Ways of Thinking …: 3 SocStructure, Lesson 8: School as Structural Agent

Ways of Thinking ...: 3 SocStructure, Lesson 8: School as Structural Agent
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The Importance of School as a Socialization Agent in the US

School is mandated in the US until age 16 and now students attend until 18. And while enrolled in school, students are there for approximately 8 hours per day for 12 years of their lives. And although it took the quarantine to realize it, schools are, in fact, very influential and in many ways more than just learning.

1. Brainstorm the functions that schools serve both society and students. One way to help you think about this is by thinking about the Covid quarantine and all the ways that you or your families have been affected by not having a normal school. List as many functions of school as you can.

Schools are important in many ways to society. Some of their functions are to teach lessons; the most obvious being to teach reading, writing, math, history and science. These manifest lessons are explicit ways that schools influence students. However, schools also influence students in more subtle, implicit ways, or latent lessons. For example, schools allow children to pursue interests and learn about future careers like law, medicine, and any number of different professions such as those on the SHS Student Activities website:

Besides the manifest lesson of helping students understand various careers, what are the latent lessons of offering the specific clubs above?

School Values, From Sociology of Education

Besides the latent lesson of valuing college and professional careers (above), schools have also been criticized for latently teaching students progressive values ​​since at least 1974. Three sociologists wanted to research if teachers indoctrinated their students with “liberal” values ​​and what values ​​they were . Brint, Contreras and Matthews (2001) observed elementary school teachers and they coded the messages that teachers relayed to students. They observed over 1000 interactions between teachers and students.

2. Individually Take a guess – brainstorm what do you think the messages were that teachers relayed to students now frequently?


Sociologists Brint, Contreras and Matthews observed elementary school teachers and they coded the messages that teachers relayed to students. They observed over 1000 interactions between teachers and students.

They found that the most common references that teachers reinforced to students were:

  • Be orderly.
  • Work hard.
  • Show respect and consideration.
  • Participate.
  • Be in charge of yourself.
  • Cooperate.
  • Justice / fairness.
  • Responsibility.
  • Self-control.

3. How many of these did you guess in # 2? List the messages that you guessed in # 2 that were the same as those above.

4. Now, using the list above, decide what% each of those references were out of 100%. (The total should add up to 100.)


Here are the actual totals:

5. Is this surprising? Any questions about manifest or latent messages?

If these two students stayed after class to find out if there is anything they can do to pass the class, who is more likely to pass the class?

Which student probably knows more math?

Do you feel this is true in your own experiences at school?

School Extracurriculars, Identity and Academic Success

Andrew Guest and Barbara Schneider from the University of Chicago published in Sociology of Education (2003) about the importance of extracurriculars and how they shape students’ identities differently depending on the type of school the students attend. Here is a summary from the discussion section:

Other ways that school socializes students:

College and Political Attitudes

School Culture Socializes the Students Within it

Lisa Nunn researched how school cultures shape the students that attend each school. Her findings are published in her book, Defining Student Success.

Read a preview from Google books here.

From Rutgers University Press, also available through JSTOR here.

And there is a detailed review of Nunn’s work from Dr. Judson Everitt of Loyola University Chicago, available on JSTOR here or from U of Chicago Press here.

Dr. Everitt’s review shows that Nunn finds three different types of schools (Alternative, Comprehensive and Elite) that affect students’ views of themselves as learners:

“Alternative High,” “Comprehensive High,” and “Elite Charter” each have distinct organizational structures and practices that cultivate unique school- level cultural meanings about success.

Alternative High operates on a non-traditional school model intended to improve the prospects of low-incomestudents by both helping them fulfill college entrance requirements and pre- paring them for the working world in their areas of interest. The local cultural wisdom at Alternative High promotes what Nunn calls a “success-through-effort” perspective among students, in which students define success as achievable entirely through effort with little dependence on intelligence.

Comprehensive High is a more traditional high school that serves a large and ethnoracially diverse student body, and promotes a perspective that combines elements of “success-through-effort” with what Nunn calls “success-through-intelligence.” Effort is necessary but not sufficient for success, according to this school’s culture; one must also possess an innate intelligence that enables understanding of academic material.

Elite Charter is a high-performing, college-preparatory charter school serving a predominantly affluent student body where students are focused almost exclusively on academic performance that will earn them entrance to elite colleges. Here, intelligence is viewed as the foundation of success, and the “success-through-effort” element is modified into the idea of ​​“initiative,” through which outstanding students can demonstrate their “passion” for learning.

Do you understand what Nunn’s conclusion is? From Nunn’s study, what type of school are we a part of? What are the effects of this on students?

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Another value that students learn at school is consumption or buying things. Explained by sociologist Murray J. Milner, in his book, Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids, Milner connects teen consumption to the need for independence and identity in a culture that does not allow teens to be independent. The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture explains that Milner,

… argues that the teenage behaviors that annoy adults do not arise from hormones, bad parenting, poor teaching, or the media, but from adolescents’ lack of power over the central features of their lives: they must attend school; they have no control over the curriculum; they can’t choose who their classmates are. What teenagers do is the power to create status systems and symbols that not only exasperate adults, but also impede learning and maturing. Ironically, parents, educators, and businesses are inadvertently major contributors to these outcomes.
An absorbing journey that stirs up a mixture of nostalgia and dismay, Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids shows how high school distills the worst features of American consumer society and shapes how we relate to our neighbors, partners, and coworkers. It also provides insight into how our schools and the lives of teenagers might be transformed.

What are some ways that students at SHS have learned to consume?

This 2017 research by Elizabeth Lawrence examines the connection between college education and healthier lifestyle behaviors. Here is her abstract:

Do you think that Lawrence’s research is an example of manifest or latent lessons? Why or why not?

For more info. in Schools and Socialization, see the Journal of Sociology of Education

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