School Subjects: The Context of Cultural Inventions
The State’s involvement, sponsorship, funding and control of mass education developed first in Western Europe and this model was later utilized in patterns of national development throughout the world. ‘Yet most comprehensive studies of education almost entirely overlook the historical origins of state systems of schooling… thereby ignoring the sociological significance of the successful institutionalization of this social innovation’ (Ramirez and Boli, 1987, p. 2). The State’s involvement in schooling intersects crucially with the economic history of Western Europe. While some of the early models for state systems pre-date the Industrial Revolution, it seems probable that the succession of the domestic/putter out system by the factory system was something of a watershed. The factory system, in breaking-up existing family patterns, opened up the socialization of the young to penetration by state systems of schooling. Yet Ramirez and Boli stress the sheer universality of mass state-sponsored education and hence they argue that the state’s compelling interest in education:
was not solely a response to the needs of an industrialized economy, to class or status conflicts, or to unique historical conjunctures in particular countries, such as the character of the central bureaucracy in Prussia, the revolutions and reactions in France, the power of the peasantry in Sweden, or the extension of the franchise to the working classes in England. (ibid)
The common feature uniting the wide range of initiatives by states to fund and manage mass schooling was, they argue, the endeavour of constructing a national polity; the power of the nation-state, it was judged, would be unified through the participation of the State’s subjects in national projects. Central in this socialization into national identity was the project of mass State schooling. The sequence followed by those states promoting this national project of mass schooling were strikingly similar. Initially there was the promulgation of a national interest in mass education; this was followed by legislation to make schooling compulsory for all. To organize the system of mass schools, state departments or ministries of education were formed. State authority was then exercised over all schools-both those ‘autonomous’ schools already existing and newly proliferating schools specifically organized or opened by the State. These state agencies began to exert their control over schooling by defining the school curriculum and by mandating school subject
content knowledge. The link between schools, and an essentially ‘meritocratic’ view of the social order was discernable at the time of the Reformation. Alongside the industrialization of Europe and the progressive embourgeoisement of society this pattern was refined and promoted:
with the embourgeoisement of much of European society during the nineteenth century, the significance of schooling as a general means of occupational success and social mobility became broadly institutionalized. In this way, there was an economic and social ideology that supported universal education and that complemented the political ideology of statedirected schooling for purposes of national progress. Though this ‘human capital’ theory of progress, which facilitated linkages between the state and school, originated among the bourgeoisie, the bourgeois classes fought against the expansion of schooling in the nineteenth century. However the economic success of the bourgeoisie so greatly aided the organizational and extractive powers of the state that it was unable to contain the drive toward universal public education. (ibid, pp. 13-14)
The achievement of universal public education, especially where organized in ‘common schools’, did not, however, mark the final stage in the institutionalization of fair and equitable democratic schooling. The school curriculum may be employed not only to designate but also to differentiate and this power was to be substantially explored in the era of universal public education and of common schooling.