How do demographics, culture, and politics influence the educational philosophies of school systems?
Each of demographics, culture and politics have major influences on the educational philosophies of school systems. This happens in at least two major ways, the demands they create and the input they have.
Demographics in particular create unique and powerful demands on the school system. SES and its correlated factors strongly influence the situation among students. According to Kauchak & Eggen (2005), low SES students generally score lower on intelligence and achievement tests, get lower grades, and have more attendance and disciplinary problems. These issues would appear to have a significant influence on the philosophical choices of the school district. It is easy to see how low SES school districts might tend towards essentialist philosophy: “Let’s just get the kids the basics at least!”
This may be an incorrect instinct. Perhaps these districts as much or more than middle or high SES districts cannot afford the drudgery inherent in a more standards based, results oriented philosophy. Perhaps there, more than anywhere else, a school philosophy which allows the students to discover themselves (progressivism) or a philosophy which teaches that there are “time honored absolutes” (perennialism) (Kauchak & Eggen, 2005, page 229) or even a system which teaches against the dominant social paradigm (post-modernism) might inspire, influence and serve them better. In some cases, each of these arguments have been made and even tried. But it is too easy to see how the grinding fear of failure drives the districts to try to at least “get the basics right” through essentialism.
I am a CPR instructor and one of the very first things I was taught was that if I am doing CPR, the person is already dead. I can’t hurt them. This is a very freeing idea, allowing CPR practitioners to focus away from their natural fear of a dire situation and onto the putting their best efforts into their craft. Likewise, I wonder if this essentialist instinct as applied to the hardest hit demographic communities isn’t missing the fact that conventional, fear-based approaches have already failed these communities. Perhaps love-based, aspirational philosophies might work better or, anyway, as well but in a more empowering, humanistic fashion.
Culture and politics also create demands for particular philosophical approaches. Cultural norms may well effect what is acceptable in terms of educational philosophy. As an example, a district supporting an avant garde university community might find itself under pressure to reflect post-modern values and philosophy in its curriculum. Cultural norms certainly effect what is acceptable in terms of educational outcomes, which in turn demands philosophies supporting or expected to support those desired outcomes.
Finally, demographics, culture and politics all influence educational philosophy at the macro, philosophical level as well. As mentioned above, a university community might well demand a post-modern template. Religious conservatives might advocate a perennialist focus on religious values and absolutes. High SES communities might look past test scores to imagine their children in the workplace, demanding a more problem solving, flexible philosophy and curriculum, a la progressivism. Locked in failure and fear of failure, it is natural that low SES communities might simply demand that their kids be “taught to read and write”. Cultural norms might well even influence the degree to which communities feel empowered to advocate for their children.
Looked at this way, it is clear that there is much more to the choice of educational philosophy than simple intellectual appeal. Powerful political constituencies will gravitate to philosophies that address their cultural, political or demographic experiences and concerns.
Kauchak, P. & Eggen, P. (2005). Introduction to teaching: Becoming a professional (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.