The Institutional Fabric of Education
Major forces in society, such as economic conditions and demographic trends change the structure, shape, and demands upon schools. By understanding these trends, we can better understand why schools are currently perceived to be failing so badly. Also, we live in a context of institutions, 1 both formal and informal, and other forces including economic and demographic forces. Formal institutions and the policies, programs, and practices they generate influence the ability of schools to do their jobs because these institutions are all inherently interconnected and interdependent with each other and the ways in which they interact ultimately affect the performance of schools. Formal institutions include schools, businesses, governmental and social service agencies, teachers' unions, and schools of education.
Despite the interconnectedness, we have tended in the past to operate, in effect, as if each institution were essentially distinct from the others. Some of this tendency derives from the fundamental individualism embedded within the U.S. character, which has already been discussed. Yet, if we carefully consider the societal system as a whole and the relationship of our own system to the global village, we can begin to draw out important connections. By doing this type of analysis, we can better understand the potential that schools may have for transforming themselves through their relationships with others. It is on developing this understanding of the broader institutional fabric of trends and formal institutions to which this chapter turns.