Formal education is a particularly interesting non-political institution because, through curricula, structures and daily practices, schools produce, convey and reproduce key identity-forming narratives. Thus, they contribute to defining and redefining individual and collective identities, as well as the boundaries between communities in deeply divided societies.
Cognitive approaches to learning propose that ‘learners cannot understand reasons until they have already acquired a view ... in order to be critical you must first be indoctrinated’.111 Individuals are indoctrinated into the explanatory clusters, stereotypes and myth-symbol complexes of communities they belong to through a process of socialisation, ‘a process of learning through which an individual is prepared, with varying degrees of success, to meet the requirements laid down by other members of society for his behaviour’.112 Mass education systems were introduced in parallel to the extension of franchise in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and they responded to the needs of democratising ‘nation-states’ and of industrialising European economies. 1 13 The educational models developed in Britain, France and other European powers were later ‘diffused by their respective colonial and/or ideological systems’.114 Thus, mass compulsory schooling emerged as an instrument of socialisation into the values, assumptions and patterns of behaviour underpinning collective life in a society.
Eckstein highlights that political systems are stable only if the ‘authority pattern [of governments] is congruent with the other authority patterns of the society of which it is part’.115 In newly created democracies, elected governments depended on the acceptance of a ‘fictive image’ of cultural homogeneity within their borders and on collective support for their values and practices.116 Thus, schools were entrusted with transmitting a common, sanctioned myth-symbol complex to all citizens. This included a standardised culture through a common language and official version of the past, common rituals and practices, and markers of belonging and identity. Socialisation of children into the values and culture laid out by previous generations would help assimilate the necessarily diverse citizenry and blend ‘ethnic differences’. It would also transmit stereotypes of different others (individuals not belonging to the nation-citizenry), sustain sociopolitical stability and create ‘the united public opinion necessary to the working of representative government’.117 As Green summarises, mass education systems ‘tried to create the civic identity and national consciousness which would bind each [citizen] to the state and reconcile each [citizen] to the other’.118
In sum, mass education systems reflect and reproduce the myth-symbol complex (or culture) of states, their internal patterns of authority, and the narratives and principles upon which the political system is founded. These three functions of mass schooling are particularly problematic in deeply divided societies, where the culture of some communities does not coincide with that of the state, where authority patterns are perceived as unjust and where the legitimacy of political institutions is contested.