chapter  2
33 Pages

Education and social class

Some conceptions of social class Although social stratification has always been the basis of formal educational provision, until relatively recently social class did not figure as an analytical category in the literature of education. Schools were always socially functional and, historically, education was conceived in terms of social categories requiring initiation of the young into political-economic roles as guardians, courtiers, governors, gentlemen. [1] In the mid-nineteenth century, Matthew Arnold commended a tripartite system of secondary schooling in which the various curricula were derived from a hierarchical view of occupation and social roles in industrial societies. But it does seem to be the case that only with the emergence of the sociology of education as a contributory discipline to educational theory has the concept of social class been used in examination of the deficiencies, and in proposals for the reform of publicly financed educational systems. No doubt since the inception of popular education, success and failure in school has borne some relationship to social class background, but theory of education, with its essentially individ-

ualistic orientation, tended to neglect this as a variable before the 1950s. The traditional textbooks formerly prescribed for the study of principles of education rarely mentioned social class. In those texts, [2] the assumptions were humanistic in the sense that an individually oriented educational theory defined the objectives of education in universal terms ('the educated man'), and learning problems were conceived either as originating in genetic differences between individuals (a matter of inherited IQ) or of personal attributes of the learner, like laziness or Churchillian idiosyncracy.