The effects of the school social environment and organizational components on the creation and destruction of social capital

Richard Paul Limato, Fordham University


School reform has commanded national attention since the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983. Although we have tried almost everything conceivable to improve schools, qualitative changes in the family and American society limit the success of the educational reform movement. Changes in social conditions, demographics, technology, and economics from the 1980s to the present reveal the challenges confronting school reform today. Illustrative of these issues facing schools are the weakening of neighborhood ties, the growing number of broken families, the increasing influence of peer culture, a decline in community youth groups, changes in family demographics, the lack of effective community norms regarding social control, and the increasing number of adult-detached children. It appears that we need to link our response to a changing society with our efforts to reform schools. This study explored what drives the production or destruction of social capital in an elementary school setting as well as what tensions may develop when there is interaction between the school social environment and its organizational characteristics. Social capital, a metaphor based on economic theory, was related to socialization by James Coleman (1988). Coleman, Hoffer, and Kilgore (Coleman, 1988) found congruence between the home and school relationship in the Catholic school setting that had a positive effect upon the socialization process. In seeking to identify whether or not the setting for social capital could be replicated within a public school, this study examined the effects of the school social environment and the organizational components on the creation and destruction of social capital in a suburban Westchester K–5 elementary school. The primary research method used for this study was naturalistic inquiry. The prime concern of the researcher in the natural setting of this elementary school was to study a complex cultural phenomenon like social capital in a single site with the findings leading to further studies conducted at other sites. In conducting this field study, the researcher used the methods of naturalistic inquiry that included participant observations, review of archival materials, nonparticipant observations, and unobtrusive clues. The major findings of this study revealed that relationships and organizational characteristics mutually create and sustain a social capital platform. Girding this platform are the perceptions that become the reality for the constituent groups. Equally important is the role played by leadership. It appears that artful leadership is essential to the creation of the social capital platform that supports the relationships and organizational structures.

Subject Area

Educational sociology|Elementary education|School administration

Recommended Citation

Limato, Richard Paul, "The effects of the school social environment and organizational components on the creation and destruction of social capital" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9923435.