14 SES 05 B, Schooling and Social Responsibility – Family, School , Corporate Relationships
In England since 2004 every school has had to have a Home-School Agreement. The law now demands that ‘copies must be given to all parents… asking them to sign a declaration that they understand and accept the agreement’ (ISCG, 2007: 142). While their content varies from school to school, items often include the requirement that parents deliver their child to school on time, ensure they are appropriately dressed, and so on. Agreements differ from more specific ‘parenting orders’ that are imposed by a court and seek to gain ‘an improvement in the child’s attendance and behaviour’ (Teachernet, 2010). Both, however, are contractual in nature for they make explicit what each party is obliged to do and implies that damages or punishment could be extracted from the other should they deviate from the pact. From the age of four, pupils too are asked to sign their part of the Agreement, to do homework, to be caring for others, and so on, and, although signing is not compulsory, most but pupils do so. The school then seals this surrogate legal document with its signature.
The practice invites many questions. For example: Whose purposes are served by the contract? What perceptions do school managers, parents and pupils have of it? Is it indicative of a change in the nature of relationships between members of school communities? To examine this we draw upon Foucault’s model of ‘dividing practices’ to look at the pressures placed upon parents and pupils to ensure their acquiescence; the nature of sympathetic and anti-pathetic signatories through a Weberian analysis of contractual procedures within capitalism; the asymmetrical nature of the parties involved in light of school admission procedures and their attendant relationships of power; and, by recourse to English ‘social contract’ theorists like Hobbes and Locke, examine the nature of trust. Baier, for example, has argued that contractualism is a model of human interaction founded upon a specious view of human nature and erected by men-philosophers (Baier, 1986: 248) who, in choosing to focus upon the cool, distanced relations between more-or-less free and equal adult strangers, ignore the web of trust that tie moral agents to one another in a multitude of complex and composite ways. Contractarians, she has suggested, are like ‘the members of an all male club, with membership rules and rules for dealing with rule breakers’ (Baier, 1986, 247-8). This diminishment of trust, we argue, underwrites Agreements and exemplifies how, in Habermasian terms, ‘systems’ have colonised the ‘lifeworld’ in advanced industrial societies (Habermas, 1987). We examine evidence from across Europe to see if this practice is symptomatic of a wider agenda, for it seems to have little tradition in other European counties in contrast to the USA, and look forward to exchanging views with delegates at the conference to Europeanise or explain further our findings in terms of liberal assumptions.
Baier, A. (1986) Trust and Antitrust. In Ethics 96: 231-260. Foucault, M. (1982) The Subject and Power. In Michael Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (eds.) Dreyfus & Paul Rabinow. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Habermas, J. (1987) The Theory of Communicative Action Volume Two: The Critique of Functionalist Reason (translated by Thomas McCarthy) London: Heinemann. Held, V. (1993) Feminist Morality: Transforming culture, society and politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hobbes, T. (2008) The Leviathan (online). Available from: www.forgottonbooks.org (accessed 23rd June 2010). ISCG (2007) A Manual for Governing Bodies and their Clerks. London: Avondale Park School. Locke, J. (1946) The Second Treatise on Government. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Weber, M. (1930) The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. London: Unwin. Teachernet (2010) Parental measures for behaviour and attendance (online). Available from: www.teachernet.go.uk (accessed 17th June 2010).
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