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Social Reconstruction & Education

Social reconstruction is a philosophy focused on achieving social change. As a practice,it strives


to achieve social justice and equity by altering the various social systems uponwhich society
rests. It is based upon two major understandings; first, that society tends todevelop systems that
marginalize and oppress others and thus need to change, andsecond, that achieving this change
requires both creating a system that serves as a changeagent and is
open to changing its own purposes and structures as the social contexts inwhich it exists
naturally evolve
Since we live in a world of seemingly endless and diverse challenges, and sinceeducational
systems and schools are one of the primary means by which we developunderstanding and skills
related to functioning in society, social reconstruction requiresthat social reform serve as the
primary goal of every students education. As aneducational philosophy, educational institutions
at all levels are viewed as the mainmeans by which students are prepared to reconstruct the
systems through whichinequality and the oppression and marginalization of other people
occur. Educationalreconstruction purposefully and explicitly requires that our schools function as
changeagents, empowering students to question the very systems in which they live and
work,and to create a society that is more equitable and just As an educational social
movementguided by critical pedagogy, socialreconstructionism rests upon the idea that schools
need to actively assist students inchanging the world that they are a part of; it directly prompts
the recognition that humanbeings tend to adopt authoritarian systems which can become
controlling, manipulativeand which perpetuate the status quo and thus lie in opposition to ideas
of free will, equity and social progress. Reconstructionist educators connect knowledge directly to
powerand acknowledge that often the very systems that we as a society create to
bothunderstand and help us manage the world tend to end up working against the very
peoplethey were designed to assist.This entry provides an overview of social reconstruction,
outlines its developmentand places it in context. It also briefly describes the ways that social
reconstruction hasbeen understood in education in the United States and examines criticisms of
socialreconstruction
Overview
Social reconstruction emerged in the first half of the 20 th century, and is viewed as areaction to
the conservative societal conditions of that time; it was believed that,particularly in educational
settings, there was a lack of connection between what studentsunderstood about the world
through what they were taught, and how the world actuallyworks. Ignorant of understandings
about these connections, social reconstructionistsassert that people become open to influence,
manipulation, and ultimately oppression. Inschools, for example, it is believed that what students
are taught has not and is notpreparing them to function in a rapidly changing and diverse world;
each studentseducation is not believed to be reflective of the conditions and problems inherent
in thesociety in which they are a part, and thus students exit the educational system
unequippedto deal with problems inherent in the real world, and unable to prompt or
manifestsocial change. Instead of producing agents of change, as reconstructionists
believeshould be the goal of education, traditional educational systems produce self fulfilling
prophecies; students are not taught how to, nor are encouraged to, think critically and
holistically, but to instead simply take all of the information presented to them at facevalue and
ultimately assume a place in society that is deemed appropriate by the very social system
that educated them. This educational structure is overtly controlling, and is intended to produce
two outcomes; first, the system assures its continuing existence and domination by reproducing
itself, and, secondly, the system maintains its power tocontrol others by teaching them only what
it deems is necessary for them to know.To progressive educators, those who feel that
governance, for example, shouldevolve as those being governed evolves and that education
should be based on real -lifeinteractive experiences, schools are seen as simply reproducing
the systems that supportthe status quo, systems which were and are increasingly able to be
characterized asoppressive and discriminatory, instead of systems which adapt to and advance
socialchange and support emerging social conditions. Given so cietys tendency to view and
understand the status quo as representing what I s normal , anyone or anything classifiedas
lying outside of this socially constructed label is understood as different , and canthus be easily
discounted, manipulated, marginalized and oppressed For social reconstructionist educators, who
both historically and currently believethat education is mass produced, educational curricula
should not focus primarily onknowledge acquisition, but instead on student experience, critical
thinking and the takingof action on very real social problems, like hunger, discrimination,
poverty, violence andwar. Reconstructionists firmly assert that people can individually and
collectively bringabout social change, and feel that this empowerment begins in our schools.
Restructuringeducational systems so that students emerge better prepared to both recognize
and dealwith the issues, ideologies, problems and values they will have to contend with as adults
and citizens is of primary importance. A sense of individual and collective activismbecomes both
vital and necessary to achieving social justice and equity in society andcalls upon educational
systems, educators and students themselves to become agents of change.

Development of Social Reconstructionist Philosophy


Utilizing an empowering and progressive educational philosophy that prompts criticalthinking
and prioritizes the solving of complex social problems, reconstructionisteducators focus on
developing and implementing educational programs that promptstudents to explicitly pursue
social reform, and that provide them with the skillsnecessary to manifest meaningful and
lasting societal change. Preferred strategies wheneducating for empowerment include building at
least a foundational awareness of variousmajor social issues, facilitating student inquiry and
questioning, and engaging inmeaningful dialogue; community based learning and outside-the-
classroom experiencesare not only encouraged, but are deemed necessary to the educational
experience,especially as they are linked to self-development and to realizing a
humanizingunderstanding of others.The American philosopher and educator Theodore Brameld
(1904-1987) isgenerally seen as the founder of the reconstructionist philosophy of education.
Brameld,as a result of the violence of World War II, felt that, as a society, we had two
distinctchoices; either evolve and work to create a more socially just world, or submit topotential
societal and global destruction as a consequence of oppression and war.Influenced by
philosophers and educational reformists like Horace Mann (1795-1859),John Dewey (1859-1952)
and George Counts (1889-1974) who all believed that schoolsand educational systems should
improve our way of life and create an aware and activecitizenry, Brameld explicitly believed that
schools should become direct forces of socialchange, and advocated for the radical redesign of
educational systems so that socialchange and student empowerment stood at the forefront of
educational theory andpractice.
Social Reconstruction and Education in the United States
Although a complex philosophical movement, social reconstructionism holds to four somewhat
broad ideas, anchored by a belief in centralization: it attacks laissez-faire economics and calls for
centralized economic systems; it calls for a nationalized, andcentralized, educational system; it
calls on American teachers to proactively organize;and it seeks to break the power that elite
classes (primarily wealthy and white) have traditionally often held in educational systems and
schools. Almost all social reconstructionists want to replace the popular idea of individualism
found within American education with a much more community-oriented framework.
Social reconstruction in American education was popularization the 1 st half of the20thCentury,
during the depths of the Great Depression, can be seen as continuing withcalls for the
deconstruction of the standardized curriculum that schools in the UnitedStates currently teach,
which, though controversial for decades, became more of the focus of educational reform in
the 1980s, remainingan issue today due to such legislation asthe No Child Left Behind Act,
which was signed into law in 2002. Under suchmandated, controlled and structured educational
frameworks, what students are thought to need to learn is often rote, bland, and one-
dimensional; students are not prompted to adopt a critical mindset nor taught to actually analyze
and look beyond what it is they are
learning.
Education of the whole person is not seen as important, and s
tudents are toldwhat they need to know as well as what it means and how it should be
applied.Social reconstructionists assert that under the standardized frameworks currentlyseen in
the United States, students are simply required to digest information as it isprovided to them,
and are neither encouraged nor given the opportunity to examine,challenge or actively engage
the material; this only perpetuates an often oppressive statusquo. Additionally, students are
not allowed the opportunity to actually relate what theyare learning to their own lives and to a
contemporary, diverse and constantly evolvingworld. For example, all schools that receive
federal funding in the Unites States mustteach students about the U.S. Constitution, a
requirement that, at least on the surface,appears logical given the role of this document in the
history of the country. Socialreconstructionism would ask, however, that educators do much
more than simply teachstudents the facts surrounding this important piece of the American
story. Under areconstructionist philosophy and educational framework, educators would be
responsiblefor actively seeking to teach students about the Constitution in a way that was
personallymeaningful to them and that prompted reflection, and that involved critique and
consistedof a thorough analysis of both the context and subtext of the document as a
historicalevent. For instance, students might be asked to think about the implications of the fact
that the word woman does not appear anywhere in the whole document, and then beguided in
questioning the rationales, intentions and implications surrounding such anomission.

Criticisms of Social Reconstruction


Social reconstruction has been opposed by both non-progressive and progressive educators,
most of whom have believed that schools should be run like businesses, andsome took offense to
what was seen as the social reconstructionists attack on traditionalways of educating; instead or
preparing students to enter the workforce, they were being prompted to address social issues
and create change. Many critics have deridedreconstructionists for being
idealists, "romantics" or "utopians, asserting that their ideas can never work in actual
practice.Occasionally opponents of social reconstructionism have actually foundagreement
with their criticisms coming from other social reconstructionists. JohnDewey, himself an
educational reformist, repeatedly criticized the philosophies of thosewho took an overly
optimistic view of child-centered education. To educators like Dewey, a childs
natural curiosity and willingness to learn was generally unfocused;students needed guidance and
direction from teachers to actually learn in a way that wasmeaningful. Dewey and some other
social reconstructionist educators were also opposedto politicizing the classroom. However, a few
reconstructionists, including GeorgeCounts, believed that all teaching was a form of
indoctrination by its very nature ;reconstructionist educators were simply making a practice
that had always been implicitin education explicit and transparent.
Jeffrey D. Zacko-SmithState University of New York College at Buffalo