6 Socialization in the Schooling Process


Source: “In the classroom” by US Dept of Education is licensed CC BY 2.0

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, you will be able to

  1. Define socialization, primary socialization, and secondary socialization.
  2. Identify how the role of the family differs from the role of the school in the socialization process.
  3. Explain the dimensions of socialization.
  4. Describe the processes by which socialization occurs in schools.
  5. Summarize how streaming contributes to socialization in schools.
  6. Describe how school rules, codes of conduct, and dress codes impact on the socialization of students.
  7. Summarize how students learn about gender roles in school.
  8. Explain how relationships with teachers and the social climate of the school impact upon socialization.
  9. Illustrate how peer groups contribute to the social identity of students.
  10. Describe how peer victimization, peer rejection, and relational aggression impact on the socialization experiences of students.
  11. Differentiate between the home schooled experience and outcomes of socialization with those who attend school.

Schools and the Socializing Process

In Canada, children from elementary to high school levels spend about seven hours a day at school for about 200 days of the year. These 1400 hours in the school setting per year do not include extracurricular activities and school preparatory work, like homework. From an early age until adulthood, school is a place where children spend a large portion of their days—and, indeed, their lives. Prior to attending school, children’s main source of socialization comes from their families.

Socialization refers to the ongoing process of learning the expected behaviours, values, norms, and social skills of individuals who occupy particular roles in society. Agents of socialization are the social structures in which socialization occurs. Major agents of socialization include the family and school, but also the media, peer groups, and other major social institutions such as religion and the legal system. Furthermore, socialization can be divided into two types: primary socialization and secondary socialization. Primary socialization occurs within the family and is where children first learn their own individual identity, acquire language, and develop cognitive skills. Within the family, children are socialized into particular ways of thinking about morals, cultural values, and social roles. Of course, the socialization that results from primary socialization rests heavily upon the social class, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds and attitudes of the family.

Secondary socialization refers to the social learning that children undergo when they enter other social institutions, like school. Characteristics of the school, teachers, and the peer group all influence the socialization of children within school settings. The family still remains an important part of children’s socialization, even when they enter into school. Children, however, will now have other significant people in their lives from whom they will learn the skills of social interaction. In Chapter 2, Mead’s theory of development of the self was discussed. The development of the generalized other, where a child learns to adopt the attitudes of the wider society, occurs in secondary socialization.

The school setting is where the learning of the new role as a student occurs. When children start school, for example, they are socialized to obey authority (i.e., the teacher) and in how to be a student. The overall socialization of children, as theorized by Bronfenbrenner (see Chapter 2), is dispersed into various realms which focus on the different sites of social context that children experience in their lives. Families and schools are major contributors to socialization, but there are other systems of socialization within ecological systems theory. The child interacts with many features of his or her environment which all contribute to the child’s social development. And the grand outcome of socialization is also theorized to be the result of how all the systems interact with one another. In this chapter, however, the main focus is on how schools contribute to the socialization of children.

A major objective of socialization in the school setting is to make a child socially competent. A child must develop skills that allow him or her to function socially, emotionally, and intellectually within the school environment. Within the school setting, social competence is achieved when students embrace and achieve socially sanctioned goals. These goals (e.g., learning to share, participating in lessons, working in groups), when embraced, also serve to integrate the child into social groups at school. Social approval is obtained when children accept the sanctioned goals of the school setting and they are rewarded and reinforced on a consistent basis through social acceptance by teachers and other students (Wentzel and Looney 2006).

Schools versus Families

Schools become a significant social world for children to navigate. Unless a child attended preschool or nursery, the structure and routines of the school day and the social relationships within the school setting must be entirely learned. The school setting now begins to take on some of the roles that previously only family members fulfilled—but in markedly different ways. There are many new behaviours and experiences that children must adapt to when starting school for the first time. As noted by Wentzel and Looney (2006), there are several different social realities to which a child must adapt:

  • A teacher, for example, is largely in charge of the student, but the relationship that a child has with a teacher is far less intimate than the relationship a child shares with his or her parents;
  • A student must also adapt to spending a significant amount of time in large groups;
  • A child must learn to be independent to achieve the academic goals of school;
  • A child must also learn to form bonds and develop social bonds with other children in school; and
  • Children must learn the work ethic that goes along with school and understand the goals of learning as well as adjusting their efforts according to teacher feedback.

In addition to learning different behaviours that are appropriate for school, there are also structural features of school to which children must adapt. The structure of school and the structure of the family are obviously very different. Table 6.1 highlights some major structural differences between the school and family setting.

Table 6.1 Structural Differences between School and Family Settings

Schools Families
Yearly promotion No yearly promotion
Relatively large size Relatively small size
Heterogeneous composition Homogeneous composition
Relationships broken at end of school year Unbroken relationships
High child to adult ration Low child to adult ratio
Narrow, homogeneous age grouping Mixture of several ages
Narrow range of activities and events Wide range of activities and events
Little privacy Some privacy
Specific treatment of individuals Diffuse treatment of individuals

Adapted from Dreeben, Robert, 1968, On What is Learned in School, Percheron Press, A Division of Eliot Werner Publications, Inc., Used with permission.

As Table 6.1 illustrates, there are many new things for children to get used to in the school setting. Not only does a child’s behaviour have to be modified from a set of learned “family-appropriate” behaviours, but the setting itself has many new structural features to which a child must become accustomed. School settings often place children in heterogeneous classes with large groups of children of the same age, where they participate in very specific school-oriented activities and events. There is one teacher for a large group of children and the relationship with the teacher is less personal than a child–parent relationship. Learning the expected appropriate behaviours and values of the schools system is a complex ongoing process of socialization.

The Dimensions of Socialization

Brint (1998) identifies three major dimensions of socialization as it pertains to schooling, which are illustrated in Figure 6.1. All three dimensions refer to a type of conformity that identifies an ideal that students are expected to emulate. These ideals are normatively approved and accepted models of what a student should be like to fit into schooling contexts, not only in North America but in virtually all places where formal schooling occurs.

The first of these dimensions is behavioural conformity. Behavioural conformity refers to the types of self-regulations of the body that a student must control in order to fit into the school environment. He or she may have to raise a hand to ask questions. Students will be required to sit still during lessons. Students may not touch other students. Students may have to stand in orderly lines in order to have a drink of water. All of these examples require the student to self-regulate his or her body’s physical actions in ways that the child may not have had to do in a family setting.

The second dimension of socialization is moral conformity, which refers to the process of a student internalizing the preferred understanding of what is right and wrong. This type of socialization is accomplished through teachers emphasizing the desirability of certain virtues, such as hard work, equity, being “nice,” and so on. Brint (1998) notes that young children, for example, may be assigned reading material that warns of the consequences of not having such virtues.

Figure 6.1 The Three Dimensions of Socialization

The third dimension of socialization is cultural conformity. During the process of cultural conformity, children learn about accepted perspectives and “styles” of expression. These preferred styles reflect normative cultural values about what is valued cultural knowledge. Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital (see Cultural Reproduction in Chapter 2) addresses this type of acculturation, stating that teachers regard certain types of outlooks and student styles as more desirable than others and for students to succeed they need to conform to the cultural practices of the dominant social and cultural class.

The Processes by Which Socialization Occurs

So far, it has been argued that children must adapt to features of school that are much different from their family environments. The expected behaviours at school are much different from within the family, and the structural features of day-to-day life at school are in stark contrast to what was experienced in the family home. The next section addresses the techniques that are used within schools to socialize children into being desirable students.


Figure 6.2 Zones of Socialization in the Classroom
Source: Based on Steven Brint. 1998. Schools and Societies. Pine Forge Press, p. 161

Brint (1998) identifies three major zones of socialization within classrooms (see Figure 6.2). The first zone is called the core. The school rules, which must be followed by students, exist at the core. As discussed later in this chapter, school rules and school codes of conduct are essential features of schools that frame behaviours in a manner such that they produce obedience to authority. The core also consists of embedded practices, which are manners of behaving that are not explicit rules but routine practices within schools that appear to be very natural and taken for granted. Such embedded practices are lining up, doing homework, taking tests, and being evaluated. Many of these features of the core can be understood as not only socializing children into being students, but also preparing them for life as adults within bureaucracies.

Outside of the core are two rings of moral instruction. The inner ring is characterized by explicit moral instruction. In this instruction, children are taught desirable and undesirable virtues. Explicit moral instruction occurs in the elementary grades, when children are socialized to aspire to virtues such as kindness, generosity, courage, and hard work. The outer ring consists of implicit moral instruction, where students are provided with moral exemplars in more sophisticated ways, such as through the curriculum of history and literature. Within the outer ring, teachers are also included as exemplars of moral behaviour (see Box 6.1).

Box 6.1 – Teaching Morality through Example and through Curriculum

Do students look at teachers as moral exemplars? What happens if teachers behave in ways that violate norms of morality? Examples of teachers acting in morally suggestive ways occasionally make it into the mainstream media. For example, in 2010, two Winnipeg teachers were under investigation after performing a sexually suggestive “dirty dance” at a high school dance competition. Asked about the inappropriateness of their behaviour, one student was quoted as saying, “They’re not setting a good example if they’re going to be doing that. They tell us what to do, almost like what’s right and what’s wrong. If they’re breaking what they’re saying it means nothing to us then.”1 A student at the competition shot a video of the dance which quickly became an internet sensation accompanied by much public moral outrage. In April 2010, it was announced that the teachers would no longer be employed at the high school. One resigned and the other did not have his contract renewed.2

The outrage that followed the display by the Winnipeg teachers strongly supports the idea that teachers are implicit moral role models. Their role in guiding the moral development of children, however, is often not simply limited to setting a good example. “Character” education is part of the official curriculum in some parts of the country. “Moral education” is a subject taught at all cycles of school in Quebec. Since 2007 in Ontario and 2005 in Alberta, “character education” has been part of the official curriculum in public schools. As noted in an official Alberta Education document: “Whether they are conscious of it or not, schools are involved in teaching cultural and societal mores and values and in shaping students’ ideas about what constitutes good behaviour” (Alberta Education 2005:1). Dunstable School in Alberta, for example, has instituted policies that promote socially desirable behaviour. Their program, called the “Character Education and Virtues Program,” rewards students every time they are “caught” doing a selfless act in the school.3 The students receive a paper bear that is placed on a wall for all to see, and by collecting enough of these, the students receive prizes. The staff keep track of who is earning the bears, and perhaps more importantly, who is not.

Less overt ways of instilling values through curricular practices are also found in citizenship education, which teaches students about “being good citizens.” Citizenship education is present in the primary and secondary curricula of all Canadian provinces and territories (Evans 2006). An analysis of the relationship between character and citizenship education revealed that the overarching message was to promote assimilation into Canadian society (Winton 2007).4

Moral education extends into areas beyond the display of particular virtues. As more schools are trying to instill healthy eating habits and becoming more environmentally conscious, many have adopted rules that prohibit the bringing of certain products to school. In February of 2011, news broke that a six-year-old boy in Laval, Quebec, had been excluded from a school teddy bear contest because he had a plastic sandwich bag in his lunch, which violated the school rules on environmentally friendly lunch containers.5 Many environmental initiatives have been adopted by schools across Canada. Plastic water bottles are banned from sale in schools in Ontario, for example, but there are no cases of students being excluded from activities for having them. Such instances spark debate around the role of schools in promoting particular social values.

The previous chapter discussed curriculum and how the content of schooling is closely associated with the social construction of what various groups (teachers, school administrators, parents) think children should be taught. The topics that children learn about and how they are presented are just one way that school acts as a socializing agent. There is a certain body of knowledge that it is assumed children must know in order to be productive citizens and function in society. Being presented with that curriculum is one way that children are socialized into becoming desirable members of the public. Moral education and “character education” are even found in some provinces’ curricula (Box 6.1).

The role of teachers as a new authority figure in students’ lives was introduced earlier. Teachers are more than just a new person from whom the child must take direction; they influence the socialization of children in several ways. The influence teachers exert over students in their delivery of curriculum has been addressed above and in the previous chapter. Teachers, however, shape the socialization of students by other processes as well, which are discussed below.


How do children decide what courses they will take in secondary school? Students’ academic abilities are identified early in their academic career through the grades they receive. A significant part of a teacher’s job is to evaluate students and, often, to decide if a student is best suited for a particular “ability track.” Teacher education suggests that tailoring into ability groups allows for teachers to best match the learning needs of students. Increasing the homogeneity of ability within a classroom also promotes better classroom management (Barakett and Cleghorn 2008). Standardized tests (discussed in Chapter 5) often exert considerable influence in allocating children into specific streams.

When a student enters high school, the courses that he or she takes greatly influence the post-secondary options available to him or her upon graduation. Students who wish to attend university need to take a certain set of academic courses, for example. The term streaming (also known as tracking) refers to the series of courses a student should take that best matches his or her abilities and aptitudes.

The term “streaming” is typically used to apply to formal processes of splitting students into ability groupings and is usually discussed in a manner that focuses on the individual student. It should be noted that informal mechanisms of streaming, however, can also be understood as the outcomes of other schooling practices that occur at the level of the institution. In Chapter 4, for example, research by Willms (2008) was considered which argued that French immersion programs act as an informal streaming mechanism as French immersion students tend to be from significantly higher socio-economic backgrounds and less likely to have a learning disability. Charter schools (Chapter 4) can also be thought of as streaming children, but of instead of streaming them into ability groups, they are streamed into particular philosophical or religious orientations. Similarly, students who attend private schools can be conceptualized as having been “streamed” into elite classes that tend to reproduce social stratification in society.

Streaming is a topic that is hotly debated (Loveless 1999). Proponents of streaming argue that putting students in classes with others who have similar abilities creates a better learning environment. Students who exhibit higher academic aptitude are put with similar students into advanced courses where they will be challenged. Students who are less academically inclined are put into classes that better match their abilities and interests, like vocational training. As noted by Krahn and Taylor (2007), labour shortages in the area of skilled trades have also supported the arguments for streaming because such shortages point to a need for more vocational training opportunities in Canadian high schools, which of course are associated with the non-academic stream.

Opponents of streaming note that those from disadvantaged and working-class backgrounds are disproportionately found in the vocational stream (Cheung 2007; Davies and Guppy 2006). In addition to social class distinctions in streaming, racial minority students are also overrepresented in the bottom groups of streaming ability (Oakes 2005). Sweet et al. (2010) found that in Grade 9 streaming practices in Ontario, Black African and Caribbean students were disproportionately found in the lower streams. Recent immigrant youth may also be placed in lower tracks due to their English language skills, rather than their overall academic ability (Sweet et al. 2010). This may severely limit their future ability of getting admitted to post-secondary training that leads to higher paying jobs with high status (Krahn and Taylor 2001). As Krahn and Taylor (2007) argue, students from disadvantaged backgrounds may have the ability to succeed in advanced academic courses, but an assortment of other factors may be reducing their likelihood of taking these courses. Such factors include parental influence, lack of role models, and the lowered expectations of teachers. Recall from Chapter 2 that Boudon discussed how secondary effects—like the aforementioned characteristics—can impact on educational attainment because they influence the types of educational choices made by a student and his or her family. Streaming, seen this way, may therefore act to reproduce social inequalities by limiting post-secondary opportunities (Sweet et al. 2010).

In an analysis of streaming processes by province, Krahn and Taylor (2007) examined how course selection limited the post-secondary education options available to students in selected provinces. Subject options are often streamed into “applied” or “academic” streams. The latter is oriented for someone who wishes to achieve university or post-secondary prerequisites (see Box 6.2 for some comparisons of applied and academic trajectories in Canada). In many provinces, courses in math, science, and English are divided into those that lead to post-secondary education options (e.g., university) and those that do not. Krahn and Taylor (2007) found that a major influence on course selection was parental education and family income; students from families with lower incomes and in which neither parent had post-secondary qualifications were more likely to take lower-streamed courses. They also found significant differences by province: students from Saskatchewan were much more likely to have university options than those in British Columbia, Alberta, or Ontario. This finding points to important differences in provincial educational policies and practices with regard to streaming.

Box 6.2 – What Do Academic and Applied Streams Look Like?

Because each province in Canada handles its own curriculum, how streaming occurs in school varies greatly by jurisdiction. Manitoba, for example, has a highly tracked mathematics program (McFeetors and Mason 2005). An applied stream is called Consumer Mathematics, while the academic stream is called Pre-calculus Mathematics. The Manitoba Ministry of Education describes Consumer Mathematics in the following way:

The Consumer Mathematics curriculum emphasizes number sense, consumer problem solving, and decision making. Students develop valuable knowledge and skills that will allow them to make informed decisions as they become independent citizens. The Consumer Mathematics curriculum addresses financial management, career exploration, home ownership and maintenance, as well as more traditional topics such as trigonometry and statistics.

In contrast, Pre-calculus mathematics is described as “designed for students who will be continuing studies at the post-secondary level in fields related to mathematics and science. This curriculum is intended as preparation for calculus at the university level.”

Below are the topics covered by both streams at grades 10, 11, & 12.

Grade 10

Grade 11

Grade 12


Consumer Mathematics

Consumer Mathematics

Consumer Mathematics

Problem Analysis

Problem Analysis

Problem Analysis

Analysis of Games and Numbers

Analysis of Games and Numbers

Analysis of Games and Numbers

Wages and Salaries

Relations and Formulas

Personal Finance


Income and Debt

Design and Measurement


Data Analysis and

Government Finances

Spatial Geometry

Measurement Technology


Consumer Decisions

Owning and Operating a Vehicle

Investigative Project

Geometry Project

Personal Income Tax

Career/Life Project

Personal Banking

Applications of Probability


Probability and Sampling

Income Tax

Variation and Formulas Completing a Portfolio





Polynomials and Factoring

Quadratic Functions

Circular Functions

Analytic Geometry





Trigonometric Identities

Exponents and Radicals

Analytic Geometry

Exponents and Logarithms




Permutations, Combinations, and Binomial

Rational Expressions and Equations

Consumer Mathematics





Statistics and Probability


Geometric Sequences

Variation and Sequence

Quadratic Functions

Statistics (Optional)

English Language Arts Streaming in Alberta


Mathematics is not the only subject that is streamed. Language arts and science, as mentioned above, are also often divided into applied and academic trajectories. In Alberta, applied English language arts are designated the course abbreviation of ELA 10-2 (Grade 10), 20-2 (Grade 11), and 30-2 (Grade 12). Alberta Education explains that this

course sequence provides for the study of texts at a variety of different levels of sophistication, to meet the needs of a more diverse student population in terms of student aspirations and abilities, students who aspire to post-secondary education, but not necessarily to careers related to the English language arts, may register in this course sequence. Not all post-secondary institutions, however, accept ELA 30-2 for entry. In general, students who plan to attend a post-secondary institution, regardless of their specific career aspirations, need to familiarize themselves with the entry requirements of the institution and program the plan to enter.

In contrast, the English language arts academic trajectory in Alberta is ELA 10-1, 20-1, and 30-1 “[which] provides a more in-depth study of text in terms of textual analysis. [S]tudents who aspire to careers that involve the development, production, teaching and study of more complex texts need to register in this course sequence.” The table above shows the differences and similarities between the curricula of the two streams.

Sources: Manitoba Education www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/parents/senior/math.html Reproduced with permission from Manitoba Education.

©Alberta Education. “Senior High English Language Arts; Program of Study”. 2003. http://www.education.alberta.ca/media/645805/srhelapofs.pdf pp. 7 & 10(Accessed March 2012)

In What Ways Does Streaming Impact Students?

That streaming has a positive effect on the academic attainment of high-ability groups has been documented by Ansalone (2001, 2003), although these gains are arguably at the expense of students in the lower-ability tracks (Sweet et al. 2010). Studies have found that classrooms in the lower tracks have a variety of less desirable characteristics that undoubtedly impact on the learning of students such as less experienced teachers, less challenging coursework, and teachers with lower expectations of students (Katz 1999). Students in such tracks often indicate that they are bored and that they are not engaged with the course materials (Berends 1995). As noted by Sweet et al. (2010), such conditions can only negatively impact the achievements of these students and further constrain their post-secondary prospects.

As discussed in Chapter 2, while policymakers have made recent attempts to mix the vocational and academic trajectories together in high school in order to make them more comparable, students expressed that, based upon the feedback they received from teachers, academic trajectories were preferred and that vocational paths were stigmatized (Taylor 2010).

Streaming not only influences the course choices of students, but also contributes to the overall socialization of children and adolescents in schools. Students who are consistently placed in remedial classes may also start to view themselves as “slow” (Barakett and Cleghorn, 2008). Streaming not only serves to increase the efficiency of teaching and classroom management, but also results in social groupings of students that have significant social meaning within and outside of the school. Placing students in special education, for example, requires that students be “labelled” as formally needing specialized assistance in order to succeed with curricular expectations (Hibel, Farkas, and Morgan 2010). These labels are not easily shed and can have spillover effects into other areas of social interaction, such as peer relations and future teacher expectations (Jones 1972).

But curriculum is just one aspect. There are many agents of socialization within the school environment, as indicated by Brint’s (1998) zones of socialization. As noted earlier, at the core of these zones are school rules, to which we now turn.

School Rules and Codes of Conduct

Many schools across North America have official codes of conduct to be followed by teachers and students. The majority of these codes tend to focus on issues surrounding dress codes and behaviour toward other students, teachers, and staff, while some include zero tolerance policies. Zero tolerance policies refer to specific code infractions that result in immediate punishment, usually in the form of suspension or expulsion, and sometimes involving the police. See Box 6.3 for further discussion about zero tolerance policies in Canada.

Box 6.3 – Zero Tolerance Policies in Canadian Schools

The term zero tolerance first gained popularity in the area of law enforcement in the United States. The term became associated with school disciplinary procedures in 1994 when the Gun-Free Schools Act was passed in the United States, which required that students who possessed a firearm at school be expelled for no less than one year (Cerrone 1999). Infamous acts of school violence, such as the events at Columbine High School in 1999, led to increased concern about violence in schools, which resulted in the emergence of zero tolerance policies around school codes of conduct.

In 2001, the Ontario Ministry of Education instituted the Safe Schools Act, which was designed to address violence and behavioural problems in schools. This act supplanted the Education Act (Section 23), which previously allowed only principals to suspend students and school boards to expel students. The Safe Schools Act changed the policy to one of mandatory suspensions and expulsions and police involvement for particular rule infractions, provided that “mitigating factors” were taken into account. Such factors may include the ability of the student to control his or her own behaviour (Daniel and Bondy 2008).

While the initial appeal of zero tolerance policies is that they theoretically apply the same punishment for rule infractions uniformly to everyone, the actual application of the policy does not appear to be so equitable. In 2004, the Ontario Human Rights Commission provided evidence that since the adoption of the Safe Schools Act, a disproportionate number of students with various disabilities had been suspended or expelled (Bhattacharje 2003). Although the “mitigating factors” clause was supposed to protect such students, the statistics indicated otherwise. Schools were not equipped to deal with students with social and emotional disabilities, and it was these very students who were disproportionately punished through the Safe Schools Act.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission launched a complaint against the Toronto District School Board, indicating that students with certain types of disabilities were being discriminated against. The OHRC also found that racial minority students were also disproportionately represented among those who had been disciplined with suspensions and expulsions under the act. In April of 2007, zero tolerance policies were removed from Ontario schools.6

Elsewhere in Canada, zero tolerance policies are likely to be in place around specific actions. For example, in 2007 British Columbia passed a law require all schools to have codes of conduct and a zero tolerance policy toward bullying. Research in British Columbia around this policy has also found that those who are disciplined under zero tolerance policies are more likely to have disabilities or be racial minorities (Cassidy and Jackson 2005). Other research has suggested that cultural differences between children’s families and teachers result in the enforcement of zero tolerance policies for perceived minor infractions being viewed as excessive and impersonal by parents (Bernhard et al. 2004).

Codes of conduct are of particular interest because they have been created under the auspices of improving school safety. Obviously, students in schools are expected to follow the school codes or face some type of reprimand. Students usually have little or no say in how these rules are developed and are therefore on unequal social footing in the sense that the rules are presented to them to be followed as a condition of their participation in education. Creating and enforcing codes of conduct can therefore be viewed as a form of socialization whose objective it is to create the desirable student.

As noted by Raby (2005), the language of school codes of conduct suggests that “young people are seen to be incomplete, at risk, and in need of guidance, a position that legitimizes school rules and their enforcement” (p. 73).

Research in Canada suggests that non-White students perceive that school rules are unequally enforced (MacDonell and Martin 1986; Ruck and Wortley 2002). In other words, they felt that they were more likely to receive disciplinary action for a rule infraction than White students. Other research findings reveal that this is more than a perception and that abject racism has been detected in schools’ use of disciplinary procedures (Ferguson, Tilleczek, Boydell, and Rummens 2005).

Overall, Raby and Domitrek (2007) have found that Canadian youth seemed to be generally supportive of rules they regarded as protective (rules prohibiting fighting and bringing weapons to school, for example), as long as they were presented as logical and enforced fairly in practice. Rules that students opposed were those that seemed pointless and arbitrary, particularly those around dress codes (Raby 2005). Such rules were routinely broken and created resentment among students for what they perceived as ridiculous rules that teachers spent far too much time enforcing, and were often seen to enforce in targeted and unegalitarian ways.

Raby (2005, 2008) and Raby and Domitrek (2007) argue that the school is a place where young people are socialized, but that top-down rule making assumes passive citizenship where students are relatively powerless. This also has the effect of creating resentment and rule breaking among students, especially when they see the rules as pointless and arbitrary. Young people are more likely to agree with rules that they accept as offering them protection. Raby and Domitrek (2007) state that this kind of rule creation and enforcement creates a negative environment where teachers are involved in “petty policing” and frustrates students who would prefer to challenge the rules in more constructive ways than by breaking them. Raby (2005) further argues that school codes of conduct reflect middle-class, often White, and rather gendered values. Schools codes of conduct serve to penalize those who do not conform.

Raby (2005) suggests that students in such environments are not learning how to be active participatory citizens in a democracy, but instead learning how to cope with rules that have been imposed upon them. Current practices appear to reflect the desire to create obedient future employees or citizens (Raby 2005).

Researchers have suggested that codes of conduct may be more positively received when they are worded in a manner that includes

  • the expected responsibilities, rights, and behaviours of teachers, school staff, and parents (in addition to students) and are worded in a manner that emphasizes co-operation and tolerance rather than solely focusing on punishments for rule infractions;
  • rationales for the rules; and
  • recourses for students who wish to appeal rules (Lewis 1999; Raby 2008; Schimmel 2003).

More participatory models of school rule enforcement and creation do exist, however, such as in alternative schools (see Box 6.4).

Box 6.4 – Alternative Approaches to School Rules

Not all schools in Canada have top-down rule making, as described above and criticized by Raby (2005). Some schools encourage active citizenship wherein students participate in creating and modifying schools’ codes of conduct, and other aspects of their schooling, including course content. Instead of passive citizens who are expected to follow rules handed down from positions of authority, students in these alternative schools are active citizens who participate in the democracy of the school structure. As noted earlier in this chapter, students with social and emotional disabilities are more likely to be punished under school disciplinary codes of conduct. Racialized students and those who have had previous conduct problems within schools are much more likely to drop out of school. Indeed, this is a problem facing a great deal of Aboriginal youth in Canada. Wotherspoon and Schissel (2001) give an account of an alternative education program in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan called the Won Ska Cultural School. This is a community-based school that offers mentoring to marginalized children and youth. The school is described as demo-cratic, as students have an active voice in their educational development. A major emphasis in the curriculum is learning practical life skills and how to develop trust for persons in authority. Personal histories of students are ignored and therefore students do not carry the stigma of past experiences with them in the school. Students are active in decisions surrounding the administration of the school, content of learning, and social events. This bottom-up approach to decision making has proven to be a very effective one for students who, for various reasons, were not successful in the mainstream system.

Beattie (2004) also did research on an alternative school in Toronto called the Corktown Community High School. The students of the school are typically those who have had little success at other high schools and are considered “at risk.” The school has only three major rules: (1) attendance is mandatory, (2) outreach work is mandatory, and (3) mind-altering substances are prohibited. In terms of outreach, students must participate weekly (Wednesdays between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m.) in a community volunteer activity for which they receive no payment. School board rules also prohibit vandalism, aggression, and racist, homophobic, sexual, and gender-biased speech. It is explained that students’ voices are important and that individual voices are to be developed within the boundaries of the community, which upholds the three rules. An internal committee comprised of the principal, two students, and two teachers hear all infractions of the rules. As well, much flexibility exists in the structure and content of courses as they are shaped by student interest. The school, like Won Ska, has a high retention rate.

Dress Codes

Many codes of conduct in Canadian schools specify attire that is deemed unacceptable for wearing to school. School dress codes can be a particularly contentious topic, particularly when the dress code rules appear to be targeting particular groups and if they do not appear to be enforced fairly.

Pomerantz (2007) argues that dress codes work to “contain young women’s sexuality” (p. 383) through the reproduction of a specific type of femininity—one that is White, middle-class, and heterosexual. She notes that while dress code infractions for girls typically are focused on body containment (e.g., showing too much cleavage), for boys it is about containing ethnic or racial identities. For females, clothes that reveal too much of the body are explicitly banned, while for males, styles of dress associated with hip-hop music (i.e., being able to see boxer shorts above the waistband of a male’s jeans) are targeted. Pomerantz argues that dress codes are not simply neutral school policies; they also impact on the creation of gender, sexuality, and race. Girls who wear tank tops and are reprimanded are at risk of being deemed immoral or “slutty,” and boys who violate certain rules aimed at them may be labelled “gangsters.” Pomerantz argues that implicit in many of the dress code discourses is the message that it is a female’s moral duty to keep herself covered. If she shows too much of her body, males will become distracted (which is her fault). There is also the risk that she may develop a “reputation.” An inherent message in these codes of dress is that girls’ covering up keeps male students focused and protects girls’ personal safety.

Justifications for student dress codes often centre on arguments about maintaining a desirable school image, respect of one’s self and others, and preventing distractions (Raby 2010). In early 2011, eight female students at a Catholic high school in Windsor, Ontario were suspended for one day and faced not being able to go to their prom because they wore yellow and blue duct tape tops to a school hockey game in December. The girls argued that they were honouring a school tradition by wearing duct tape clothing to the game and that their attire was modest. School administrators argued that the girls were in violation of the school dress code and that the practice had been banned by school because the duct tape outfits had become “too racy” in previous years.7

Changes in specific school dress codes shift according to trends in popular fashion. In a study of secondary students’ responses to dress codes, Raby (2010) found that many girls regarded specific aspects of dress codes overly restrictive (such as the prohibition of tank tops with spaghetti straps) but were often quick to condemn girls who wore revealing clothing as “sluts.” While wanting to challenge gender inequalities, they were also active participants in reproducing them. Raby (2005) and Pomerantz (2007) also suggest that dress codes are more likely to be enforced on more physically developed females or those who belong to stigmatized subgroups (e.g., Goths).

School Uniforms

While school uniforms are standard attire in the United Kingdom, they have not been adopted in most North American schools until relatively recently. The exceptions, of course, are private schools and many Catholic schools, where uniforms are traditional. School uniforms became more widely implemented in the public school system in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s when school policies were put in place in an effort to control gang activities and increase safety at schools (Han 2010). The rationale behind introducing school uniforms was that standardizing wardrobes would make it impossible for students to wear clothes reflecting gang affiliation and the presence of intruders within schools would be easier to identify as they would stand out in a sea of uniforms. Other perceived benefits of school uniforms, such as improved student achievement, improved self-esteem (particularly if less well-off students cannot afford the latest fashions), and the overall improvement of the learning environment (Pate 2006), have also been touted as rationales for implementation. Opponents to uniforms argue that they impinge on students’ self-expression, create a disciplinarian environment, and do little to equalize social class differences among students.

The findings of research on the impact of school uniforms on school safety has, in general, not supported the premise of reduced behavioural problems in students (Han 2010) or school achievement (Yeung 2009). Brunsma (2005, 2006) argues that in the United States, school uniforms have not been effective in addressing any of the issues they were intended to resolve.

Learning Gender

While gender roles are learned in primary socialization in the family, they can become further enforced or challenged in the school environment (Leaper and Friedman 2007). How a teacher approaches the issue of gender can have a lasting impact on how children understand the perceived socially acceptable roles for males and females. Sex-typing of children’s play (e.g., specific activities for boys and others for girls) can also contribute to reinforcing gender differences in behaviour and the understanding that children have about the appropriate roles for males and females. Lamb, Bigler, Riben, and Green (2009) have also found that if teachers teach children to confront and challenge sexist stereotypes, the results can decrease gender stereotyping behaviour, particularly in girls.

Individual subjects in school also have a tendency to be sex-stereotyped. Mathematics and science, for example, are subjects in which males have historically outperformed females. The gender gap between males and females in these subjects has narrowed considerably in recent years, with boys and girls performing about the same in both Canada and the United States (Lauzon 2001). Internationally, girls have also been achieving higher standardized reading scores than males since the 1990s (see Box 6.5 for discussion).

Box 6.5 – Declining Male Performance in Reading—A Moral Panic?

Until the 1990s, males had been outperforming females on standardized testing in most countries around the world. Since the 1990s, however, this has reversed, with girls getting the higher scores, particularly in reading. Because reading is highly associated with overall academic achievement and later-life occupational attainment, this is a problem that has tremendous sociological implications. Such findings have resulted in mixed reactions. One reaction has been an outcry that educational standards are failing boys. The media, in particular, have been quick to endorse a position that suggests that the main problem can be found in the ongoing feminization of schooling. The main thrust of this argument is that teaching staff are disproportionately comprised of females who value certain behaviours (like passivity and obedience, which tend to be found more in girls) and subject matter (like reading, which does not appeal to males as much), and that to improve boys’ performance, more males must be brought into the profession (Skelton 2002; Titus 2004).

Many researchers have called the reaction to perceived underachievement by boys a global moral panic (see, for example, Griffin 2000; Smith 2003; Weaver-Hightower 2003). Stanley Cohen (1972) coined the term moral panic to refer to the social phenomenon of mass attention being given to topics that appear to threaten the established social order. According to Cohen (1972), individuals (or groups of individuals), events, or conditions are perceived as jeopardizing wider societal values and interests. Cohen’s examples of moral panics surrounded various youth cultures, particularly the “Mods” and “Rockers” of the early 1960s, and how the media portrayed them as a threat to established law and social order. The reading scores of boys have been framed by many as a global moral panic (because of the attention the issue is receiving around the world) because there is a perception that outperformance by girls threatens the established gendered social order.

In order to address the “boy problem,” the Ontario Ministry of Education has created guides for improving boys’ literacy.8 Booklets called Me Read? No Way! (Ontario Ministry of Education 2004) and Me Read? And How! (Ontario Ministry of Education 2009) were circulated to teachers in order to put creative strategies in place for improving boys’ literacy. One suggestion for improving boys’ literacy is to incorporate more “boy friendly” books into the curriculum.9 Books that are about adventure and those that are non-fiction are thought to appeal to young males, while novels are more appealing to young females. Blair and Sanford (2004) found in their study of boys in an elementary school in Alberta that boys strongly preferred reading materials that they could talk about with their friends. Such reading materials functioned as a type of social or cultural capital within their groups of friends. However, as Greig (2003) points out, this approach assumes that all boys like a particular type of book and that there is a standardized masculine identity that should be cultivated.

Incorporating technology into the classroom has also been suggested as a way to improve boys’ reading achievement, particularly through the use of the internet. Because computer use is seen as a masculine activity by both boys and girls (Sokal 2002, 2010), the use of computers in literacy teaching may “neutralize” the idea that reading is a feminine task. Critics argue, however, that further demarcating tasks as “masculine” and “feminine” continues to promote very narrow gender roles (Greig 2003). Sokal (2010) found no evidence that computer-assisted literacy programs had any influence on Canadian males from low socioeconomic backgrounds who struggled with reading.

Attempts to attract more males to the teaching profession have also been suggested as a solution to the “boy problem.” With school teachers being almost exclusively female, the feminization of schooling argument suggests that schools are a place where male interests are not cultivated. Few male role models exist to make young boys interested in subject matter because school subjects and the entirety of the schooling environment are “for girls.” Activities such as reading are considered “girl activities,” and behaviours that are valued in a classroom environment, like sitting still and paying attention, are more associated with the behaviours of young girls than boys.

Skelton (2001) has noted, however, that the predominance of female teachers is not a new thing but has been the status quo since the nineteenth century. What has changed, however, is the larger proportion of boys without male parents in the home. It is implied, however, that more male role models in the classroom would improve boys’ improvement—but critics again argue that this view relies on a single vision of masculinity that is assumed to be the same among all male teachers (Greig 2003). As well, in such discussions, the impact that this would have on female students is rarely considered (Greig 2003). No scientific evidence has been found that supports the idea that males perform better when taught by male teachers, either in Canada (Coulter and McNay 1993; Sokal et al. 2007; Sokal 2010) or other English-speaking nations (see Allan 1993; Butler and Christensen 2003; Carrington and Skelton 2003; Carrington, Tymms, and Merrell 2008; Martin 2003).

Martino and Kehler (2006, 2007) have argued that such demands for male teachers to “fix” the problem of boys’ “underachievement” is actually a subtle ploy to re-traditionalize schools using a strategy of normalizing hegemonic masculinities (discussed in Chapter 2). In other words, inherent to such arguments are notions that only men can teach to male students and that the loss of males from the profession and the subsequent lowering of boys’ scores relative to girls’ is evidence of how feminization of the school is harming boys (Froese-Germain 2006).

Single-sex schools have also been suggested as a solution to the “boy problem.” Greig (2003) argues that proponents of such arguments are engaged in a discussion that assumes that boys are in need of “gender repair” (Lingard and Douglas 1999). In other words, boys need to be in places where traditional expressions of masculinities can be fostered and nurtured because the current organization of school does not allow this. Critics such as Greig (2003) argue that single-sex settings reinforce traditional gender roles and stereotypes that encourage teachers to treat boys and girls differently.

Previous explanations of males’ outperformance of females in science and mathematics suggested that biological factors predisposed males to be better at more “technical” subjects than females. Some explanations of this biological destiny are based on evolutionary theory (Geary 1996), hormonal differences (Kimura and Hampson 1994), and brain physiology (Baron-Cohen 2003), all suggesting that the basis of differential performance by sex was based on some feature of the brain that was unchangeable. The narrowing of standardized test scores between males and females—and across countries—however, strongly points to the differences as being cultural constructions that are shifting as the result of changing norms of socialization (Penner 2008). Gender stereotypes, however, do exist in perceived competence and ability in subjects, with girls consistently indicating less confidence in their ability in science and math (see Simpkins, Davis-Deane, and Eccles 2006 for an overview). This is particularly striking because these differences in self-concept about abilities in math and science exist in studies even when there is no difference between the grades of males and females.

School sports are another area that can cultivate gender stereotypes. As discussed in Chapter 2, Millington, Vertinsky, Boyle, and Wilson (2008) studied physical education curriculum in a Vancouver high school. They found that Chinese boys were stereotyped as “unmanly” by White boys and that the White, middle-class definition of masculinity was realized through the rewarding of physically aggressive performances in PE class by these males and by their physical and verbal intimidation of the Chinese-Canadian males through the playing of football and dodgeball. Other researchers have found that school sports coaches create conformity among their players by using misogynistic and homophobic comments to criticize players (Schissel 2000), further contributing to stereotypes about what is considered appropriate male behaviour.

Relationships with Teachers

As discussed above, the teacher becomes an important new figure of authority for young children when they first begin formal schooling. In many ways, the teacher serves as a parental replacement during school hours, although this figure must be shared with many other children and the relationship is more emotionally distant. Especially in early grades, the relationship that a child has with his or her teacher has a very important impact on emotional, social, behavioural, and academic adjustment (Pianta 1999).

In addition to teaching student subject matter, teachers are often regarded as being responsible for managing the emotional lives of their students (Jennings and Greenberg 2009). Many children arrive at school with behavioural problems and emotional needs that are not met in the family environment. Students who have good relationships with their teacher are also likely to have better mental health, feel more connected to their school, and experience positive academic outcomes (Jennings and Greenberg 2009).

Because the school is such an important agent in the socialization of children, it can also have negative impacts on children who experience negative interactions with their teachers. Such negative relationships can put students at risk for social maladjustment as well as emotional and behavioural problems. Children who have negative relationships with teachers are also more likely to view school as an unpleasant place and be at a disadvantage in terms of learning.

Abuse of students by teachers is a rare occurrence, but when it does happen there are children who are at a greater risk of being victimized.10 In terms of victims of verbal abuse by teachers, these children are more likely to be boys and to display “at risk” characteristics early on (i.e., from kindergarten), such as antisocial behaviours, and have attention problems (particularly boys). It is not surprising that some teachers’ interactions with disruptive students can be hostile and critical. It can be difficult for teachers to be warm and supportive when behavioural disruptions from students make it challenging for the teacher to perform his or her instructional role (Jennings and Greenberg 2009). Characteristics of children that may be perceived to threaten classroom management may attract negative attention from teachers. However, Brendgen, Wanner, and Vitaro (2006) found that teacher verbal abuse actually contributed to future adolescent delinquent behaviour in their 17-year cohort study in Quebec, which tracked children from kindergarten to age 23. Verbal abuse by the teacher (which consisted of verbal humiliation, name-calling, and yelling) was also found to negatively impact on students’ academic achievement. The findings suggest that at-risk children may be socialized into a cycle of negative interactions with teachers, which may not only contribute to their future delinquency but also reduce their academic performance. In contrast, teachers who had high-quality relationships with their students also reported significantly fewer behavioural problems in their classrooms (Marzano et al. 2003).

The Quebec researchers also found that the likelihood of a child experiencing verbal abuse from a teacher is also fairly consistent across grades, such that when students start a new year with a new teacher, they are likely to encounter the same kind of interactions. A possible reason for this is that teachers may talk in staff meetings about students whom they perceive as problematic, which may influence future teachers’ interactions with those students. Teachers who hold negative stereotypes about low-achieving or minority students may also expect such students to consistently perform poorly. If students believe that their teacher has lower expectations of them, this can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy of low achievement. Jussim and Harber (2005) found that the expectations that teachers have about their students influenced how they behaved toward them. This, in turn, influenced students’ motivation and performance. The self-fulfilling prophecy is a term coined by sociologist Robert Merton in 1948 and refers to situations in which preconceived ideas about how someone will act cause that person to act in such a way, even if the belief about that person was initially incorrect.11 Riley and Ungerleider (2008) found that pre-service Canadian teachers rated the student records of those they were led to believe were Aboriginal less favourably compared to identical student records of those identified as non-Aboriginal, suggesting that teachers do alter their perceptions of students based on fixed characteristics. The disadvantages experienced by Aboriginal children in Canadian schools may be at least partially driven by the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Canadian researchers have found that verbal abuse by teachers in early childhood can have impacts on children not only during childhood and adolescence, but also into adulthood. Even when accounting for numerous childhood risk factors such as social class of origin, gender, and antisocial behaviour, having been verbally abused by a teacher in early childhood was associated with behavioural problems in adulthood. Girls who were verbally abused by teachers during childhood were also less likely to finish high school (Brendgen et al. 2007).

School Climate and School Bond

While the characteristics of teachers in the process of socialization have been discussed above, another related feature that has been found to be associated with behavioural outcomes in children is school climate. School climate refers to the sense of belonging to a school community. As noted by Reinke and Herman (2002), schools tend to have personalities of their own. Wentzel and Looney’s (2006) overview of previous research on school climate in the United States has shown that schools that are perceived to be caring communities by their students are associated with lower rates of delinquency and drug use. Effective school climates can positively influence students, despite their home conditions, race, gender, or social class (McEvoy and Welker 2000). Schools with the most severe discipline problems usually have the worst social climates as well. Schools which have vague and inconsistently enforced rules and ambiguous responses to rule-breaking, teachers and administration who do not agree on rules, and students who do not believe that the rules are legitimate are typically associated with higher discipline problems and have a poor school climate (Welsh et al. 2000). Such school environments have been found to breed delinquent behaviour and academic failure. Favourable school climates are characterized by non-arbitrary rule enforcement, rewarding of appropriate behaviour, and positive interactions between students and teachers (Reinke and Herman 2002).

In Canada, research using data from the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth has found that the social climate within schools and classrooms has important effects on children who display early signs of behavioural problems. Specifically, Sprott (2004) found that emotional support in the classroom when children were between 10 and 13 years of age reduced violent behaviour in children two years later.

Other research using the same Canadian data sources has also found that a strong school bond, or commitment to one’s school and education, is associated with protecting children from the influence of delinquent peers and reducing early aggression in young students (Sprott, Jenkins, and Doob 2005). Therefore, social features of the school can serve to reverse delinquent behaviours. The delinquent behaviours are thought to merge a complex interaction of individual personal characteristics with properties of their environment and situations. Schools can be protective factors in children’s socialization if the right conditions are met. At-risk children who display early aggression and signs of early offending can have these risks reduced if the school environment is a supportive one. Often such students have difficult home lives and such supports may be lacking in the home environment. As noted by the authors of these studies, such findings also suggest that zero tolerance policies that result in the suspension of problem students may be doing additional damage as they serve to severely weaken the bond that a child has with his or her school (Sprott, Jenkins, and Doob 2005).

Peer Groups and Socialization

In addition to features of the school and teacher characteristics, a major part of socialization at school involves students’ interaction with their peer group. The peer group consists of individuals of a similar age and social identity. In school, the peer group is typically a child’s classmates in younger years and then becomes more specific to particular adolescent subgroups in the teenage years.

When peer group relationships are positive, it is reasonable to assume that the school environment is a supportive and potentially enjoyable one. Children who are accepted by their peers tend to have a more safe school environment, while those who have been rejected by their peers are at a greater risk of targeted harassment and bullying (Wentzel and Looney 2006).

The peer group becomes more important in adolescence as a source of emotional security and identity. Positive peer group support has been found to be associated with academic success and prosocial behaviours. Peer groups can also be thought of as a form of social capital (see Chapter 2). Social ties that students have among each other have been found to have effects on academic achievement (Broh 2002), such that positive social interactions in the school environment spill over into how well they do in their schoolwork. The influence of social capital, however, does not always work in a manner than enhances academic achievement and prosocial behaviours. Being the member of a peer group that engages in deviant or rebellious behaviour, for example, may increase the bond of students within those groups but also serve to reinforce related attitudes and behaviours that result in poor school performance. This phenomenon of a network of disadvantageous social ties has been called negative social capital (Portes 1998).

Social Identity

Smaller groups of friends exist within the school setting, and these peer groups often have names that suggest the lifestyle characteristics of the members (Sussman et al. 2007). The names given to peer groups usually correspond greatly to their style of dress (particularly in the case of girls) and tastes in leisure activities. The names given to such social groups change across time and cultural trends, although the labelling of “jocks” (students who participate in a lot of sports) and “brains” (students who excel academically) and “nerds” (socially excluded students) seem to span across generations. Goths, skaters, punks, headbangers, and emos are all names given to groups that have been found within adolescent peer groups in schools, all of which are oriented around particular tastes in music and fashion. Sussman et al. (2007) found that across numerous studies from the English-speaking world, peer groups generally fell into five very broad categories: elites, athletes, deviants, academics, and others.

  • Within the general category of “elites,” such peer groups as “populars,” student union members, and preppies were found. Elites were regarded as having high status, and members were generally successful in extracurricular activities and academics. Like the deviants (below) they had a higher likelihood of alcohol use and sexual behaviour.
  • The “athletes” consisted of “jocks,” members of sports teams, and cheerleaders. They also tended to be popular.
  • The “deviants” category encapsulated a very diverse collection of peer groups including “burnouts,” stoners, skaters, rebels, punks, partiers, and various “alternative” groups (including those defined by sexual orientation). This group tended to care the least about schoolwork and did not participate in extracurricular activities. They had a higher likelihood of participating in risky and illegal behaviour.
  • Academics as a group mostly consisted of “brains” who did well in their studies and extracurricular activities that were academically oriented.
  • The “others” category was a catchall for various other peer groups, such as nerds, band club, “normals,” loners, and the unpopular. These students did not have a strong peer group identity with one of the established school peer groups and were at the periphery of the school social scene.

While these groupings are very broad, they do point to the consistency of general groups over time and across English-speaking countries. They suggest, interestingly, that drinking and sexual behaviours of young people can be perceived as “festive social interactions and [a source of] popularity among teens and emerging adults, as well as representing a problem behaviour” (Sussman et al. 2007)—depending on who is doing them. Other research has found that individuals belonging to the “popular” and “jock” crowds were more likely to engage in relational aggression (discussed below), while those in high-risk peer groups (the “deviants”) were more prone to greater physical and relational aggression in the future (Pokhrel et al. 2010). In an overview of studies (Sussman et al. 2007), teens in the deviant groups tended to have lower self-esteem and life satisfaction compared to other groups, and also tended to have poor parenting. Deviants, elites, and to some extent jocks were more likely to drink, while deviants were the group most likely to use marijuana.

Pomerantz (2008) studied the school identities of girls at a high school on Vancouver’s east side. She notes that personal style is very much at the heart of social identities and how a girl presents her body is akin to her “social skin.” While Pomerantz was collecting her data between 2002 and 2003, there were two particular “uniforms” for girls at East Side High—the “Britney” look and the “JLo” look, named after pop music icons Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez, respectively. The styles were adopted by girls largely based on race, with White girls sporting the Britney look and the Asian and Hispanic girls wearing JLo styles. The Britney look consisted of tight jeans and midriff-baring tops, while the JLo look was characterized by figure-hugging velour track suits. Within these two generalizations, however, much differentiation existed regarding the amount of money spent on the clothing. In addition to the two dominant uniforms, Pomerantz (2008) noted that girls also described their styles as “comfortable, sporty, goth, punk, alternative, dressy, classy, preppy, regular, casual, weird, skater, random, hip hop” (p. 10) and various combinations.

Of course, popularity is a factor in social identity. Currie and Kelly (2006) found that the “popular” girls in their study tended to be slim, dress in a “sexy” manner, and wear “lots of makeup,” according to non-popular girls. The popular girls self-described their sense of fashion and interest in their appearance and popular culture. Their focus on fashion and popular music largely shaped the popular girls’ lives and friendships with one another, as well as their relationships with other peers inside and outside of the school. Popular girls and boys also tended to be part of high-status school-sponsored school activities, namely cheerleading (for girls) and team sports (for boys).

Peer Victimization and Rejection

Peer victimization refers to physical and emotional abuse experienced by children from other children—otherwise known as bullying. Researchers have determined that bully victims are weak in temperament (Hodges and Perry 1999; Smith and Myron-Wilson 1998), lack physical strength (Bernstein and Watson 1997; Hodges and Perry 1999; Smith and Myron-Wilson 1998), and are somehow different in terms of looks (including race), dress, or physical ability (Bernstein and Watson 1997; Fried 1997). As well, bully victims are often targeted for being “too smart” (Fried 1997) or below average intelligence (Olweus 1978) and being of a lower socioeconomic background (Bernstein and Watson 1997). Victim characteristics also differ by gender, as male victims are often not “tough” (Shakeshaft and Barber 1995). Girls are bullied for being unattractive, not being dressed fashionably, and being physically overdeveloped (Shakeshaft and Barber 1995).

Peer rejection refers to the failure of children to be socially accepted by their peers. Peer-rejected children often display social skills that make them undesirable playmates and friends to other children. Children that act in an aggressive or disruptive manner account for about one-third of children rejected by their peers (Crick and Dodge 1996). Peer-rejected children, however, are not only aggressive children. Children who withdraw from peer interactions also limit their ability to fit into their peer group (Coie and Kupersmidt 1983; Dodge 1983). Their inability to behave in ways that are socially acceptable can have many causes, such as parenting styles and disciplinary techniques in the home (Putallaz and Heflin 1990). As well, children who cannot engage themselves with the material being taught in the classroom may turn to disruption of peers due to boredom and frustration. Similar to peer victimized children, peer rejection may occur simply because a child is perceived as being different in some way from other members of the peer group. This difference may be due to ethnic group membership, disability, physical attractiveness, or being a newcomer to the classroom (Asher et al. 1982). It has been found that peer abuse results in low self-esteem and depression (Boulton and Underwood 1993; Rigby and Slee 1995; Salmon and James 1998; Slee 1995; Smith and Myron-Wilson 1998), feelings of insecurity (Slee 1995), anxiety (Slee 1994), and social withdrawal (McCarthy 1997). Victims also tend to experience irritability (Sharp 1995), anxiety (Olweus 1978; Salmon and James 1998; Sharp 1995; Slee 1994), and anger and self-pity (Borg 1998). Being bullied can also result in the victim becoming physically and/or mentally ill (Sharp 1995; Williams, Chambers, Logan, and Robinson 1996). Bully victims often report experiencing headaches, extreme sadness, insomnia, stomachaches, and suicidal thoughts (Kaltiala-Heino, Rimpelä, Marttunen, Rimpelä, and Rantanen 1999). Child victims also report having recurring memories of the abuse (Sharp 1995) and being afraid to seek help (Slee 1994; Smith and Myron- Wilson 1998). As well, previous research has shown that, like bully victims, rejected children report being lonely (Asher, Hymel, and Renshaw 1984) and are more likely to be depressed (Vosk, Forehand, Parker, and Rickard 1982) than integrated peers. Peer victimization and rejection have been found to be associated with psychological distress that carries over into adulthood (Ambert 1994; Bagwell, Newcomb, and Bukowski 1998; Roff 1990; Roth, Coles, and Heimberg 2002).

Recognizing that such negative peer interactions can have a profound impact on childhood socialization and later-life well-being (Canadian Council on Learning 2008), many schools have adopted strict anti-bullying policies that are incorporated into their school rules.

Not all school violence is overt. Peer aggression can also take the form of relational aggression, which has been identified as behaviour specific to girls (Artz 1998; Simmons 2002). Rather than committing acts of physical violence toward each other, girls are much more likely to participate in covert acts of aggression such as spreading rumours and excluding individuals from their social group. The goal of such acts is to damage others’ reputations and social standings within the peer group. This type of aggression is often simply referred to as meanness. Meanness also includes such behaviours as name-calling, ridicule, sarcasm, and giving other girls the “silent treatment.” Research on girls’ meanness has found that middle-class girls more frequently participate in this type of aggression because it is within this social class that the “rules of femininity” are the least flexible. According to Simmons (2002), there are rules for how “good girls” act, and participating in overt acts of violence does not conform to this role. Conflicts within relationships are dealt with in ways such that the relationship itself becomes the weapon.

Canadian researchers have examined the meanness of girls in relation to their popularity (Currie and Kelly 2006; Currie, Kelly, and Pomerantz 2007). They found that popular girls held the most power and displayed this power in their ability to police the adherence to numerous unspoken rules about other girls’ dress and behaviour. Currie and Kelly (2006) observed that a common yet particularly severe form of name-calling that resulted in the most reputational damage was being called a “slut,” which results from perceived inappropriate interactions with or seeking attention from boys. Meanness, on the one hand, is a trait that is spurned by girls, yet, on the other hand, is associated with popularity (Currie and Kelly 2006).

Youth Resistance

Resistance by youth to the socialization forces of the school and its inherent power relationships can be expressed in a variety of ways. Willis (1977; see Chapter 2) argued that working-class boys resisted the values and behaviours promoted in the school environment by acting in deviant ways: by fighting and skipping class. These behaviours, however, served only to reproduce their working-class membership. As noted by Sussman et al. (2007), many social identity groups among peers are still strongly associated with socioeconomic background (i.e., the popular kids and jocks often come from the higher social classes, while the deviants come from the lower social classes).

The “alternative” peer groups found in most middle and secondary schools can also be thought of as a form of youth resistance. Kelly, Pomerantz, and Currie (2005), for example, found that self-described “skater girls” (i.e., girls who associate with skateboard culture) were expressing their rejection of contemporary ideals of femininity. They rejected the image presented by the “preppy” and popular girls, who, according to the skater girls, spent their leisure time “shopping for fashionable, sexy clothing; applying makeup; flirting with boys; and talking about fashion and popular music” (p. 145). Both male and female skaters also widely rejected the values associated with the popular crowd.

Raby (2006) identifies several ways that youth express resistance to what they perceive as dominant forces of socialization. According to Raby, adolescent girls’ resistance is hard to characterize because it expresses itself within “local, micro-struggles” working in an “oppositional but sporadic, diffuse, and localized manner” (p. 148). Instead of occurring in the public sphere, girls’ resistance was contained to private spaces to avoid the risk of being criticized. She notes that “style” is perceived to be a voice of resistance among many girls, but also queries whether such an en masse expression of resistance through consumption of fashion and music can really be considered “resistance” if so many young people seem to be doing it—at least to some extent.

Socialization and the Home Schooled

So far, this chapter has described the various ways that teachers and school practices contribute to the socialization of children. There are, however, a significant number of children, not only in Canada but in the United States and beyond, that do not attend school in the way that has been described here. The number of children who are home schooled is on the rise in Canada. Children who are home schooled do not attend formal school and are taught usually by a parent in the home environment. Home schooled children typically follow the curriculum of their province of residence. The home schooled comprise about one percent of student population in Canada (Hepburn 2001).

Many critics of home schooling have argued that because school is such an important basis for socialization, this can only mean that children who are home schooled are going to be missing out on some very key aspects of socialization. If they do not go to school, how do they learn many of the basic skills that are engrained in the early years of the school experience? How will they learn to work in groups and socialize with other students in a learning environment and form co-operative relationships with their peers? Critics (see Apple 2000) also object to the presentation of the public schooling system as a “failure” and argue that the home schooling movement, particularly the neo-conservative home schooling movement in the United States, serves to segment and divide the population, essentially creating more problems than it actually solves. Apple (2000) argues that home schoolers not only remove children from school, but also have gone so far as to isolate themselves into separate factions.

There are various reasons that parents choose to home school their children. While the media may tend to overemphasize the home schooling practices of the religious right in Canada and the United States, many parents in Canada choose to home school not for religious reasons, but because they are dissatisfied with the curriculum and/or the social environment of schools. Arai (2000) found in a study of Canadian parents who home schooled their children that most indicated that they objected to specific parts of public education rather than the institution as a whole. Davies and Aurini (2003) argue that Canadian parents who home schooled advocated for pedagogical individualism—in other words, home schooling allowed them to cater to their child’s individual learning styles and interests—something that would not be possible in a classroom of 25 (or more) students. Research in Quebec has similarly found that when parents were asked why they home schooled, very rarely did they give reasons associated with religious or political beliefs (Brabant, Bourdon, and Jutras 2003). The most frequently mentioned motivations were the desire to bond the family through a common educational pursuit, objections to the organization of schools, and a desire to personally enrich the curriculum.

What are the outcomes of home schooling in terms of the socialization of children? American research has found that the home schooled tend to succeed when they attend university (Ray 2004) and were more likely to have at least some college education compared to the general American population. The same study of over 7000 American adults who had been home schooled also found a much greater rate of civic participation among the home schooled than in the general population. Canadian studies of the outcomes associated with home schooling are much less plentiful than in the United States, where the home schooling movement has been growing rapidly. Medlin (2000) has noted that research on whether or not home schooled children experience adequate socialization is sparse and that which does exist often has hallmarks of poor research design and biased samples. However, there is some evidence that home schooled children are “acquiring the rules of behavior and systems of beliefs and attitudes they need. They have good self-esteem and are likely to display fewer behavior problems than do other children. They may be more socially mature and have better leadership skills than other children as well. And they appear to be functioning effectively as members of adult society” (p. 119). But why would home schooled children be “better socialized,” as many American proponents have indicated? Home schooling advocates have argued that one reason might be that the school-based peer group is unnatural and that home schooling exposes young people to a wider variety of age groups, which makes them more socially mature (Smedley 1992).

Canadian research has produced similar results to its American counterpart. In a study of 226 Canadian adults who had been home schooled as children, Van Pelt, Allison, and Allison (2009) explored how these individuals compared to a more general population of adult Canadians. They found that the young adults who had been home schooled had higher academic attainment in young adulthood than the average population. They were more likely to be found in social service, health, and creative occupations, and were more likely to report participating in cultural and group activities than those who were not home schooled. The home schooled also tended to attach a great deal more importance to religious beliefs than the comparable population. They were also more likely to be married. Such outcomes suggest that the home schooled adults who answered the survey did not suffer from barriers due to socialization problems. Respondents did, however, report some negative aspects of home schooling, which included the social stigma attached to being home schooled, social challenges of not being around other children regularly, the limits of the curriculum covered in their schooling, and the challenges of integrating into classroom settings later in life.12

6.3 Major Forces of Socialization within Schools

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Chapter Summary

In this chapter, the complex role of socialization within schools was introduced. Figure 6.3 summarizes the major forces of socialization within schools that were discussed. The school as a site of secondary socialization was presented, with the differences between the family (primary socialization) environment and the school environment being highlighted. It was emphasized that children have to learn how to be students and that the teacher is largely in charge of not only subject-specific education, but also the teaching of morals and values.

Other agents of socialization within the school were also discussed. Streaming, as a way of dividing students into ability groupings, was described as creating internalized roles for students which may force them into social categories that are difficult to move out of. The socialization of students through the use of school rules, including dress codes and uniforms, was also addressed. The conflicts that students have with such rules were also highlighted.

Students also learn their gender at school. If activities and behaviours are “gendered” by teachers, this can have an impact on how children see appropriate female and male roles. Relationships with teachers are also central in the process of socialization. Warm and supportive teachers and a positive school climate are crucial for the positive social development of children, and the absence of such can have long-term detrimental effects on students, particularly if they have family problems.

The role of peer groups was also discussed. Young people tend to build their social identities around specific peer groups, particularly in adolescence. Failure to be accepted by peers can be devastating for children, especially when it is manifested in acts of peer victimization and peer rejection. Finally, the question of how home schooling affects the socialization of children was addressed.

Review Questions

1. In what major ways is the organization of the family different from the organization of the school?

2. What are Brint’s three zones of socialization? Give examples of how each works.

3. What is streaming? What are some examples of streaming?

4. What is the relationship between school rules and the socialization of students? What are some conflicts that arise around the topic of school rules?

5. What are the rationales given for dress codes and school uniforms? How do they contribute to student socialization?

6. How do students “learn gender” at school?

7. How do relationships with teachers influence the socialization of students?

8. What role does school climate play in student socialization?

9. What are peer groups and what does “social identity” mean?

10. Define peer victimization, peer rejection, and relational aggression. Describe how they all impact on student socialization.

11. What reasons have parents given for home schooling their children? What concerns do critics of home schooling have about the socialization of home schooled children?


  • Check provincial ministry of education websites for curriculum requirements and identify the differences between “streams.” Examine how official documents discuss the objectives of the different groups of courses.
  • Look on the internet for official curriculum documents about “moral education” in Canada. How are schools teaching morality? What kinds of lessons do they plan around the topic of morality?
  • Check Google News for recent news items of the underachievement of boys. What problems are being identified? What solutions are being offered? What are the rationales behind the proposed solutions?
  • Use Google to find home schooling advocacy groups in Canada. What kinds of topics do they discuss on their websites? What kinds of resources are available on their websites?
  • What kinds of peer groups existed in your high school? What group(s) were you in? How did you perceive other groups? Did you interact with people in other groups? What were the characteristics of popular students? What were the characteristics of unpopular students?

Key Terms

behavioural conformity

cultural conformity

feminization of schooling

moral conformity

moral panic

peer group

peer rejection

peer victimization

primary socialization

school bond

school climate

secondary socialization

self-fulfilling prophecy

social competence



zero tolerance policies



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Sociology of Education in Canada Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Karen L. Robson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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