Academic journal article Trames

Socialisation to Values: Collectivism and Individualism in the ABC-Books of the 20th Century Estonia

Academic journal article Trames

Socialisation to Values: Collectivism and Individualism in the ABC-Books of the 20th Century Estonia

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Cultural artefacts, educational media, instruments of socialisation--school textbooks are simultaneously all of these. Even the ABC-books (1) serve several functions: they teach first-graders to read and write, and "tell children what their elders want them to know" (FitzGerald 1979:47). ABC-books (as well as other school textbooks) represent values, attitudes and world views that are considered to be worthy of passing on to the next generation, as a part of "socially approved knowledge" (Schutz 1964). These values are taken for granted by textbook authors, officials, teachers, parents and, finally, by pupils.

The values selected for a primer's curriculum thus reflect the moral aims of the educators in that period of time. (For some exemplary studies based on that assumption, see Koski 1998, London 1984.) In addition, the values represented in ABC-books (and other school textbooks) serve as a valuable source of knowledge about societal culture on the macro-level. While aggregated individual culture is observable through averaged "micro-data" from a questionnaire survey, indicators of societal culture or "macro-data" are predominantly obtained from textual analyses of curricula, textbooks, media content, etc.

Individualistic and collectivist values, in particular, occur quite infrequently in textbook studies or pedagogical research, not to mention the discussion and comparison of (American) individualistic and competitive education vs. (Soviet) collectivist education (see Keltikangas-Jarvinen and Terav 1996, for overview). For psychologists and sociologists, on the other hand, the concepts of individualism and collectivism have served as almost magic words, especially during the last decades (see Kagitcibasi 1997, for overview). The terms have been in extensive use in cross-cultural psychological research as well as in sociological descriptions of the differences between traditional and modern types of societies. Yet this concept, like many other terms in social sciences, is not completely unproblematic. The construct of individualism-collectivism encompasses various meanings and components, as well as different levels of analysis (the individual and the cultural level) (ibid.).

The 20th century Estonian society serves as a perfect testing ground for somewhat ambiguous social scientific concepts. During this century, Estonia has gone through radical political and ideological changes. Estonians gained independence from Tsarist Russia in 1918, suffered German and Soviet occupations between 1940 and 1991, regained independence in 1991, and are now building up a new political and economic order (see, e.g., Hoyer et al. 1993, for overview). At the same time, processes of modernisation have taken place, altering people's lifestyle and value orientations. These changes provide a good opportunity for well-grounded longitudinal measurements, which help to estimate the validity of social scientific terms and constructs, including theoretical value axes.

This article has several analytical facets. First, it explores the socialising content of the ABC-books of the 20th century Estonia in terms of individualistic and collectivist values. The results are juxtaposed with the ones from some other studies on individualism-collectivism in Estonia, and interpreted in the context of cultural and political transformations that have occurred in Estonian society. Also, I will try to evaluate the usefulness of the individualism-collectivism construct for the interdisciplinary field of textbook analysis. Finally, I will discuss some options in the education of values.

2. Theoretical and empirical background

2.1. School textbooks as instruments of socialisation

The function of school textbooks is to represent to each generation of pupils a sanctioned or desired version of human knowledge and culture (de Castell 1991:78). Textbooks and other educational media tell us what educators believed ought to exist, though those materials cannot tell us what we might like to know about a teacher's interaction with pupils, a school's relationship to a community, or a pupil's reception of or reactions to what the school has to offer (Clark 1984:3). …

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