Handbook of Schooling in Urban America

By Stanley William Rothstein | Go to book overview

18
The Nature of Pedagogy

Stanley William Rothstein

To those who still have unrealistic attitudes toward the curriculum in public urban schools, the work of European theorists should be instructive. As urban children fail in math and science, as exceptional children find it harder and harder to participate in least restrictive environments, the urban schools seem to move further and further from their stated goals. This is not surprising, given the theorists' view that urban schools are characterized by inculcation and a need to reproduce the status quo in classrooms and society. The urban schools, in these studies, mindlessly pass on an arbitrary cultural design, and schoolteachers arbitrarily teach the speech and language of the well-to-do. Teachers assume, apparently, that they are merely passing on those elements of our language and culture that are of the highest order. They seem unaware of their role in passing on the culture of the dominant classes, without examining the power that lies behind it. Urban educational systems perform these economic and social functions without being aware of them: they are compelled by society to pass on the social relations that exist between people in urban schools and labor markets.

The question we need to answer here is a practical one that may be difficult to apprehend empirically: do pedagogical actions in urban schools lead to symbolic violence and control? The answer to this question must begin with an analysis of pedagogic action, the central relationship in the schooling experience. In such interaction children are regularly subjected to symbolic violence and control; in the act of instruction an arbitrary language and cultural habitus are dictated to students. Teachers and students learn to accept these value systems and symbols without question; they are exposed to them at birth and later in state institutions of learning.

The language and culture of children from the lower and working classes are most flagrantly excluded from this arbitrary language and cultural system. The power teachers exude is symbolic, in Pierre Bourdieu's sense, because it tends to mask the power of dominant groups that impose their meanings on education.

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