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Curriculum, Class, and Consciousness: A Study of Student School Experience



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This thesis examines the student school experience in terms of the paradox that Paulo Freire identifies between education as 'an instrument of liberation' and education as 'an instrument of domination'. Student school experience refers to the ways in which curricula and other aspects of schooling are received and interpreted by students. Observation of and feedback from students in school situations are used to illustrate the means by which the process of schooling predisposes individuals to function unquestioningly in capitalist society. A review of the available literature on schooling and the student emphasizes three themes which are deemed worthy of further inquiry: (1) students express high levels of satisfaction with schooling, but often in uncertain ways; (2) the student school experience is commonly characterized by writers as being fragmented; and (3) minor changes in schooling are important for students, even when those changes do not address wider concers. Theoretical approaches which contribute to an explanation of these themes tend to emphasize either the deterministic nature of social structures (in which case details of the schooling process become trivialized) or the autonomous nature of particular situations (in which case limitations imposed by structural and power relationships are disregarded). An alternative approach, a Marxian theory of praxis, is employed in this thesis. Such an approach emphasizes that structures must be regarded as real, with real consequences for people, although the specific nature of those consequences can be realized only through human activity. Schooling, as part of society's superstructure, is seen to be conditioned but not fully determined by the economic base of society. Hegemony (domination by consent) is discussed in relation to the process by which schools contribute to the maintenance of capitalist class relations. An examination of this process is substantiated with the use of observational, questionnaire and interview data collected from a sample of 130 grades 8 and 12 students in four Saskatoon public classrooms. The data indicate that the student school experience is conditioned in a dual way: by immediate contextual concerns; and by idealist notions of school as a necessary social 'good'. Students tend to accept school and when they discuss possible school change, feel school should be left alone or modified only slightly. There are class and grade differences in the student school experience, but overall similarities are apparent in the process of schooling and in the limited amounts of student reflection about schooling. It is concluded that students are educated in a very narrow sense. They have little basis for developing a framework through which they can interpret the events that have structured so much of their lives. There is little impetus for students to question the world and to suggest alternatives to present, often alienating, social relations



school experience, education, sociology, students



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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