Learning In and Out of School: Education Across the Globe
“The Ancient Child in School”
In this paper I trace the adaptation of schooling to the needs of the Greek city-states and the transfer of this system to the Hellenistic world, consider the chief ideological aims of ancient schooling, and discuss the physical demands made upon the student in mastering the practical and intellectual demands of ancient schooling.
If anthropology still aims to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange, then what could be stranger than putting all humans through a series of disliked exercises for almost two decades as a condition for arriving at a minimal possibility of successful adulthood? Higher education is such familiar water to those of us swimming in this ocean that we rarely consider how very strange it is. In this paper I demonstrate how the holistic approach of anthropology is needed to comprehend the many peculiarities of our way of bringing people to adulthood. The paper situates the study of higher education firmly at the intersection of crosscultural studies, biological and psychological studies of human development, knowledge about learning as embodied and social, and theories of motivation, drawing on a cultural reading of the discourse of higher education in the contemporary United States as well as ethnographic study of college.
"A Great Scholar is an Overeducated Person: Credentialing, Critiquing, and Performing in Sierra Leonean Schools"
“Education is the key to success” is a common mantra in Sierra Leone, where students place a premium on education as an essential component of successful adulthood. Students dutifully memorize material for their final exams as they and the teachers participate in credentialing the students and contributing to the national development project. Teachers understand that the material they are supposed to teach as ‘right’ and important is irrelevant and even contrary to their students’ experiences and understanding of the world. Therefore, in the interstices of rote memorization, students and teachers together perform subtle social critiques of both the educational material and the inequalities in the world around them through continual commentary on the material as it is taught—what I call “polyvalent performance.”
In this paper I argue that education has become a performance of demonstrating the will to be successful by being “educated,” even as the material is critiqued for being irrelevant to daily life and competes constantly in class time with teachers’ will to engage students with insights into their own reality. Students must maintain parallel foci on credentialing and critiquing, even as the two goals appear to compete with each other. This process, a shift from the pre-war emphasis on education as controlling knowledge and entering social networks of the elite to education for political and economic change, follows historical shifts in education practices in the country. Both the Freetown Krio and the rural elite moved in the early 20th century from using education as a route to elite privilege to using it to argue for reducing social and political inequalities.
Assistant Professor of Practice
Director of International Educational Development, Institute for Educational Initiatives
Faculty Fellow, Kellogg Institute for International Studies
University of Notre Dame
"Education for Social Justice: Case Study of an 'Embedded' Schooling Model From India"
The current paper presents finding from an innovative strategy implemented in an urban school in India that makes middle-class children active stakeholders in the educational and social inclusion of children from significantly lower socioeconomic strata. The paper argues that such an “embedded” model of schooling—where the educational trajectories of middle-class and marginalized children are purposefully intertwined—presents a promising site of “non-academic” learning in school, grounded in the ethos of human dignity and social justice.
What does it means to be a “good Hindu woman,” a widow, a Rajput widow, a war widow? This paper is an examination of the diverse ways the widows of Jaipur’s War Memorial Hostel learn, cope with, legitimize, criticize, or remake the identities and spaces circumscribed by caste, religion, and the Indian government. In their narratives of ritual, violence, caste restriction, and social death, many widows described how experiences of intense loss, mourning, and hardship were managed through self-embodiment of divine qualities (e.g., Durga’s strength in battle or the kuldevi’s bravery). I argue that individually interpreted myths create spaces for the reinterpretation of figured identities. Sections on caste, exploitation, and money investigate processes of self (re)formation—the ways in which constricting caste identities may become agentive, violence and family betrayal are mediated, and economic independence is authorized by government identification—of learning and re-learning to be in a world of stigma and control.
Are school dropouts failures? Are inattentive students dumb? Are children not to be trusted? Are the poor not good enough for decent education? Education has caught up with the potential and challenges of our time. University students who successfully entered prestigious universities are trying to take the “poison of competition” out of their bodies. Some say they do not want to get on the conveyor belt of the market-driven productivity machine. Through a network of excellence, can we create a new social ecology where people of all generations grow together and create social economy? As an “action researcher,” Cho founded the Haja Center (Youth Factory for Alternative Culture), an alternative educational and cultural studio for teenagers, in 1999. The Haja project was launched as a part of an effort to solve the problems of youth and adults through research and practice grounded in East Asian perspectives of feminism and cultural studies. With full financial support from the Seoul Metropolitan government, the Haja Center has evolved into a base of 5 alternative schools and an incubator for youth-led social enterprises. Cho discusses the evolution of learning based on her action research of alternative schools including Haja Production School.
While anthropologists have boldly gone into the realm of intersubjectivity as a focus of research and method, school research has made hardly an inroad into the problematized subjectivities that pose a gap between adult educators and children. Children’s roles as agents and enablers both for and against adult-managed schools are raised, drawing upon two areas. First, the child-centered methodological turn in inquiry is discussed as relevant to schooling, including a greater need to account for institutional dominance as a methodological barrier. Second, systems outside of schools in which ethnographers have shown a generational mutuality of influence— both child upon adult and adult upon child—are discussed as alternative models to explore.
This paper uses a cultural transmission-acquisition framework to investigate three socializing influences on the developing selves of American middle-class students. The socializing influences exist in and outside of schools and include electronic and commodity culture, permissive parenting styles, and school policies and pedagogies that grant students significant freedom and choice. The paper explores the methodological challenges of examining and conceptualizing such influences that extend beyond classrooms and schools. It argues that because all of these influences share the common feature of deferring to students’ own judgments, a reasonable place to focus inquiry is on their developing identities—and more specifically what their subjective orientations to authority of various kinds reveal about their own social goals. The paper shares preliminary interpretations of data drawn from a four-year anthropological study of student class culture conducted by a diverse five-person research team in an affluent suburban Midwestern US high school and community.
Coauthors: Keely Cline, Lella Gandini, Alga Giacomelli, Donatella Giovannini, and Annalia Galardini
The progressive educational systems of some regions of Italy are becoming increasingly recognized by educators and researchers (including those from North America) seeking insight from the international community into diverse educational approaches. This paper represents a case study of Filastrocca (“Nursery Rhyme”), a preschool in the Tuscan city of Pistoia. Filastrocca proclaims a special mission related to books, storytelling, and the imagination, and appears to offer a unique environment that supports children’s active and enthusiastic engagement in complex literacy discussions and activities. The purpose of this paper is to provide a detailed description of the learning environment for language and literacy at the preschool, present an analysis of issues/themes and offer assertions and reflections. There is an emphasis on exploring what kinds of opportunities related to books, storytelling, and the imagination are providing to support and encourage young children and their families, and in examining how the learning environment reflects the mission of the school in fostering early childhood language and literacy.
Co-author: Lauren Rose
Increasingly teachers are being asked to focus all of their attention on students’ academic learning despite wide recognition of the importance of the non-academic learning that takes place in schools. This non-academic learning includes social, emotional, artistic, and physical knowledge and skills. In addition to non-academic learning, children also develop a sense of self within the context of the school that profoundly affects their academic and non-academic learning. This paper presents data from a two-year ethnographic study of one urban elementary school’s efforts to provide non-academic learning opportunities for kindergarten through fifth grade students through weekly yoga instruction. The findings indicate that regular yoga practice provides vocabulary and physical experiences that facilitate children’s developing sense of their ability to accomplish challenging tasks, belong and contribute to their community, and focus and engage in meaningful work. The paper presents evidence that these lessons, learned in yoga practice, carry over into the academic classroom and outside of school.
Primary author: Sung won Kim
Researchers attempted to better understand the mechanisms and processes of parental involvement in children’s education because this type of involvement is often negatively associated with child academic outcomes. China, where parents are extremely invested in their children’s education and are heavily involved at home, provides an interesting context in which to investigate this issue. This study examines how young adults in Dalian City, China perceive and evaluated their parents’ involvement in their education during their childhood and adolescence, and how they made meaning of their experiences.
In 2011, seven participants from Dalian who had been recruited in 1999 from a college prep high school, a vocational high school, and a junior high school as part of a longitudinal study of Chinese singleton children provided retrospective narratives about how their parents tutored them during their childhood and adolescence. We focus especially on on fathers’ home-based involvement, as the literature on fathers’ educational involvement is almost non-existent in China in spite of its potential importance.
Our participants’ parents were found to engage in several strategies absent from previous research, such as jiang daoli (reasoning about the importance of education), watching children study, or offering food. Findings suggested that motivational factors related to affect and parental beliefs about children’s potential were especially critical mechanisms of influence. Fathers were less involved in their children’s education than mothers and often engaged in disciplinary action in response to poor performance when involved.
Learning through observation in everyday activities is widely recognized in the ethnographic literature as a central way that children learn from others. There are two well-described characteristics of learning through observation: participation in meaningful activities with people who are important in the children’s lives and a belief that children are active, motivated learners who take initiative to garner experiences and make meaning from them. Gaskins and Paradise (2010) have proposed that there is a third characteristic central to observational learning: open attention, defined as attention that takes in information from the full environmental context (that is, wide-angled) and is sustained over time (that is, abiding). This paper will describe open attention in some detail, giving examples of how open attention is encouraged in variety of cultures, its value as a component of observational learning, the role of concentration, and the implications for understanding children’s learning (in and out of school) and play. The presentation will conclude that, while learning through observation is present in all cultures, in cultures where open attention is encouraged and expected, and where the responsibility for learning is given to the children, observational learning is both more powerful and more central to children’s mastery of the full range of cultural knowledge.
“Mapping Low-Income African American Parents' Roles in their Children's Education in a Changing Political Economy”
The purpose of this study is to provide a conceptual map of the roles that low-income African American parents construct for themselves. Using the lenses of Critical Race Theory and Critical Geography, the study provides a typology that includes parents’ strategies for supporting and advocating for their children in a racial and socioeconomic landscape that limits the roles parents can play given the lack of access to significant material resources. Despite limited access to opportunities, parents support their children in a wide range of ways and they bring into focus the logic behind their efforts to help their children. Following the logic of parents’ involvement challenges deficit models that emphasize the ways parent involvement traditionally supports schools and that are based solely on parent behaviors. The author offers a framework of parent involvement that embraces (a) agency; (b) the dignity of all families; (c) cultural relevance in order to build upon the rich linguistic and cultural backgrounds of families; (d) an equitable distribution of resources to all families; and (e) democratic participation of families in schools.
In this paper I hope to clarify and extend the analysis of French compagnonnage that I presented in the "Tracing School Effects" Symposium in the 11/11 AAA meetings in Montréal. (I will distribute a one-page overview of the program for those who did not attend that session, or whose recollections need refreshing.)
First, I fill in a few gaps in my earlier presentation. For example, I will try to explain more fully why some French youth are initially attracted to the program, but many others are not, and why some beginners drop out before completing apprenticeship. I will also examine, briefly, financial requirements for participants and how the program itself balances its annual budget.
Why should we be interested in compagnonnage? Developmental psychologists for some years have articulated a conception of environmental factors that can enhance the development of adolescents (ages 15–22), which include circumstances in which they can interact with a wide range of adults; authoritative caregivers and mentors; access to settings in which they can discover their own particular abilities; opportunities in which to make their own decisions and to experience moderate risk; etc. If you compare the learning environments provided in compagnonnage with those offered in schools that follow the dominant "school-and-classrooms" model (designated location, segregation from community, age-grading, group instruction, instruction by non-kin adults, formal curriculum, etc.), according to how well they correspond to the psychologists' specifications, compagnonnage provides a more "complete," developmentally suitable learning environment than school-and-classrooms. Most participants' positive responses to the compagnonnage program are thus not surprising.
Yet most anthropologists (including those who specialize in education) are reluctant to critique the underlying structure, procedures, and norms of school-and-classroom model, and the lack of correspondence of these with adolescents' basic needs. Specifically, they show little sustained interest in alternative models, including but not restricted to compagnonnage, that seem to offer more appropriate environments for adolescent learning.
One reason for this stalemate is that most anthropologists, as academics and professionals, are firmly "culture-bound" when it comes to deep analysis of the school-and-classroom template, beyond sniping at its (many) rough edges. They are so invested in the dominant model that almost any other seems irrelevant. As students, most anthropologists prospered in it, and are its products; they animate it, as best they can, when they teach; they deliver their children to it; they benefit personally from the model, which gives them time and energy for research and writing. In short, they take it this part of their own culture almost completely for granted—as do most non-anthropologists with respect to most aspects of their culture. Anthropologists rarely ask: Why do we settle for this less than satisfactory model? Where did it come from? And are there more productive arrangements that we could move towards? How to do so?
This paper analyzes learning and non-learning among three generations of students who attended a culturally specific school that emphasizes engaged citizenship through social justice work. Founded just prior to India’s independence, the residential program was designed to train a new cadre of women leaders in the rural Himalaya. For girls in a remote region without post-primary schools, the program provided not only access to education, but also an alternative to government curricula that offered few points of entry for rural pupils, even those from relatively prosperous families. After the later expansion of government education throughout the region, the school evolved to serve especially marginalized girls who received scholarships. Engaged citizenship through social justice work continued to be a central focus. However, the program accommodated the government curriculum so that students could take the high-stakes standardized exams required of pupils at conventional schools, and thus claim a role in an increasingly competitive society. Educational reforms after liberalization have compelled yet a third shift, and girls now must take alternative high-stakes exams that encode them as pupils who have not attended a conventional school. This paper explores students’ shifting articulations of learning and positionings of self in relationship to curricular shifts. I consider their experiences in the context of comparative literatures on globalization, alternative education, and educational reform, in order to explore the ways that models for culturally specific, community-based experiential schooling can provide avenues for achievement, the construction of educated subjectivities, and engaged citizenship.
“Learning Crafts in Pre-Modern Society With A Focus on Apprenticeship”
In spite of the fact that apprenticeship has been a favored topic for cultural anthropologists as well as archaeologists (Coy 1989; Crown 2002; Singleton 1998), no thorough attempt has yet been made to survey and summarize this material. Scholars tend to focus on describing individual cases with little comparative analysis. My earlier attempts to do this (Lancy 1996:163–170; Lancy 2008:250–259; Lancy 2010:91–92) might be described as “preliminary.” One difficulty that an ethnologist faces is that there is rarely a term in the native language that corresponds to “apprenticeship.” Indeed, the term only appears in English texts in the 17th century. Hence, one must infer the phenomenon from descriptions of craft learning and mastery.
The perspective that I bring to this task comes from previous work on socialization, especially preparation to carry out adult work (Lancy 1996; 2008; 2012; Lancy and Grove 2011). The approach parallels that of MacDonald who describes her review of the ethnographic record on learning to hunt as a “cross–cultural synthesis” providing an analysis that is, of necessity, “qualitative, as the relevant evidence from the ethnographic literature is either anecdotal or generalized and includes limited quantitative data” (MacDonald 2007:390). This survey of apprenticeship grew out of a comprehensive review of the ethnographic record pertaining to childhood (Lancy 2008). In that review, approximately 1350 published and unpublished reports were used and, since publication in late 2008, an additional 300 sources have been found and added to the corpus(1). Approximately seventy cases are drawn on in this essay. The majority of the cases represent detailed ethnographic descriptions of young people learning to master a craft or vocation, including weaving, pottery, blacksmithing and wood–working among others. In several cases (Coy 1989; Marchand 2001; McNaughton 1988; Tanon 1994) the ethnographer served an apprenticeship, becoming a participant observer. Roughly ten sources are secondary, representing surveys of the historic or ethnographic records.(2)
In the remainder of the paper, I lay out the generalizations that can be made about the process of learning crafts, beginning with informal processes such as when a child learns casually from a parent then moving on to the characteristics of the formal apprenticeship.
1. I am grateful to Annette Grove for research and editorial assistance.
2. I am excluding any consideration of apprenticeship in the modern era. Modern here refers to apprenticeship after it had become subject to an extensive legal infrastructure governing everything from the age at which one could begin an apprenticeship, humane treatment and living conditions, limits on the fees paid and on the amount of uncompensated labor and so on. These changes were only evident in Europe from the late 19th century. For example:
In 1775 the mayor and other council of Vienna sent a letter to all crafts and trades’ organizations in which they complained about the ill–treatment of apprentices by their masters. Another public admonition in 1845 argued again against masters who maltreated their subordinates [Steidl 2007:148].
Another limitation arises from the geographic distribution of cases in the literature. West Africa, Japan and Latin America are relatively well represented, whereas the Pacific and Asia, generally, are sparsely represented.
Around the world, millions of children participate in two schooling traditions: Qur’anic schooling and public schooling. Despite the prevalence of such double schooling, we know little about Qur’anic schooling, double schooling, and how these educational experiences shape Muslim children as learners. I have studied the double schooling experiences of young children in two African Muslim communities: Fulbe children in a small city in northern Cameroon and Somali-American children in a Midwestern city in the United States. In this paper I consider the differences in how literacy and the Literate Self are conceptualized and constructed in Qur’anic school (QS) and public school (PS) in these postcolonial and diasporic contexts and what this may mean for efforts in public school literacy instruction to build upon Qur’anic-school based literacy skills, practices, and dispositions.
In the USA today, education is brain-oriented; goals are cognitive, intellectual, and academic. We focus on the head, not the hands and heart. At Waldorf or Steiner schools, however, an integrative approach prevails. This presentation outlines Waldorf’s curricular aims and describes in detail the esoteric developmental model on which these are based. It draws on findings from an ethnographic study being carried out at a large west-coast Waldorf school using unobtrusive classroom observations, individual and group interviews, and surveys, as well as an archival review. In this and other Waldorf schools, learning happens within the child’s entire body or being: beyond addressing the task of thinking (‘head forces’) the child’s feelings (‘rhythmic’ or ‘chest forces’) and will (‘metabolic-limb forces’) are educated. Moreover, learning progresses in a developmentally appropriate way. Accordingly, pre-K and kindergarten curricula focus on helping a child to feel at home in or to fully incarnate his or her body, generally through movement-based activities. Gross motor work is complimented by fine motor work as grade school approaches; handwork (knitting) promotes dexterity that later supports the mechanical mastery of writing. But the whole body still is utilized: for instance, in grade school students clap, jump, and stamp in patterns relating to the times tables they are reciting. Chest forces or feelings, too, are addressed, for example through pedagogical storytelling and wet-on-wet painting activities. Only later will purely cognitive tasks be undertaken. In sequentially addressing the whole child—hands, heart, and head—Waldorf education progresses in tandem with what its founder called “a genuine anthropology” (1996). System proponents argue that Waldorf’s developmentally appropriate holism helps produce balanced, freethinking human beings who feel and behave as if connected to the world in which they live.
Steiner, R. (1996). The threefold social order and educational reform, The Renewal of the Social Organism. Great Barrington, MA: Steinerbooks.
“An Alaskan Native Success Story: The New Spirit of Determination In the American Public School System”
In the year 2000, Cook Inlet Tribal Council Inc. confronted a sobering reality: Alaska Native children were falling further behind their peers in obtaining adequate public school education and graduation success. This paper explores the challenges discovered and the solutions used to design, implement, grow, refine, and manage a school –within-a-school program to significantly improve the educational opportunities and outcomes for Alaska Native children. This work, acknowledged by both the Bush and Obama administrations as exemplary collaboration between a tribal organization and the public school system, has established an academically rigorous, strength-based and culturally responsive community engagement model generating increasing student achievement and self-determination in an urban American public school system. Cook Inlet Tribal Council Educators' daily presence and unshakeable advocacy on behalf of the Alaska Native community reinforces and obligates public schools to implement modeled systemic change from within and follow through on its responsibilities and adhere to federally binding requirements. The Native Agency's involvement within the Anchorage School District presents a model partnership as well as the recognition of the need for continued tribal advocacy and vigilance within the American urban public school system. This precedent-setting work demonstrates effective equitable educational success including increasing skill development leading to graduation with increasing commitment toward healthy futures in the urban American public school system.