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The Value Of Education In Society Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2452 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Education is very important and highly valued in today’s society; it is also necessary for success in life. Education is supposed to provide students with the necessary skills that prepare them for the world of work later in life. The education system also serves to teach individuals the values and morals of society. Government should pay serious attention to education and support it economically although this is sometimes not the case. Students must be equipped with knowledge and skills which are needed to participate effectively as member of society and contribute towards the development of shared values and common identity; the education system serves this purpose. The recent decades in the U.S seems to have contributed to substantial racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity in public schools, especially in large urban areas. Despite the impression of the public school system that racial segregation were matters of fifty years ago; the progress of school integration has fallen far short of expectations, black and white students continue to be segregated across public schools today. A thorough examination of the patterns in the New York City public schools is relevant here. The theories of Marx, Durkheim and Weber offer different insights on the role of public education in society. While Marx views the education system as reproducing inequality, Durkheim feels that the education system is beneficial to everyone and it also functions to socialize young people into a common culture. Weber on the other hand, believes that a person’s class situation will undoubtedly determine their social status and since social status is tied to lifestyle, which shapes most people’s ideals and convictions the transition from status to an affiliation to a certain political party is the nature progression. This ability to control one’s environment comes back to Weber’s belief that class is also determined by a person’s opportunities to change their life situation.

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Although these sociologists have debated the purpose and function of the educational systems, most agree that access to educational opportunities has a profound effect on individual life chances and attainment. Specific education policies and practices such as school choice, curriculum differentiation, school finance, and school assignment shape the range of educational opportunities available to students. Differences by social class, race/ethnicity, and gender exist within the NYC public education system. The central question is whether or not schools function to promote social mobility, achievement, and economic well-being or whether or not schools function to reproduce social inequalities. Although educational attainment is related to an individual’s family background (socioeconomic status), the public education system is supposed to function as an equalizer for those who cannot afford private education. In this case, I see the NYC public educational institutions in our society not as promoting social equality but as promoting social inequalities.

For two years, Jonathan Kozol author of, Savage Inequalities visited America’s public schools. He interviewed teachers, students, principals and superintendents, as well as with city officials, and newspaper reporters. The book exposes of the extremes of wealth and poverty in America’s public school system and its effect it has on poor children. He documents the inequalities within America’s public education system between affluent and poor districts. One of his main points is that the government does not spend enough on the schooling of poor children, while spending far more on the schooling of more wealthy, white children. According to Kozol, the issues the schools are facing are not the fault of the children themselves, but rather of a system which has let them down. Kozol offers thorough research and statistics, his appendix clearly shows how much more is spent on children living in wealthy districts than on children living in poor districts. In addition to his statistics, the strongest part of Kozol’s book is his decision to let the children speak for themselves.

Accordingly, “New York City’s public schools are subdivided into 32 school districts. District 10 encompasses a large part of the Bronx, but is effectively, two separate districts. One of these districts, Riverdale, is the northwest section of the Bronx. Home to many of the city’s sophisticated and well-educated families, its elementary schools have relatively low-income students. The other section to the south and east is poor and heavily non-white” (392) Public School 261 in District 10, capacity is supposed to be 900 students, but a stunning 1300 attend. The class sizes make up 32 children in all, with only 1 teacher. Even more, text books are scarce and students have to share with one another. The school itself is 90% black and Hispanic; the other 10% is Asian, White, or Middle Eastern. The school library is small and windowless; there are only about 700 books. The school only has 26 computers for its 1300 children. One teacher comments, “they know what suburban schools are like. Then they look around them at their school. This was a roller rink, you know…they don’t comment on it but you see it in their eyes. They understand.” (394) According to a report by the Community Service Society, some of the allocations derive from state legislators where they have political allies. The poorest districts in the city receive approximately 90 cents per pupil from these legislative grants, while the richest districts get $14 per pupil. Even more an official of the Board of Education believes that there is no point in putting further money into some poor districts because new teachers would not stay there. Here we can see that the perception of poor districts being beyond help; or in other words, they are ultimately saying that children who live in these neighborhoods are poor investments. A second school, Morris High School in the south Bronx, is not far from P.S 261. The blackboards are badly cracked, there are gaping holes in the floors, plaster and ceramic tiles have peeled off or are in the process of; “a landscape of hopelessness-burnt out apartments, boarded windows, vacant lot upon garbage-strewn vacant lot” (395) surrounds the school. Of the students in this school, 38% are black, 62% Hispanic. There are no white students in the building. According to a small child, Alexander who is 16, “You can understand things better when you go among the wealthy. You look around at your school, although it’s impolite to do that, you take a deep breath at the sight of all those beautiful surroundings. Then you come back home and see that there are things you do not have. You think of the difference. Not at first. It takes while to settle in.” (397)

On the other hand, there are those schools that are intended to be enclaves of superior education, private schools, essentially within the public system, says Kozol. At one school, the crenellated ceiling, which is white and spotless, and the polished dark-wood paneling contrast with the collapsing structure of the audience at Morris high. All of the students are white. The teacher relates that the students are reading Robert Coles, Studs Terkel, and Alice Walker. One student, Jennifer relates that the burden of helping poor kids should not be their problem, and that taxing the rich to help the poor wouldn’t make a better educational experience for her.

Kozol points out that in New York the unfairness is even more extreme since each kid in the suburbs receives an education worth $11,000 a year, whereas an inner city child receives only $5,500. It is important to notes that the Board of Education complains about unequal spending between cities across the county but lets the spending be so unequal in communities side by side. This spending pattern is a central part of a public policy at all levels of government and it cheats minorities and the poor out of their rightful education and out of the life of success and self-development which stems from a good education.

According to, For Whom Does Education Enlighten? Race, Gender, Education, and Beliefs about Social Inequality by Emily W. Kane and Else K. Kyyrö,

The meaning of positive associations between education and egalitarian beliefs has been a source of controversy, especially in the literatures on beliefs about racial and class inequality. Explanations for the association between education and dominant group attitudes like tolerance, prejudice, and democratic values can be classified into two broad groups: those emphasizing education as enlightenment and those viewing education as reproducing rather than fundamentally challenging social inequality. (710-711)

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The reproduction approach says that dominant groups in society benefit from social inequality; such inequality is not viewed as irrational but rather as a source of privilege to dominant groups. Therefore, the dominant groups have a stake in maintaining inequality in society; the education system is merely a pawn. The education system has potentially different meanings for members of dominant and subordinate groups. Education here may indeed have the power to enlighten but the question is for whom.

McLeod’s, Ain’t No Makin’ It can also serve as another example of the education system. His argument is that teachers treat lower-class kids like less competent students, placing them in lower “tracks” because they have had fewer opportunities to develop language, critical thinking, and social skills prior to entering school than middle and upper class kids; this relates to Weber argument of how social status, class, and party can affect life chances and attainments. According to McLeod’s argument, when placed in lower tracks, lower-class kids are trained for blue-collar jobs by an emphasis on obedience and following rules rather than having independence, higher-order thinking, and self-expression. They point out that while private schools are expensive and generally reserved for the upper classes, public schools, especially those that serve the poor, are underfunded, understaffed, and growing worse.

Going back to the central question of whether or not schools function to promote social mobility and economic well-being or whether or not schools function to reproduce social inequalities. Durkheim’s formation of education serves many functions: 1) To reinforce social solidarity, students can feel part of a group and therefore less likely to break rules (and commit suicide), 2) To maintain social roles, rules and expectations and trains people, 3) To maintain division of labor, schools sort students into skill groups, encouraging students to take up employment in fields best suited to their abilities. All in all, for Durkheim the education system is serves social control. For Weber, consequences of class position are relevant here. In modern societies, consequences of class position, is manifested through income inequality. Although class status is not always a causal factor for income, there is consistent data that shows that those in higher classes have higher incomes than those in lower classes. This inequality still persists when controlling for education and most important future occupation. Those in the upper-middle class and middle class enjoy greater freedoms in their occupations. They generally are more respected, more diverse, and are able to have some authority. Those in lower classes tend to feel more alienated and have lower work satisfaction. The physical conditions of the workplace differ greatly between classes. While middle-class workers may “suffer alienating conditions” or “lack of job satisfaction”, blue-collar workers suffer alienating, often routine, work with obvious physical health hazards, injury, and even death. Class also has direct consequences on lifestyle. Lifestyle includes tastes, preferences, and a general style of living. These lifestyles could quite possibly affect educational attainment, and therefore status attainment. The Marxist approach argues that education is a system that legitimizes and reproduces society’s inequalities and divisions. I believe like Marx, that schools can do little to reduce inequality without broader changes in society.

The school system, is an institution that is distributing separate and unequal education: “Behind the good statistics of the richest districts lies the triumph of a few. Behind the saddening statistics of the poorest cities lies the misery of many” (Kozol 158). It seems as if urban schools have been reformed but this is not the case; maybe one or two truly is, but the reforms usually don’t reach beyond that school. I believe Kozol’s research was incredibly helpful and insightful; inside sources are equally credible, since he has visited schools in both poor and affluent areas and has interviewed not only principals and teachers, but students as well. In my opinion, I do not think the answer is to take away from the more fortunate schools, but to bring the poor schools up to a higher and, therefore, equal level and to transform their unproductive learning environments into productive ones. Funds from taxes should be divided equally among the schools; after all, these are public schools, not private schools. The urban schools are so far behind and their facilities are so poor that maybe a policy with a time limit on it could be arranged. For example, for a certain amount years the urban schools would receive additional funds in order to restore and build new schools to accommodate all the children of the inner city. After the urban schools have time to catch up, the policy is gone and back to being equal. It sounds like a clique but it is important to remember that children are the future and that some will grow up to be productive members of society. I think it is an essential investment to give quality education to all children. In this case it is appropriate for the government to be involved; Investment in human capital, life long learning and quality education help in the development of society. Many children in our society are not provided with a safe and secure environment in which they can develop. The improvement of educational facilities is supposed to be implemented by the government and to a very sad extent they are often ignored and stereotyped.


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