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.
It is through institutions that conduct is standardized. First come the qualifications for membership. Every institution or organization, from the government of the nation down to the grammar-room baseball team, sets a standard for admission. Persons who are of the institution's type are sought for membership, and themselves seek it. An institution, then, is a society with a selected population.
The new recruit, once within, is gradually made over into closer conformity to the type, and because the members deliberately intend to do this they prefer a young recruit to an old one. It is in this process and the degree of success attending it that any particular institution differs most from another of its kind. There are formal statements of aims and the means of working toward them. The ideals of conduct are represented in as attractive colors as possible. The most is accomplished, however, through suggestion and imitation. The new member, being anxious to stand well, watches closely and does what he sees the older members do.
... So teachers, clergymen, physicians, civil engineers, artists, or actors, by agreeing among themselves as to what is praiseworthy and what disreputable, control the feelings and consequently the endeavor of the individual.
Every party, labor union, guild, lodge, surveying corps, or athletic team will, in the course of time, develop for its special purposes appropriate types of character or observance, which exert on its members an invisible pressure subordinating them to the welfare or aims of the association. ... - Ross, Social Control, p. 232.
"All the bother about what one has to do with oneself is over," wrote Hugh. "One has disposed of oneself. That has the effect of a great relief. Instead of telling oneself that one ought to get up in the morning, a bugle tells you that. . . . And there's no nonsense about it, no chance of lying and arguing about it with oneself. ... I begin to see the sense of men going into monasteries and putting themselves under rules. One is carried along in a sort of moral automobile instead of trudging the road. . . . " - Wells, Mr. Britling Sees It Through, pp. 305, 306.
In a western university town a certain fraternity has been noted for the scholarship of its members. For several years this fraternity had furnished the Rhodes scholar for the state. It is a sort of unwritten rule among them that the ablest member must represent their institution at Oxford. The present representative did not want to go to England. In answer to my question, "Why did you go, then?" he replied, "For the frat men; 'twould be disloyalty to them not to go."
A sorority in the same town was distinctly a fashionable society. To be admitted to this was a recognition of social fitness. Dress was the watchword, parties and men were the most absorbing interests. I suppose these girls studied occasionally, but they seemed to exist only to find a good time with little or no work in it. Most of them were fine looking, so when college plays were put on these girls were always in requisition. School teaching was voted a deadly bore. "Life is too short to put it in in that way," said one who resigned after teaching for two months.
. . . Especially it needs as a corrective the German idea of a standard, of toeing the mark, the idea through which the Fatherland has rendered such noble service to her sons. People can attain a standard when it is required of them - witness the feats of horsemanship that every West Point cadet learns to perform. Do it for America; make yourself, whether you can hope to shine in competition or not - regardless of any such reward - the sort of unit of which your country's temple can be built. ... - Lee, Play in Education, p. 201.
An occasional person misunderstands either the type or himself, and applies for membership only to be refused. A few also - very few, usually - both misunderstand and are misunderstood; they gain admission without possessing conformity to the type or even the elements out of which conformity can be developed. Then there is trouble. Coercion, of which there are many kinds and degrees, is then put into operation, sometimes at much cost of energy and resources, and always frustrating to some extent the ends for which the institution exists.
Only once in the history of the society has any one ever been expelled. Every one felt bad over the acts committed as well as over the loss of the two girls, but it was the only way to teach the other girls a lesson as well as to punish the culprits.
To avoid trouble of this kind an institution with high standards takes great care in looking up the characteristics of candidates for membership. In higher schools of all kinds new students are put through a process of "rushing" by the members of student organizations; absurd as it sometimes is, it is the means by which the new students are sorted into the respective organizations for which they are best adapted. The same sorting process goes on among teachers, only more quietly. Here is a statement from a teachers' agency:
It was once stated by the president of one of the best known eastern colleges that he felt he earned his salary and justified his official existence if he was able to add one real teacher to his faculty each year, even though other teachers selected should prove indifferent. This is a common sentiment among school men. A careful search is constantly going on for trained and capable men and women, men and women who are real teachers.
A young woman who had risen to the highest distinction among the students in a school wrote by request shortly before her graduation the following account of what her literary society had done for her. It is a splendid example of the way the member takes on the character of the institution, and then in turn contributes to its strength and further growth.
Before I had any idea of making Clionian I was of the harum-scarum kind who have no special ambition. At first I was awed and subdued by the older girls, but I was soon made to feel that I must put my soul into things and not be a back number. The consciousness that I was part of that group entirely changed my attitude toward life in general and student fife in particular. Up to that time there had been no special aim in my work. I came to school and went home, not caring much about my attitude or actions. Why should I have cared? There was nothing to make me responsible, no one with any claim on me.
The first meeting was rather a shock to me. I had imagined perfect harmony in the workings of the society. But instead I found that every member had a different view of every question; the arguments became so heated at times that I thought of Lincoln's sentiment, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I had not been in long, however, before I realized that these discussions were all good-natured; no one meant disrespect to the other's feelings; it was purely a competition. Almost before I knew it I was doing the same thing, glad when I had a chance to get up and give my views on a subject.
Almost as soon as I had paid my initiation fee we began to prepare for our annual contest with the Ciceronian. I entered just to show my grit, though I really felt presumptuous to do it. The girls urged me on so that I got first place in the preliminary. Then I realized that I counted for something with them, especially as they came to me quietly one by one and said that their hopes were pinned on me and that I must go ahead and win for them. It was not known to me at the time that they all told the same thing to the other two declaimers, and so I felt greatly responsible.
Next I was made chairman of the committee to decorate for the Clionian-Ciceronian party, and as all the girls helped me it came out successfully. One thing led to another, the girls all pushing on toward bigger things and taking me with them. The great sustaining influence was that I had the hearty approbation of the society in all I undertook. Had they dampened my ardor in any way, either by signs of jealousy or lack of ambition to accomplish things, I know that I never would have accomplished what I have. After a year I began to get the knack of going ahead. One evening I suggested a plan for a new enterprise of some magnitude. The girls received it doubtfully, a few protesting that it could not be done. I too doubted for a moment, but I summoned enough self-assurance to picture the project in vivid terms and to tell them how it would be a success if we would all cooperate. My "bill passed." We did work hard, and were so royally repaid that the occasion is now established for annual repetition.
Whenever I am praised or blamed for any act of mine I feel unconsciously that Clionian is either upheld or reproached. Next to my family, Clionian has formed my social nature and ideals, more than church, the school, or the community in which I live. All of this I lay gratefully at the feet of my sister Clionians of 1910-11.