The function of education in preparing the child for a particular milieu in society (as Durkheim defined it) has traditionally meant preparing him for membership of a particular group in the social hierarchy.
The experience of modern egalitarian policies indicates that it is very difficult to eliminate this feature, not least because the intellectual and social criteria frequently overlap; the children of high status families are in general better qualified for higher education, because of a variety of advantages which they enjoy.
It may-be that in the more egalitarian societies of the future, when social equality has come to be taken for granted, these difficulties will cease; but it seems more likely that so long as there is educational selection privileged groups will always be emerging within society and that only deliberate policy and contrivance will succeed in maintaining a rough equality.
But as Durkheim observed, education also prepares the child for life in society as a whole, by transmitting common social traditions through the language, religion, morals and customs of the society.
The inculcation of national values has been especially apparent in modem societies, and was for long reflected in the social prestige of teachers. The French institutor who was given his title in the Revolution of 1789 (‘celui qui institue la Nation’), acquired under the Third Republic a remarkable prestige and importance. In the USA the schoolma’am played a similar role from the end of the nineteenth century in transforming the children of immigrants into 100 per cent Americans. The way of life which is taught may derive from different sources.
In France, under the Third Republic, an attempt (to which Durkheim contributed by his writings) was made to teach a secular morality, but its principal result was to establish a deep division, and conflict, between the state schools and the Catholic schools and eventually between the adult generations which they produced.
In Britain the 1944 Education Act imposed as a statutory obligation that in every school the day shall begin with collective worship and religious instruction shall be given; and official circulars and pamphlets have emphasized the Christian tradition as a foundation of the British way of life. The schools in communist societies instill into their pupils the social and political doctrines of Marxism. In India, the whole conception of basic education is founded upon the social philosophy of Gandhi, itself inspired by Hinduism, and almost all public discussions of education link the present with the traditional Hindu system of equation.