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Pattern Maintenance and Change in Education

by Ralph W. Larkin - 1970

In an effort to clarify the relationship between the public schools and society, Professor Ralph Larkin, Center for the Study of Evaluation, UCLA Graduate School of Education, uses a structural-functional approach. The bureaucratic nature of the educational institution, together with the functions assigned to it by society, make the system more a passive agent for change, a situation that he sees will not change until the schools are given different responsibilities and granted greater autonomy. The research for this article was supported by a grant from the U.S. Office of Education.

Americans have a tradition of naive faith in education as an instrument of social progress. The Puritans of Mas­sachusetts felt that it would stem the influence of "old deluder Satan." Washington and Jefferson were in­tensely involved in education. Immi­grants to this country looked to the schools to fulfill the mobility aspira­tions of their children, and George S. Counts dared the schools to create a new social order.1

More recently, public schools have been under pressure to give minorities a better chance in our society. The solution to the problem is more and better education. Education, in the public eye, is the panacea for all social ills. However, the relationship between elementary and secondary schools and social change is not a simple one. The school is an agent of social change, yet reformers cannot use it in a meliorative way. Educa­tion has brought about vast changes in our society, yet at the same time, it has been a reinforcer of the status quo. This paradoxical situation exists because the school is related to social change in a passive rather than active way.

By viewing public education below the college level in terms of internal structure and societal functions, its relation to social change can be re­vealed. This is basically a structural-functional approach to the problem of social change. Briefly, structural-functional theory, as exemplified by Merton, Homans, and Parsons,2assumes that to survive all societies have basic functions that must be fulfilled. Therefore, every society must organ­ize itself to fulfill these survival func­tions. The larger and more complex the society, the greater the number of organizations and the more speci­fic the division of labor. If an organi­zation does not adequately fulfill its societal function, it becomes dysfunc­tional and increases the probability that the society will not survive in its environment.3

The Pattern Maintenance Function

According to Parsons' theory of so­ciety, four levels of organization are hypothesized.4 First is the societal level, the most pervasive and power­ful of all. The societal level is an amalgam of interacting human groups which are the primary bearers of a distinctive institutionalized culture which cannot be said to be a subsystem of a higher order collectivity. Second is the institutional level. The institutional level contains the seg­mented organizations of society which carry out the basic societal functions. The third and fourth levels are subsumed within formal organi­zations. Thus organizations are orga­nized into two basic levels, the man­agerial and the technical. The mana­gerial level contains administrative and supervisory processes, while the technical level is concerned with pro­duction and services.

Looking at the public education institution, the two higher levels of organization are the most important for analysis. Functions within each level are concerned with the main­tenance of stability and integration with other levels. Each level in the hierarchy is dependent on the next higher level for its functions. In ap­plying this paradigm to education, we find a logical rationale for de­termining the relationship between the institution and society. The so­cietal level is directly above the in­stitutional level; thus it determines, to a great extent, what is important for the institution. This can be seen in the relations between the board of education and the professional staff of the schools. The board is the policy-making body, a fact that places the important decision-making power at the societal level. Activities which occur at the institutional level and below are highly dependent on decisions made at the societal level.

Implied in structural-functional theory is the concept of equilibrium. Maintenance of equilibrium occurs on two axes: the vertical, which in­volves interlevel equilibrium, and the horizontal, involving intralevel equi­librium. Vertical equilibrium is maintained by translation of societal needs and goals into institutional goals. In turn, the institutions must be orga­nized to efficiently and effectively implement these goals and satisfy so­cietal needs. Horizontal equilibrium implies a balance at each level of or­ganization. That is, to insure its sur­vival in the environment, the pro­cesses at each level must be such that the basic functions of that level will be carried out properly. In a techno­logical society such as ours, equilib­rium is maintained by the educa­tional institution. The schools are re­sponsible for training children to be motivationally and technically equipped to perform adult roles.

The socialization process, then, is two dimensional. The instrumental aspect is the provision of technical competence. Upon completion of his education, the student is expected to have a repertoire of salable skills. The expressive part is a normative orien­tation in harmony with the values of the society. The value transmission function of the school is, in Parsons' terms, the function of "pattern main­tenance."5 According to Parsons, provision for pattern maintenance is a functional prerequisite of all societies:

. . . the social system . . . depends on the requisite minimum of 'sup­port' from each of the other sys­tems. It must, that is, have a suffi­cient proportion of its component actors adequately motivated to act in accordance with the require­ments of its role system, positively in abstention from too much dis­ruptive, i.e., deviant, behavior.8

The expressive aspect of the edu­cational process is socialization of youth to a social order by instilling values necessary for the continuation of the social system. The school is expected to continue the socialization begun by the family.

Without continuity from genera­tion to generation provided by the socializing agencies, society would cease to exist. It is for this reason that societies have pattern-mainten­ance institutions. The schools are or­ganized and controlled by society so that the pattern-maintenance function is fulfilled. In the words of Durkheim: "Of what use is it to imagine a kind of education that would be fatal for the society that put it into prac­tice?"7

As society provides for its own survival, each institution endeavors to continue its existence. The schools must socialize the students to the in­stitution as well as to the society at large. If students were not socialized to the institution, schools could not carry out their societal function. In order to maintain equilibrium at the institutional level, rational means of organization are developed. This is the process of bureaucratization, which is explored in the next section.

Bureaucracy and Education

In order to survive in the society in which it operates, the educational in­stitution must meet the minimal ex­pectations of society. As in all orga­nizations, a rational structure is established to meet these minimal re­quirements. This structure is the bureaucratic framework.

Max Weber8listed five basic char­acteristics of bureaucracy. First, the bureaucracy has fixed jurisdictional areas governed by administrative regulations. The activities are distrib­uted in set ways, usually as official duties. Each job has a description which contains the duties that are vested in the position. There are also modes of operation and channels of communication that allow the posi­tion holder to perform his duties. Within the regulations, authority is allocated in a stable way by assign­ing it to the various positions in the hierarchy. Weber termed this arrange­ment "bureaucratic authority." Thus an officeholder has authority over a number of operations and persons by virtue of his position.

Second, a bureaucracy contains a hierarchy of graded authority. Weber viewed the organization as a pyramid. Most authority is vested in the apex of the pyramid (which contains top management), while the least amount is contained at the base (which, in education, would be the students). Those people in the higher positions of the hierarchy have authority over and responsibility for those people in the lower strata of the or­ganization.

The third characteristic is the ac­tual "bureau." Management is based on written documents (the files). Education has a proliferation of bu­reaus. There are board minutes, var­ious committee reports, personnel files, and the voluminous cumulative records kept for each child.

Fourth, bureaucratic management is trained for its duties. There are job descriptions, and hiring is done on the basis of qualifications. The professional bureaucrat usually has training to qualify for the position. For example, a school principal is usually required to have had experi­ence in the classroom at the grade level of the school in which he is to be employed. Also he needs addition­al training designed especially for the position.

The fifth characteristic of bureau­cracy is that management and the office are run in accordance with an exhaustive set of regulations. The California school district is a classic example of a bureaucracy run by ad­ministrative regulations. At the high­est level are the United States Con­stitution and the Supreme Court de­cisions; in descending order are the California state constitution, the Ed­ucation Code, policies of the county boards of education, and local school district policies.

Merton states that a bureaucracy depends upon the highly reliable be­havior of the employees.9Therefore, the organization must socialize its employees by infusing them with proper attitudes and sentiments to insure predictable behavior. There is pressure toward conformity and con­trol by the organization. This type of conditioning can easily lead to rigidity and a demand for strict de­votion to regulations. Thus the price of a highly structured, stable organization is standardization, lack of spontaneity, and impersonality. Yet if the organization is to protect itself from disequilibrium caused by exog­enous factors, new ideas and inno­vative behavior are necessary for its vitality.

The organization tries to maintain its balance in relation to itself and to other levels of organization. Innova­tion is threatening because it may temporarily upset equilibrium. This is why bureaucracies tend to be high­ly conservative. Organizations work on a variation of the hedonic princi­ple. When equilibrium is stable, very little change will occur. However, if the balance is upset, the organization will make changes in an attempt to return to equilibrium.

The office holder in the bureau­cracy, according to Weber, has his existence determined by the mechan­isms of organization. Since he is ap­pointed to the position by a superior, and he is secure as long as his be­havior is within the set bounds, he is dependent on the organization for his well-being. Therefore, he cannot de­viate too far from the norms of the bureaucracy without threatening his own survival in the organization. Weber states:

The individual bureaucrat cannot squirm out of the apparatus in which he is harnessed . . . the pro­fessional bureaucrat is chained to his activity by his entire material and ideal existence. In the great majority of cases, he is only a single cog in an ever-moving mechanism which prescribes to him an essentially fixed route of march. The official is entrusted with spe­cialized tasks and normally the mechanism cannot be put into motion or arrested by him, but only from the very top. The individual bureaucrat is thus forged to the community of all functionaries who are integrated into the mechanism. They have a common interest in seeing that the mechanism contin­ues its functions and that societally exercised authority carries on.10

Weber's statement is quite severe, es­pecially in the light of more recent research in informal organizational structure.11 However, it can be said that the bureaucrat has little auton­omy. He is dependent on the organ­ization for the satisfaction of his needs.

Though teachers tend to think of themselves as professionals, they fall into Weber's classification of bureau­crats. They are obligated to the or­ganization for their well-being, their jobs are appointive by superiors, and they are specifically trained for the positions they hold. The main differ­ence between the bureaucrat and pro­fessional is the control structure. Professional control stems from two sources, the socialization process pre­vious to professional status created by a long period of training, and the professional reference group which surveys the work of the professional and has the power to exercise sanc­tions.

Because professional educational organizations seldom invoke sanctions against their members and because of the weak professional socialization of teachers, the organization provides a stronger reference group for teach­ers than for people who belong to professions in which colleagues have strong professional commitments and sanction their own members. There­fore, the organization is the most im­portant reference group for teachers. Because of the organizational struc­ture of the educational system, teach­ers are characterized as bureau­cratic office holders rather than professionals.

Change is viewed as threatening by most office holders. This holds true in the educational structure. Jensen12 states that each person in the educa­tional organization tries to maintain a personal equilibrium between his gratified and ungratified needs. That is, once a person takes a position, he makes it as comfortable as possible. Each office holder hollows out his own niche, minimizing the annoy­ances and maximizing the pleasures of his position.

Change in the school requires a change in the role structure. A change in the role structure implies a re­alignment of authority relations and a possible breakup of cliques. These factors, in addition to a new pattern of prestige and privilege relation­ships, threaten the status quo. If the equilibrium is threatened, there is li­able to be resistance to change on the part of the school personnel.

The Relation of Education to Society

We have seen that the internal struc­ture of education brings forth stresses toward conformity. There are, per­haps, even greater stresses toward conservatism emanating from sources outside of the institution.

Durkheim in Education and Soci­ology13 develops the concept of the interrelationship between education and society. Durkheim contends that the society establishes education to insure the survival of its culture through time. Education functions to reduce the conflict between genera­tions by inculcating the youth with the established values of the older generation. In Durkheim's words:

Education is the influence exercised by adult generations on those that are not ready for social life. Its ob­ject is to arouse and to develop in the child a certain number of phy­sical, intellectual, and moral states which are demanded by him by both the political society as a whole and the special milieu for which he is specifically destined.14

Durkheim is concerned with the in-tergenerational effect of the schools. Socialization is the raison d'etre of education.

There is a parallel to be drawn be­tween Durkheim and Parsons. When Parsons describes the educational in­stitution as a pattern-maintenance primacy institution, he is reiterating Durkheim's premise. The school's primary function is socialization, and socialization of the young is nec­essary for the survival of society. Re­gardless of the variation of cultures within the larger society, there is al­ways a commonality of values and beliefs. The educational institution has the function of inculcating these beliefs in the younger generation. Without a collective base of values and beliefs, the society cannot survive.

Education is subservient to the larger society. Society needs to pre­serve itself. It attempts to do so by establishing an educational system to provide continuity from generation to generation by inculcating those values and beliefs that are basic in the society. This commonality of thought among the society's subcul­tures provides a base of homogeneity that enables the society to exist with­out danger of internal upheaval.

American education is no excep­tion to this principle. Through lay control of schools, the community can keep a close watch over the ac­tivities in the schools. Even though local control is a sacred cow of American education, the schools are expected to produce "good Americans." The term "good Ameri­can" has local and regional variations, yet the values cluster around such ambiguous concepts as "freedom lov­ing," "responsible," "patriotic," and so forth.

However, educational institutions do bring about change. Certainly, education has made great changes in American society. Clark states:

Education is not purely dependent, always following the lead of other dominant institutions, for schools and colleges change society in a number of ways. These ways, at least in democratic societies, are not a result of the efforts of plan­ners and reformers; deliberate attempts to use schools for social transformation have made little headway. Rather, education is be­coming an active center of cultural and social changes as it grows in size and complexity and takes on new tasks. Its relation to other in­stitutions as well as its own charac­ter changes as the technological so­ciety assigns it an increasingly im­portant place. Much of its new sig­nificance stems from a vast broad­ening of its cultural role.15

Clark indicates changes within the cultural context. The nature of the educational institution changes when society assigns it a different role. The change that education produces on the society is well within the status quo, however, since society is not willing to accept rapid changes in values and the bureaucratic organi­zation of education is highly resistant to change. Brookover sums up Clark's point of view by observing that education functions "in" rather than "on" society.16

The school is consistent with other institutions within the society. There are links between institutions. They function with an awareness of each other. An interesting sidelight is brought out by Clark in his discus­sion of the dependence of the school to society:

This dependent position, paradox­ically, may cause the schools at times to change much more rapid­ly than if they were in a quasi-independent structure, such as a federal department; shifts in pub­lic sentiment can cause a dependent school quickly to change its mind but may not be readily reflected in an entrenched, independent sys­tem. But whatever the extent of the change, it is largely commun­ity-directed, produced by the push and pull of local contending groups, with educational personnel having relatively little control over the direction and extent of the change. Little control produces an accommodating institution.17

Because of local lay control, the schools do not have autonomy. They must accommodate societal pressures.

It is a well-established fact that American schools lack autonomy. Citizens have kept them close to the pulse of local society. Elective (or in some cases, appointive) school boards establish policy for the school district. Local control of schools is an American folkway. Since schools are primarily pattern-maintenance in­stitutions, they are made heavily de­pendent on the larger (societal) or­ganization. Society is dependent on the schools for providing intergenerational continuity; because it is de­pendent on continuity for its survi­val, society controls the schools. Therefore, the school is put in the position of being responsive to the needs of society.

Change occurs through the inter­action of society and the school. By and large, the following steps are fol­lowed in educational change: (1) a need arises in society; (2) the school is assigned the task of meeting the need; (3) change in the educational structure occurs to accommodate the new function; (4) the new role is assumed; (5) latent and manifest changes occur in society as a result of the new function of the school. The latent and manifest change in so­ciety may incur new needs in the society which make the process spiral upward in ever increasing cybernetical loops. However, through­out this process the school is not an active agent of change—it is passive, and creates change in response to the needs of society.

A good example of this process is the National Defense Education Act (NDEA). In 1957, Russia orbited Sputnik I. The American citizens turned to the schools. Embarrassed and ashamed that the United States did not orbit the first satellite, they applied pressure upon the schools to produce more mathematicians and scientists. In 1958, the NDEA was passed which allocated money to schools and colleges for the improve­ment and upgrading of mathematics and the sciences. These funds were used to build new science programs, establish science centers in schools, provide scholarships to students of mathematics and science, and pro­vide research in the areas of science and mathematics education. How­ever, the most noticeable change to come from NDEA was the "new mathematics" programs. Today, school districts that do not have new mathematics texts, in-service courses for new mathematics, etc., are looked upon as being behind the times.

The NDEA created new needs in our society. People began to realize that society would suffer if we over­emphasized technology. Our society needed social scientists, humanists and educators as well as mathema­ticians and physical scientists. So the act was expanded to include these areas. The spiralling process had be­gun.

Summary and Conclusions

Because of the highly dependent na­ture of the public education institu­tion upon the larger society, any pressure for change from within the organization must gain the acceptance from society, whether or not the change is based on funded knowl­edge. Because of the internal struc­ture of the educational institution, any pressure for change will be met with resistance from those office holders who have vested interests.

Educators cannot institute change without the consent of the voters. Control of the schools is in their hands rather than in the profession­als'. No matter how much funded knowledge and research indicate the necessity for change, programs must be acceptable to the public. Because the success of an educational pro­gram depends on wide public accep­tance, it is difficult for innovation to occur in education.

Since bureaucratic organizations tend to draw people who are looking for security, there is likely to be a preponderance of such types in the organization. A study by Sims18tends to indicate professional edu­cators are highly conservative in their political outlooks. This conser­vatism tends to be reflected in teach­ers' attitudes toward their roles in education. A survey taken in 1960-61 by the National Education Asso­ciation research division indicates a generally conservative outlook.19For instance, 34 percent of the teachers surveyed felt that married boys should be excluded from school. For­ty-one percent indicated they desired the exclusion of married girls. Sev­enty-two percent of all elementary teachers and 48 percent of secondary school teachers approved of corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure in school. Only about half the teach­ers surveyed felt that it was proper for teachers to be politically active in state and national campaigns. Teacher attitudes toward innovation have not been studied in any direct way. There is a great need for re­search in this area.

In our society, the school is not and cannot be an innovator because of its dependency relationship to the larger society. This state of affairs will continue until the schools take on a new major function that is not di­rectly related to socialization, or un­til the public is willing to grant the schools greater autonomy and more self-direction. In the present situation, educational change must be preceded by a change in the norma­tive structure of society. The evi­dence indicates that unless something extraordinary occurs, education will not become an active agent of social change in the foreseeable future.


1. George S. Counts. Dare the School Build a New Social Order? New York: Day, 1932.

2. Robert K. Merton. Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: The Free Press, 1957; George C. Homans. The Human Group. New York: Harcourc, Brace & World, 1950; Talcott Parsons. The Social System. New York: The Free Press, 1951. These are the sociological clas­sics of structural-functional theory. However, since Homans wrote The Human Group, he has moved away from structural functionalism to a more social-psychological point of view as indicated by the content of his book, Social Behavior: Its Ele­mentary Forms. New York: Har-court, Brace & World, 1961.

3. For a discussion of structural-func­tional theory, the following refer­ences are suggested: Don Martin-dale. The Nature and Types of So­ciological Theory, Chapter 18. Cam­bridge, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1960; and Nicholas Timasheff. So­ciological Theory: Its Nature and Growth, Chapter 16. New York: Random House, 1957.

4. Talcott Parsons, "An Outline of the Social System," in Parsons, et. al. Theories of Society. New York: The Free Press, 1961.

5. Talcott Parsons, "The School Class as a Social System," Harvard Edu­cational Review, No. 29, Fall, 1959, p. 297

6. Parsons, op. cit., p. 27.

7. Emile Durkheim. Education and Sociology. New York: The Free Press, 1956.

8. Max Weber, translated and edited by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. From Max Weber: Essays in So­ciology. New York: Oxford Uni­versity Press, 1958.

9. The remarks in this paragraph, un­less otherwise noted, are based on the concepts presented by Merton, pp. cit., pp. 197-202.

10. Weber, op. tit., pp. 228-229.

11. F. J. Roetblisberger and W. J. Dick-son, with the collaboration of H. A. Wright. Management and the Work­er. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Uni­versity Press, 1946; and Alvin W. Gouldner. Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy. New York: The Free Press, 1954, are classics in the area of informal structures and their influence on the formal organization.

12. Gale E. Jensen, "The School as a Social System," Educational Re­search Bulletin, No. 33, February, 1954, pp. 38-46.

13. Durkheim, op. cit.

14. Ibid.,p.71.

15. Clark, op. cit., pp. 26-27.

16. W. B. Brookover, "The Implica­tions of Social Analysis for a Social Theory of Education," Educational Theory, August, 1951, pp. 97-105.

17. Clark, op. cit., p. 41. 

18. Verner M. Sims, "The Social Class Affiliations of a Group of Public School Teachers," School Review, No. 59, September, 1961, pp. 331-339.

19. National Education Association, "What Do Teachers Think?" NBA Research Bulletin, No. 40, 1962, pp. 120-125.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 72 Number 1, 1970, p. 111-120
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1672, Date Accessed: 5/17/2022 4:29:51 PM

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