Chapter 2: Education as a Social Function

Given the impossibility of direct contagion or literal inculcation, our problem is to discover the method by which the young assimilate the point of view of the old, or the older bring the young into likemindedness with themselves.

another enquiry concerning human understanding

What interests me is a series of questions about the body of knowledge in which our education is situated. I need to first define education, or at least differentiate between chance socialization and formal schooling. Writing the distinctions can in no way separate these learning environments. Dewey says as much when he writes, “The main texture of disposition is formed independently of schooling by [the demands set up by current social occupations.]” (p.17) He goes on to say:

What conscious, deliberate teaching can do is at most to free the capacities thus formed for fuller exercise, to purge them of their grossness, and to furnish objects which make their activity more productive of meaning.


For Dewey, school is a social organ which simplifies and purifies an educational environment in an attempt to make for a better future society. And yet, by Dewey’s own understanding, the environment is forever contaminated. The immature disposition is already independently formed and school becomes a form of exercise in modification.

It might help to view social environments as one views eco-zones, social geography mapping the vast differences in social climates. This way common understanding becomes a goal and the form of exercise varies with zones of social disposition. Dewey writes “Whether we permit chance environments to do the work, or whether we design environments for the purpose makes a great difference.” The great difference in the chance environments goes unwritten.

Two Things:

Thing One: I will be returning to this chapter. The concepts of the social as educative, the social function of education and education as a social function will ground any study of literacy.

Thing Two: Should a literacy based pedagogy be concerned with the metaphysical problem of a “better future society” or with reading society as it is in its full complexity?

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