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Social Stratification In Education

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Sociology is the study of human social relations, groups, and societies (Chambliss and Eglitis 2). Using the scientific method, to test and find theories in sociology can help sociologists have a better understanding of the world. There is sociological research everywhere; in medicine, government, education, and beyond. In society, education plays a major role. “Education is the transmission of society’s norms, values, and knowledge base through direct instruction”(Chambliss and Eglitis 327). It is an important part of different cultures, it helps define social classes, and it functions as an agent of socialization. In the U.S., mass education, “the extension of formal schooling to wide segments of the population” is the norm (Chambliss and Eglitis 327). Education helps prepare people for the norms and values needed in society but limits the individuality when it relates to ambition.

Education is one of the main agents of socialization in society. Socialization is “the process by which people learn the culture of their society”(Chambliss and Eglitis 87). Other agents of socialization are family, peers, religion, work, media, internet, and social media. Typically, socialization is thought of as something that happens to young people, but socialization occurs throughout one’s lifetime. In socialization, there are groups that people interact with that shape how they are socialized and how they think of themselves. The first group is primary groups which are smaller groups that tend to have a more intimate relationship, such as one’s family. Then there are secondary groups that are larger groups that are not as personal as primary groups. For example, education. Then there are reference groups. Reference groups provide standards on which attitudes or behaviors are judged, such as the internet and media. Education is important in socialization because it teaches people the norms or accepted social behaviors and beliefs that govern behavior (Chambliss and Eglitis 9).

The conflict theory, founded by Karl Marx, seeks to explain the social organization and change in terms of the conflict that is built into social relationships (Chambliss and Eglitis 22). Karl Marx founded the conflict perspective with his discussions of class conflict. He said that there is a competition between social classes over wealth, power, and other resources in society. The two classes of people were the proletariat, or the working class, wage workers, and the bourgeoisie, or the capitalist, property-owning class. One class prospers at the expense of the other. The conflict perspective believes that when it comes to education, poor and working-class children don’t have the same opportunities to showcase their talents and abilities because they don’t have the same access to educational opportunities.

In the conflict perspective, they believe that “it [the education system] reproduces rather than reduces social stratification and, rather than ensuring that the best people train for and conscientiously perform the most socially important jobs, it ensures that the discovery of talent will be limited”(Chambliss and Eglitis 329). Social stratification is “the systematic ranking of different groups of people in a hierarchy of inequality”(Chambliss and Eglitis 171). They argue that the classes are not equal and that the lower class has unequal access to resources and their power is limited. Social stratification is still in place and is still an issue today because the people who are in powerful positions make their decisions based on what will positively impact them and their families (Chambliss and Eglitis 191-192). These decisions include the unequalness in schools and education through funding and access to resources. It ensures that the working and lower classes do not have the same opportunities to move up in society.

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Conflict theorists argue that there is a “hidden curriculum” in the classroom that socializes students of the working class to accept their class (Chambliss and Eglitis 330). The hidden curriculum, defined by Phillip Jackson, is “the unspoken classroom socialization into the norms, values, and roles of a society that schools provide along with the ‘official’ curriculum”(Chambliss and Eglitis 95). The hidden curriculum can be seen between girls and boys and gender roles. Girls are usually pushed towards classes that are targeted more towards liberal arts, such as literature. Boys are typically pushed towards math and science subjects. Another example of a hidden curriculum is if a class has reading material that is not inclusive of a race. “…if an English class typically relies on reading material with White main characters, this may teach students of color that their cultures are not appreciated or that people of their ethnic group cannot be heroes”(Chambliss and Eglitis 96). The hidden curriculum can also be shown through different class status and races. For example, if a school has a majority of students that are in a middle and upper-class status, the school is going to have more funding which means they will have more advanced classes and technology. A school with lower-class students, will not have equal funding and will not have equal opportunities when it comes to more advanced classes and newer technology. Schools will teach the working-class and lower-class students to accept their class and they will be encouraged to have lower ambitions than students of higher class.

Most of the unfair funding and having schools that are funded more than others come from a long history of segregation and institutionalized discrimination. Institutionalized discrimination is “discrimination enshrined in law, public policy, or common practice; it is an unequal treatment that has become a part of the operation of such major social institutions as businesses, schools, hospitals, and the government”(Chambliss and Eglitis 234). In the U.S., many laws did not allow black families to purchase houses in certain neighborhoods. Though laws have since been passed so that this discrimination does not continue, it still does and the effects of these previous laws can still be seen, especially in schools. De facto segregation is “school segregation based largely on residential patterns”(Chambliss and Eglitis 338). Due to the effects of previous laws and segregation, unequal schooling is a result. One of the aspects of the unfairness in schools is access to advanced placement or AP classes that are provided. These are classes that help prepare students for college classes and give them a chance to earn college credit. For example, a ProPublica study found that in New York, “many of the state’s affluent school districts offer far more AP classes than do economically disadvantaged schools with high percentages of minority students”(Chambliss and Eglitis 330). They also found that “…racial and ethnic minorities are often enrolled in lower-income schools, suggesting that the effects of limited access to AP courses are experienced most acutely by Black and Hispanic students”(Chambliss and Eglitis 330). This shows that even though there is legislation that tries to prevent the continuation of segregation in education, it continues and fails students who are apart of the minority and it doesn’t allow them to have ambitious goals outside of their social class.

De facto segregation and school segregation not only affects public school, but it also affects higher education. School segregation is “the education of racial minorities in schools that are geographically, economically, and/or socially separated from those attended by the racial majority”(Chambliss and Eglitis 335). In the U.S., the amount of people finishing high school is the highest it’s ever been. The number of people graduating from college has also increased dramatically over the past few years, but so has the number of students dropping out. In 2016, the National Center for Education Statistics found that “…students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are enrolling at high rates: fully 85% of Asian American students, 68% of White students, 63% of Black students, and 62% of Hispanic students enrolled in college immediately after completing high school”(Chambliss and Eglitis 342). One downfall of such a high enrollment rate is that many students will leave college with debt, but no degree. There are many reasons why this is. One reason is that the costs of college are very high for lower-income students, even with financial aid, resulting in them dropping out before completing their degree. Another reason drop out rates are higher is the harder workload. Since so many students are moving onto the higher education level, many may be less prepared than others for the heavier workload. Because of the lack of preparedness, institutions may make those students take classes that don’t count toward their degree but still costs money. This causes more time spent working on their degree, and more money spent, causing the student to drop out. The third reason that drop-out rates are increasing is because of the tough balance between work and school. College is expensive and many students have to work their way through their schooling. If they are spending most of their time outside of the classroom working, they won’t have as much time to study or work on assignments. This could cause them failing their classes and more money being wasted, causing them to drop out. Many advocates for students believe that colleges can do more to help students succeed by providing coaching, scheduling that fits for the working student, and accelerated programs that speed up the time spent on getting a degree (Chambliss and Eglitis 344). Knowing and understanding the struggles of college students and the reasons for dropping out is a step in the direction of fixing this issue.

Education is an important aspect when it comes to a country’s urbanization. In newer countries, children end their education due to lack of role models, the need to work, and because in an Agrarian lifestyle, no degree is required. In Western countries, such as the United States, however, education is needed to succeed. In the 18th century industrial society in the U.S., the need for people to be literate increased. Literacy is “the ability to read and write at a basic level”(Chambliss and Eglitis 328). During the 19th century, free public education, or “a universal education system provided by the government and funded by tax revenues rather than student fees”(Chambliss and Eglitis 328), was established. Through mass public education, the U.S. became a credential society, or “a society in which access to desirable work and social status depends on the possession of a certificate or diploma certifying the completion of formal education”(Chambliss and Eglitis 328). To move up classes in society, one needs to have the proper education credentials, however, this is difficult for lower-income households because social stratification exists in society and is supported in the education system. In American lower-income households, children are already at a disadvantage. In a study about how many words children could say at age three, “children from impoverished environment used less than half the number of words already spoken by their more advantaged peers”(Chambliss and Eglitis 334). The researchers concluded that when children grow up in a household that has more than 500 books, it would equal to more than two years of education. They also found that having books in the home had a stronger effect on the child’s education than their parents’ education level, the country’s gross domestic product, the father’s occupation, and the political system of the country (Chambliss and Eglitis 334-335). Even though literacy is an important aspect of daily life in the U.S., there are still adults that struggle. The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or the PIAAC, found that in America, about 17% of adults were at 13% or below Level 1 on the literacy test (Chambliss and Eglitis 335). When people have a strong literacy foundation, it sets them up for future success in school. There have been links to incompletion of high school to shaky literacy foundations (Chambliss and Eglitis 335). When children grow up in a society with social stratification, lower-income kids will have a harder time succeeding in education and then life.

Education is a very important aspect when it comes to shaping people through socialization. It is also an important agent when it comes to shaping societies and cultures. Though education still has flaws and reproduces social stratification rather than reducing social stratification, it has come a long way and has made societies better. There are still many things that need fixing in education, such as overcoming de facto segregation. Schools should provide equal opportunities for everyone so that everyone has equal opportunities in society. When equal opportunities in schools are achieved and children aren’t stuck in their social class, enrollment rates in higher education will continue to increase and the dropout rate will decrease. Conducting social research on education is very important. When one learns the flaws and holes in education, things can be done and changes can be made to try to better it, which in return will better society.

Works Cited

  1. Eglitis, Daina Stukuls, and William J. Chambliss. Discover Sociology: Core Concepts. 4th ed., SAGE Publishing, 2020.

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