Postmodernism – Education

Lesson objectiveTo explore what postmodernists believe
Lesson outcomes• Compare postmodernism to other theories
• Evaluate postmodernism
• Explain what postmodernists believe


Postmodernists focuses on how education is related to individualism and concludes that education in the UK is supporting this relationship better. For example, Usher et al, (1997) states that school’s are now paying closer attention to individual learning styles of students. One reason for this is the increase of multiculturalism which has led to individual identity becoming more fluid. This has impacted on a shift away from a ‘one style fits all’ educational approach and has now instead introduced alternatives, e.g. faith schools. Globalisation has also impacted education as governmental policies are introducing global ideas to improve our system. E.g. the introduction of Swedish styled Free Schools. Technology within the classroom is also aiding individualised learning styles thus promoting flexibility. 


Interpretivism focuses on education on a micro level exploring people’s relationship and experience with it. They don’t regard education and positive or negative and instead regard each experience as being unique. E.g. labelling can be seen as positive or negative depending on what the label is. They do however acknowledge that internalisation of this can result in the self fulfilling prophecy. This shall be explored more later when studying specific topics (e.g. ethnicity).  


Criticisms of the Interpretivist and Postmodernist perspective are that although they highlight many problems, they do not explain why these exist because of such a micro approach. It is easy to say everyone is different, but perhaps there are some macro level effects as well?

Real world application

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government (2010 to 2015) created “Troops to Teachers”. This was a multi million pound investment assisting current and ex soldiers working with students to instill discipline.


Willis (1977)

The experiment: Willis (1977) did research in comprehensive schools in Wolverhampton using group interviews and Participant observation. He argued that wider structural inequalities can be seen best with a micro approach. 

Results: Working class ‘lads’ saw education as a waste of time and therefore they completed minimum work. 

This resulted in the boys not wanting social mobility and thus were being prepared for working class jobs. 

Evaluation: Willis used a small sample of 12 students meaning it has low generalisability. However, detailed data was established through the interviews showing they are highly effective. 

Willis develops the traditional Marxist theories in an attempt to reduce the amount of criticisms. 

Willis conducted an experiment which he published his book on in 1977 called Learning to Labour: How kids get working class jobs. His study was an ethnographic study looking at a group of 12 working class male pupils (the lads) in schools and housing estate in Wolverhampton in the 1970s. Various data gathering methods were used e.g. qualitative research methodologies from interviews, group discussions to participant observation.


One way which the experiment has positive practicality is that the various data collection methods were suitable and needed to ensure reliable data. However, overall the practicality was poor as the research was very time consuming and took place over numerous years. Funding would also be an issue, as the data collection methods are expensive.


Willis has poor generalisability with regards to his sample size as it only really consisted of 12 males. However, generalisability could be considered high as the schools was traditionally working class and did represent many other similar high schools of the same nature. Generalisbility is also poor as the study is andro and ethnocentric.


​Many forms of data were acquired (mentioned above) ensuring high reliability. However, being mostly qualitative, analysis is harder to achieve limiting the results. In addition, because of new safeguarding measures aimed at protecting students and their lives, similar access today would be much more difficult to acquire.


Theorists who reject his research are Bowles and Gintis and Althusser as the research suggests their hypothesis were incorrect regarding the fact that the labour force in the economy is conditional on an obedient school system and that culture plays a more significant part in shaping a student’s future.


The hypothesis of Willis seems to have been achieved and proven (to some extent) which was to highlight the position of schools is not an attempt to gain control through obedience. However, in lieu of the low generalisability this cannot be proven to be secure and 100% correct. In addition, the interviewer effect could have played a part in skewing the data.


One way that this experiment is ethically valid is that through using qualitative questions the student’s felt at ease and comfortable in giving their responses. He also had permission from the school and ensured data was anonymous. However, part of the experiment required him to watch vandalism, bullying and racism.

Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968)

The experiment:  Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) researched the effects of labeling of students from teachers through Interpretivism.  They looked at one Californian elementary school. Students sat an IQ test and the results were kept a secret from the teachers. They then gave the teachers random names and claimed these “Spurters” were in the top 20%. When Rosenthal and Jacobson came back after some time away, they again gave all students an IQ test.

Results: The students who were labelled as being “Spurters” achieved the most progress whilst they were away.

They claimed this was because of the teacher’s expectation.Evaluation: Long term ethics of the children could not be measured as is unknown. There is also low generalisability as the experiment took place in one school.

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