Public Schools: Political, Social, Economic & Cultural Contexts

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will discuss the different contexts operating in and around public schools. We will look at the public school system as it relates to political, social, economic, and cultural contexts of education.

The Importance of Public Schools

Public schools are an integral part of a community. They provide the foundations of skills and knowledge. They educate, as well as socialize children, giving them the resources that they need to grow, thrive and become productive adults. This means schools are impacted by social and cultural factors. Alternatively, the social, cultural, political, and economic contexts of the larger communities are impacted by the public schools. Public schools are funded by tax dollars, so they are also impacted by political and economic factors.

Let's explore the interdependent relationships between schools and these larger external contexts around them.


Public schools are inseparable from the social context of teaching students how to function and communicate effectively with others. Socialization is a key responsibility of schooling because this is often the only opportunity children may have to develop meaningful relationships, with people outside their family. In order to have healthy interpersonal relationships later in life, children need to learn how to engage others in conversation, communicate effectively, develop bonds, negotiate for their interests, and get along with peers and authority figures.

Schools provide a safe environment to practice interpersonal social skills, in a realistic setting that may mimic adult life at work, and in the community. Schools become a microcosm of the world, creating in miniature a view of life children can learn from. Schools create a pool of fresh young humans, ready to find their place in the world, armed with the tools to navigate into maturity. School leaders can facilitate this process by setting a good example, or modeling, by demonstrating healthy social interactions.

Consider Jane, a student with social anxiety and a difficult home life that make it unlikely she has opportunities to practice interacting with others. She can work through her anxiety with classmates, who also have their own stressors.


Teachers and school staff benefit from considering how social and cultural diversity can impact students.
contemplating diversity

Cultural context can have an influence on schooling because different cultures can respond to public schools differently. For example, many standardized tests have been shown to favor students from upper-middle-class backgrounds, compared to scores from students in more diverse or low-income districts. Some students may have cultural influences on their approach to learning that may be related to their religion, nationality, language, or geographic regions.

Public schools also can influence the culture of their community and society as a whole. Schools are a central and integral part of every community and can be a center for fellowship among citizens of a town. Schools participate in community cultural events by participating in parades, shows, community service opportunities, and other ways to cultivate a community of shared best interest in creating a well-rounded youth.

Paloma comes from a bilingual family. At home, she speaks mostly Spanish, but she speaks English everywhere else. She acts as a translator between her mom and the teachers, making communication difficult.


Because public schools are publicly funded, they are especially subject to government control. The ways in which political contexts influence schooling are related to the nature of government having power over schools in their ability to enact, and enforce. relevant legislation.

Different political climates can affect public schooling differently. For example, Michelle Obama worked to create healthier school lunches as part of her campaign to end childhood obesity. School leaders are responsible for ensuring that schools are compliant with relevant federal and state legislation, and make corrections to policies and procedures as needed.

Public schools also have an influence over politics by campaigning on behalf of the needs of their students.

For example, student advocates and activists are to thank for the increased support for federal enforcement of Title IX to protect students who are victims of gender-based violence. Public schools educate students and help them become responsible citizens, which can have a powerful impact on the political climate by generating a well-informed voting populous.

This image from the March for Science illustrates student political activism.
march for science

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