The Education Culture Wars: what should be the role of a school today?
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Schools are unique institutions. Their most obvious role is in relation to education and the generational transfer of knowledge. However, they also mediate between the state and parents in shaping the next generation. Schools enforce behavioural expectations and instil particular values while preparing children for the responsibilities of adulthood.
Schools have always played this role. However, over recent years the values and expectations championed by schools have become more explicitly political and more contested. From lessons on climate change and recycling to cultural awareness days, it can appear as if schools, through children, aim at broader social change.
In this respect we seem to now be witnessing the emergence of the ‘Culture Wars’ in Education. One consequence is that tensions between schools and parents spill out in conflicts over contentious issues such as teaching of sex and relationships education. However, from the contents of lunchboxes to disputes over ‘gender neutral’ school uniform policies, few area of school life now seem beyond controversy.
In this special lecture and discussion, Joanna Williams, author of Consuming Higher Education: why learning can’t be bought, explores how these conflicts might be resolved. Should it be the state or parents who decide which values and behaviours to inculcate in children? And how should schools mediate between the two?