Rewritten by EGR from parts of Chapter 2 in Gary K. Clabaugh & Edward G. Rozycki
Understanding Schools: the foundations of educatio
n Harper & Row 1990. 

School Image: Expectations & Controversies

Related Article:
The School as Organization


edited 8/20/19

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Three Images of the School

The Moral Community: school as temple

The Production Unit: school as factory

The Political Arena: school as town meeting

Comparing the Images

School Images: costs and benefits


Schooling in the United States is an enterprise that has long been fraught with disagreement. Controversies have persisted in the face of concerted effort by intelligent people to address them. People disagree as to what schooling should be because they have different expectations of the school. These expectations can be understood in terms of their having three different images of the school, the Temple , the Factory and the Town Meeting. Conflicting images generate conflicting expectations. Conflicting expectations maintain school controversies.

Three Images of the School

The most common complaint that teachers make of students is that they lack interest in their studies1 But techniques of motivation have been known since antiquity. Why don't schools use torture chambers or brothels to provide motivation? The great majority of us would agree that it's immoral to do so.

Some school districts pay certain students to attend school. This is often objected to as improper. But why is it done? It's effective in getting them to attend.

A large school district threatened to discontinue football on the grounds that it was too costly per student to justify it over educational necessities such as reading and summer school. Powerful members of the community prevailed on the superintendent to change his mind. He did, after extracting from them pledges of substantial financial support. But why not just drop the football? It would have been impolitic.

At a school board meeting of the Springfield, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania School District held in 1992, parents described the kind of superintendent they wanted to replace the one then retiring. Here are some of the descriptions offered by various community members: "strong leadership," "child-focussed," "focus on the future," "team-builder," "responsive to the needs (of children)," "someone who is proactive," "knows right from wrong," "can get all the constituents together," " employs interactive management," "should recognize students as individuals that require undivided attention." If we assume that God was not applying for the position we can appreciate how very demanding and possibly conflicting these characteristics might be in a single individual. But these characterizations are not merely some hodge-podge. They focus about three points, forming constellations of expectations we will call expectations models of the school.

What is the school that people worry about its being moral and effective and politic, often all at the same time? It is a very complex organization and it is often best to approach complexity through piecemeal simplicity. Better to ask, what is the school like? A school is like a church or temple. A school is like a factory. A school is like a town meeting, a political forum where different interests meet to trade off support on common means to ends they may not share. But the school is different from all these in being complex enough to incorporate them all in itself, albeit with difficulty. We will see that because the school is perceived as different things by different people, their expectations are different. Because certain images of the school are preferred by some, others by others, consensus on school issues can be hard to find. Controversy is the norm in education.

The Moral Community: School as Temple

Men, if they do not learn, will never know what is proper
--- Chinese Proverb

The most ancient and still most common image of the school is as a moral community, a temple of learning.2 . In our pluralistic society this image captures for many the breadth and depth of consensus hard to find in the multiple and shifting associations of our daily lives. As a temple, the school's primary function is nurturant and formative. The principal is the moral leader, a high priest. Teachers are clergy. Students are novices being inducted into the order. What is studied is good; what is ignored is ignoble. What the teacher or principal tells you, you do. The rules of the school are sacrosanct; authority is unquestioned. Success is acceptance as a properly educated person; a kind of character formation. Infractions are moral evils, a kind of sin.

This depiction is exaggerated but captures what many parents and students expect of the school3 A study of parent expectations in middle schools indicates the top five of nine in rank order are:

- Children should be physically and psychologically safe.

- Each child should know an adult well enough to confide in.

- The school should be concerned that students have "constructive" friends.

- The school should get kids involved in activities.

- Kids should have enough good experiences to want to return the next day.

Their next four expectations were that the middle school should prepare a student for high school, it should keep parents informed, it should make parents feel welcome and it should teach parents about adolescent behavior.

Clearly the parents conceive of the school as a "normative community" where "proper" nurturance is provided. There seems to be less concern on the parents' part for what the kids might want to do, since the school is to monitor their friendships and get them involved in activities. (Every educator encounters this demand sooner or later: "Make the kids do what I think is proper, but keep them happy in the process.")

The image of the school as moral community is reinforced in a variety of ways. Sports letters, pins and honor codes are used to bolster community4 The most efficient techniques of testscore maximization are condemned as cheating. Gossip about faculty is of particular interest and can lead to their dismissal. The most effective teacher can be fired for moral turpitude;5 indeed, it has been character, not knowledge, upon which hiring and firing faculty has traditionally been based.

The Production Unit: School as Factory

  In a productive organization, the management must determine the order and sequence of all of the various processes through which the raw material or the partially developed product shall pass, in order to bring about the greatest possible effectiveness and economy; and it must see that the raw material or partially finished product is actually passed on from process to process, from worker to worker, in the manner that is most effective and most economical"
----- John Franklin Bobbitt 6

The factory model of the school, like the temple, does not permit questioning its basic authority. Its values and goals are preordained. What differs however is that where the main concern of the temple is propriety, the main concern of the factory is efficiency. Accordingly the roles played by various participants are interpreted differently.

The principal is CEO or production manager — “instructional leader” to use a term very much in vogue. Teachers are workers or foremen to students’ being, respectively, raw material or workers. Success is judged by testing outputs. Infractions are dealt with because they impede production.

School people tend to prefer the factory model, particularly administrators, as it ties into newer scientific traditions7 In the study cited below 552 secondary principals provided data for a survey compiled to determined whether what principals did matched what they preferred to do. In chart 1 ten tasks are organized so that they go from practices characteristic of a moral community leader to practices of the director of a productive unit8 The numbers indicate the actual rank of these activities in the principals' daily routine and the rank the principals desired they have

The Actual vs. Desired Rank of Principals' Duties

Moral Rank
Principal's Duties
Actual Rank
Desired Rank
Staff Selector
Teacher Evaluator
Morale Builder
PR Facilitator
Curriculum Supervisor
Instructional Supervisor
Public Services.Coordinator
Program Adminstrator

chart 1

From the chart it seems that neither the actual nor desired rank of the principal's daily activities corresponds clearly to that of either a moral leader or the CEO of a productive organization. Certainly, discipline is a moral task of high order. But is not desired by the principals, even though it is an high frequency actual task. Also confusing is the fact that principals want to select teachers, but not to evaluate them? And they neither want to nor are often required to do self-evaluation. What this all likely indicates is the deep conflict and confusion that the different images create in expectation and judgment9

A particularly poignant conflict between the two models arises in the problem of discipline: should it be effective or fair? Effectively changing behavior for many students may require a wide range of very different treatments, individualized to the student. But is it fair to inflict widely different consequences for the same type of offense? The moral community demands fairness and leaves one vulnerable to criticisms of ineffectiveness. The productive unit requires effectiveness, running the risk of accusations of brutality, favoritism or overindulgence.

The expectations of the school as temple vs. those of the school as factory create many, many conflicts10 Even more tension is introduce by a third aspect of schooling: the marketplace, or school as political arena.

The Political Arena: school as town meeting

If teaching or managing schools were certain, clear, and straightforward tasks, then educators could find a haven in a professional culture or technology. But education is an indeterminate enterprise. Its purposes and technologies are unclear. Its goals are diverse, diffuse and disputed among various stakeholders.
-- Deal & Wiske 11

It is upsetting to many people to think of the school as a Town Meeting (a political "marketplace," as economists understand the term). In such a forum, morals count for little, perhaps, at best, to create confidence about promises. What really matters are knowledge, position and power. Negotiation is the process by which concerns are dealt with and appeals to morality or efficiency are just part of this process. Again, this is an idealization that seldom appears full bloom in the real world. But there are unmistakable signs that schools function to some extent as does a Town Meeting.

Unhappy as people may be with the image of the school as a political forum, every parent, indeed, every citizen expects that school procedures and processes will be open to negotiation for their sake. Parents expect to be able to take their children with them on trips during the school year without the children suffering penalty for missing classes. They press principals to rescind suspensions or expunge disciplinary records. Community personages expect to be able to drop in for visits. Local committeepersons expect to be able to negotiate a use of school space for political purposes, etc. Teachers see less of this than principals, but it happens frequently. The expectation that the school will allow for negotiation defines the Town Meeting image of the school.

How would we understand the roles of different people under the Town Meeting image? The principal is the representative of an interest group: administration. An individual teacher represents teachers. A student, students. Each is a negotiator for the goals of his or her special interest group. Success under this model is judged by having and maintaining power: control of available resources. There are no infractions — right and wrong have no substantial meaning — only occasions for renegotiation.

David Hogan identifies four types of political issues in education: 12

- structural issues, e..g. differentiated vs. vocational education, unionization, professionalization;

- human capital issues, e.g. conflicts among parents for school benefits for their children;

- cultural capital issues e.g. conflicts over curricular content or textbooks;

- displacement politics, e.g. schools becoming involved in outside conflicts.

So uncomfortable are people with the political aspect of schooling that they will recast the above conflicts as moral or technical problems. So it is that teachers debate the merits of vocational education and professionalization, arguing from technical considerations. Parents will argue that their children have special needs that entitle them to a larger share of the schools resources. Pressure groups will worry curriculum and book selection committees about the truth and morality of their decisions.

Political issues do have associated moral and technical arguments worthy of consideration. But it is not on the basis of a consensus on moral or technical agreements that these issues are decided, but rather by other processes, e.g. court suits, convincing state education commissioners, securing legislation from sympathetic representatives, etc. This is why they are political, rather than moral or technical issues.

The very nature of the political process poses problems for the teacher. Harry Broudy captures this dilemma cogently13

Especially awkward for the public schools are the accounts of the civic and political process. Political action in all societies, but certainly in a democratic one, is suffused by a self-serving rhetoric. This is only to be expected because the rhetoric is intended to persuade the body politic to feel and vote in one way rather than another. Sophisticated adults understand this and discount a good deal of it, but young children may not. The school operates on the principle that it must reinforce the ideals the community professes and not the behavior that it tolerates. Yet it is difficult to keep up the pretense that the behavior of officials, elected and appointed, does not violate professed ideals. For one thing, the mass media are exposing the pretense daily; almost hourly. The pecadillos of politicians become media events. How much of this can the school teach as part of the social studies or social science curriculum? How does a junior high school social studies class handle Watergate?

Let's examine now the three images for contrast and comparison.

Comparing the Images

To review, we can contrast and compare the three images of the school in Chart 2.

Town Meeting
Role, Item
High Priest Production Manager Negotiator
Clergy Worker Negotiator
Novice Raw Material Negotiator
Basis for Decision
Morality, Propriety Efficiency Power
Attaining Intrinsic Goals Achieving Output Quotas Maintaining Power
Immorality Inefficiency (inapplicable)

Chart 2

As we compare the three columns we can begin to understand how people with different images of the school might find it hard to agree on both ends and means in schooling. What makes for even greater difficulty is that people carry around a bit of each image of the school in their heads and are not aware of the potential for conflict the differences between them produce. Consider, for example, the way discipline might be conceived of under the different images. For the Temple, infractions are a moral affront; discipline is conceived as morally uplifting. For the Factory, infractions undercut efficiency; discipline is a kind of technical correction. At the Town Meeting it is not clear what kind of behavior is critically undesirable. Such political arenas are notorious for undisciplined displays of behavior.

Which image is the right one for the school? It depends upon what benefits we are looking for and what costs we are willing to bear. Our effort is give you the relevant data and methods of evaluation so you can develop an informed answer to such a question.

School Images: costs and benefits

Studying all of a school at once is virtually impossible. One inevitably looks at pieces and then seeks to put them together. The results are neither fully satisfying nor completely accurate. They are an approximation of reality.

--- John Goodlad, A Place Called School 14

What is the school really? What should it be? A moral community: a temple, a monastery, fraternity or sorority? Is it a productive organization: a factory, a workshop, a basketball team? Or even a political marketplace: a town meeting, a free-for-all, a jungle? In some ways, the school is a bit of all of these, but none of these in its entirety.

What is important is not coming up with some general characterization about schools, but understanding schooling. How can we understand what goes on in and about schools.? What gives us a handle on dealing with the complexities of schooling? These are the important questions and their answers are the tools we are searching for.

In Chart 3 we find an array of benefits and costs we can associate with each of the models of the school.

Three Images of the School: Some Costs and Benefits
Moral Community: "Temple"
Productive Organization: "Factory"
Political Marketplace: "Town Meeting"



Clear Authority

Sense of Community

Personal contact
Ends control means
Role models are available
Sense of unity

Power can be confronted

Deep Consensus

Given goals, clear measures of costs and benefits

Impersonality of decision

Technology is applicable

Means can be optimized

Deep Consensus

Moral equality





Broad Consensus



Castes develop:
-- leaders vs followers
-- in-group vs outcasts

Suppression of dissent, variety
Power disguised

Narrow Consensus

Disputability of Goals


Avoidance of Ethical Issues

Roles defined: planners, doers


Narrow Consensus

Power tends to dominate




Shallow Consensus

Chart 3

Each of the images of the schools we have seen has its attractions and its drawbacks. The tightknit moral community of the Temple, like that of the family, offers security and a sense of belonging. But it can stifle individuality and produce pecking orders unable to be challenged. A technically skilled teacher may have little ability to relate to the concerns of his or her students. The very impersonality that the Factory celebrates may alienate children from the schooling process. The political power game of the Town Meeting is exciting, but you have to watch your back. Also, the educational nostrums proposed in the political sphere often strike both parents and teachers as frivolous. So we see that the three images compete and conflict. And it is in the pursuit of the benefits and the avoidance of the costs of each model that the dynamics of schooling are to be found.

Now that you have finished this article, be sure to see
The School as Organization





1. John Goodlad, A Place Called School (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984) pp. 71-75

2. William Cutler III, "Cathedral of Culture: the Schoolhouse in American Educational Thought and Practice since 1820," History of Education Quarterly, Vol.29, No. 1 (Spring 1989)

3. James P. Garvin, "What Do Parents Expect from Middle School Levels?" Middle School Journal, Nov 1987, pp. 3 - 4.

4. "West Point Honor System Faces Study After Expulsion Furor," New York Times, June 19, 1988, p.A1.

5. See "No Tie, No Job, Veteran Teacher Told," News & Trends, American Teacher, Vol. 3, No. 7, (April 1989) p.3

6. John Franklin Bobbitt, "The Supervision of City Schools: Some General Principles of Management Applied to the Problems of City School Systems," Twelfth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education , Part1 (Bloomington, Ill: 1913) p. 96.

7. See Raymond E. Callahan, Education and the Cult of Efficiency (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962) especially Chapter 4, "American Educators Apply the Great Panacea."

8. Robert T. Krajewski, "Secondary Principals Want to Be Instructional Leaders," Phi Delta Kappan, Sept 1978, p. 65.

9. See Joseph Berger, "New York's Principals Tell Why They 'Break the Rules,'" New York Times Feb 21, 1989, p.B1.

10. See Stanley M. Elam, "Differences Between Educators and the Public on Questions of Education Policy," Phi Delta Kappan, Dec. 1987, pp. 294-298. See also Linda M. McNeil, "The Contradictions of Control, Part 1: Administrators and Teachers." Phi Delta Kappan, Jan 1988, pp. 333-339.

11. Terrance Deal & Martha Stone Wiske, "Planning, Plotting and Playing in Education's Era of Decline," Chap. 23 in J. Victor Baldridge and Terrance Deal, The Dynamics of Organizational Change in Education (Berkeley, Calif: McCutchan, 1983) p. 452.

12. David Hogan, "Education and Class Formation: the peculiarities of the Americans," in Michael W. Apple (ed.) Cultural and Economic Reproduction in Education: essays on class, ideology and the State (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982) 52-53.

13. Harry S. Broudy,Truth and Credibility: the citizen's dilemma (New York: Longman, 1981) p. 23.

14. Goodlad, A Place Called School, p.16.