John Lukacs on the custodial role of schools

Here are some thought-provoking words from historian John Lukacs on education in recent decades as the “modern age” has begun to pass.

“The age of institutional schooling was another feature of the Modern Age. … By the nineteenth century the ideal of general and public education … became sacrosanct. Still, much of the training and the proper education of children remained the responsibility of parents in the home. During the twentieth century this changed. Like so many other things, the role of the schools became inflated and extended, diminishing the earlier responsibilities of parents. In the United States the principal and practical function of the schools often became custodial (especially when both parents were working away from home), though this was seldom acknowledged. After 1960 at least one-fourth of the population of the United States spent more than one-fourth of their entire lifetime in schools, from ages two to twenty-two” (p. 25, At the End of An Age, 2002).

This custodial aspect of today’s education environment has been greatly illustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Educators are rightly concerned about the loss of learning over the past 14 months, but many others were primarily concerned about the impact of closed schools, coupled with closed day cares, on the difficulty it made for parents to return to the workforce.

The custodial piece has also been illustrated for decades by the rise of extra-curricular activities, including the role of sports in school. Many parents want their kids involved in sports to keep them out of trouble during otherwise unsupervised times. And school boards sometimes seem more concerned about sports than about learning.

We are asking teachers to do too much for the money they are paid. If we expect them to be surrogate parents — and that seems to be the de facto reality — then they should be compensated in a way that recognizes the importance of parenting children, even if by a surrogate parent.

By the way, I’m certainly not against women in the workplace. Some women are much more capable than their husbands of earning a living in the current commercial system. And here’s a related thought from Lukacs:

“… the desire of a woman to be employed somewhere in the so-called ‘marketplace’ was often not the result of financial necessity but, rather, of a new kind of impulse: the life of a housewife … proved to be lonely and boring. Women thought … that they were reacting against the age-old and often senseless categories and assertions of male authority; yet their dissatisfaction often arose not because of the oppressive strength but because of the weakness of males” (p. 23).

These quotes and comments are offered as food for thought. There is no way a few brief paragraphs can convey nuances of these very complex circumstances, but we surely need to think more on this subject.

Copyright © 2021 Ferrell Foster

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