The Schooled Society: The Educational Transformation of Global Culture

The Schooled Society: The Educational Transformation of Global Culture

by David Baker

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Only 150 years ago, the majority of the world's population was largely illiterate. Today, not only do most people over fifteen have basic reading and writing skills, but 20 percent of the population attends some form of higher education. What are the effects of such radical, large-scale change? David Baker argues that the education revolution has transformed our world into a schooled society—that is, a society that is actively created and defined by education.

Drawing on neo-institutionalism, The Schooled Society shows how mass education interjects itself and its ideologies into culture at large: from the dynamics of social mobility, to how we measure intelligence, to the values we promote. The proposition that education is a primary rather than a "reactive" institution is then tested by examining the degree to which education has influenced other large-scale social forces, such as the economy, politics, and religion. Rich, groundbreaking, and globally-oriented, The Schooled Society sheds light on how mass education has dramatically altered the face of society and human life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804790482
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 07/23/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 360
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

David P. Baker is Professor of Education and Sociology, and a research scientist at the Center for the Study of Higher Education and the Population Research Institute at Pennsylvania State University. He is coauthor of National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling (Stanford, 2005) and a frequent contributor to scholarly journals on education.

Read an Excerpt

The Schooled Society

The Educational Transformation of Global Culture

By David P. Baker


Copyright © 2014 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8047-9048-2


From Education Revolution to the Schooled Society

My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed. The people who did this to me don't want women to be educated. They want us to be stupid things.

SHAMSIA HUSSEINI, seventeen, who returned to school in Afghanistan despite being disfigured in an acid attack to keep her from attending;

New York Times, August 17, 2009

GOING TO SCHOOL and attending for a considerable number of years is demographically a relatively new and massive change in the behavior of children and youth. Driving this change is the central belief that schooling should be for all people. Over the course of the education revolution this belief, as reflected in the courage of Shamsia Husseini to attend school, takes on increased meaning and wields a growing impact on an individual's future, as it supports significant growth in the participation in formal education in all parts of the world.

In premodern society, before the profound changes of industrialization, urbanization, and political national consolidation that intensified in the nineteenth century, there was no widespread mass education. Formal education, particularly beyond just a few years of basic literacy training, was reserved for a small proportion of the population. But once the schooling of larger numbers of children and youth began, about 150 years ago, the phenomenon grew rapidly worldwide. While the exact political and cultural histories of the adoption of mass schooling vary across regions and nations, the basic temporal pattern of the worldwide education revolution is similar.

Over a few generations, the education revolution proceeded through a stepwise pattern, first of access to primary schooling, then by the opening up of secondary schooling, and lastly in the expansion of tertiary education. Advanced sectors of education have been spurred on by the growth of the previous sector during an earlier generation. This progression began in wealthier nations and since the middle of the twentieth century spread globally with less and less time between each stage of educational development as educational attainment in more nations converged (e.g., Benavot and Riddle 1988; Fuller and Rubinson 1992; Dorius 2013). Notably, too, while opening access to each new level of schooling began slowly, once begun, expansion proceeded rapidly. As worldwide enrollment in levels of schooling illustrates (Figure 1.1), throughout the nineteenth century and over the first decades of the twentieth, enrollment in primary education levels expanded, but by 1940 enrollment burst into a logarithmic climb. Twenty years later, as primary schooling reached large numbers of children, enrollment in secondary schooling turned sharply up in the 1960s. And in the early 1970s enrollment in higher education began a similar ascent. Today, in many developed nations, 70 percent of individuals have obtained at least an upper secondary education degree, and a third of 25–34-year-olds have participated in higher education (OECD, 2009a). The most recent wave of the education revolution is the expansion of higher education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. At the turn of the nineteenth century less than 1 percent of university-aged youth across the world attended; now 20 percent, or approximately 100 million, attend some kind of higher education setting, and the awarding of graduate degrees continues to increase in many nations (Schofer and Meyer 2005).

This rapid increase in enrollment is not just a function of population growth. What education demographers call "gross enrollment rates"—the percentage of school-aged children and youth attending schooling—have grown steadily over this time period, and only the most extreme social or political events have retarded growth at certain times in some nations (e.g., Baker, Köhler, and Stock 2007). Similarly, the average length of individuals' school attainment continues to rise worldwide. In wealthy and middle-income nations average educational attainment across the entire population is now slightly over twelve years of schooling; and tellingly, a large group of lower-middle- and low-income nations have expected attainment of over nine years (UNESCO 2001). The multilateral campaign to bring basic schooling to all children worldwide continues on with some major challenges to full implementation, but with wide political support nevertheless (Lewin 2009). As shown in the world map of average length of school careers, in Figure 1.2, the world is rapidly becoming a schooled society.

The education revolution did not happen overnight, but it did unfold at striking speed compared with how long most human institutions take to develop. It is a revolution that began with younger children in the middle of the nineteenth century in the nations of Western and Northern Europe and their wealthier former colonies, so that by the last two decades of the nineteenth century, nations in Western Europe and Australia, Canada, and the United States were enrolling 50–70 percent of children aged five to fourteen (Benavot and Riddle 1988). And although older forms of education, centered on the religious indoctrination of children of elite castes, had been established in Asia, North Africa, and in Mayan, Aztec, and Incan societies well before the nineteenth century, as each of these regions was touched by Western nations, through peaceful contact and forcible colonization alike, their earlier indigenous systems of education gave way to mass Westernized education (Craig 1981).

The overarching idea propelling this sea change in people's attitude and behavior towards formal education is that schooling is useful, appropriate, and valuable enough to require all children to attend. Ideas about education create the belief that it is good that one's own children are schooled, as well as everyone else's children. In particular, how the education revolution unfolded in the United States illustrates the speed at which these cultural beliefs can saturate a nation with education.


The United States has largely led the way in developing mass education. At the beginning of the twentieth century, about one half of all schoolaged children were enrolled, and within the next forty years that proportion rose to 75 percent; over the next twenty years it rose to almost 90 percent (U.S. Department of Education, NCES 1993). Today, of course, mass schooling is so ubiquitous that looking back on schooling early in the twentieth century, one can easily criticize it for having reached only a portion of school-aged children. Yet this early wave of enrollment was actually at the vanguard of a radically new way to raise children and help youth into adulthood, which rapidly caught on. For a society to grow schooling by 50 percent in just forty years and then reach almost full enrollment two decades later is an astonishing feat reflecting widespread acceptance of the notion of schooling for all children.

The way mass schooling grew in America illustrates the mechanics of the expansion of schooling children across generations. As each sector of schooling grew, its success propelled the development and subsequent expansion of the next sector. As each new generation of parents attained more education, their "demand" for even more education for their children intensified, and the "supply" of opportunities for more education moved along with that demand. In the final decades of the nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth, the United States rapidly built a public primary system, so that by the beginning of the Second World War attaining schooling through the eighth grade became the average among American adults; just thirty years later the average had advanced to the completion of high school (U.S. Department of Education, NCES 1993). As the primary system graduated larger and larger proportions of children, a public secondary system was built, and as that system graduated larger proportions of youth, enrollment in higher education began to climb. Therefore the average amount of schooling of each successive generation of Americans substantially exceeded that of the preceding generation.

For example, just before the Second World War, of ten American adults over the age of twenty-five who were representative of their era, one of them would have attended little or no schooling, five of them would have attended just primary education, three would have attended just high school, and one would have attended higher education (and only one out of two of these people would have attained the baccalaureate or a graduate degree). Thirty years later, as most of the middle of the baby-boom generation passed through high school and as older adults with lower levels of schooling died, less than one American adult out of ten had attended little or no schooling, two would have attended just primary schooling, five would have attended just high school, and two would have attended higher education, one of these having earned the baccalaureate or higher. In another thirty years, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the education levels of ten representative American adults would look strikingly different from either of the earlier groups: all of them would have attended primary schooling, only one would not have moved on to high school, four would have only completed high school, and five would have attended higher education, of which two would hold the baccalaureate or higher. As a consequence, a number of major American cities, such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, are now places where one half of all residents have the BA or higher. Enrollment in higher education is at an all-time high (20.6 million students in 2010) and is expected to increase 14 percent by 2019 (Hussar and Bailey 2011).

Perhaps nothing is as telling of the power of the sweeping force that drove America to be a schooled society as the rate at which schooling was developed for the most disadvantaged children at various times. For example, slavery, Jim Crow segregation laws, and other oppressive measures by the dominant white society kept enrollment rates among African American children considerably lower than native-born whites throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. But even within this environment of formal and informal racism, African American enrollment began to grow at a rate similar to that of white students from 1910 onwards (U.S. Department of Education, NCES 1993). And the hardwon battles of the civil rights struggle, which not surprisingly were in large part focused on achieving equal educational opportunities, added considerably to the growth in schooling for African Americans after the middle of the century (e.g., Rury and Hill 2011). The educational consequences have been stunning: within one generation the average African American, completing only some primary schooling, would most likely see her child finishing high school (10–70% increase in high school completion from 1940 to 1970), and just like whites, her grandchildren's likelihood of enrolling in higher education has continued to rise.

A similar story is true for the children of immigrants from Southern, Central, and Eastern Europe who poured into America from 1880 onward. At first their rates of schooling were very low; for instance, school attendance among Italian American children was lower than the rate among African Americans living in northern cities in the early part of the twentieth century (Lieberson 1980). Many of these groups also struggled with poverty and bigotry, which limited educational opportunity. But just as with African American children, in a relatively short time their enrollment rates began to look like native-born white children's. This growth was in large part due to the ability of these mostly Catholic families and the American Catholic Church to build a parallel, large-scale system of schools. In almost all ways American Catholic schooling developed just like the public system, and the logic to supply schooling to all children was foremost in its intentions (Baker 1999). What is particularly noteworthy about schooling for these two historically disadvantaged groups is that even through all of the poverty and oppression and struggles (and because of them in some cases), a version of the education revolution happened for these groups.

Not only has the idea that all children should be formally educated meant the incorporation of children and youth into schools; it also represents a massive societal commitment to, and investment in, what happens during school. In the case of the United States, the sheer growth in the nation's population has meant the development and funding of a currently huge system of schools. The public system of primary and secondary schooling grew about 600 percent over about a century and a half, from 7.6 million students just after the Civil War to 48.8 million students in the school year 2004–2005 (U.S. Department of Education, NCES 2006). And this has been accompanied by a growing intensity of schooling; for example, the length of the American school year grew from about six and a half months just before the beginning of the twentieth century to the current nine months of schooling, representing an increase of over a third in instruction time (U.S. Department of Education, NCES 1993). Also, as the average student/teacher ratio declines, one can assume that the resources and intensity of education are increasing, and this ratio has fallen steadily from the end of the nineteenth century, so that by 2007 nationwide there were an estimated 15.4 public school pupils per teacher (U.S. Department of Education, NCES 2008). In constant dollars, the average total expenditure on a public school student grew from only $355 in 1919 to an average of $9,518 for every student in fiscal year 2004 (U.S Department of Education, NCES 2006).

The education revolution has also expanded the notion of who can and should go to school and the idea that formal education is appropriate for all ages. For example, a full third of all students in higher education are twenty-five years or older, and a recent assessment of adult education in the United States finds that 40 percent of adults in the nation participated in some formal education for work or, notably, for reasons of personal growth (Hussar and Bailey 2011; U.S. Department of Education, NCES 2003). Lastly, as will be described later, the expansion of higher education continues in American two-year institutions, four-year institutions for the BA, and now in graduate schools, in proportions never before seen.

While rates of educational expansion can vary some, and poverty and political turmoil can slow the process, inevitably the education revolution unfolds worldwide. Beginning later in history in other regions than in North America and Western Europe, the education revolution is also occurring in Eurasia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. The demography of education has been apparent for some time; what has not is how much this is a new cultural construction in human society. A description of the deeper dimension of this cultural transformation illustrates this.


Culture is essential to the construction of the social world, but its actual components can be hard to pin down and describe. Robert Fiala, a neo-institutional sociologist, had an ingenious idea for how to get at the widely believed ideas behind the education revolution by examining archives of national documents (prepared for international agencies) describing the aims of national education systems. He and a colleague first investigated changes in the stated national aims of education from 1955 to 1965 (Fiala and Lansford 1987); recently, Fiala has updated the sample to include changes from 1985 to 2000 (2006). There are some telling developments, from the early phase of the education revolution, when many wealthy nations were just starting to expand secondary education to wide parts of the youth population, to the present, in which formal education has spread worldwide.

There are three notable changes from 1955–65 to 1980–2000 in the educational aims of countries, reflecting historical intensification of the core values that are building the schooled society. First, most nations today openly claim the personal, emotional, and cognitive development of the individual as a main, multidimensional aim of education systems. While individual development was an aim in the earlier periods, its continued elaboration to include multiple facets of the individual is a clear indication of the intensification of mass education. Second, there has been a shift away from both elite education for the few and vocational development for the academically less able; these were still aims in the early period of the education revolution but gave way to newer and broader notions of general employability, development, and higher levels of mathematics, science, and language knowledge for all students. Lastly, educational aims around equality and democracy for all political, ethnic, religious, and social collectives have significantly intensified in most nations across the time periods (see also Dreeben 1968).


Excerpted from The Schooled Society by David P. Baker. Copyright © 2014 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents


List of Figures and Tables,
Introduction: A Quiet Revolution,
1. From Education Revolution to the Schooled Society,
2. Constructing Culture: Academic Intelligence, Social Status, and Human Rights,
3. The Incredible Longevity of the Western University,
4. Mass Education and the Super Research University,
5. Constructing Reality: Ice Cream, Women's Studies, and the MBA,
6. The Educational Transformation of Work,
7. Credentialing in the Schooled Society,
8. The Transformation of Knowledge and Truth Claims,
9. Failure, Redemption, and the Construction of the Self,
10. An Educated Polity: The Universal Solvent and the Political Paradox,
11. An Educated Laity: The Education-Religion Paradox,
Conclusion The Schooled Society and Beyond: Ubiquitous, Formidable, and Noisy,

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