These rituals which organize school life: an importance to reconsider?


Schools are often compared to small companies. But does this image reflect all the specificities of this organization? If the company brings together a diversity of members under the authority of the law, the community is characterized by its homogeneity and a life punctuated by repeated uses.

In this sense, the school would undoubtedly have as much to do with the community as with society. It certainly needs a legal framework , no one disputes it, but it also needs rituals . This was particularly convincingly shown by Basil Bernstein and his collaborators at the London Institute of Education in their work almost fifty years ago.

School life, the researchers noted, must be organized first and foremost around rituals. These already written social forms are a concrete culture, a sort of repertoire of situations allowing everyone to stage themselves in complete safety. They then proposed to distinguish two types of rituals: unifying rituals and differentiating rituals.

As the back-to-school page turns and the students and their classes have made their mark, let’s take a look at these practices that structure school life.

Bring together and differentiate

The unifying rituals are intended to bring together the members of the same establishment to make it a united community. They are still called “house rites” because they give an identity to an institution. These rituals are specific to a given school, they are shared by all the students and are expressed with respect for “signs and emblems”.

To put it another way, the unifying rituals give shape to what we call today a culture of establishment: they are the reception days, the sporting events, the awards ceremonies, the end of year celebrations. …

The differentiating rituals delimit small groups within this same community, according to “age, age relations and sex”. Age rituals assign a special status to each age group and function as real rituals of passage. The rites of the age relation show that the pupils maintain, during their schooling, more or less close relations with the authority.

As for the rites of sex, they emphasize the boy / girl distinction. If we can legitimately forget this last category because sex has lost all distinctive power, the other two types of rituals keep their efficiency in organizing school life.

What Bernstein and his collaborators finally showed is that the ritualization of the school space must be considered from a double perspective because the process of school integration is always a double process. It is not only a process of inclusion in a relatively large whole (the establishment, the school …), it is also and at the same time a process of insertion in a small group of peers (the class, the group of ‘activity…). While socialization is geared towards “living together”, sociability is concerned with exchange.

Class, an original form

School rituals therefore focus on the universe of the classroom. This, it should be remembered, is this original institutional form in which we learn by socializing and where we socialize by educating ourselves. It is this place where the child, who has become a pupil, is confronted with a double alterity: that of his peers and that of culture.

Who does not see that the class, by its restricted dimensions and its interactive structure, requires less a set of formal rules than a ritualized organization? Study by its rhythm and repetitive structure requires, whether we like it or not, a set of codified practices. So around which rituals to organize the studious life?

The proposal made by Philippe Meirieu at the end of the 1990s deserves to be examined. The teacher opposed two types of rituals, fusion rituals and framework rituals. The first ask the person to give up his identity in order to blend into a mass “which only restores to him as an identity his belonging to the group and his adhesion to the common phantasm”.

The framework rituals, on the other hand, are socializing forms that do not erase the singularity of the subject. Their function: to assign places and limits , as Meirieu writes:
“What characterizes […] an effective school ritual, writes Meirieu, is that it guarantees both the possibility for everyone to get involved and to retract, the fact of having a place – which should not to be the whole place – and to find a refuge when he feels threatened in his integrity ”.

Sociability of work

Within these framework rituals, Meirieu distinguishes three types of rituals:

  • spatial planning rituals, which guarantee everyone a personal space;
  • the time allocation rituals, which specify the places and places of the different activities;
  • behavior codification rituals, which guarantee the physical and psychological safety of students.

As interesting as this proposal is, shouldn’t it be readjusted to better mark the time of the study? Because the rituals open and close episodes whose succession constitutes the temporal framework of our studious being-together. They punctuate and punctuate. They mark out socially differentiated ranges in the continuous flow of time.

So we suggest to think more about the sociability of the class around its central activity, learning. Rituals are in fact always ways of celebrating values ​​that matter to a group, of emphasizing what is worth preserving within a community. We would thus distinguish between welcoming rituals (entry to class, calling, etc.), exchange rituals (civility rituals, speaking out, etc.), and activity rituals (starting work, handing over work, etc.) . If this question of rituality deserves to be revisited, it is because learning in class is always learning together.

Author Bio: Eirick Prairat is Professor of Philosophy of Education, member of the Institut universitaire de France (IUF) at the University of Lorraine