This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
What is an institution? The average person, if answering off-hand, will either name one or more examples, or else define it as a spot of ground with buildings on it. But a little thought shows that this quite misses the point. Certain experiences do also, especially the not infrequent one of the burning of a school building. The normal school at Milwaukee abandoned its old building and moved into a new one several miles away on the other side of the city, but it was still the same school.
"An institution consists of people," someone says. Then take the improbable but entirely conceivable supposition that every man, woman, and child composing the faculty, students, and training-school of the normal school at Winona, Minn., go on an excursion up the river to Lake Pepin, and sink to the bottom instead of returning home. There would probably be no school the next day, but how about the next year? What would the thousands of former students say? Or the several hundred young people who are planning to attend? Or the merchants and boarding-house keepers of Winona? Or the schools that have for years looked to Winona for new teachers? Or the legislature which has just made an appropriation to extend the plant of this school? Or the Board of Regents who have already made provision in their budget for the continuance of this school next year? Or the taxpayers of the state who are accustomed to contribute substantially every year to keep up the educational system? Clearly an institution has a broader base than merely the people who are visibly carrying it on. To the maintenance of this school the social mind of the entire state is definitely committed, with no little support coming from outside of the state. "An institution," says Cooley, "is simply a definite and established phase of the public mind."
This definite phase needs to be carefully differentiated from the looser phases to which attention was directed in Chapter VI (The Social Mind). Twenty years ago the idea of manual training nearly everywhere in this country was only a popular impression in the minds of the people who study educational problems. When this impression grew into a favorable opinion, and strong enough in some one community to induce a wealthy man to give $100,000 for a manual training building, or to lead to the election of a board of education pledged to have manual training taught in the public schools, then the definite phase of the social mind came into existence. In time, visible things appeared corresponding to the popular idea of an institution: building, equipment, and work going on. Manual training was no longer the construction of whatever one's fancy suggested. There was a definite curriculum. There was a standard equipment. Each person had definite duties to perform suited to his capacity; his habits grew so that he became skilled in doing the work assigned to him. Building, equipment, and persons were coordinated to accomplish some large result, say, to give all the children in the city experience in handling tools. This marshaling of persons is what we call organization: an institution is an organized form of the life of the community.