State education for state control

Ross Gray - University of Hertfordshire student

A head of cogs


This article sets out arguments for the proposition that the education system in England prepares society for a passive, civic liberal view of citizenship. Under the guise of democracy, economic interests of the state drive education and its reforms, controlling its means and implications to produce a stratified production line of workers. As a form of social control, the overt and covert curriculum ensures conformity and compliance with the expected social values and norms of the ruling class, ensuring their rule and exploitation of citizens who through their formed moral character tolerate and accept their situation without critique, in pursuit of hedonistic happiness.


We live in a liberal society. Freedom of speech and the right to vote are rights we take for granted, as is our education. As citizens, we have a fundamental right to an education. The national curriculum in England aims to produce educated citizens who can engage in economic, social and cultural change through economic and societal globalisation (DfE, 2013). Yet, in the rise of globalisation, democracy itself hangs in the balance. Undermined by the economic influence capitalism holds on education, the purpose of education for democratic citizenship is eluded by inhibiting learner's critical capacities, cultivating society for a passive, civic liberal view of citizenship.


Simply put, citizenship is the legal status of citizens assuming membership of a state (Leydet, 2011). As a legal status, citizens have autonomy in exercising their civil, social and political rights. Citizens in a democratic society have liberty in the conduct of their lives and are protected by the law. They are not, however, required to take part in the formulation of law itself. Leydet (2011) defines this passive conceptualisation of citizenship as civic liberalism. Citizens' political voice is given to elected governmental representatives due to a laissez-faire view of the political economy. This suggests that citizens operating within a laissez-faire approach do so by tolerating elected representative parties, their political models and structures within society, in pursuit of hedonistic happiness. Therefore, whilst citizens may not agree with representatives' political motives and values, they tolerate their policies in pursuit of self-interests under the law of the land. However, the existence of pluralism and conflicts of values suggest that deliberation, and criticality are required in matters of the state, these being character traits found in active, not passive citizens due to their laissez faire approach.

Pluralism serves democracy by allowing groups and individuals to voice opinions on matters of the state. However, civic liberalism suggests that citizenry autonomy is removed and replaced by representative control. Dahl (1982) states that there are five criteria of democracy which are essential to the democratic process; equality in voting, effective participation in decision making, enlightened understanding, final control of the agenda and the inclusion of all adults. What I draw here is that through political pluralism, civic liberalism promotes elitism by isolating citizens from the political process.

Althof & Berkowitz (2006) state democratic citizenry requires movement beyond hedonistic self-interest, toward the well-being of the wider community. Similarly, Lister (1998) states citizenship encompasses political literacy, and empowerment to address and challenge societal models and their structures, in pursuit of social inclusion and justice. This draws parallels with the Aristotelian ideal of citizenship where citizens are active, moral and political beings (Miller 2011). This active conceptualisation of citizenship is defined as civic republicanism (Leydet, 2011). This suggests that citizenship, as a whole, is not mere participation through an existence of rights as the civic liberal laissez-faire approach suggests, but active participation in civil, social and political activities of the state, in order to obtain and promote societal cohesion. Moreover, the necessity of tolerance as a requirement of citizenry character, in maintaining societal cohesion through a diversity of opinions in today's multicultural diverse society.


In its most common form, democracy is a form of government where citizens vote for elected political representatives to rule the state on behalf of people. This supports Christiano (2006), who states democracy is based upon the political equality of citizens. As members of society, citizens are entitled to vote for political representatives on a one-person one-vote basis, to make collective decisions for society, and rule the state by collectively binding it together through rule of law, economic interests and educational provisions. This suggests citizens are equal within their rights under law, regardless of socio-economic status, and entitled to educational provisions from the state. Furthermore, citizens can exercise their political equality via voting.

Conversely, Springborg (1984) states that, under the guise of political equality, democracy ensures the rule of the dominant class. This supports Marx and Engels (1998) who state democracy is formed and operates on a class division of labour. Additionally, Kautsky and Kautsky (1994) state democracy cannot remove class divisions within society. Moreover, Mooreet al. (2005) state that, as an agent of socialisation, the education system itself is a middle-class creation, and therefore the middle/upper classes are advantaged due to their inherent possession of cultural capital in terms of values, knowledge and ways of interacting and communicating as compared with the working classes.

This suggests that whilst on a surface level citizens are equal within their rights under law, to participate and deliberate in the electoral process via voting, the socio-economic status of citizens can affect their autonomy in exercising civil, social and political rights. For example, Campbell (1962) states citizens can be passive due to a lack of education in communication at community level. Furthermore, their circumstances make communication at this level difficult. Campbell (1962) refers to this type of passivity as 'political alienation', suggesting this results in lower class citizens holding hostility towards the political model. This suggests that through a lack of political democratic education, the current education system reinforces class divisions within society. Moreover, it cultivates passive citizens who are politically alienated and disinterested, thus do not feel they are represented by, or can communicate with the partisan alternatives. The result of this, is that a laissez-faire view of the political economy and financial markets is adopted by passive citizens.

Education for democratic citizenship

Due to its analysis on role and position of class, the Marxist approach draws parallels to Marshall (1950), who states citizenship is an egalitarian status in constant contention with class inequalities produced by capitalism. In other words, whilst democracy and citizenship promote equality amongst the people, capitalism undermines egalitarianism by cultivating, and regenerating social inequalities through institutions of socialisation such as education. This results in the epistemological continuum of democratic decision making, where active and informed citizens utilise their political equality of power to partake in deliberation for community coalition-building; while passive citizens, (should they choose to) utilise the formal aspects of equality, via a one-person one-vote basis (Christiano, 2006). This is the significant participatory difference between active and passive citizens within society due to an unequal utilisation of citizenry power associated with democratic political equality. What is more, the procure of education as form of social control by the capitalist state, in order to maintain the rule of the dominant class, which in turn, brings us to educations role in cultivating active/passive citizens.

From a Functionalist perspective, education serves the state as an agent of socialisation for its citizens. Meyer (1977) states that as a developed institution, education organises and prepares individuals to act in society. Similarly, Durkheim (1956) states education is the means by which society prepares children with the essential conditions for existence. Put simply, education serves to develop the moral qualities and values required of citizens to function in political society, as well as their milieu. For example, it generates a synthesis of personal values (creativity, criticality), and cultural values (success, equality, liberty) to develop moral characters who can interact, deliberate and contribute to their communities and to the wider society.

However, by assuming a consensus view of society functionalism ignores inequalities within education such as class (Mooreet al 2005). Additionally, Levitas (2012) states education provisions and reforms are not for the benefit of the individual, but that of the ruling class; whose capitalist interests require formally educated workers to fulfil employment needs to serve the capitalist interests of the state. This shows educational reforms are based upon current economic trends, not individual development or the values of? social injustice. This is consistent with Sahlberg (2006) who states education reforms are introduced in response to economic developments, which require reforms of existing models in order to increase labour productivity. Levitas (2012) goes on to state that the government organises education in ways that are seen to promote equality in terms of education for all, but at the same time control its means and implications for society. This suggests that on a surface level education promotes social inclusion, and justice for citizens through its provision. However, through preoccupations in self-interests, citizens do not challenge its constraints; rather, they tolerate them via their passivity.

Economic Consumerism

Others argue that democracy is undermined by the economic influence capitalism holds on education. Ball (2012) states that through the social reality of market universalisation, neo-liberalism permeates every aspect of our lives, including education. This suggests a cultivated reliance and tolerance of consumerism within education and society, where the capitalist interests of the state can manipulate and drive educational provisions without challenge (Giroux, 2011; Nussbaum, 2012). In other words, the economy dictates and controls education, with society cultivating a production line of learners who see education, not in its philosophical terms as the acquisition of knowledge and development (Bailey, 2010), but as a motivator for future employment and earning capital required for hedonistic pleasure (self-interest) (Durkheim 1956; Campbell 1962; Meyer 1977).

The implication of this model is that it leads to the cultivation of passive citizens. Citizens who accept class inequalities are cultivated and reproduced in education. Nussbaum (2012) states that the implications of passive citizenship will result in the destruction of democracy. Therefore, education needs to politically and socially educate its citizens. Nussbaum (2012) argues that the humanities has a key role in the development of citizens as well as the formulation and sustainability of democracy. What I draw here is the correlation between the humanities and civic republicanism, and how the humanities can help promote active and engaged citizens who can address and deliberate the impact of neo-liberalism and consumerism in order to create a new social reality.

None the less, as long as education is used as a form of social control, conformity and compliance, the expected social values and norms of the ruling class will ensue as a "manufactured" by-product of education deriving from curriculum provisions.

The Overt and Covert Curriculum

An essential component of education is its curriculum. Within state education, the curriculum is a programme of study organised, developed and delivered by the state. Null (2011) states that whilst curriculum is at the heart of education, there are distinctions between the terms, 'education' and 'curriculum'. Looking back to Bailey's (2010) definition of education (the acquisition of knowledge and development), I argue education is not confined to schooling, but also takes place in the home and workplace. Therefore, education is a lifelong process. This draws parallels with existentialism where education is seen as a self-renewal process, where individuals grow and adapt to their environment during the course of lives (Sartre and Barnes, 1992). Additionally, the concept of self-renewal draws parallels with Dewey, who states that whilst education is social process, it is not preparation for life, but life itself (Dewey, 1987).

Thus I argue education cannot be confined to the formulation of curricular subject matter, sequentially organised in an abstract way by governments through education programmes for the state. The equating of education with curriculum results in education being restricted and controlled through a set of subjects deemed integral for tertiary socialisation by the capitalist state, for example, numeracy and literacy. Through control of the curriculum, dominant interests in society can, as a means of social control, classify and select the dissemination of knowledge through framing the selective emphasis of values and their interpretation (Bernstein 1977). In other words, elected representative governments can choose what subject knowledge they allow to be taught through its curriculum, in order to control the framing of cultural values.

Janowitz (1991) states that the growth of mass compulsory education is state intervention in response to the growing division of labour required of the industrial state, where higher educational qualifications are required of citizens for tertiary socialisation to function. This supports Sahlberg (2006) who states education reforms are introduced for economic development which require improvements to be brought into education in order to increase labour productivity and meet the economic demands of society. The introduction of computer programming to the curriculum in England is an example, which is a response to advancements in digital technology (DfE 2013).

Robinson (2010) states that the core curriculum subjects of Maths, English and Science were initially introduced to education in response to the need for workforce skills for the industrial economy during the industrial revolution. This suggests the economy has always been a driving factor in education since its inception through Forster's 1870 Education Act (Parliament 2015). Additionally, by providing a standardised education, and curriculum built around the basic skills required of citizens for labour production, consumption and reproduction, we can see how education can cultivate and regenerate passive citizens. Therefore, whilst the core curriculum develops fundamentally important skills, the standardisation of the model is systematic; it limits learners' critical thinking and creative capacities due to a focus on academic ability and standardised testing as future predictors that serve the interests of the state.

The limitation of this model of education (traditional education) is its higher focus on rote learning over progressive models of learning, resulting in learners being required to learn through memorisation. Freire (1996) refers to this model of education as banking education, where teachers narrate subject content to learners who memorise its content without critique, thus restricting critical consciousness development. What I draw here is that through a traditional education model, learners are taught to be passive through education's controlled conditions, thus suffocating their active, critical and creative capacities. This suggests that the current traditional model undermines democracy by suppressing citizens' active critical capacities (Freire 1996; Giroux 2011). As a result, through the back-to-basics model, society is being cultivated and regenerated to reflect a passive, civic liberal view of citizenship. This supports Nussbaum (2012), who states learners are being taught to accept situations in an uncritical way which, in turn, eludes the purpose of education for democratic citizenship by inhibiting learners' critical capacities. Sartre and Barnes (1992) state traditional education bends and admits children to the needs and values of society. This suggests that the state views children as instruments to be manipulated and controlled. Giroux (2011) states that children are no longer viewed as future citizens, but consumers of capitalist markets. Yet, by cultivating passive citizens who accept the exploitation of the ruling class, we can see how, as a form of social control, education ensures the rule of the dominant class under the guise of democracy, a democracy controlled and driven by capitalism (Springborg, 1984).

The Department for Education (DfE) state that the core element of the curriculum is individual preparation for engagement in economic, social and cultural change through economic and societal globalisation (DfE, 2013). This suggests a higher emphasis on economic engagement of citizens than engagement in social and cultural activities such as societal deliberation in political activities. In other words, the rewards of productive labour are promoted through the value of educational success, resulting in citizenry motivation for self-interest in educational provision from the state.

Whilst on the surface level, education overtly prepares citizens for tertiary socialisation (higher education), Giroux (1978) states that through the underlying structure of schooling, the hidden curriculum teaches students the unstated norms, values and beliefs of society. Put another way, as a by-product of education, the hidden curriculum teaches implicit societal values and norms which are not explicitly stated in schools objectives and aims. For example: obedience to figures of authority, self-control, academic endeavour and tolerance of rules and regulations. The effect of this is that citizens are cultivated to develop a passive conceptualisation of citizenship. This supports Apple (2004), who states the hidden curriculum corresponds to the ideological needs of the state, for example, for conformism.

Moore et al. (2005) suggest that education is a middle class creation, and we can see how the hidden curriculum stratifies the classes through the cultural make-up possessed by individuals in terms of values, knowledge, ways of interacting and communicating; through the hidden curriculum middle class cultural capital is spent by the middle classes and accumulated by the lower classes within education. To elucidate further, the hidden curriculum, like the overt (formal) curriculum, operates on a model where citizenry values and morality are accumulated (purchased), which is the primary experience of the lower classes who imbibe these passive values and morality; and spent by middle class citizens who already bring a predisposition to the values and morality required for success in the capitalist state.  This leads to an annihilation of individuality and promotion of conformism to society.

The implications result in the values of the dominant (ruling) class being cultivated, and reproduced through democratic capitalism, thus indicating that education is not the practice of liberty as Freire suggests, but the practice of domination (Freire, 1996).  Through the hidden curriculum's 'untaught' lessons, education reinforces social inequalities through the values, norms and beliefs transmitted via education's underlying structure. This suggests a paradox for education: on the outside education empowers freedom of choice through opportunity and equality, but inside it enforces regulation, and indoctrination through government control. As a result, the purpose of education has assumed the form of measurable outcome, not opportunity, which in turn, supports the current back-to-basics model of education in England.


In this article I have identified and analysed how the education system in England prepares society for a passive, civic liberal view of citizenship. Under the guise of democracy, economic interests of the state drive education and its reforms, controlling its means and implications to produce a stratified production line of workers. As a form of social control, the overt and covert curricula ensure conformity and compliance with the expected social values and norms of the ruling class, ensuring their rule and exploitation of citizens who, through their formed moral character, tolerate and accept their situation without critique, in pursuit of hedonistic pleasure.  As a result, the state is promoting and delivering a social injustice to its citizens under the guise of democracy through its current education system.

Due to the economic control the state holds on education, it is hard to fathom how the state itself can be the source of genuine reform. I believe an alternative model is required that is generated outside the state - a model of education that can promote and meet the need for social justice within society. The above discussion suggests civic republicanism would promote active participation in civil, social and political activities. However, this article has not addressed alternative education models and, therefore, the implications of such alternatives require further deliberation in future work.


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