Sorokin is of the opinion that "in societies where 'the schools' are accessible to all members, the school system represents a 'social elevator' moving from the very bottom of a society to its top." 42 This same writer also believes that 43Next Page
. . . a graduate with a brilliant university record is easily promoted and given a responsible position, regardless of his origin or family . . . . Social promotion of a great many prominent men in present democracies has been made essentially through the channels of the school machinery . . . in spite of their humble origin . . . . The comparative easiness of social climbing through the school channel is understood now by a great many people.
One is forced to wonder if Sorokin is familiar with the careers of graduates of many American municipal and black colleges. It is not yet clearly established that a brilliant college record is a substitute for or a strong competitor of prior social standing in the struggle of life. Even so, under their conditions of life, it is exceedingly rare that a person of proletarian upbringing is able to receive the necessary background and carry through a program at a high level of achievement.
Mombert believes that of late the educational system contributes to the selective process by fitting more persons to compete. Vocational guidance, vocational tests, intelligence tests, special schools for the most brilliant pupils, etc., are named as instrumentalities promoting circulation. 44 These programs would have more effectiveness than they now have, however, if the school authorities could place students with high aptitudes. Finding and identifying a superior student is one thing -- seeing him through, into a position with a future, is another. Job finding is one field where the factor of prior high status is of greatest value and where low status is a great handicap.
A heated controversy is now going on as to whether, in a democracy, all pupils should be given the same kind of education, as has been largely the custom heretofore, or whether the German principle of vocational training should be more definitely established. If the schools inaugurate a program of training in the skills, a boy's fate will be largely scaled at the age of eleven when he take up his intensive practical course. The working classes will become, theoretically, more sharply divided from the middle classes with the passing of time. There are educators who believe that more good than harm would result, because (1) a general liberal education might qualify everyone to take higher training in colleges, but it would not guarantee that the masses could attain that goal even though given the necessary background; and (2) a practical program of vocational training might prevent many persons from feelings of frustration, the obvious result of having learned nothing in school which qualifies them to fit into any particular field.
A small high school known to the writer graduated about thirty pupils every year; they had all been given a general academic course, the only one available. Only two or three were able to attend college. For them the course was the proper one. But the other pupils became housewives, without benefit of training in domestic science, and farmers, automobile mechanics, and so forth, without any special training.
In sum, it might be stated as a general principle that the introduction of more vocational courses in secondary schools would not stratify the society to such an extreme as would be socially disadvantageous -- nor would the retention and extension of academic training for the masses, according to Hutchins' theory, result in putting the wherewithal to climb in the hands of the more brilliant pupils. Vocational training for the children of the great masses might tend to strengthen the social class structure, but it would not thereby make living less pleasant, secure, and enjoyable for them. It would dissipate much of the disillusionment caused by the unreality of the American Dream.
42. Sorokin, op. cit., p. 169.
43. Ibid., pp. 170 - 171.
44. Mombert, op. cit., p. 1043.