No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Class and public schools

“Class-conscious is not the hateful screamer, not the sniffer of oppression,

but the person who is knowing, clear and secure in his world.” – page 337

 

Theodor Geiger writes in 1930 and discusses the relationship between social classes, class consciousness, and public education. He acknowledges the existence of class stratification in modern societies and argues that both educational policy and individual teachers must consider the implications of this class structure. He assumes that teachers and students are members of different social classes and that it’s impossible for schools to completely eliminate a student's class background. He emphasizes that teachers should not deny their own class affiliations in their roles. He defines social classes as collective entities with shared economic circumstances and a collective consciousness of their social fate. This collective consciousness is crucial for a group to become a driving force in shaping society.

 

Geiger poses two questions:

  1. The socio-psychological question: What is the actual class membership of the child, and how aware is the child of their social class?
  2. The educational question: How should teachers address the issue of a student's class background in the educational process?

 

Children are born into specific class backgrounds, experiencing a certain way of life associated with their parents' social status. However, he argues that young children don’t initially comprehend their class position. It’s only as they grow older and begin to compare their circumstances with those of others that they may become aware of class distinctions.

 

Class consciousness develops gradually as children experience the limitations of their circumstances and realize that others have what they lack. He argues that poverty alone does not define proletarian status; it is the interpretation of poverty as a consequence of one's social position within society that matters.

 

When a child's subjective awareness of their social class identity develops, it doesn’t necessarily require a theoretical understanding of economic conditions but rather involves the child recognizing their place in the broader social context. As a child grows, they begin to understand the objective circumstances of their existence within the social fabric. This understanding involves recognizing relationships and connections between various aspects of their life and placing themselves within the larger societal framework. This process is gradual and doesn't have a fixed age at which it occurs. However, it generally happens around the age of 10 when abstract intellectual functions start to sharpen. The proletarian child tends to develop this awareness earlier due to their direct exposure to economic and social realities, whereas the bourgeois child is more sheltered within the family and takes longer to grasp these concepts.

 

The clarity of social class differences is more apparent in rural areas where distinct social strata exist based on land ownership and wealth. In urban areas, these differences are often less visible. In terms of education, educators should consider a child's social class as an essential factor in their pedagogical approach. Ignoring a child's social class would be a mistake, as it plays a significant role in shaping their worldview and understanding of their place in society. The socialist teacher, in particular, believes in acknowledging social class and using it as a basis for education, recognizing that education should have a purpose and be aimed at shaping individuals to contribute positively to society. What is considered valuable varies, and it’s difficult to impose a single, neutral pedagogical approach due to the individual, often inaccessible value standards of educators.

 

A socialist educator might question whether it is appropriate to expose students to the architectural beauty of old cities while also highlighting the problems of poverty and disease. Denying a working-class student access to higher education should concern us; even if they are weak in some subjects, they might excel in other ones, like social sciences. Furthermore, can the teaching of mathematics, including percentages, be considered a neutral form of education or does it inherently contain biases related to capitalism?

 

Modern educators should aim to draw knowledge and understanding from within the child rather than imposing external concepts or beliefs. Education should be rooted in the child's own experiences and perceptions, with educators guiding and protecting the child's natural development. Importantly, teaching children about social class and inequality should not involve forcing abstract concepts onto them but should instead arise naturally from their own experiences and questions. Educators should be patient, wait for the right moments, and offer explanations that align with the child's current understanding, allowing for gradual intellectual development.

 

Ref.

Geiger, T. (1930), Klassenlage, Klassenbewusstsein und öffentliche Schule, in: Die Arbeit 7 pp. 260-266 & 331-340.