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Saturday, 04 May 2013 20:06

The Role of Education in Maintaining the Social Order

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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. 

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.” 

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.

Since the 1970s, and the slow move towards monetarist free-market economies, Education has been viewed as an economic burden and successive governments throughout the western capitalist world have sought to reduce the State's involvement in Education - that is to privatise it. This programme of what Michael Apple and others call the "Conservative restoration" movement has allowed the dominant members of society to increasingly shape the content and form of education to meet their own ends - to produce a dumbed-down quiescent population who accept the status quo power and therefore complete the hegemony of the Right.

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