Introduction to Sociology/Education

Education is a social science that encompasses teaching and learning specific skills. Practicing teachers in the field of education use a variety of methods and materials in their instruction to impart a curriculum. There has been a plethora of literature in the field of education that addresses these areas. Such literature addresses the facets of teaching practices to include instructional strategies, behavior management, environmental control, motivational strategies, and technological resources. However, the single most important factor in any teacher's effectiveness is the interaction style and personality of the teacher, for the quality of their relationships with the students provides the impetus for inspiration. The best teachers are able to translate good judgment, experience, and wisdom into the art of communication that students find compelling. It is their compassion for varied human qualities, passion, and the creativity of potential that assists teachers to invigorate students to higher expectations of themselves and society at large. The goal of education is the growth of students so that they become productive citizens of a dynamic, everchanging, society. Fundamentally, the imparting of culture from generation to generation (see socialisation)promotes a greater awareness and responsiveness through social maturity to the needs of an increasingly diversified society.


To do:
Per Future Chapters at Introduction to Sociology table of contents, this module is yet to be completed.

Overview edit

It is widely accepted that the process of education begins at birth and continues throughout life. Some believe that education begins even earlier than this, as evidenced by some parents' playing music or reading to the baby in the womb in the hope it will influence the child's development.

The word 'education' is often used to refer solely to formal education (see below). However, it covers a range of experiences, from formal learning to the building of understanding through day to day experiences. Ultimately, all that we experience serves as a form of education.

Individuals can receive informal education from a variety of sources. Family members and society have a strong influence on the informal education of the individual.

Origins of the Word "Education" edit

The word "education" is derived from the Latin educare meaning "leading out" or "leading forth". This reveals one of the theories behind the function of education - of developing innate abilities and expanding horizons.

Formal Education edit

Formal education occurs when society or a group or an individual sets up a curriculum to educate people, usually the young. Formal education can become systematic and thorough. Formal education systems can be used to promote ideals or values as well as knowledge and this can sometimes lead to abuse of the system.

Life-long or adult education has become widespread in many countries. However, 'education' is still seen by many as something aimed at children, and adult education is often branded as 'adult learning' or 'lifelong learning'.

Adult education takes on many forms from formal class-based learning to self-directed learning. Lending libraries provide inexpensive informal access to books and other self-instructional materials. Many adults have also taken advantage of the rise in computer ownership and internet access to further their informal education.

History of education edit

In 1994 Dieter Lenzen, president of the Freie Universität Berlin, said education began either millions of years ago or at the end of 1770. (The first chair of pedagogy was founded at the end of the 1770s at the University of Halle, Germany.) This quote by Lenzen includes the idea that education as a science cannot be separated from the educational traditions that existed before.

Education was the natural response of early civilizations to the struggle of surviving and thriving as a culture, requiring adults to train the young of their society in the knowledge and skills they would need to master and eventually pass on. The evolution of culture, and human beings as a species, has depended on this practice of transmitting knowledge. In pre-literate societies this was achieved orally, story-telling from one generation to the next. As oral language developed into written symbols and letters, the depth and breadth of knowledge that could be preserved and passed increased exponentially.

As cultures began to extend their knowledge beyond the basic skills of communicating, trading, gathering food, religious practices, etc., the beginnings of formal education, schooling, eventually followed. There is evidence that schooling in this sense was already in place in Egypt between 3000 and 500BC.

Basic education today is considered those skills that are necessary to function in society. Yet, a more critical view[1] suggests that mass public education has been used by governments as a way to instill in the minds of youth nationalism and patriotism, as well as obedience to authority. Business corporations have also advocated public education as a way to teach children to be obedient to managers ("teachers"), to follow orders, complete assignments, show-up for class on time, and other conditions that mirror a work environment. In this radical critique of public education, schools are tools for coercing children to respect hierarchy and to fit them into the systems of the nation-state and capitalism.

Education Globally edit

In developing countries edit

In developing countries, the number and seriousness of the problems faced is naturally greater. People are sometimes unaware of the importance of education, and there is economic pressure from those parents who prioritize their children's making money in the short term over any long-term benefits of education. Recent studies on child labor and poverty have suggested, however, that when poor families reach a certain economic threshold where families are able to provide for their basic needs, parents return their children to school. This has been found to be true, once the threshold has been breached, even if the potential economic value of the children's work has increased since their return to school. Teachers are often paid less than other similar professions.

A lack of good universities, and a low acceptance rate for good universities is evident in countries with a relatively high population density. In some countries there are uniform, overstructured, inflexible centralized programs from a central agency that regulates all aspects of education.

  • Due to globalization, increased pressure on students in curricular activities
  • Removal of a certain percentage of students for improvisation of academics (usually practised in schools, after 10th grade)

India however is starting to develop technologies that will skip land based phone and internet lines. Instead, they have launched a special education satellite that can reach more of the country at a greatly reduced cost. There is also an initiative started by AMD and other corporations to develop the $100 dollar computer which should be ready by 2006. This computer will be sold in units of 1 million, and will be assembled in the country where the computer will be used. This appears to be a different computer to that developed by MIT, with the same price tag, believed to be powered by clockwork and a generator. This will enable poorer countries to give their children a digital education and to close the digital divide across the world.

In Africa, NEPAD has launched an "e-school programme" to provide all 600,000 primary and high schools with computer equipment, learning materials and internet access within 10 years.

  • should cover education statistics around the world
  • also talk about economic development of countries and the connection to education
  • maybe highlight some countries

Technology and Education edit

Technology has become an increasingly influential factor in education. Computers and associated technology are being widely used in developed countries to both complement established education practices and develop new ways of learning such as online education (a type of distance education). While technology clearly offers powerful learning tools that can engage students, research has been mixed as to whether technology actually improves student learning.

Education and Social Theory edit

The Functions of Education edit

The manifest function of education is the transmission of knowledge to students in order to help them contribute back to society, either as knowledge producers themselves (i.e., scientists) or in other ways, like in business or industry. However, education also has a latent function, and it is a function that is actually quite important when it comes to financial outcomes. One of the latent functions of a mass educational system is to foster social skills. And, it turns out, those social skills literally pay-off in the long run. Students who score high on measures of sociability earn more money and get more education than equally intellectually gifted students who don't score as high in social skills.[2]

  • socialization
  • cultural innovation
  • social integration
  • knowledge transmission
  • child care for workers

Education and Social Interaction edit

  • self-fulfilling prophecies

Education and Inequality edit

Gender edit

A recent topic of policy debate in the U.S. is the concern that there is a "boy crisis," as boys are less likely to graduate from high school and go on to college than are girls. However, recent research by Judith Kleinfeld suggests that painting this as a "crisis" exclusive to boys may be a little misleading.[3] Boys at the primary and secondary educational levels do have a number of problems: lower rates of literacy, lower grades, lower engagement in school, higher dropout rates, higher rates of placement in special education, higher rates of emotional disturbance, higher rates of learning disabilities, higher rates of suspension and expulsion from school, and lower rates of entrance into college.[3] Outside of school, boys are also more likely to: commit suicide, exhibit conduct disorders, die young, and be arrested or sent to juvenile detention centers. Clearly, boys have a number of problems.[3] However, girls have their own share of problems that are no less serious than those facing young men, just different: higher rates of depression, higher incidence of eating disorders, higher rates of suicide attempts, lower scores on math and science tests, and less likely to be the highest achievers.[3] Kleinfeld does conclude that the issues facing boys are probably more serious (e.g., 25% of American male high school graduates cannot understand a newspaper article vs. 10% of females), but also reminds us that women are facing many serious issues as well.

In the U.S. in 1960, 65% of all Bachelors degrees went to men; in 1982 it reached parity between men and women. In 2004, women received 58% of Bachelor's degrees.[4] The 1960s and 1970s were pivotal years in the reversal of educational disparity between men and women. According to recent research,[4] the reversal in disparity of educational attainment between men and women is largely attributable to higher drop-out rates of men from 4-year colleges, particularly males whose fathers have just a high school education or are absent from the home. Additionally, women experience earlier academic success than men do (in junior high and high school); the study skills and commitment that contribute to that success carries over to college where they do better than men. Additional reasons why this reversal has taken place may include: a faster rise in the value of college for females than for males (resulting in women benefiting more from completing their education) and rising divorce rates, which force women to be more independent. The increasing completion rate of women may have substantial influences on society in general, as education and income are important factors when considering who one will marry.[5]

Class and Income edit

One of the primary factors contributing to educational inequality and poverty in general in the US is the funding system for public education.[6] In most areas of the US, public schools are funded primarily through local property taxes. As a result, schools in wealthier neighborhoods have substantially larger budgets, which translates into better facilities, better teachers, and better resources. When these monetary advantages are coupled with the advantage of having a safe, supportive, and intellectually enriching home environment that comes with wealth,[6] it is not surprising that children who attend better funded public schools tend to be more successful than those who attend more poorly funded public schools. Additionally, within schools in the U.S., tracking is commonly employed (separating students into different classes based on their abilities and skills). Tracking increases disparity in educational attainment rather than reducing those disparities.[7]

There is also evidence to suggest that the lifetime educational possibilities of most kids are set by the time they are six years old.[8] This is due to the fact that several family background characteristics are very strong predictors of future educational attainment, including: parental support, parental expectations for schooling, household income, and parental educational attainment, with the last two being the most important factors. Also surprising in this study was the finding that the lifetime educational attainment predicted using background characteristics when individuals were in the first grade were just as good at predicting educational attainment as were similar variables when individuals were in high school, and on some measures better. In real terms, this translates into children living in poorer neighborhoods receiving less education than children who live in middle-class or upper-class neighborhoods. What's more, the lifetime educational attainment seems to be set by the time children are starting school, not when they are finishing it.

Educational deficits resulting from inequality also affect future life trajectories. Colleges tend to draw students from a relatively advantaged background because of their high costs and stiff academic requirements for enrollment.[9] What's more, because colleges want to maintain their rankings in various college ranking systems (e.g., U.S. News & World Report), colleges favor students with higher standardized test scores and aggressively recruit them using "merit" scholarships. In 2000, affluent students, students who could otherwise afford to pay for college, received "merit" scholarships worth 82% of the need-based aid received by students with the lowest family incomes.[7] In other words, affluent students who could pay for college often do not have to because the advantages they received attending better elementary, middle, and high schools translated into higher standardized test scores, which are attractive to universities when it comes to recruiting. As a result, there is less funding available for students who actually need it. This ends up reinforcing the existing status hierarchy by keeping the affluent wealthy and the poor unable to attend college.

Some of those under-privileged youth choose another path as a result. Despite being both volunteer and high risk, the military remains attractive to a certain segment of the U.S. population, primarily young people from less advantaged families and neighborhoods. Such individuals view the military as more promising than entry-level jobs in the workforce without a college diploma. Cognitively, young people from disadvantaged homes are about average, but are socioeconomically disadvantaged, which is one of the primary reasons they turn to the military rather than college to pursue financial success, with some success.[9]

Health and Longevity edit

As noted in the chapter on demography, education is a strong and significant predictor of greater life expectancy. The more years of education a person has, the greater their likelihood of engaging in healthy behaviors (and, inversely, the lower their likelihood of engaging in unhealthy behaviors, like smoking).[10]

Issues in Education (U.S. Focus) edit

Charter Schools edit

Charter schools are publicly funded elementary or secondary schools in the United States that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each school's charter. Their founders are often teachers, parents, or activists who feel restricted by traditional public schools. State-run charter schools (schools not affiliated with local school districts) are often established by non-profit groups, universities, and some government entities.[11]

The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for greater accountability. They are accountable for both academic results and fiscal practices to several groups, including the sponsor that grants them, the parents who choose them, and the public that funds them. Charter schools can theoretically be closed for failing to meet the terms set forth in their charter, but in practice, this can be difficult, divisive and controversial. One example was the 2003 revocation of the charter for a school called Urban Pioneer in the San Francisco Unified School District, which first came under scrutiny when two students died on a school wilderness outing.[12] An auditor's report found that the school was in financial disarray[13] and posted the lowest test scores of any school in the district except those serving entirely non-English-speakers.[14] It was also accused of academic fraud, graduating students with far fewer than the required credits.

Opponents of charter schools argue that charter schools probably cannot fix any broader problems with the U.S. educational system. If they do anything, they probably encourage segregation while drawing money out of the public school system.[11] Additionally, recent data indicates that children in charter schools are not doing any better on standardized achievement tests. At best, they are doing as well as children in public schools, but when charter schools are not associated with a public school district, children in the schools score significantly less well than their public school counterparts.[11] Charter schools appear not to be the solution to the lackluster educational system of the U.S.

High School Completion edit

An issue often obfuscated by confusing statistics, high school completion rates in the U.S. are often lower than reported.[15] High school completion rates are calculated at the state level and aggregated at the federal level. The percentage of students who graduate from high school often reported by the federal government in the U.S. is around 85%, but a more accurate percentage is about 71%.[15] Seventy-one percent is a sobering statistic when you think about its implications - slightly less than 3 out of 4 students who start high school in the U.S. finish; 1/4 of young people in America today are moving into adulthood without a high school diploma. The lack of a high school diploma contributes to lower wages and increased rates of poverty, as well as poorer general understandings of society, health, and science. Additionally, the U.S. used to lead the world in sending high school graduates on to higher education, but in 2008 it was 5th and 16th out of 27 industrialized countries in the proportion of students who start college and complete it.[16] We also have a disproportionate share of low-performing students; almost 1/3 of students in U.S. secondary schools don't have the minimum education to contribute to a globalized, high-tech economy.[16]

Public vs. Private Schools edit

While it has long been held that private schools provide better education than public schools, current research suggests that is not the case.[17] Public school students test higher, on average, in math than do private school students when social and economic backgrounds are controlled.[17] Longitudinal data illustrates that, while students beginning in public and Catholic schools test at about the same level in math, by the fifth grade the public school students make significantly greater gains, equivalent to almost an extra half year of schooling.[17] While the limited number of private schools makes it difficult to compare a wide variety of religiously affiliated schools with public schools, conservative Protestant private schools show the worst math performance of all types of schools.[17] Math is particularly telling in this regard as it is the subject least influenced by home environment and most greatly influenced by the effectiveness of the schooling environment.[17] However, it should be noted that school type only explains about 5% of the variation in math scores; the bulk of the difference is explained by demographic characteristics.[17] The implication of this research is that, while private schools may provide a specific type of schooling (i.e., one that includes religious instruction), there is little evidence that private schools in general provide better instruction or improve educational outcomes.

Other Issues edit

Some of these issues, as well as others, are discussed in a Wikibook called Contemporary Educational Psychology.

The Role of Students edit

Education is not solely about the provision of information to students. Students also play a role in the education process. One of the ways they do so is in employing effective study techniques. Unfortunately, there are a number of myths about effective studying techniques for students. For instance, many educators encourage elaborate study techniques, like concept-mapping, claiming that they improve the encoding of information into memory. Recent research suggests it is more beneficial for recall to practice retrieving information than using elaborate encoding techniques.[18] Students' time is better spent practicing free recall of information studied than employing complex study techniques.

Challenges in education edit

The goal of education is the transference of ideas and skills from one person to another, or from one person to a group. Current education issues include which teaching method(s) are most effective, how to determine what knowledge should be taught, which knowledge is most relevant, and how well the pupil will retain incoming knowledge. Educators such as George Counts and Paulo Freire identified education as an inherently political process with inherently political outcomes. The challenge of identifying whose ideas are transferred and what goals they serve has always stood in the face of formal and informal education.

In addition to the "Three R's", reading, writing, and arithmetic, Western primary and secondary schools attempt to teach the basic knowledge of history, geography, mathematics (usually including calculus and algebra), physics, chemistry and sometimes politics, in the hope that students will retain and use this knowledge as they age or that the skills acquired will be transferrable. The current education system measures competency with tests and assignments and then assigns each student a corresponding grade. The grades usually come in the form of either a letter grade or a percentage, which are intended to represent the amount of all material presented in class that the student understood.

Educational progressives or advocates of unschooling often believe that grades do not necessarily reveal the strengths and weaknesses of a student, and that there is an unfortunate lack of youth voice in the educative process. Some feel the current grading system risks lowering students' self-confidence, as students may receive poor marks due to factors outside their control. Such factors include poverty, child abuse, and prejudiced or incompetent teachers.

By contrast, many advocates of a more traditional or "back to basics" approach believe that the direction of reform needs to be quite the opposite. Students are not sufficiently inspired or challenged to achieve success because of the dumbing down of the curriculum and the replacement of the "canon" with inferior material. Their view of self-confidence is that it arises not from removing hurdles such as grading, but by making them fair and encouraging students to gain pride from knowing they can jump over these hurdles.

On the one hand, Albert Einstein, one of the most famous physicists of our time, credited with helping us understand the universe better, was not a model school student. He was uninterested in what was being taught, and he did not attend classes all the time. However, his gifts eventually shone through and added to the sum of human knowledge. On the other hand, for millennia those who have been challenged and well-educated in traditional schools have risen to great success and to a lifelong love of learning because their minds were made better and more powerful, as well as because of their mastery of a wide range of skills.

There are a number of highly controversial issues in education. Should some knowledge be forgotten? What should be taught, are we better off knowing how to build nuclear bombs, or is it best to let such knowledge be forgotten?

Parental involvement edit

Parental involvement is an essential aspect of a child's educational development. Early and consistent parental involvement in the child's life is critical such as reading to children at an early age, teaching patterns, interpersonal communication skills, exposing them to diverse cultures and the community around them, educating them on a healthy lifestyle, etc. The socialization and academic education of a child are aided by the involvement of the student, parent(s), teachers, and others in the community and extended family.

Additional Reading edit

A 2015 investigation by the Tampa Bay Times illustrates the consequences of school re-segregation in Pinellas County, Florida.

References edit

  1. Spring, Joel. 1998. A Primer of Libertarian Education. Montreal: Black Rose Books
  2. Lleras, Christy. 2008. “Do Skills and Behaviors in High School Matter? The Contribution of Noncognitive Factors in Explaining Differences in Educational Attainment and Earnings.” Social Science Research 37 (3): 888-902.
  3. a b c d Kleinfeld, Judith. 2009. The State of American Boyhood. Gender Issues. 26:113-120.
  4. a b Buchmann, C., and DiPrete, T.A. 2006. The Growing Female Advantage in College Completion: The Role of Family Background and Academic Achievement. American Sociological Review, 71 (4), 515-541.
  5. Paul, A.M. 2006. The Real Marriage Penalty. The New York Times. Retrieved November 19, 2006.
  6. a b Taylor, Kay Ann. 2009. Poverty's Multiple Dimensions. Journal of Educational Controversy. 4(1).
  7. a b Sacks, Peter. 2007. Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education. University of California Press.
  8. Entwisle, Doris R., Alexander, Karl L., and Steffel Olson, Linda. 2005. First Grade and Educational Attainment by Age 22: A New Story. American Journal of Sociology, 110 (5):1458–502.
  9. a b Elder, G. H., L. Wang, N. J. Spence, D. E. Adkins, and T. H. Brown. 2010. “Pathways to the All-Volunteer Military*.” Social Science Quarterly 91:455-475.
  10. Kolata, G. 2007. A Surprising Secret to a Long Life: Stay in School. The New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2007. [1]
  11. a b c Renzulli, Linda A., and Vincent J. Roscigno. 2007. “Charter Schools and the Public Good.” Contexts: Understanding People in Their Social Worlds 6:31-36.
  12. Delgado, Ray. "District suspends wilderness trips: School could lose charter if safety lapses found", San Francisco Chronicle, 2003-03-07. Retrieved on 2008-01-21.
  13. Schevit, Tanya. "Audit finds faults in charter school: Board set to vote on troubled Urban Pioneer", 2003-08-26. Retrieved on 2008-01-21.
  14. Academic Performance Index (API) Base Report: School Report: Urban Pioneer Experiential. California Department of Education (2004-06-14). Retrieved on 2008-01-21.
  15. a b Dillon, Sam. 2008. “States’ Data Obscure How Few Finish High School.” The New York Times, March 20 (Accessed March 20, 2008).
  16. a b Fiske, Edward B. 2008. “A Nation at a Loss.” The New York Times, April 25 (Accessed February 8, 2010).
  17. a b c d e f Lubienski, Christopher, Corinna Crane, and Sarah Theule Lubienski. 2008. What Do We Know About School Effectiveness? Academic Gains in Public and Private Schools. Phi Delta Kappan. 89, 9.
  18. Karpicke, Jeffrey D., and Janell R. Blunt. 2011. “Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping.” Science.