Social Institutions in Postmodern Society
The first part of this article provides an introduction to postmodernism, beginning with the ways in which pre-modernism and modernism paved the course for the existence of such a philosophical conception. The second section delves into an analysis of the following social institutions: family, education, and religion. More specifically, the transitional nature of education is examined against shifting family dynamics that have progressed from modern to postmodern times, as well as the contemporary academic trend toward individuation. Religion is examined through a postmodern lens, including the advent of denominations such as Unitarian Universalism, along with postmodern ministries and present-day educational controversies (i.e., school prayer, moments of silence).
Keywords Culture; Gender Gap; Language Games; Modernism; Multiple Intelligences; Postmodern Ministry; Postmodern Society; Unitarian Universalism; VARK
Social Change: Social Institutions in Postmodern Society
Postmodernism is an abstract, elusive archetype that serves as a significant influence on Western ideology and roughly began in the 1950s-1960s and is therefore in the preliminary stage of formulating an explicit identity (Baackmann & Craven, 2008; Hicks, 2004; Macionis, 2001; Myers, 2001; Shalin, 1993). Before postmodernism, the foregoing eras consisted of a pre-modern, medieval era and later, modernism. Pre-modernism (Holsinger, 2005) refers to the life and culture that existed during the Middle Ages, in which traditional lore upheld small communities that were adhered together through durable communal ties that reinforced a village mentality of kinship, cooperation, and unity. Unquestioned consecration toward religious creed as well as numinous, fateful,or spiritual means prevailed as standard conventions. This included conceptualizing life's customary twists-and-turns as "God's Will" or resolving everyday quandaries through blind faith. Indeed, it was during this medieval period that the Catholic Church reigned with full-fledged sovereignty, and religious turmoil was brought about by repeated crusades. Operating under a feudal domain, land was traded for protection between lords and serfs. The common peasant became obligated to a given jurisdiction in which movement was forcefully restricted, limiting exposure to outside modalities of thought. Hence, pre-modernism did not lend itself to either multiplicity or independence, but instead encouraged communities and families into likeminded confluence.
The aftermath of such an era emerged with Modernism at the beginning of the eighteenth century (Collins, 1992; Singer, 2006), when undying religious allegiance and mysticism were replaced with concepts such as truth, science, knowledge, logic, and reason. Medical breakthroughs revolutionized the continuation of life; these innovations included the advent of the smallpox vaccination ("Edward Jenner," 2008) and curative antidotes that arrogated the presence of drastic infant mortality rates and elongated the human lifespan. Mathematics evolved into new territory as Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz originated the tenets that underlay calculus (Cirillo, 2007), while John Locke promoted the premise that humans are autonomous and that the "tabula rasa," or blank slate philosophy allows the attainment of a person's knowledge base, temperament, and emotions to acquire experientially, as opposed to that which is infused through divine intervention or transmitted celestially through a soul (Keveney, 2007). Hence, the transition into individualism set forth, in which people repositioned themselves apart from their small, cohesive family units and agrarian lifestyles in order to gain self-expansion and fulfillment, a process that was facilitated through the technological advancements of the industrial revolution and encouraged ethnic, religious, and economic diversification. Moreover, people were more liberated and financially at-ease than their predecessors, which naturally granted luxuries that were more refined, cultivated, and unregulated, enabling their progression through life without reliance on provincial support. Such self-sufficiency aligned with a series of consequences, namely the reduction of community; instead, people immersed themselves in novel, self-advanced situations that preserved their anonymity and precluded the formation of close-knit connections from establishing.
The transition into most new epochs includes retaliation against those that lay before, and hence, the dawn of postmodernism was naturally antithetical to its modernist lineage. In response to the certitude and factual conviction that accompanied modernism, postmodernism is riddled with skepticism, uncertainty, and subjective construal. Questions that arose with postmodernism probed beneath the facade of principles such as "truth," "knowledge," and "logic" and concluded that such esoteric ideals are relative, biased, or steeped in ambiguity. For example, educational tenets that had historically been accepted as universally recognized and undisputed "realities," such as the epic heroism of Christopher Columbus, underwent pronounced scrutiny. Even institutions that prided themselves on dispassionate impartiality, such as the legal system, whose symbolic depiction of a blindfolded woman unable to distort the scale of justice that she grips, were beleaguered by postmodernists. The law, they postulated, did not seek to unearth the truth through upright and nonpartisan measures, but rather fell prey to the prejudicial whims of human corruption by awarding preferential treatment toward those who could "buy" their freedom and detaining those less privileged. Language can also be understood through a postmodern lens (Hodge, 2003; Shaw, 2001), in that words do not recapitulate reality but instead imbed themselves into the biased meaning of their users and surrounding situational forces, a phenomenon Wittgenstein termed "Language Games" (Kopytko, 2007; McKinnon, 2002).
Furthermore, as globalization became increasingly pervasive, religious pluralism and the acceptance of unconventional cultural norms came to the forefront, and the excavation of multicultural predispositions superseded that which had previously been deemed irrefutably truthful. Racism, along with several other "isms," such as sexism, classism, and ageism surfaced as forces with which to be reckoned, sparking the postmodern trend toward social, political, and environmental activism, which seeks to overturn inequities that have plagued various disadvantaged communities (Handler, 1992). In the process of leveling the playing field, those that suffered oppression or deprivation assembled together in concerted accordance in order to collectively overcome their hardships and support fellow comrades. Thus, the individualistic paradigm that indoctrinated the modern period was replaced with a sense of group identity as terms such as "feminism" (Lanre-Abbas Bolatito, 2003) and "Black/Latin/Asian pride" (Gierach, 2001; Wright, 2003) entered the dialect of everyday language, a process that has been further enhanced through the technological advancements that have accompanied postmodernism. For example, via the internet, groups of people can communicate anonymously in designated areas such as chat-rooms or message boards with others who share concordant interests, backgrounds, idiosyncrasies, or strife, thus reinforcing a sense of group distinction and cohesiveness. However, a heated debate exists surrounding the beneficial properties of mechanized communication modalities, and questions whether technology enhances group solidarity ("Internet Chatroom," 2003), or obviates human contact by promoting reclusive isolation (Block, 2008; Shaw & Black, 2008).
Postmodernist Family Structure
The modern age held a very specific definition of the nuclear family, which encompassed intact parents who expressed the ideals attached with romantic love, maternal love, and domesticity. Romantic love refers to the purity of the parental union, formulated under the assumption of 'soul mates,' in which one man was fated for one woman throughout the course of their entire lives; this notion discouraged influences that threatened such a lifelong commitment, and therefore shunned engagement in premarital sex and the institute of divorce. Maternal love emphasized the mother-child bond as a natural force that is both omnipresent and indestructible, while domesticity assumed automatic fidelity toward household matters, a feat particularly headed by the wife/mother whose dutiful devotion lay within her abode. The onset of modern education loosely began with Kindergarten, an optional preparatory stage whereby students attended school for part of the day, during which they engaged in fun, recreational activities before heading back to their doting mothers. Eventually modern students acquiesced into a didactic classroom setting and were furnished textbooks that chronicled historical accounts under prudent censorship. Mandatory school forms were phrased under the assumption that children were cared for by biological, married parents, and if children demonstrated unruly behavior, they were deemed to have a "social adjustment" that undoubtedly stemmed from poor parenting (Elkind, 1995).
Postmodern families are grouped together through an assortment of patterns, including two-person married (Robers, 2008) or unmarried couples, (Glick, 1984) single parent structures (Sang Min Lee & Kushner, 2008), adopted and step-family arrangements (Edwards, 2002; Mannis, 2000), teenage mothers (Denzin, 1987), as well as homosexually headed households (Brinamen & Mitchell, 2008), and those in which extended family members have full custodial rights (Curry & Aldridge, 2005). Thus, it would be faulty for contemporary school systems to make presumptions about "normal" family configurations and instead they proactively seek to accommodate a range of conditions. Children no longer epitomize virtuous naiveté since they are often exposed to desecration, loss, and pain at tender ages. This includes events such as divorce and increased societal violence, which desensitize them to life's troublesome realities. Postmodern teenagers are venturing into adult terrain with regard to sexual experimentation and drug/alcohol use. Thus, schools often serve as the primary source of intervention including early-onset sex education that covers information on AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the promotion of safe-sex practices that sometimes include condom distribution. Another postmodern trend is that students physically occupy more time at school, since most Kindergarten programs are mandatory, and an assortment of extended-day, afterschool, and daycare alternatives exist that are conducive to dual-working parents. Furthermore, advanced reading and mathematical curricula are being introduced much earlier, with bodies of work that surpass the narrowly defined "classics" that were common to the modern era, which often excluded female and minority authors.
The Postmodernist Classroom
Whereas modern educational provisions required that students abide by instructive conventions relative to their age-specific classifications, an inverse trend prevails throughout postmodernism, in that contemporary schools seek to cater to the unique needs of each individual student (Elkind, 1998). In other words, modern schools delineated collective goals that pertained to each developmental grade. For example, curricula designated toward first graders differed from that which targeted second graders and students unable to adhere to such expectations were faulted. Although programs of study are still distinguished between grades, individual variables possessed by each student integrate into the equation and many teachers are professionally equipped to understand the different exigencies with which their students contend, regarding temperament (Pullins & Cadwell, 1985), learning style (Coffield, 2006), birth order (Modin, 2002), gender (Pomerantz, Saxon, & Altermatt, 2002), and intelligence (Rindermann & Neubauer, 2004).
An illustration of this can be demonstrated through an inventory called the VARK (French, Cosgriff, & Brown, 2007; Kalkan, 2008), established by Neil Fleming, which details the preferential ways in which students assimilate material among four distinct learning styles:
- Reading/writing-preference, and
Visual students prefer that which can be viewed firsthand, such as charts, diagrams, illustrations, written text, and classroom apparati (e.g., chalkboards, PowerPoint machinery) that help convey daily lessons,...
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