Learning the Student Role:
Kindergarten as Academic Boot Camp
by Harry L. Gracey
Human beings are culture‐making animals and nearly all complex human behavior is
learned and not inborn. "Socialization" is the term used to name the lifelong process
by which people learn the ways of their communities. Some socialization is essential
for both individuals and their larger societies, and neither could survive without it.
The first important agency of socialization is the family where young children learn
language, basic social skills, and the values of their culture. But in all modern
industrial societies, children experience another major agency of socialization, the
Children learn a great deal in school, although what much of what they learn is not
part of the formal curriculum. Equally important is the "hidden curriculum," for
children also are taught – to a greater or lesser extent – how to fit in with a social
system, how to follow rules and order, respect authority, obey, compete, and achieve
success within the boundaries of the system.
In this article, Harry Gracey compares kindergarten to a military boot camp – the
initial phase of military training. He first describes and then analyzes a typical day in
a kindergarten classroom, showing that what the children are really learning is the
student role – a role they will play for many more years of their lives.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the sociologist Emile Durkheim told
student teachers at the University of Paris that education "consists of a methodical
socialization of the younger generation.” He went on to add:
"It is the influence exercised by adult generations on those that are not ready for
social life. Its object is to arouse and to develop in the child a certain number of physical,
intellectual, and moral states that are demanded of him by the special milieu for which he is ...