- The Schooled Society: The Educational Transformation of Global Culture by David P. Baker
The role and propensity for education to forge modern life remains a thorny yet unretractable discourse for sociological thought. This was very well known by the early patriarchs of the discipline, and it seems today much social theory, in one way or another, wrestles with the global phenomena of formalized education. The latest work from the neo-institutionalist theorist David Baker finds a welcome home both in the classical oeuvre as well as new movements in sociological thought. His The Schooled Society once again turns the attention of academia to the primary role played by formal education in forming 21st century society. As such, he consequently aims to open a divisive and fresh account of the place, status, and influence of education in sociological and educational thinking.
Baker’s intellectual project, in pontificating about the ‘schooled society,’ begins by asking what an ‘educated’ person means today, which he goes on to argue is radically different from assumptions made even a half century previous. Due to the pressures placed by governments as well as international developmental institutions to increase numbers of graduates globally, an ‘educated’ individual has implicitly come to be equated with one’s social as well as personal fulfilment. The social consciousness therefore surrounding formal education should not be dismissed as bearing little or no significance for a society’s functioning, argues Baker. Interpreting these complex institutional changes, the book prefaces its claims through a neo-institutional perspective, namely, challenging the university as merely being ‘influenced’ by the dictates of societal discourses. For Baker, the means for understanding the current and unprecedented changes in modern society can, and should, be interpreted as the morphing of education into a primary institution with the ability to dictate and define society. Therefore, contrary to much of the present educational literature, the book makes the claim that
education has grown to such proportions that it has become a separate and enduring social institution; thus the education revolution socially constructs significant portions of the culture of modern society, rather than merely reproducing it. Not only are people trained and credentalized through schooling but the institution itself changes other social institutions and the entire culture of society.(p. 10)
In attempting to fully explicate the extent of these changes and challenges, the book divides its arguments into two sections with the first focusing on the ‘dimensions and origins of the schooled society,’ which segues to the latter ‘societal consequences of the education revolution.’
Chapter 1 charts the rise of what Baker terms an ‘education revolution,’ which shows the inordinate global rise of formal education, where, in highly developed nations, approximately 70% of individuals from developed countries have completed an upper secondary degree and a third have been to university. With a focus on the United States, Baker cites important cross-sectional archival research from the middle to the late 20th century charting the extent of this revolution. He identifies four substantive changes that have occurred in society that simultaneously distinguish and expand upon [End Page 307] traditional ideas of what education has come to mean. This includes its promotion of education as a human right and universal virtue as well as aligning individual and social development together whilst valorizing specific forms of universal higher order cognitive skills.
The next chapter continues the importance of this last aspect, namely that a set of cultural and intellectual assumptions are proffered in the schooled society. Specifically, these specialized mental skills come to dominate the vista of abilities to be acquired by students and society as a whole and promote the “belief that cognitive skill … is the essential human capability for all types of jobs and social roles, and remarkably even has come to define the successfully developed person” and primarily include “problem solving, higher-order thinking, abstraction, informed interpretative skills, reasoning, generating new ideas, and critique” (pp. 41–42). Baker then goes on to explicate how this essential social construction of intelligence has dominated three...