As the amount of specialized technical and SCientific knowledge has expanded rapidly and as the amount of time that children are in educational settings has increased. schools continue to play an enormous role i1hthe socialization of young people. For many people. the formal education process is an undertaking that lasts up to twenty years. As the number of one-parent families and families in which both parents work outside the home has increased dramatically. the number of children in daycare and preschool programs has also grown rapidly.
Currently. about 60 percent of all u.s. preschool children are in day care. either in private homes or institutional settings, and this percentage continues to climb (Children's Defense Fund. 2002). Generally, studies have found that quality day-care and preschool programs have a positive effect on the overall socialization of children. These programs provide children with the opportunity to have frequent interactions with teachers and to learn how to build their language. and literacy skills. High-quality programs also have a pcs'tlve effecton the academic performance of children, particularly those from low-income families. For example, several states with pre-kindergarten programs reported an increase in children's math and reading scores. school attendance records. and parents' involvement in their children's education (Children's Defense Fund, 2002).
Today,however. the cost of child-care programs has become a major concern for many families (see Box4.2). Although schools teac specific knowledge and skills. they also have a pt:¢found effect on children's self-image, beliefs, and values. As children enter school for the first time, they are evaluated and systematically compared with one another by the teacher. A pennanent, official record is kept of each child's personal behavior and academic activities. From a functionalist perspective. schools are responsible for (l) socialization. or teaching students to be productive members of society; (2) transmission of culture; (3) social control and personal development; and (4) the selection, training, and placement of individuals on different rungs in the society (Ballantine. 20(5). In contrast, cont!iet theorists assert that students have different experiences in the school system depending on their social class. their racial-ethnic background. the neighborhood in which they live, their gender, and other factors. According to the sociologists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis (1976), much of what happens in school amounts to teaching a hidden curriculum in which children learn to be neat, to be on time. to be quiet. to wait their turn. and to remain attentive to their work.
Thus, schools do not socialize children for their own well-being but rather for their later roles in the work force, where it is important to be punctual and to show deference to supervisors. Students who are destined for leadership or elite positions acquire different skills and knowledge than those who will enter working-class and middle-class occupations (see Cookson and Persell, 1985). Symbolic interactionists examining socialization in the school environment might focus on how daily interactions and practices in schools affect the CDnstruction of students' beliefs regarding such things as patriotism, feelings of aggression or cooperation, and gender practices as they influence girls and boys.
For example, some studies have shown that the school environment often fosters a high degree of gender segregation, including having boys and girls line up separately to participate in different types of extracurricular activities in middle schools and high schools (Eder, 1995; Thome. 1993