Part II: Schools in ContextThe Elitist and the Popular Ideal: Prefects and Monitors in English and American Secondary Schools
Ultimate Deterrents: Punishment and Control in English and American Schools
The Academic Preparation of Teachers
Metropolitanism and Education
Teachers and School Success in Amsterdam, London, Paris, and New York
Toward a Strategy of Urban-Educational Study
International Study of Business/ Industry Involvement with Education
Source: M.A. Eckstein, "The Elitist and the Popular Ideal: Prefects and Monitors in English and American Secondary Schools," International Review of Education, XII:2, 1966, pp. 184-193. Reprinted by permission of Kluwer Academic Publishers.
THE ELITIST AND THE POPULAR IDEAL: PREFECTS AND MONITORS IN ENGLISH AND AMERICAN SECONDARY SCHOOLS
A basic function of educational systems is to purvey social ideals of authority and responsibility. Within its schools, society at large sanctions a regime which is not only a particular form of social order but also a potent teaching device. The youngster at school is exposed to a series of lessons which may complement, reinforce or contradict other teachings of his environment. In any event, they make widely approved assertions about the nature of leadership, about good or bad behavior and the consequences of each. Each day, the attitudes, actions and responses to one another of teachers, principals and pupils help to create a disciplinary climate through which pupils learn, among other things, their present and future places in a social order. At school, a youngster learns whether authority is for or against him, whether it is constant or unpredictable, fair or unfair, kind, cruel or venal. When the rules for diagramming sentences have long been forgotten, the impression of a disciplinary regime imposed by the school may well have the power to influence an adult's attitudes and behavior.
As one visits secondary schools in different countries, one is impressed by the many variations in pupil-teacher relationships and in classroom atmosphere. There are of course similarities too, yet as one moves from country to country, or from region to region, one cannot but note differences in the behavior that is licensed or forbidden and in specific techniques of control which may be used. The mid-Western American high school, the traditional German gymnasium, the English grammar school, - each of these is the setting for a different social order and social atmosphere, with different underlying assumptions about discipline and authority and different techniques for purveying them. In particular, the part played by students themselves in maintaining a given disciplinary climate is worthy of note.
An excellent example of how this function may be carried out is provided by the Prefectorial System found in English secondary schools. This paper analyzes aspects of that system, and seeks parallels in the American high school. The process of comparison between two countries linked by common cultural and political traditions reveals different ways of thinking about authority and contrasting styles of social control and social education.
With the increase in the number of schools in England during the nineteenth century, the new institutions understandably used as models schools of long standing and established tradition. 1 The new grammar schools offered an education to a new, growing and powerful segment of the population: the manufacturing middle classes. Yet earlier goals and methods persisted in subsequent developments. The prefectorial system and the house system are two examples of the great influence of traditional (and today still private) education upon the public system of schools.
Today, the prefectorial system operates in many English schools in various ways. Even at the primary level, the practice of having class or school monitors prepares the way for its operation at the secondary level. While the tradition of "fagging" 2 has been abandoned in all but a few private boarding institutions, prefects are commonly appointed in many kinds of secondary schools. Though their functions today vary extensively, their significance in the authority systems of many schools remains considerable. 3
Most commonly, prefects are appointed by the Headmaster from among the senior pupils of the school (Sixth Formers), generally on the recommendation of their teachers. There might be about twelve in a school of five hundred pupils. Apart from seniority per se, criteria for selection include academic ability, non- scholastic activities, and personal attributes such as good character and leadership qualities. The student's mere presence in the Sixth Form would imply a measure of academic superiority or at least persistence, as well as some eminence among the school population. The school games captains, society chairmen, the editor of the school magazine, all these are also likely to culminate their school careers as prefects.
Prefectorial duties generally include the policing of school premises and activities in various ways, thus relieving teachers of certain everyday minor supervisory chores. Prefects' powers include the awarding of minor punishments such as extra assignments, detention after school hours and recommendation for more serious punishment. At one time, physical punishment by prefects was sanctioned, but this is no longer so, at least officially, in public (i.e., state) schools. Prefects may have formal meetings to discuss their problems and activities, but the schools generally permit little real delegation of power or independent responsibility. The prefects are often a headmaster's private police force, exerting a predominantly repressive and punitive discipline, and exacting obedience to an external and imposed authority.
The former Headmaster of a well-known English grammar school, while acknowledging the Public School and aristocratic origins of the prefect system, emphasizes its positive aspects:
... prefects are drawn from all senior forms, and they are a compact body set apart from the form system. Ideally, they are respected by staff and by boys, and by both are expected to maintain a high standard of behaviour and a high standard of justice. Their duties in Grammar Schools are generally confined to maintaining an orderly movement of boys about the school, suppressing inconvenient exuberance, and taking an important part in the organization and administration of regular or special school functions. 4
He argues that the privileges and powers of promotion to prefectship are limited so that ostentation and abuse of power are rare. Unlike prefects in the Public Schools, they may not use corporal punishment, nor use younger boys as "fags":
It is perhaps because of these two limitations on their power that the authority of the Grammar School prefect is less aggressive, less leader-conscious, than that of his Public School counterpart, and there can be no doubt which of the two systems of authority is the better adapted to the social conditions of the world today. 5
There is no doubt that such delegation of authority and responsibility by teachers to pupils can provide many opportunities for the prefects to assist the young and learn to use authority. Younger pupils, too, are obliged to experience the rule of their seniors before they move on to exercise power themselves. In the intramural hierarchical system, the influence of prefects falls equally upon all younger pupils, thus eliminating discrimination between those of different abilities and social backgrounds. Finally, the prefectorial system has proved to be an efficacious device for ensuring that leaders in the student community use their energies on behalf of the staff rather than for potentially rebellious students. 6 On all sides, there is general recognition that the prefectorial system is an important part of the educational experience which has to do with the development of character and responsibility. A student will learn from the experiences undergone within the power system of the school, and the common ground of both supporters and critics of a prefectorial system is a concern for the appropriateness of what is learned in this area. If the lesson is inappropriate, or simply wrong, much damage can be done:
Orthodox schoolmasters regard the last two years of school as the most valuable, because it is then, as a prefect, that the young man learns the art of managing and ruling those below him. In fact it is just these years that are most harmful... At the crucial age when he is becoming an adult, he learns that traditional might is right and that autocratic power is absolute, and this in a democratic world which is trying hard to struggle out of these infantile conceptions. 7
Davies 8 also emphasizes the traditional authoritarianism of the system and proposes that more than a merely repressive power be given to the selected few. Preparation and training for leadership is required, 9 power must be more diffused, and the school population as a whole must have a greater involvement in the running of its affairs, he argues.
The influence of the prefectorial system on those who are now adult may be discerned in the attention devoted to it in autobiographical writings as well as in strictly professional sources. For many, the officially sanctioned power system among students proved to be cruel, discriminatory and immoral, to say the least. 10 For others, it is castigated as an educational device wrongly used. 11 Like the army non-commissioned officer, the prefect has been privileged by promotion from the ranks. He is thus rewarded by exemption from certain restrictions and punishments, and given the power to inflict upon transgressors some of the consequences of their actions. The rewards of limited status, limited power, and freedom from irksome limitations upon personal liberty are important aspects of becoming a prefect. 12 Criticism is therefore directed both against the abuse of power which the system permits and the whole authority ethic which it represents.
Certain schools have contrived to introduce changes in the selection, preparation and functions of prefects so that negative aspects of the system could be eliminated. In certain cases, teachers, senior students and the current group of prefects all nominate future school prefects. 13 In preparation for this, form prefects are elected yearly in lower classes of the school. Secondary schools have encouraged varying degrees of involvement by pupils in decision-making. In most cases, however, the head teacher retains at least a final veto on appointments.
In contrast to the attempts of certain schools to improve or to adapt the prefectorial function to changed circumstances, the following extract from a discussion on the secondary modern school is pertinent:
We have no prefects to enforce them [school rules]: prefects would not, in any case, make sense in a community in which all have an equal and interested stake in the life of the school and its efficient and smooth running. 14
Behind the criticisms and reforms of the prefectorial system lies of course the debate on satisfactory definitions of authority and government in the school. In effect, criticisms of the traditional system within school are criticisms of the traditional social system outside the school. The prefectorial system of the Public Schools, copied by the grammar schools which are now an important part of the public system of education, is criticized to the degree that it has not been adapted to its new environment. It is also criticized according to the degree that it has not moved away from a centralized and elitist authoritarian system, reminiscent of a society where opportunity for advancement and for participation in decision-making was very much limited. 15
American schools, like their English counterparts, seek to maintain a certain social order, and to teach their students lessons about leadership, authority and responsibility. There are some students in the American high school who enjoy a more active and more influential role in the school's authority system than others. They may carry out tasks similar to those of English prefects. But, particularly to the English observer, there appears to be no such thing as a Prefectorial System.
In one sense, the honor students found in certain high schools might be compared with the prefects of an English school. They form a scholastic elite and usually occupy prominent places in extra-curricular activities and school affairs. The leading athletes of the high school, the sports stars, may be another group which in some respects is comparable with the English school's elite. They may be socially eminent, influential models for younger pupils, heroes for the school community (and often for the adult community as well). But though they may possess an informal influence, they are not endowed with official power by the school to maintain a given regime.
A closer approximation to the English prefect is perhaps provided by the American service squad member, monitor or school aide. This is one of a group of high school students who has varied responsibilities connected with maintaining order on school premises. He may, for example, supervise traffic in corridors and in the cafeteria to ensure orderly and safe movement; he may be a monitor who, in addition to maintaining order and quiet, runs errands for teachers, escorts visitors within the building and fulfils similar "service" functions in the school. The basis of selection for such responsibilities varies considerably, though a combination of nomination and approval by teachers and willingness by pupils generally determines membership of this group. Academic criteria, in the form of minimum scholastic standards, are often included. A badge, pin or other form of insignia is often given to such pupils as a mark of office.
The wide variety of names used for the high school student with the special functions which have been described is indicative of the lack of uniformity of practices and ideas in this matter. It may also be symptomatic of a lack of any clear consensus about what the general authority ethic is and how it should be implemented. One thing is clear, however, and it is that students in American high schools do assist in maintaining order and that some of them do have a supervisory role over their fellows. Their activities are best characterized by the term "service" which is often officially used to describe their tasks. However, though there may be privileges of certain kinds attached to these responsibilities (status, insignia), it is rare that there are any powers to punish or reward. Monitors can rarely do more than report an offender to a teacher. In certain instances they may be able to assign punishments, though this is rare and likely to be the result of unusual local conditions. 16
The Student Council is generally an officially sponsored agency in the American high school, where students may make decisions and see that they are carried out. 17 Standards of behavior, dress and other matters may be discussed and defined at student council meetings and rules established for the whole school. Council members and officers of the student organization are elected by their peers for certain terms and have some powers to initiate action and to enforce or at least influence standards. The way in which this process is carried on is important in setting the "disciplinary tone" of the school. Though it may be referred to as student government, it rarely merits this description, since it is usually characterized by "limited" experiences in democratic procedures (nominations, elections, committee work etc.) and by the coordination of certain student extra-curricular activities.
The type of student participation in the orderly running of the school which tends to be quite widely encouraged is a form of supervised selfdirection. Rules of conduct in the parking lot, corridors, lunch room and study halls, for example, may be reached by student and possibly faculty discussion, and selected students are responsible in some way for the maintaining of order, not as policemen but as leaders of the school community. 18 Student leaders may be appointed or elected; their power to influence the behavior of others may be the force of their own personalities, or their informal powers of various kinds, but it is rarely any explicitly stated punitive or rewarding authority.
This type of social order, which varies from school to school but does represent a definable norm, is not without its critics. There are those who see it as encouraging license because rules are not imposed and enforced by properly designated authority (i.e., teachers). There are others who see it only as a feeble attempt to avoid outright authoritarianism, leading to a rather insidious manipulation of people (young and old). The regime remains directive, they argue, though it has the appearance of non-authoritarianism and permissiveness, and the trappings of student selfdetermination. 19
The American high school pupil's involvement in the disciplinary regime of the school thus appears to be varied and diffused. Opportunity for supervision of pupils is given, there are selected elites, responsibilities of different kinds are given to pupils, and sometimes official and unofficial status and influence overlap. 20 Pupils may have many opportunities for leadership within the school community, but authority is generally quite widely dispersed, and rarely provided with punitive powers. 21 There is little evidence that the school or teaching staff characteristically selects a group of students to carry out extensive disciplinary mandates in any official or systematic way.
While the Prefectorial System is a well-established and common phenomenon in English secondary schools, it has no precise equivalent in the public high schools of the United States. In view of the contrasting patterns of historical and social circumstance, this is hardly surprising. Different social conditions and ideals demand different school procedures.
This is not to say, however, that many of the functions carried out by English prefects are not pursued by American students. Authority, power and status are distributed among secondary school pupils in both countries. But the systematic sponsoring and consistent reinforcement which the official school regime gives to one selected group in English schools has no real parallel in the United States. In America, power and status are widely dispersed among formal and informal elite groups, partly supported by the school administration, rarely singled out for general privilege and power. The contrast is between two systems of pupil participation in school affairs, and between two ways of thinking about the social order. In both countries there is a leadership group in society which the school system in some measure selects, trains and elects. In England the process is as striking as its product. It is, after all, with England that the term Establishment is associated. But in the United States the schools treat this function differently and the Establishment, or its equivalent, is an animal of a different color. In this example, as in others, school and society provide reflections of one another, though not necessarily in identical images.
In the case of England, the authority system of the school in its most pristine form is authoritarian and elitist. Prefects are sharply differentiated in status from their fellow pupils, and their symbols and powers are formalized into a fairly clearly defined and widely recognized institution - albeit one that is severely criticized and strongly pressured to change. Several assumptions about authority are evident: that it emanates from above, that one must serve well in order to rule, that its concomitant is public service. The cloak of authority must be worn with certainty and conviction, though modestly. Acceptance, by leaders of their privileges and obligations, and by followers of their leaders, is an important feature of thinking about authority in England. The example of such institutions as the police and the civil service confirm this outlook in England, 22 contributing to the picture of those in authority as a select group of unswerving, inflexible, obedient and dutiful beings. The regime of the schools is quite consistent with such widespread social attitudes and assumptions. 23
In the United States however, pupil participation in the school's authority system has a rather different character. Authority does not appear to emanate exclusively or even mainly from above. It is achieved in a "free market" of influence, striving and prestige drawn from a variety of sources -- individual attributes, and peer group as well as official school judgements. But such achievement does not so clearly nor officially set one pupil off from another; it is not recognized as such by all concerned. Distinctions are unclear, semi- official and eternally in the making. As a result, authority is in a very real sense "popular": its major justification is social necessity, and it is governed by exposure to the limelight, to rules of procedure, expediency and consensus. Great emphasis is placed upon individual participation in democratic processes. Thus the appeal to "the public," at least ostensibly, for confirmation in power, and the importance of popularity, adaptability and responsiveness to the pressures and needs of a given time and place. The theme is a familiar one, with echoes from Franklin, the Constitution and Tocqueville: authority is associated with power which is a corrupting influence upon those who achieve it. Its source is the consenting public who must therefore constantly act as supervisors of those in or near positions of power. In the United States, institutions such as the Civil Service and the police force suffer by their association with government and authority, earning poor status, distrust and constant surveillance from the public. The schools provide, on a modest scale, a breeding ground and an exemplar for general social thinking on the subject of power and authority in the United States.
While this paper has been mainly concerned with differences between the two countries described, the fundamental common features which make comparison possible must not be forgotten. In both situations, the educational system seeks to prepare the young for the adult social order, to induce them to accept models of thought and behavior which their mentors provide. At school, all are groomed for adult society, while some are selected and trained for particular functions and powers. The young are instructed at the same time as social order is maintained in the school. In addition to this basic similarity of function, there may be similarities in the characteristics of those selected for authority roles and in the demands placed upon them. There are also common values exemplified by the two systems. However, this paper has sought to consider differences in the basic model of each system, in the respective means used to achieve selected ends and in the general assumptions about authority which each case reveals. One may be more brutal than the other, or more insidious, more or less efficient, enlightened or consistent with prevailing social values. But evaluation of the systems, whether on grounds of morality or efficiency or ultimate implications for society is a separate subject for study.
There is one obvious qualification to the generalizations made. In both countries each school is marked by the special stamp of its own community, principal or student body. In both countries too there is a wide range of outlooks and practices, as well as much questioning of traditional or conventional practices by schoolmen and social critics. Yet with all the variations, there remains a characteristic mode, a style, a key-note. In the United States, it is the familiar suspicion of any overt and institutionalized authority or privileged group combined with a traditional reliance upon checks and balances. In England, it is the Prefectorial System.