as being designed to
create a false picture of social reality. Bowles and Gintis' argument hinges upon the
ability of the school to create workers by creating a certain kind of consciousness - an
acceptance of the normative structures and values of the dominant culture. The
initiation of youth into the economic system happens in school through the
institutional relations to which students are subjected, rewarding certain capacities and
punishing others, and thereby tailoring self-concepts, aspirations and social class
identifications to the requirements of the social division of labour.22

They call their theory the structural correspondence principle of education, taking the term from Marx's
Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, 1857.
Bowles, S. and Gintis, H., op. cit., 1976.
Young, M. F. D., op. cit., 1987, pp. 182-3.
Bowles, S. and Gintis, H., op. cit., 1976, p. 129.
Bowles and Gintis see this process happening along a series of axes. First of
all, they acknowledge that school promotes the acquisition of technical skills required
for job performance. But it also helps to legitimate social inequality by grounding lack
of educational performance in the personal inadequacy (lack of a sufficiently high I.
Q.) of individual students. The educational system also produces, rewards and labels
personal characteristics relevant to staffing positions in the social hierarchy of the
workplace, and finally, through the pattern of the status distinctions thus created, the
educational system reinforces the stratified consciousness on which "the
fragmentation of subordinate economic classes is based". In addition to all of this, and
by virtue of the objectivated legitimation (through "scientific" validation of statistical
I. Q. testing) of the whole stratified system, schooling conveys, according to Bowles
and Gintis, an aura of system inevitability, which creates in the students a
hopelessness and passivity which mitigates against any potential for system
transformation. 23

Prescribed Social Roles vs. Educationally Legitimated Autonomy

An important way in which the correspondence between the social relations of
production and the stratified organisation of learning is structured to create a
particular kind of awareness flows from the differentiated orders of autonomy which
characterise the different levels of the stratified system. For instance, as I have already
noted, the educational structure allows for a far greater degree of autonomy in its
upper levels (university) than at its lower levels (elementary school).24 These degrees
of autonomy and freedom of action correspond to the different roles that their
graduates will fill within the workforce, with unskilled manual labourers being
required to perform strictly determined tasks within a heavily circumscribed temporal
and spatial framework. As a student "progresses" up the system towards university,
increased autonomy becomes possible, structuring the social relations of schooling so
as to foster the ability to work without direct and continual supervision. At the top of
the educational ladder, students are allowed degrees of freedom consonant with those
available to top management positions in the production hierarchy.
Within the overall educational framework, system transformation is
discouraged by the application of differentiated rules and standards of permitted
behaviour at each level of the social hierarchy so that for instance in predominantly
working class or ethnic "minority" areas, schools tend to emphasise behavioural

ibid., pp. 128-130.
Martin Carnoy and Henry Levin note, for instance, that universities allow for student and faculty
influence over decision-making in such areas as investment and curriculum policy and hiring and firing,
although, as we saw earlier, with the increasing industrialisation/commercialisation of the academic
environment, these freedoms cannot be taken for granted and are under increasing and systematic threat.
See: Carnoy, D. and Levin, H. M., The Limits of Educational Reform, Mckay, New York, 1976, p. 149.
control and rule-following as an integral part of their teaching style. The evidence
indicates overwhelmingly that this compares inversely with schools in more affluent
areas which tend to emphasise greater student participation and lessened supervision.25

Sennett and Cobb discovered in their Boston studies that the strict application
of supervisory rules is not only confined to the classroom for working class students,
but flows also into the home, where parents insist that schools apply their strict
authoritarian codes and "discipline" their children to the norms of society.26 Through
all of these structuring processes, the educational system as a whole tends, according
to Bowles and Gintis, to create an ordered society of appropriately charactered
individuals which fits more or less precisely the needs of the productive system of

Cultural Codes and Social Reproduction: Blaming the Educational Victim

In a society which is already stratified, these factors combine to ensure that the
incompatibility of the culture codes of poor and "minority" children ensures their
preparation by default for the lower orders of the social hierarchy. In a study of an
Auckland Girls' Grammar School, for instance, New Zealand sociologist Alison Jones
found that Pacific Island girls valued neat note-keeping but devalued outspokenness
or independent questioning of the teacher as too disrespectful. European girls, who
valued independent enquiry over "having good lecture notes", were comparatively
much more successful in a school which valued "independence" and "initiative", on
the other hand. In general, the Polynesian girls were found in follow-up studies, to
have taken positions in the workplace below the status-level of their European peers.27
What prevents the system from reflexively unravelling - what prevents
working class students from rebelling against these structures, is the overarching
legitimation provided by the mythology of equal opportunity which the State
promulgates, where "failure" is bracketed as an objectified inability to achieve
success, or to match institutionalised norms, measured in (Eurocentric) I.Q. and
examination frameworks.
This system of evaluation places the responsibility for failure upon the student,
rather than upon the system itself, on the basis that "others did well so why didn't
you?" etc. The system also prevents the accumulation in solidarity of critical and
transformative voices by ensuring that only limited numbers of potentially disruptive

Bowles, S. and Gintis, H., op. cit., p. 132.
Sennett, R. and Cobb, J., The Hidden Injuries of Class, Vintage Books, 1973.
Jones, A., At School I've Got a Chance: Culture/Privilege: Pacific Islands and Pakeha Girls at School,
Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 1991.
"minority" and working class students achieve access to the upper limits of the social
hierarchy where they might otherwise be able to exercise system transformation.
The ambiguity and contradiction between the espoused aim of personal
emancipation and the actuality of social stratification will be readily apparent. While
at a conscious level, the message the student receives is that individual autonomy,
personal creativity and independence will be rewarded, at an unconscious level the
message communicated is that subservience to authority will bring reward, and
confrontation with authority or a challenge to the culture codes themselves will call
down retribution. In addition (and bearing in mind the earlier discussion about
punishment and reward) what this system does at an even deeper level of awareness is
to authenticate the privileging of extrinsic authority over individual self-authority,
which carries through, after school into the social relations of everyday life, and
reciprocally reinforces the social normativity upon which it has been based in the first

Structuring the Limits of Epistemological Experience

In addition to these limiting and structuring processes, Bowles and Gintis
make the point that even at the higher levels of the academic hierarchy - at university,
students are increasingly subjected to regimes of conformity to social norms so that
their apparently greater freedom of awareness and action may also be framed within
limits acceptable to the productive enterprise. Under the guise of academic freedom,
strict limits are placed upon the implementation of theoretical analysis - particularly
social analysis of a system-threatening nature. These limits are supplemented,
according to Bowles and Gintis, by the tendency of the system to compartmentalise
knowledge in ways in which it becomes impossible or unacceptable for a student or a
professor to have control over the production of a whole knowledge-product. Hence
the academic disciplines operate as just that - disciplinary disincentives (infused with
technical rationality) against cross-boundary migration into potentially dangerous
areas of critical insight.

"The artificial compartmentalisation of intellectual pursuits allows the

development of advanced technique within each area and simultaneously
militates against the application of comprehensive moral standards or the
consideration of the larger social consequences of one's work. The narrowing
effect of academic specialisation is furthered by the modern conception of
professionalism, in which the intellectual is seen as a technician whose success
depends upon his skill in devising technical solutions to technical problems."28

Bowles, S. and Gintis, H., op. cit., 1976, p. 207.
Bowles and Gintis' correspondence theory dovetails well with the theories of
Louis Althusser. But correspondence theory also raised criticism because, according
to its critics, it placed undue emphasis upon the determining power of the economy
and left no space for hope of system transformation. In other words, if the whole of
the education system is determined by the form of capitalist economy, what
opportunity is there for imagining the possibility of social change? Under this model,
to change education one has to first change the whole of society and one cannot
change society tout court without beginning somewhere, perhaps in the domain of
education. Here we are back at Lefebvre's critique of orthodox Marxism, where no
change can happen at a local level unless it is preceded by change at the global level,
but of course events only become global by virtue of local origins. Unless one is
willing to grant to the cultural (in this case education) sphere the real possibility for
social change then one is left, as Henry Giroux has said, with a philosophy without

"Radical theorists, in particular, have made important contributions to

unravelling the relations between schools and the dominant society. But in the
long run they have failed to escape either from a crushing pessimism or from
the inability to link, in a dialectical fashion the issue of agency and structure.
That is, radical theorists have established the groundwork for a pedagogy that
often disables rather than enables emancipatory hopes and strategies. Thus it is
particularly essential for the development of radical theories of schooling to
move from questions of social and cultural reproduction to issues of social and
cultural production, from the question of how society gets reproduced in the
interest of capital and its institutions to the question of how the "excluded
majorities" have and can develop institutions, values and practices that serve
their autonomous interests... In other words, radical pedagogy needs a
discourse that illuminates the ideological and material conditions necessary to
promote critical modes of schooling and alternative modes of education for the
working class and other groups that bear the brunt of political and economic
oppression."29 (emphasis added)

The Inherent Ambiguities of Capitalist Education

The correspondence theory may be less deterministic than critics of Bowles
and Gintis suggest. They note, for instance, that the dual and apparently contradictory
demands of the system to produce a quiescent workforce and to sustain national
economic prosperity on the one hand with the expectations and mythology of more or
less universal emancipation on the other hand creates tensions within the educational
system as a whole which, besides reflecting (as well as deriving from) parallel
tensions in the workplace between labour and capital, create the opportunity for active
resistance on the part of the participants:

Giroux, H. A., op. cit., 1983, p.235.
"The reduction of economic inequality is ultimately a political, not an
economic question. The legitimation of economic inequality is critical to the
political defense of the fundamental institutions which regulate the U. S.
economy. An educational system purged of its social biases would hardly
contribute to the legitimation of inequality. Given the current emphasis on
meritocratic process, an equal school system would substantially undermine
the defenses of hierarchical privileges... But a more equal school system will
not create a more equal society simply through equalising the distribution of
human resources. It will only create the political opportunity for organising a
strong movement dedicated to achieving greater economic equality. Egalitarian
school reform must be explicitly political; its aim must be to undermine the
capacity of the system to perpetuate inequality."30

Since the issue of educational reform is a political question, the contradictions

inherent in the educational system between personal emancipation and employability
within the highly structured workplace are not confined to industrial production, but
flow over also into the whole political structure of the Western democracies. As the
progressive educationalist John Dewey pointed out long ago, education can foster
personal development and economic equality while at the same time integrating youth
into adult society only under one condition: a thorough extension of democracy to all
parts of the social order.31

Theories of Resistance in Education

According to the correspondence theory, the hierarchical structures and
pedagogical styles of the educational system flow directly from the larger economic
sphere which they serve, and these structures and teaching methods tend to shape a
form of personal consciousness which fits the student for an accepting role within the
existing social economic and political society. But, as critics have pointed out, while
broadly and generally accurate as a picture of the gross relationship of education to
the larger social sphere, the analysis of the correspondence between the two systems
does not take into account a fine enough grain of the actual social interactions taking
place in the classroom. In other words, the hegemony of the classroom is never
complete. Students bring to their relationships their own cultural experiences and
histories which are often consciously at variance with the normative values of the
larger system, not just allowing for, but reinforcing systems of counter-hegemony and
resistance within the educational community. As a counter theory, therefore, critical

Bowles, S. and Gintis, H., op. cit., 1976, pp. 248-9.
Dewey, J., Democracy and Education, Free Press, New York, 1944, p. 20. (Originally published 1916).
For a thorough and concise analysis of the importance of Dewey's models of education and democracy,
see: Giroux, H. A., op. cit., 1988, pp. 79-87.
education theorists have explored these counter-culture realities under what they call a
theory of resistance. 32
The theory of resistance suggests that students are not just the passive
recipients of donated knowledge, but that they actively participate in the process of
education, in ways which resist the colonisation or acculturation process which the
educational system imposes through the laying on of the alien, dominant cultural
codes. These codes invariable contain as an integral component of their world view,
an ethic of hierarchical superiority which is class based, and which gives reflexive
legitimacy to their normative superordination. Furthermore, the theory of resistance
explains not only how working class children maintain some sense of their culture of
origin under the onslaught of the dominant culture ethos, but also how they construct
for themselves a culture of resistance. Put slightly differently, while the theories of
the reproduction of social relations are generally valid, they do not acknowledge the
ways in which social relations and culture are not only reproduced, but produced
through the social life of schools. In other words, they ignore how knowledge itself is
shaped through the ongoing conflict between competing subject experiences.33
When we actually apply the theory of resistance to unpack the everyday
happenings of the learning situation in schools, we find that the culture of resistance
which the students themselves create often works against their own material and
educational interests. The theory not only explains how this happens, but surprisingly
sheds new light upon the failure of the educational system to carry out its supposed
policy of social emancipation in spite of apparent efforts to effect real change. The
theory explains, in other words, why it is that the school system continues to
reproduce the present hierarchical social structure. It suggests that inability of
governments to successfully address the issue of illiteracy, for instance, stems not
from a lack of resources alone - that throwing money at the problem will not create a
literate population - but from a resistance to learning how to read on the part of the

"It is also important to stress... that as an act of resistance, the refusal to be

literate may constitute less an act of ignorance on the part of subordinate
groups than an act of resistance. That is, members of the working class and
other oppressed groups may consciously or unconsciously refuse to learn the
specific cultural codes and competencies authorised by the dominant culture's
view of literacy."34

Or, as Paulo Freire put it somewhat more directly:

Giroux, H. A., op. cit., 1983.
Simon, R., I., Teaching Against the Grain, OISE Press, Toronto, 1992.
Giroux, H. A., "Introduction", in: Freire, P. and Macedo, D. Literacy: Reading the Word and the World,
Routledge and Kegan Paul, New York, 1987, p. 13.
"...this large number of people who do not read or write and who were
expelled from school do not represent a failure of the schooling class; their
expulsion reveals the triumph of the schooling class. In fact this misreading of
responsibility reflects the school's hidden curriculum... Curriculum in the
broadest sense involves not only the programmatic contents of the school
system, but also the scheduling, discipline, the day-to-day tasks required from
students in schools. In this curriculum, then, there is a quality that is hidden
and that gradually incites rebelliousness on the part of children and
adolescents. Their defiance corresponds to the aggressive elements in the
curriculum that work against the students and their interests.... In fact, students
are reacting to a curriculum and other material conditions in schools that
negate their histories, cultures and day-to-day experiences. School values work
counter to the interests of these students and tend to precipitate their expulsion
from school. It is as if the system were put in place to ensure that these
students pass through school and leave it as illiterates."35

Resistance to Curriculum Content: A Pedagogy of Possibility

The same principle applies not only to literacy, but to every element of the
field of institutionalised education, from the reproduction of dominant culture history
(the preponderance of the history of monarches and the elite from the point of view of
the elite themselves) through the fields of art and science. However, the resistance of
students to the dominant culture codes may, once recognised for what they are, be
seen as an opportunity to investigate the political and cultural conditions that warrant
such resistance, rather than as unconscious acts of unqualified political refusal.36 This
is an important distinction, because it points to what Giroux has called a pedagogy of
possibility, through which it becomes possible to imagine (and hence to practice)
ways in which the experience of learning might itself be transformed so as to not only
resist the dominant ethos of the educational system, but to radically undermine it and
by doing so to hasten the social transformation in the wider society.37
By transforming the educational process through the introduction of critical
pedagogies which both reveal the underlying macro-economic influences at work, and
at the same time demystify the twin mythologies of equal, opportunity and academic
neutrality, it becomes possible, according to these theories, to bring about the
emergence of an alternative counter-consciousness (or rather to support and build
upon a consciousness which is already often present but seldom authenticated and
usually suppressed) which will flow into the workforce, and encourage the wider
transformation of society. What is at stake here is a struggle to determine the
normative meanings attributed to key areas of public life, and to implement the reality

ibid., p. 121.
ibid., p. 13.
Simon, R. I. "Empowerment as a Pedagogy of Possibility", Language Arts, Vol. 64, No. 4, April 1987,
pp. 370-82. See also:
of participatory democracy in the place of its debilitating mythologised and socially-
reproduced fiction:

“The defense of democracy thus entails a demand for its application at all
levels and in all spheres of society. This is a crucial point, for here emerges the
central theme of all socialist programs: the defense of political democracy is
simply the corollary to the demand for democracy at the workplace and social
control of the production process. Once workers raise a challenge to the
existing system of control in the firm, they will, through their experience, be
led to see the common content of these struggles. The defense and extension of
democracy may ultimately rest, then, on the working class’s effort to
(reorganize and democratize) the means of production and to organize, through
democratic rule, society’s material resources for the benefit of all society.
Democracy thus becomes the rallying cry not only to unite various fractions of
the working class, but also to unite the political and economic struggles of that

The experience of schooling as an opportunity to extend the meaning of

democratic participation therefore becomes a referent for a wider empowerment in
public affairs for the student/workers. The struggle to attain radical democratic forms
and processes in school is therefore a crucial element in the wider democratisation of
society, and critical pedagogy becomes the instrument whereby the learning-in-action
of democracy is undertaken. The implementation of this critical pedagogy requires a
very different conception of how precisely knowledge is formed, and the role played
by culture in its formation.

Education as Contested Ideological Field

Earlier, I described the commentaries of the Nanterre students, criticising the
sociologists of the university system as lackeys of capitalism. Compare now the
Nanterre students with this statement by the conservative educationalist Allan Bloom,
whom I mentioned earlier in relation to the issue of curriculum studies:

"Of course, the only serious solution (for reform in higher education) is almost
universally rejected: the good old Great Books approach, in which a liberal
education means reading certainly generally recognised classical texts, just
reading them, letting them dictate what the questions are and the methods of
approaching them - not forcing them into categories we make up, not treating
them as historical products, but trying to read them as their authors wished
them to be read."39

Edwards, R., Contested Terrain, Basic Books, New York, 1979, pp. 215-6, quoted in: Apple, M. W.,
Education and Power, Ark Paperbacks, 1985. p. 172.
Bloom, A., The Closing of the American Mind, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1987 , p. 344. For a
radical critique of Bloom's position see: Aronowitz, S. and Giroux, H. A., op. cit., 1991, pp. 24-56.
Here we see education in its long traditional guise - as the gradual
accumulation of universal wisdom handed down from remote, abstract and
unquestioned authority. It is this model, we will observe, which lies at the root of
accepted educational practice - which views knowledge as a special category
possessed and/or filtered and selected by an elite minority and bestowed upon a
passively recipient majority. It is a model which stands, as I have said, in stark
contrast to its critical alternative. Respectively, and from a critical perspective, they
may be called an education as the practice of domination and education as the practice
of freedom.40
Together, these two models suggest two dramatically differing forms of
knowledge: the former purports to be ideologically neutral, the latter proclaims its
ideologically transparency. From these twin characterisations flow radically different
conceptions of teaching and learning, two very different conceptions of curriculum,
two different interpretations of professionalism, two different pedagogical practices
and, finally, within our own terms of reference, two very different conceptions of
Architecture. And this is why it is necessary, in the study of the social construction of
architectural education, to delve into the ideological underpinnings of these two
differing conceptions.
There is no middle course. This is why, at the very broadest level, the
definitions and meanings which we apply to the vocabulary of the design community
in differing ideological contexts differs radically, as the Cuban, Nicaraguan and
American examples cited earlier indicate. We are confronted at every point, with a
clear ideological choice in how we view the issue of knowledge.
It is to be seen either in the traditional sense promoted by Bloom and others as
the gradual accumulation of value-neutral information, linking all of the very best of
human thought and aspirations and passed down from generation to generation, or it is
to be seen as a contested domain where competing power groups in society vie for the
right to impose their particular version of reality on society at large and where in the
capitalist context, education functions as an instrument of economic and
epistemological oppression through the selective importation of dominant cultures
codes. This is the position which takes as its reference point a critical notion that
society as it is currently constituted is fundamentally flawed, but that it can be
improved through human struggle. It is an essentially neo-marxist position which
traces its roots back to the critical theorists of the 1930s, but which has moved beyond
their non-dialectical theorising to interrogate not only the failure of marxism itself, but
also the failure of critiques of marxism to formulate an operational moment of social
transformation and to apply these to the domain of institutionalised learning.

Freire, P., op. cit., 1972, p. 54. See also Giroux, H. A., op. cit., 1988, p. 118.