Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Eighteen: The Hidden Curriculum of Learning to Develop a Positive Attitude Towards Being Exploited and Oppressed

This is a continuation of a series of posts on summaries of articles, mainly on education.

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to place critiques, mainly (although not entirely) of the current school system. At first, I merely printed off the articles, but then I started to provide a summary of the article along with the article. I placed the summaries along with the articles in a binder (and, eventually, binders), and I placed the binder in the staff lounge.

As chair of the Equity and Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers’ Association of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), I also sent the articles and summary to the Ning of the MTS (a ning is “an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks”).

As I pointed out in a previous post, it is necessary for the radical left to use every opportunity to question the legitimacy of existing institutions.

The context of the following, if I remember correctly, was the March 8-10 Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) Women’s Symposium, entitled Living as an Ally: Individually and Collectively, where Dr. Kryzanowski presented the following on March 9, 2012 (from a brochure of the Conference):

Impacts of Poverty on Marginalized Groups: What Teachers Need to Know!
Dr. Julie Kryzanowski, Saskatoon Regional Health Authority

The significant and troubling health disparities between low-income neighbourhoods and the rest of the city in Saskatoon were a catalyst for action in Saskatoon Health Region. With local health and education partners, the Health Region pursued a program of research to explore the extent of students’ health disparities and address them with evidence-based interventions. Dr. Julie Kryzanowski tells their story and relates how events and experiences in childhood influence health outcomes across the life course –and explains what teachers need to know to make a difference.

I wrote the following for the Ning, and sent it to the executive of Lakeshore Teachers’ Association:

Dr. Kryzanowski, in her presentation to the Women’s Issues Symposium, focused in many ways on child poverty—something which constantly needs to be stressed. However, as part of her presentation, she refers to some things that teachers can do, including increasing “access to early childhood education and postsecondary education for all.”

Although I have argued in another post that child poverty should be a major focus for teachers in general and for those interested in equity and social justice in particular, I have also argued on several occasions that the present school system is hardly an adequate basis or standard for children and adolescents.

Dr. Kyrzanowski does not criticize the current school system but presupposes it.

Rather than reiterating what I have already posted, I will look at the situation from a slightly different angle by summarizing an article by Samule Bowles and Herbert Gintis, “Schools in Capitalist America Revisited.”

This article is itself a reference to the book by Bowles and Gintis, published in 1976, Schooling in Capitalist America. In that book, they argued that there was a correspondence principle between capitalist work practices and the practices that existed in schools.  Social interactions and the reward structure in the capitalist-worker relation are replicated in the social interactions and reward structure of schools.

They update their analysis in this article with econometric analysis (the use of regression equations in particular. Regression equations are formulated by using descriptive statistics to create, for instance, “best fit” equations that can then be used for prediction—inferential statistics).

A thesis of the article is that there is strong correlation between the economic status of one’s parents and one’s own economic status. Since the economic structure is characterized by inequality, schools generally function to reproduce that inequality. Thus, if you know the economic status of a child’s or adolescent’s parents, then you can use that knowledge to predict, fairly accurately, her/his success on the market for workers.

One study shows that a son born into the top decile has a 22 percent chance of attaining that decile whereas a son born in the bottom decile has a 1 percent chance. Furthermore, a son born in the bottom decile has a 19 percent chance of remaining in that decile; a son born in the top decile has no chance of moving to the lowest decile.

Bowles and Gintis do not deny that IQ, as an inheritable trait, has some impact on the probability of success in the market for workers. However, they find that, if IQ were the only determinant of success, then the probability that sons of the richest decile would attain the highest decile of income would only exceed the probability that sons of the poorest decile would attain the highest decile of income would only be 12 percent greater—whereas the statistics show a probability of 16-44 times .

The authors also call into question the view that schools primarily develop cognitive skills that are correlated highly with success in the market for workers. In a survey of 3,000 employers, it was found that the most important reason for hiring was attitude, followed by, in order, communication skills, industry-based skill credentials, years of schooling and academic performance.

In another survey, of those companies that reported a skill shortage, 43 percent indicated that there was a shortage of technical skills—but 62 percent indicated a shortage of employees who had a poor attitude, lacked appropriate personality characteristics and lacked motivation.

A third survey compares the earnings of high-school dropouts who obtained GED qualifications with those without the GED qualification. Despite GED holders generally having higher cognitive skills than high-school dropouts, the GED holders earned only slightly above high-school dropouts. Those who performed the survey hypothesized that the reason for little gains in earning power for GED holders is that the holders send mixed signals to employers; they have the cognitive ability but lack motivation to persevere.  Bowles and Gintis also point out that the conclusions from this survey indicate that “seat work,” or mere attendance, is more important for employers than the curriculum or learning per se. Employers probably tend to treat technical skills with the “wrong attitude” to be more trouble than they are worth to the employers. Socialization at school for subordination of workers’ wills and personalities to employers’ dictates constitutes part of the “hidden curriculum” in schools.

Bowles and Gintis argue that a test for determining whether cognitive skills are that important when compared to such variables as the “hidden curriculum” of socialized subordination to the dictates of employers is a variation in school years attended when cognitive skill is held constant. By comparing a regression equation in which cognitive skill is included and a regression equation in which it is excluded, the ratio of earning differences can be calculated, with variations in schooling with and without changes in cognitive skills. The authors found that variables other than cognitive skills (such as years of schooling and socio-economic status) explained a considerable level of variations in earnings, with cognitive skills accounting for much less of the variation.  Considerable variations in schooling correlated quite highly with years of schooling; substantial cognitive skills did not account for much of the variations in earnings.

On the other hand, personality traits, such as integrity, conscientiousness, industriousness, perseverance and leadership, have a substantial impact on wages and salaries. Curiously, such personality traits have a larger impact than family background.

Other behavioural traits having to do with motivation, such as the degree of trust and belief that a person’s efforts make a substantial difference, have a greater impact on wages and salaries than do cognitive skills.

Bowles and Gintis did find that the interaction of occupational status, gender and behavioural traits did affect wages and salaries. Thus, women in high-status occupations who were considered aggressive experienced a decrease in wages or salaries whereas men who were considered aggressive experienced a substantial increase in wages or salaries. On the other hand, women in low-status occupations who were not considered aggressive experienced a decrease in wages or salaries.

The authors argue, in general, that personality traits rewarded in schools correspond to those traits rewarded at work for an employer (and not simply work—to identify work with work for an employer is to treat capitalist relations at work to be characteristic of all of human relations throughout history). They do recognize, though, that the situation is more complicated than they had presented it in their 1976 book. The reward structure present in the employer-employee relation, they now recognize, competes with other reward structures, such as family membership and citizenship.

What relevance has all this to do with equity and social justice? The formation of the kind of  character or personality is hardly irrelevant to such issues. In the first place, if the hidden curriculum in schools, which moulds children and adolescents (with or without their resistance or cooperation) and accounts to a greater extent than cognitive skills for wages and salaries, then the emphasis on the importance of schooling indirectly (even if unconsciously–the hidden curriculum) in the formation of certain personality traits is justified. Character formation, however, is an ethical question, and ethical questions surely are relevant to equity and social justice issues.

What kind of personality do we want children and adolescents to develop? To develop personalities that enable them to be used by employers without resistance? To be used as instruments for the benefit of employers?

Or do we want children and adolescent to develop personalities that enable them to resist being used as instruments by employers?

In the second place, if children’s and adolescents’ prospects at work are also a function of the economic conditions of their parents, should we not be doing something concrete to negate that situation? Like trying to eliminate childhood poverty?

However, it should be noted that even if child poverty in terms of socio-economic differences were realized, the formation of the kind of character or personality required by employers would still be a problem—except for those who do not question the employer-employee relation.

Dr.  Kryzanowski does not address the fact that there is a market for workers, and the school system is intimately connected to the economic structure.

Those who are interested in equity and social justice, in such a situation, may be contributing to inequity and social justice by being blind to that situation and not taking it into account. The road to hell, after all, is paved with good intentions.

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