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Which of the following is not a latent function of education? Let me count the ways. The first one is “the history of education.” A great deal of what happens in our schools today was shaped by folk memory. And it’s important to remember that folk memory is fallible!
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The second is “what education got us here.” The argument here is that education has failed the black communities in the United States because it hasn’t produced a sufficiently robust set of leaders. By the same token, this view also holds true for white Americans.
Another argument I’ve seen put forward is “the decay of the Western tradition.” This view is sometimes referred to as “the Americanization thesis,” and I’ve discussed it at some length in other articles. In this article, however, I’d like to mention three more examples of this view that I’d like to call its cousins. All of these views take education to be related to the formation of civilization. And all three of them, if closely examined, make assumptions about how education relates to culture that are mistaken.
For example, one argument I’ve heard for decades maintains that the reason some cultures succeed is that their people have invested a great deal of time and effort in the training of their past knowledge. They are therefore able to pass on to their children better skills and wisdom than other people can teach them. (The idea is that there is an inherent quality to the human brain that makes this process more efficient. But anyone who has studied the development of language, for example, will recognize that this is not the only possible function for the human mind.)
Another argument for viewing education as having a latent function is that education helps protect a family from the perils of its history. This view is popular among educational psychologists who claim that the effects of parents on their children are fairly well understood. The argument goes something like this: because parents influence the traits most important to their children, they shape those traits. Therefore, it stands to reason that if parents have the good and bad attributes that go hand in hand with having a successful family, then having a good education will ensure that their offspring will have both the good and bad attributes they need to succeed in life. (This view is also the assumption behind the “theory of differential achievement”).
Another assumption behind this view is that education only provides certain benefits that are specifically tied to the function of education. After all, some people argue that education is primarily about history and heritage. That is, students learn about their ancestry from their parents and through that understanding, they become better citizens and members of society. Other people contend that students learn about their ancestors’ educational achievements by studying school textbooks and history texts, and then they become better citizens and members of society by taking the ideas they learn and putting them into practice. (This view is also the assumption behind the “gut reaction” theory, which states that any single event in the history of mankind can be a cause of a particular pattern of behavior.) Still other people believe that there is a connection between education and socialization, or the development of social capital.
According to the “analysis paralysis” mentioned above, people cannot think about any questions unless they know what the answer will be, but this analysis paralysis leads many people to ask the question which of the following is not a latent function of education? Is academic achievement connected to a person’s aptitude for learning, his ability to learn new information, or his ability to make learning enjoyable? If the latter is true, then educational achievement is a function of each of these aspects, and there would be no general variable that could be called education. And if academic achievement is not a function of any of these aspects, and if education were a mere aspect of human beings, then no educational achievement would ever exist. But this is not how schooling works, so people are left with the question, which of the following is not a latent function of education?
In summary, one function of education is to shape our psychological qualities; another function is to promote socialization, and another function is to produce what we need as adults. Educational courses focus on one or more of these aspects of learning. The entire system of education, from the classroom teacher to the student who completes the coursework, must promote learning if it is to have any long-term beneficial effect.
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