The Social Organization of Learning: Initiation Rituals and PublicSchools

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The question under investigation is why does a modern well-equipped school with well-trained staff fail to "educate" its pupils? The school in question is in a rural (and hence tribal) area of Liberia. It is compared with a newer, less well-equipped school in a village more recently opened to the outside world. This comparison reveals little difference in the apparent outcomes of the two schools despite the gross differences in input.

An explanation for the failure of these and other similar schools in rural, formerly tribal enclaves is sought in an unlikely location—the initiation ritual. The study provides a broad review of initiation rituals throughout the world, utilizing the concepts of van Gennep and Goodenough to create a theoretical framework. The various constituent elements of the initiation ritual are examined from the standpoint of their contributions to the nature and direction of the changes they induce in initiates.

This review of the initiation ritual provides a template on which the characteristics of the rural public school are sketched. It is concluded that the school doesn't educate because it is organized to indoctrinate and to initiate pupils into a new society.

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