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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

Academia vs. The Rest of the World: The Problem of the Division of Labor in Schools

Almost from beginning, the pursuit of knowledge and the academic life was viewed by society as a vocation, a distinctive form of human existence where work is elevated beyond the level of the mundane.

In medieval times, universities were built like fortified monasteries, their high walls somehow symbolising and confirming the separateness of academic life from the rest of the world.

A photograph of Christchurch, Oxford
The University of Oxford embodies a vision of separation between academic and non-academic life.

Fast forward to 2018. Our schools do not necessarily model the same architectural design as an Oxbridge college, but the lines of separation are still very much present.

It's most obvious in the way we speak; the way we speak about our colleagues.

Every time we break down the community of employees at our school into Faculty and Support Staff, we find ourselves grouping, labelling, and making assumptions.

Then we build structures upon these assumptions.

And before we know it, we have different organisational charts and pay scales, different holidays, different meetings, different agendas.

We work in the same school, but it's like we live in different worlds, separated by high walls.

Emile Durkheim famously described this phenomenon in his work on The Division of Labor in Society. He spoke about the establishment of different roles for different people in society; not only how it is beneficial for a sense of solidarity within groups of workers, but also how the division of labor leads to a social and moral order within society.

The problem, though, is that no one outside of the school gate believes in this social and moral order any more.

So I'm politely suggesting that it's time to break down the walls.

It's time to stop assuming that our non-teaching colleagues are disinterested in or not focused on the learning that goes on in our schools.

It's time to start talking to teachers regularly about the business operations that sustain our learning communities.

It's time that to reframe and celebrate the vocational nature of all roles across the community.

If we keep thinking that academia is somehow separate, special, or better than the rest of the world, we may just find ourselves locked up in an outdated castle of our own making.


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