Function of Education: Socialization
Formal education plays a large role in the socialization of students. Starting with the preschool years, children are taught to behave in certain ways, many are gender-specific, and long-lasting effects such as a negative self-image and the development of eating disorders are discussed here. Gender socialization is often reinforced by teachers and within the school environment as a whole, which can create an environment of inconsistency if the home culture suggests a different view. Students learning second languages also experience a period of socialization to the culture and behaviors (environment) of the second language in which they are immersed. In addition, research is presented showing that the inclusion of students with special needs in mainstream classes experience a process of socialization as well.
Keywords Anorexia; Assimilation; Bulimia; Cultural Immersion; Gender Socialization; Integration; L2 Language; The School Gender Socialization Scale (SGSS)
The Function of Education: Socialization
Most parents don't send their children to school thinking about the socialization process. However, some do, choosing private or public education over home schooling for the socialization aspects of formal education. By definition, socialization is to equip someone with the required skills for functioning successfully within the world around them—or in a different world, possibly, like studying the Chinese culture before a trip to China. As a function of growing up within an education system, children are exposed to various cues—attitudes, behaviors, and verbal and non-verbal communications—that act as a means of socializing them. For example, young children used to bouncing through their days have to sit still for lengths of time in kindergarten, while older children learn that a bell ringing has different meanings; one ring means move to another class, while several rings means exit the building for a fire drill. Many children learn to deal with stress when faced with high-stakes standardized testing situations. In each of these examples, children are taught to behave in certain ways: sit still, move here or there, and find a way to adapt because it is required.
Responding to Students
What is not required of all children is the experience of preschool. However, for those who do attend, the socialization process experienced provides a foundation for behavior in kindergarten. Behaving appropriately within a specific environment takes practice and encouragement. A teacher's role is especially important in the process, as how they respond to each behavior can reinforce or squash it, depending on the situation. Serbin, O'Leary, Kent & Tonick (1973) conducted a study analyzing the responses preschool teachers gave their students. Fifteen preschool classes in four different schools participated in the study, with each class being taught by a New York State certified teacher; the teachers were unaware of what the observers were researching (p. 798).
Serbin et al. (1973) studied how teachers responded to two distinctive child behaviors: disruptive behaviors and dependency (teacher interaction) behaviors. The "[d]isruptive behaviors selected were ignoring teacher directions, destruction of materials, and aggression toward others (physical and/or verbal). Dependent behaviors selected were crying, proximity to the teacher (within arm's reach), and solicitation of teacher attention" (p. 799). The research team presumed that there would be a gender difference with regard to the teachers' responses, and they were right. In fact,
[T]he average rate of teacher response to disruptive behaviors was generally higher for boys. This difference was clearest in respect to aggression, for which 100% of the teachers included in the analysis (six out of six) responded at higher rates to boys. In fact, the average rate of teacher response to aggression was over three times higher for boys than for girls (Serbin et al., 1973, p. 801).
Part of this data may seem like a relief. It is a good thing that boys are paid attention to when they act aggressively. Yet, if female aggression yields fewer responses, inconsistent messages are sent within the classroom, and aggression in girls may continue. Furthermore, a teacher's job is to teach, and teaching cannot occur when instruction is stopped for reprimands. If a boy misbehaving causes a lesson to stop but a girl misbehaving—acting the same way as the boy—does not stop a lesson, it could be interpreted that the boy is more worthy of the teacher's attention than the girl.
In the same study, the types of responses were also noted and shown to be gender-specific in nature as well.
Teacher reactions to solicitation by boys included more directional and instructional responses, thereby encouraging them directly to become involved in various activities in the classroom … [In summary] it does appear that all activities of boys, appropriate or inappropriate, are more likely to attract teacher attention … Girls are more likely to be ignored, except when directly beside the teacher" (Serbin et al., 1973, p. 802).
It should be noted that on a questionnaire completed after the observations, teachers did identify giving more reprimands to boys but did not identify responding differently (positively or more instructively) to either gender (Serbin et al., 1973, p. 802). It could be that teachers as a group have become socialized to interpret the behaviors of girls and boys differently, noting that boys frequently behave in distracting ways, while girls do not. This could explain why boys get more attention: when girls are behaving—which is most of the time in this study—there is no reason to give them attention, whereas it is necessary to speak to boys often as they commonly misbehave. As this is occurring in preschool, it is fair to note that gender socialization takes place from a child's entrance into the education system.
A school's environment can change the way a young woman feels about herself. For example, if every time she turns around she sees signs for cheerleader try-outs, she will learn that cheerleading is a big deal at her school and she should participate, regardless of what she knows about the activity. At some point, the same young woman will probably be involved in a fundraiser for the cheerleading team to purchase better uniforms. In the discussion to come up with a better idea than a bake sale, the suggestion of sponsoring a Sadie Hawkins dance may come up. She will note that this event is outside of the norm because everyone will be talking about it, and it will be promoted with the utmost effort: handmade signs will cover bulletin boards, and doors at the school's entrance will be plastered with notices advertising the dance. In addition, the event will be a notable addition to the social world of the school as its purpose is for the genders of the school to change places as young women will be encouraged to ask young men for dates.
The trouble with this scenario is that stereotypical images (i.e., that it is unusual for girls to ask boys to a dance) presented at school leave a permanent impression on the self-concept of young women. Girls growing up idealizing a stereotypical image of women are severely let down when they don't personally live up to that image. Instead of recognizing society's misrepresentation of female imagery, they blame themselves for being inadequate. Many develop eating disorders in the process. Mensinger (2005) identifies this particular image as the Superwoman who is autonomous, has high standards for achievement, and has an “ideal” body; furthermore she notes that "[i]n accordance with feminist theory, adolescents idealizing the Superwoman tend to report more eating disturbances" (p. 30).
Mensinger (2005) conducted a study to determine if the environmental climate of schools could increase a young woman's idealization of the Superwoman. Second, she tried to determine if that idealization caused an increase in the incidence of eating disorders for the participants in the study (p. 30). 866 young women from eleven schools took part in the study, and 16 was the average age of the participants. The School Gender Socialization Scale (SGSS) survey was distributed during various classes, and students were given 40 minutes to complete them, answering questions like the following:
• At this school, girls are taught that competitiveness is a good thing.
• Girls here are taught to be sensitive to the needs of others.
• Getting the highest grades is respected among girls at this school.
• Girls at this school compare their bodies to one another.
• Being popular with guys is important to girls at this school.
• Teachers here sometimes seem to have less rigorous expectations of girls because of their gender (SGSS, 1994, as cited in Mensinger, 2005, p. 35).
After analyzing the data, the researcher identified that schools do make a difference when it comes to an environment positive to gender socialization. In addition, when conflicting gender norms are presented by schools (i.e., girls take part in cheerleading and don't normally ask boys to dances), an above average incidence of eating problems is likely for the female students. Finally, schools perpetuating the Superwoman image pass that image along to their students; the students who accept that image as truth are more likely to develop eating disorders than those who do not (Mensinger, 2005, p. 37–38). This should not be a surprise as schools are part of society as a whole, and Superwoman is presented on everything from magazine covers to advertisements moving through town on the sides of buses.
Mensinger (2005) summarizes her study:
The most important conclusion from the present research is that school cultures do indeed reinforce and in turn magnify the parameters established by larger social institutions regarding female gender roles and beauty in particular. It is not really surprising that environments where girls feel unusually high...
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