Communicating the valued social role of student … or not?!

Social Role Valorization (SRV) and PASSING teach us that social roles (valued or devalued) can be communicated to observers, as well as to role incumbents themselves, through such channels as:

• setting

• activity, schedule, routine, time use

• personal presentation and appearance

• language use and other miscellaneous imagery

• social juxtapositions, associations and grouping with other people

(Read more about this on pp. 64-69 of the 3rd rev. ed. of the SRV monograph by Wolfensberger).

I want to focus on the role communicator of social juxtapositions, associations and groupings with other people. The other people that someone associates with, or is associated with, give us a clue as to what role that person is in. Note that it also matters what social roles these other people are in (cf. PASSING, 2007, R1252 Server-Recipient Image Match).

Think about the role of student for example. The role communicators include setting (schools, classrooms, lunch room, gym, etc.), activities (reading, group work, homework, projects, going to class, having lunch, hanging out with your friends between classes or at lunch, waiting for the bus or a ride, etc.), timing (5 days a week, only part of the year, shorter day depending on student age, etc.), language use (student, text, homework, assignments, rubric, etc.).

What about social juxtapositions? Students typically spend time primarily with other students and with teachers. Now, what if we add in armed police officers to that mix of social juxtapositions–as a growing number of schools in the US are doing? At the very least, we are creating a tension in the minds of perceivers: wait a minute, are these students, or menaces, or ‘delinquents’ or criminals or potential criminals? How does a change like this likely shape the mindsets and expectations of teachers, of fellow students, of visitors to the school?

A practice such as this raises other questions as well, but my intent was to focus on one perspective which SRV and role theory can bring to this issue.

Marc Tumeinski


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  1. Written by D Wills
    on April 13, 2013 at 6:46 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Armed police officers will certainly add to the devalued, generic role perception of schools and schooling as an enforced social institution for children. The social role of schools in Western society at least, has always been more an enforcement than a right to attend and visible, armed policing adds clarity to that more hidden societal role. Whilst schools are a generic institution, they are non-the-less an institution created for a somewhat generically devalued group – (children) in the era when the structures of all institutions were conceptualised and modelled upon the dominant business institution of this earlier time – a factory. Why else would we have “grading” and “grades” and not group more pedagogically to create greater relevance and power? This “grading” was originally intended to be a form of social segregation and stratification which led to “rejection” and labelling of some as “unfit” to be educated and this too was the basis of an early French government contracting of Binet to devise a “test” to identify who these children were. All of these structures continue to exist in some or other modified form and so we have come to “accept” student-hood as fairly limited as a highly valued role, and limited to only some within and among it various sub-groupings of the structure. Of course if we group kids by “deviance labels” as an internal mechanism of the school and the armed police are assigned to mostly hang outside the place where we group the labelled kids, then we will have another of the many layers of devaluation highlighted by this juxtaposition.

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