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Anthropological Perspectives on Education


reviewed by John D. Herzog - 1972

coverTitle: Anthropological Perspectives on Education
Author(s): Murry L. Wax, Stanley Diamond, Fred O. Gearing
Publisher: Basic Books, New York
ISBN: , Pages: 392, Year: 1971
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Compilation of a collection of academic essays is a sometimes defensible enterprise: when the volume is intended as a sincere Festschrift, when it records an important symposium, when it gathers together the lifework of a distinguished academician, even when it is intended as a "reader" in a subfield not already glutted. Unfortunately, none of these or other justifications applies with great strength to the present book, although two or three years ago its appearance would have ranked as a significant intellectual event.

Anthropological Perspectives on Education is probably the most important product of the U.S.O.E. sponsored Culture of Schools Program that was initiated by Stanley Diamond in the early sixties, transferred to Fred Gearing and the American Anthropological Association in 1965, and rescued from mimeograph oblivion late in the decade through Murray Wax's efforts to see this one volume into print. As far as I know, no major empirical research or theoretical advances were supported by the Program. Its major activities seem to have been the preparation of a massive (pre-1966) bibliography on anthropology and education (available only from ERIC) and a series of conferences (1963-68) from which "most" of the essays in this book were drawn. As Harry Wolcott suggests, "The now terminated 'Culture of Schools' project might provide an interesting starting point for critical examination [of how anthropologists use funds available for research on education]. How and why did it come into being? What were its objectives? What were the outcomes?" Considering this record, in which most of the leading figures in educational anthropology were involved, one views with surprise, gratitude, and foreboding the Office of Education's 1971 decision to specify anthropology as a premier discipline for which scarce research funds will be reserved over the next five or six years.

Clearly there is, or was, much individual merit in the majority of the twenty-one papers here assembled. But even the best of the ones which remain fresh (Cohen, Mead, Green, Vidich and McReynolds) should have been published two to four years ago; and recruits to the study of anthropology and education should have had access before now to the good sense about topics and strategies of research put forward in the papers by Wax and Wax, Murray Wax alone, and Wolcott, as well as to Lindquist's remarkable bibliography on anthropology and education. Sadly, the significance of several publications has vanished almost completely during storage, cancelled out by later works by the same authors (Leacock, Henry) or by the flow of events in the field reviewed (Washburn, Lindquist to a degree, perhaps Cazden and John).

As with most collections of miscellaneous papers, it is difficult to summarize the contents and do justice to particular items therein. In the case of the present volume, the editors' major categories are relatively unhelpful: "Theoretical and Methodological" (eight papers), "Schools in Modern Urban Society" (eleven papers), and "Tools for Further Research in Anthropology and Education" (two papers plus Lindquist's bibliography). I am puzzled by the uses of these labels, and will impose my own scheme in recounting and analyzing the articles.

I would classify ten papers drawn from all three of the original categories as "theoretical." Notable in this group is a shared definition of education as at once more than classroom instruction, yet not equivalent to either socialization, child-rearing, enculturation, or to other global concepts with which anthropologists play rather loosely. There is surprising consensus that aims and outcomes of education are political rather than intellectual or vocational. Yehudi A. Cohen's exceptional essay ("The Shaping of Men's Minds: Adaptations to the Imperatives of Culture") is basic to the others. Cohen makes an important theoretical distinction between informal socialization by family, kinsmen, and peers, productive of a particularistic orientation to interpersonal relations that is adaptive in stateless, face-to-face communities, and education, "the inculcation of standardized and stereotyped procedures," leading to a universalistic orientation appropriate for citizens of nation-states, ancient or modern. A high degree of standardization of personality is required for the maintenance of nationhood, Cohen feels, and much of the needed standardization is contributed by schools. Variations of this position are independently explicated in the papers by Murray and Rosalie Wax ("Great Tradition, Little Tradition, and Formal Education"), Thomas F. Green ("Citizenship or Certification"), Bud B. Khleif ("The School as a Small Society"), Helen Icken Safa ("Education, Modernization, and the Process of National Integration"), and Francis A. J. lanni ("The Art and Science of Teaching"). Surprisingly, no one in this book advocates or even mentions Anthony Wallace's "organization of diversity" paradigm of the integration of individuals into society; all are convinced believers in the "replication of uniformity."

All of the authors are aware, of course, that education is dispensed at some psychic cost to those "processed" in it, but only Green and Stanley Diamond ("Epilogue") discuss the contradiction of man's attraction to life styles appropriate to citizenship in nation-states, and the alienation from himself and his fellows resulting from his accommodation to these ways of living. Green proposes a "civic education" that would communicate "a conception of the public that bears the marks of communitas in the midst of urban technological society," but he is not sanguine about the possibility of attaining this goal. Diamond, in a much too short appearance, concludes that "any critical and cultural interpretation of the crisis in education must reach to the root of our society." If we dislike what we see going on under the rubric of schooling, he says, "We are obliged to examine our notions of science, our concept of the person, the definition of mass education, the deterioration of informal learning, and so on." These catholic views are in contrast to those of Paul Goodman ("Comments on the Science of Teaching"), Jules Henry ("Is Education Possible?"), and John R. Seeley ("Toward a Philosophy of Education Given the Crisis in Mass Education in Our Times"). By his criticisms and proposals, each of these writers indicates that he believes that enculturation-by-socialization, rather than -by-education, is a valid alternative in technological society.

Indeed, I am impressed by the basically conservative perspective of almost all this writing from the mid to late sixties. If the times are out of joint for our children and adolescents, they seem to say, let us experiment dramatically with what we do with them in school and out (i.e., more socialization, less education), but by no means should we alter the overall structure of society. Diamond's conclusions are probably the most "radical" statements in the book.

A second group of six papers is drawn both directly and indirectly from the field research of their authors. If these studies are intended as demonstrations of the potential of participant observation for the understanding of education, they do not succeed. Only Arthur J. Vidich and Charles McReynolds ("Rhetoric Versus Reality: A Study of New York City High School Principals") successfully present this aspect of anthropology, through data obtained from informal interviews and observations, as they construct a convincing summary of the professional Weltanschauung of a beleaguered group of schoolmen. "Indians, Hillbillies, and the 'Education Problem,' " by Robert K. Thomas and Albert L. Wahrhaftig, is next best, but it is marred by the authors' persistent editorializing for "their" people (Cherokees and "folk Anglo-Saxons" in the Oklahoma Ozarks). A second piece by Jules Henry ("Education of the Negro Child") is really a selection of (very sensitive) observation protocols and background data dealing with two black youngsters in St. Louis. Eleanor B. Lea-cock's report on her research in four New York City elementary schools is sketchy compared with her treatment of the same data in her excellent book, Teaching and Learning in City Schools: A Comparative Study.

Probably neither Margaret Mead ("Early Childhood Experience and Later Education in Complex Cultures") nor Sherwood L. Washburn ("On the Importance of the Study of Primate Behavior for Anthropologists") construed their papers as reports of "fieldwork"; for this reader, each is essentially a distillation of a lifetime of such experience. As usual, Mead's essay is full of provocative hypotheses about usually overlooked but (after her exposition) quite obvious influences on learning, for example the intelligence and formal education of child nurses, and whether an individual perceives writing as an arcane medium through which others exploit him, or as an accessible skill that he can learn to use on his own behalf. Washburn's paper is the most disappointing in the book, not for what it says but for what it does not get around to saying. It is frustrating to learn, for example, that on the basis of studies of primates, "Exploration takes place primarily when animals are well fed and secure." What do these animals do when they explore? What is learned from exploration? What does the exploration behavior of human infants and children look like to the primatologist? Can educating (as opposed to socializing) institutions capitalize on exploration to promote learning? What kind of learning would be promoted? Washburn evades such questions.

Two papers fall into a "linguistic" category. Concerning Dell Hymes' "On Linguistic Theory, Communicative Competence, and the Education of Disadvantaged Children" I am qualified to say little, save that perhaps this paper by an eminent linguist is misplaced in a book that will be seen by few language teachers and researchers. "Learning in American Indian Children," by Courtney B. Cazden and Vera P. John, I take to be a thorough summary (through 1969) of psychometric research on the children of these groups; the treatment is very sensitive to cultural differences among Indians, as well as between Indians and other ethnic groups, but the authors evidence a "school-is-school" perspective that is inconsistent with the revisionist philosophies of most of the other papers in the book.

Finally, there are four items aimed directly at current and prospective practitioners of educational anthropology, each written by a person or persons who has already produced one or more major contributions to the sub-discipline. Clearly, these people know their way around schools, and at the same time are neither protagonists nor enemies of them. Murray and Rosalie Wax's first chapter complements the theoretical position enunciated by Cohen and Green. It further contains a delightful, biting overview of social science's entanglements with education (schooling) in the present century. In "Comparative Research upon the Schools and Education: An Anthropological Outline," Murray Wax enumerates enough topics worthy of research to keep a generation of graduate students busy through full professional careers. Harry Wolcott's intelligent, practical "Handle with Care: Necessary Precautions in the Anthropology of Schools" should be required reading for all prospective workers in this field, as well as for some experienced ones who have gotten their hands burned and know not yet the reason why.

Special mention must be made of the "World Bibliography of Anthropology and Education, with Annotations," prepared by Harry M. Lindquist with the assistance of various collaborators. With notes and an interpretative essay, the bibliography extends over seventy-seven pages, divided into six major sections: General, Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and the Pacific. (South America is postponed to a later edition.) Any specialized scholar can point to omissions in the listings for "his" region or topic of interest, but the compilation as is has no rival and will be the point of departure for many future inquiries. We must all hope that Lindquist will continue to develop the bibliography, reissuing it from time to time as additions warrant.

Anthropological Perspectives on Education, often stimulating, though occasionally trivial, and too frequently dated, is nevertheless a landmark in the development of educational anthropology. The field should be grateful to Murray Wax for assembling these papers and thus assuring their availability to a wide audience. Scholars and enthusiasts in the anthropology of education will probably consult the volume frequently. However, I doubt that it will be used often as a classroom text. This is unfortunate, because, despite the flaws of the volume as a whole, the papers by Wax and Wax, Cohen, Mead, Wolcott, Green, and Vidich and McReynolds deserve greater circulation than they are likely to receive.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 74 Number 2, 1972, p. 275-278
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1562, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 12:27:43 AM

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