The Social Processes Identified By Social Scientists Education Essay

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1st Jan 1970 Education Reference this


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To become effective and successful as a practitioner of education, a teacher must be fully aware of the social processes identified by sociologists of education which take place within the classroom, as what takes place within an institution such as a school or college can have a large effect on a student’s education, whether it be a negative or positive effect. These processes include the hidden curriculum, the self-fulfilling prophecy, teacher expectation effects and labelling. It is important for teachers to have knowledge of certain sociological processes because ‘a sociological perspective on education reveals that more than learning takes place in schools [and institutions]; sociological processes are also at work.’ (Andersen and Taylor 2008, p. 7)

The hidden curriculum is defined as what is taught without being officially recognised, often inadvertently conveying a number of different issues to learners such as positions in a hierarchy and an acceptance of assessment. The term ‘hidden curriculum’ argues that what is taught in a classroom is far more than the sum of the curriculum, and it can be both a positive and a negative concept depending on the circumstances. This can be problematic, and sociologists are of different opinions on this issue. As Hargreaves (2012, p. 10) claims:

The hidden curriculum is broadly the same for all pupils and affects them all in the same way. In contrast, some […] argue that the hidden curriculum varies in content according to the social class of the pupils and that the same elements of the hidden curriculum have a different impact on pupils of different social-class backgrounds.

Whilst this can cause issues however, the hidden curriculum can also have a very big influence on pupils, which makes it just as important – often more important – than the national curriculum. The official and hidden curricula are not two distinct things. As Massialas (no date given, p. 121) illustrates: ‘as a rule, the two “curricula” are antithetical to each other. The formal curriculum stresses academic knowledge, and understanding; the hidden curriculum stresses the political process as a means of school achievement.’

People are constantly picking up messages from within their environment, and students in particular will pick up messages from their experiences of being in school, and not exclusively from the things which they are explicitly taught in the classroom. Meighan (1981, cited in Chapman 2002, p. 114) comments on this further, and describes the hidden curriculum as being:

Taught by a school [itself], not by any teacher. However enlightened the staff, however progressive the curriculum…something is coming across to the pupils which may never be spoken in the English lesson or prayed about in assembly. They are picking up an approach in living, and an attitude in learning.

The hidden curriculum can be delivered in a number of different ways, and this is one of the many reasons a teacher should be aware of and vigilant about the transmission of the hidden curriculum. As demonstrated by Salisbury (2012), the hidden curriculum can be delivered through student-teacher interactions, organisation and staffing in schools and colleges and also through gender as an organising principle in classrooms – something which teachers should try to avoid. However, although teachers are made aware of some of the ways in which it can be transmitted to students, the hidden curriculum nonetheless remains a difficult concept to illustrate, and therefore a difficult concept for teachers to fully understand. In The Sociology of Schools, Chapman (2002, p. 115) attempts to illustrate the hidden curriculum by means of discussing this concept in relation to ghosts in order to convey it to others, claiming that:

Teachers feel that when the classroom door closes, everything within the room is within their control and direction. But in reality the teacher is not autonomous. The classroom is haunted by ‘ghosts’: the ghosts of the authors of the books used in the classroom, and the ghosts of the creators of language. All ‘haunt’ the educational experience through the messages they carry.

Chapman’s explanation suggests that the hidden curriculum operates as an unseen force, and this implies that it is of some (if not, great) importance within a school or college environment. If it is indeed of great importance, then it is paramount that teachers in all sectors should have basic knowledge of this concept, and often their success can depend on their ability to work within the hidden curriculum of a certain institution. For example, the hidden curriculum may play a fundamental role in the overall running of the school, the classes and the students within them – students must learn to adapt very swiftly to routines, crowds and praise and often, a key factor of a learner’s success in education depends on their ability to work within the hidden curriculum. As the teacher is the one who facilitates the learning process, this should apply to them also.

Along with the hidden curriculum, teachers must also be aware and have knowledge of the effects of teacher expectations, and the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ – this is caused when a prediction made by teachers about students can cause it (directly or indirectly) to become true, and Merton (1968, p. 477) explains that: ‘The self fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come ‘true’. This specious validity of the self fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a region of error.’ Teachers can have a huge impact and a great deal of power on the self esteem of their learners and hold the ability to shape their self concepts, and therefore must be cautious in the way they use this power. Teacher expectations can arise from a number of different issues, for example gender; ethnicity; student behaviour; older or younger siblings and a student’s socio-economic status. Therefore, if teachers have expectations of their students which fall short of what they are truly capable of achieving, this may lead to different teaching styles and treatment within the classroom. If this is the case, then these particular students may start performing to the level the teacher expects, possibly below their ability. Teacher expectations then can cause a change in student behaviour, which could consequently manifest into the self fulfilling prophecy. One of the best examples which effectively illustrates the way in which teacher expectations can manifest into a self fulfilling prophecy is a study into the phenomenon which was undertaken by Rosenthal and Jacobsen in 1968. They administered a non-verbal intelligence test to young pupils in a primary school, however did not inform teachers that it was an intelligence test, and instead informed them that it was a new test developed by Harvard which could identify children who were most likely to ‘bloom’. In addition, Rosenthal and Jacobsen informed the teacher of pupils who were likely to be ‘late bloomers’, however, none of these scores were genuine, and were in fact randomised IQ scores, and Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1992, p. 70) after conducting the study, explained that: ‘The difference between the children earmarked for potential growth and the undesignated control children was in the mind of the teacher.’

When we consider Rosenthal and Jacobsen’s study it is evident that in many cases, the expectations of a teacher do play a significant role in the achievement of students, and very often, teacher expectations are extremely powerful and can create inequality and injustice in the classroom. Jussim and Harber observe (2005, p. 133):

Teacher expectations created a self-fulfilling prophecy. […] The teacher’s false expectations had become true. Rosenthal and Jacobsen’s results showed that the more control children gained in IQ, the less well-adjusted, interesting and affectionate they were seen by their teachers. Teachers seemed actively hostile toward the students showing unexpected intellectual growth.

In light of the Rosenthal and Jacobsen study, teachers should ensure they are vigilant in this respect, and ensure their judgements of students do not venture beyond the available evidence – a piece of work completed by a student may not be to a high standard, however this does not make the student a low achiever. Furthermore, teachers should be wary of their colleagues’ judgements about students if they do not provide substantial and reliable evidence to support these judgements.

It is of vital importance that teachers have knowledge of effects of their expectations, and the self fulfilling prophecy which can evolve out of these expectations, because as Holland and Blair (1995, p. 111) explain: ‘A central proposition of research [into this issue] is that pupils tend to perform as well or as badly as their teachers expect. The teacher’s prediction of a pupil’s behaviour, it is suggested, is communicated to them, frequently in unintended ways, influencing the actual behaviour that follows.’ If teachers form, possibly unreasonable, stereotypical opinions and expectations over learners in their classroom, this can lead to them (however inadvertently) using different teaching techniques and treatment within the classroom. Although it is true that the expectations of the teacher are communicated to the student in daily actions, teachers can unknowingly convey messages which can consequently become detrimental to the education of those particular learners.

In relation to teacher expectation effects and the self fulfilling prophecy is the effect of labelling. Labelling theory is concerned with how the behaviour of an individual and their self identity is created or influenced by how that individual is described and categorised by their peers and by others. In education, labelling theory can suggest that students face problems and issues in the classroom because someone in a position of power – the teacher- labels or defines them as having such problems.

Furthermore, when discussing labelling theory, an important question is raised which asks whether labelling causes deviance? Shepard (2005, p. 184) observes that: ‘According to labelling theory, labelling is all that is required for an act to become deviant.’ For example, texting and using a mobile phone during a lesson is not essentially ‘bad’ behaviour, however someone has labelled it as such. Labelling should be avoided where possible as when a teacher attaches a label to a student, for example ‘slow’ or ‘underachieving’ they may internalise this label and grow to accept it, and this then can become a self fulfilling prophecy. Hargreaves (1976, p. 201) illustrates the labelling theory further, and explains:

A pupil who is called a ‘chatterbox’ or a ‘trouble maker’ on one or two occasions is not likely to accept this label as part of his identity, even though he may accept the label as legitimate within the specific context in which is it applied. We are all ‘called names’ many times by different people. […] But if one particular label is repeatedly applied […] then at minimum the pupil will be under no illusions with regard to the teachers’ conception of him, and part of the groundwork for the acceptance of the label has been laid.

Therefore, teachers should consider and have knowledge of labelling theory because as Hargreaves observes, labels can be internalised which can cause the student to carry these labels (i.e. being ‘no good at maths’ or being repeatedly told they are disruptive) along with them into different situations, including further education and higher education. If teachers are unaware of labelling and employ it continuously, the student is set up to fail in later years.

The discussion and illustrating of these sociological processes, it is evident that teachers need to be aware of their interactions with other individuals, and most importantly should be aware of their power and ability to have a large, possibly negative impact on others. With an unbiased attitude, abandonment of predetermined opinions and stereotypes, and knowledge and awareness of these sociological processes, teachers can tailor their styles accordingly and consequently avoid having a detrimental effect on their learners.

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