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Conceptions of School Culture

Erickson, F. (1987). Conceptions of School Culture: An Overview. Educational Administration Quarterly, 23(4), 11–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013161X87023004003

As I get into this course and seek strategies for writing while I read, I'm finding that this blog is a decent spot for doing that. It is one thing to doze your way through readings and presume that you have caught enough of the argument to have an intelligent conversation in class, but it is another to actively consider prompts and questions (conveniently provided by our prof) and write responses that can be exposed to a wider community who might actually respond!

Here is the first prompt for this article:

Why/how is knowledge about (un)familiar school cultures important?

The relevant section of the article here is summarized in the following exerpts, from page 15:

One way of cultivating an alienated perspective-a way that is heuristically strategic for considering our own lives-is to imagine a different possible way in which a routine activity could be organized.

Knowledge of a wide range of the ways humans have used to organize the routine tasks of everyday life helps one imagine these alternative possibilities; this knowledge leads also to the realization of how arbitrary is the culturally framed choice of one of those possibilities.

In considering this wide range of options, all of which have been regarded as normal and reasonable by some human groups, we can, in addition, imagine new possible options beyond those we know to have already existed.

This process advocated by Erickson reminds me of the Soft Systems Methodology advocated by Peter Checkland which includes the process of describing a concept or problem, then comparing the system to other real-world functions of that system that might help re-conceptualize the system in order to improve it.

An example that Checkland uses (citation needed) is that of the regular season of a sports league. One obvious function of that league as a system or concept is to provide entertainment for local fans. Another function, however, is to sort the teams from best to worst for the purpose of setting up match-ups for various playoff series.

If a person tries to analyze the league from only the perspective of entertainment for fans, their analysis will be very different from a person who analyzes the league from the perspective of a system to sort the teams from best to worst. Both are equally legitimate functions of the league, leading to very different conclusions or solutions.

The assumptions we make

Erickson lists several assumptions common to western classrooms: fixed student ability, the necessity of step-wise reading instruction because learning to read is difficult, the use of basal readers, organizing students by ability, and so on. He points out that the very fact that these assumptions seem intuitively obvious is a significant clue that we may not have examined them very carefully.

He contrasts these assumptions with those made by educators in Japan, where it is assumed that learning to read is relatively easy and can be picked up at home or in the community. The emphasis in Japan is on learning to think well, which is difficult and therefore requires stronger interventions.