Week 6 – Starting Points Ch. 12

Reading Time 00:15:26

Starting Points

Schools and Formal Education

Education used to be a privilege; now it is a way to gain credentials, which leads to credentialism — the rising need for ever more sophisticated educational qualifications.

Besides work training, education also instills societal values. So it is a form of primary socialization. Students learn to behave as responsible and informed — in other words functional — citizens.

Education isn’t a level playing field. e.g. Harvard. Social advantages are passed down through higher education. Both socio-economic inequality and values and aspirations are important in the study of education.

Meritocracy would be nice: but how would you differentiate between people? Wouldn’t the criteria themselves be biased? Tests are not always fair. Sigh my SATs but nevermind that.

Schools have limited resources (except maybe Harvard). People have limited time and energy and money. Politicians are swayed by popular opinion.

Diversity in student body may create conflict, but more often widens students’ horizons. What is it about schools that result in formation or destruction of social bonds? We will find out by studying formal and informal education.


Functionalists focus on manifest and latent functions of education.
Manifest: give students literacy and numeracy, maybe training (come on, how’s that a bolded word?!) for jobs or being informed citizens.

Critical theorists often focus on latent functions of education.
Latent: warehousing unemployed (or unemployable) people, especially during times of high unemployment. Keep young people off the streets.
They studied schools as a source of hidden curriculum.

  • Maybe the boredom you experience at school PREPARES you for the boredom at work!?! (No. That’s a horrible way to live. A life without passion.)
  • Schools are meritocratic — sends an ideologically suitable message in a capitalist society.
  • Schools also teach students how to dress and behave. As girls or boys. Or even as doctors, lawyers, managers, etc.

Increasingly, institutions of higher education is interested in producing knowledge and translating knowledge. i.e. Research.

Classic Studies: The Academic Revolution

1968 by Christopher Jencks and David Riesman (looks like Riemann). Looks at historical ties between schools and societies, and examines evolution of higher education in post-industrial society.

The Academic Revolution recounts rise of “research universities” in the 20th century. American society bureaucratized, leading schools to transform into a national system of higher training. Top high school students go into top undergrads go into top graduate schools.
University characterized by specialized curricula, heavy research agenda, and an all Ph.D. faculty. University without these are considered sub-par.

So universities increase research and decrease undergraduate teaching (cough cough) to raise their international profile. Professors gained greater visibility and importance. Increasingly these professors — concerned with research and graduate teaching — determine the character of undergraduate education. These professors promote meritocracy.

Of course this shift created conflict. Youth who resent adult authority, locals who resent foreigners, the religious who resent secular education, social elites who resent lower classes oppose this change — “generational war”.

This academic revolution has not succeeded fully. Positions at top universities are limited, students from wealthy backgrounds continue to gain entry the most easily. (Cough cough Harvard). Jencks and Riesman say that this is due to unequal structure of American society. (Well. Yeah.) And more energy must be directed to make society more equal. Otherwise efforts to create meritocracy will be futile.

But still, education has been important to upward mobility. As John Porter had said.

More recently Jonathan Cole said in The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must be Protected: social values and social and economic structures behind each research university is important. Why do universities produce scientific research and technological innovation? Because they have a standard of excellence in accordance with scientific research. (As opposed to religion).

Jencks and Riesman described the US situation but what about Canada? Canada has a smaller system (even per capita) with smaller inequality. The best are not THE best and the worst are not THE worst. Comme ci, comme ça. Canadian universities focus on research too though. So students pay more and more. Right now half of a university’s operating costs are paid by student tuitions.

Andrew Hacker is not happy. He wrote Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — And What We Can Do About It. He said tuition fees are too much, tenured professors don’t teach and relegate the job to adjuncts, graduate programs are too big for their own good, Ph.D.’s can’t get jobs, all the money goes to med school, science, or business with none left for humanities. Students get an education they don’t need and can’t use, while putting themselves in debt for the next 10 or so years.

Criticisms for Jencks and Riesman.

  • Tedious read! with no new insights. (Bidwell, 1969. I bid him well.)
  • Suggestions for reform are half-hearted.
  • Ad hominem! People feel personally attacked by remarks on “marginal colleges”: the local, black, religious, and women’s colleges.

But others find it revealing and persuasive! Bidwell said their secondary analysis of various data on college and university attendance is especially praiseworthy.

Educational Inequalities

Schools did a good job to level the playing field. Do you know that girls to better than boys at elementary, secondary, and even (whatever that’s supposed to mean) at post-secondary levels?

Continuing gender differences — in salary and rank — reflect not a failure of education. It’s just that, most women don’t choose higher-paying, traditionally male-dominated careers. Some blame higher education, but self-selection is important too.

Ethnic groups have experience increases in education too. Although to be fair it may have to do with immigration policies. The unnecessary requirement of Canadian working experience often forces educated immigrants to work for jobs for which they are over-qualified. Immigrants push their children to work hard and get college/university education. Aboriginals though are still underrepresented. There are some stats in the book check it out.

Children from poorer socio-economic backgrounds are generally less likely to gain a higher education. This begins early in life.

Classic Studies: The Adolescent Society

James S. Coleman based The Adolescent Society on a survey of US high school students. Coleman finds out that — academic achievement means nothing, and looking good means everything! If you are academically successful but unattractive, well, GG.

Coleman argues that this teenage subculture is largely separate from the adult world. Where, well, good looks do count but so does hard work. The adolescent way of thinking discourages academic ambition and undermines the preparation for workforce.

Why has this culture developed? Industrialization separated adolescents from adults, leading them to gain approval from peers. New non-adult bases of evaluation developed. Academic success is viewed as conformity.

Some critics say that those teens’ parents are just shallow. So this book is a hidden critique of American culture and society. Problems schools and educators face are indeed cultural and motivational, not merely economic.

Teenage relationships are inherently conflictual. So much drama!

Ability Grouping or Streaming

Some schools segregate different kinds of students by ability grouping/tracking/streaming. Debate continues.

Three main types of ability grouping
1. Ability grouping: common in elementary schools. Students are divided into “slow”, “average”, and “advanced” readers. etc.
2. Setting: “Honours”, “academic”, “applied” course codes, etc.
3. Tracking/Streaming: students move as one block, taking all classes together. Referred to as a “core group”.

Advantages of streaming: pupils advance according to their abilities; failures are reduced; bright students are not bored; less likely to confront students with their inadequacy.

Disadvantages: lack of able students to stimulate learning; stigma; unnecessarily trap young people if assessment not accurate (Einstein wasn’t very bright as a child); higher levels simply receive more work rather than different work. Teachers may not want to work with slower students. Minorities are not socialized to be ambitious. Lower-stream students receive instruction that is slower-paced and of lower quality.

Segregation or Distance in Schools

Not all students are created equal. Some parents choose private schools. Reason? Better education, less student variety, more instillation of values. Currently they are even thinking of “black schools”, like segregation all over again, which of course the textbook scoffs at.

Some parents home school. It’s an increasing trend. Children remain at home to be taught and it is considered legal. But there are difficulties with respect to the curricula. Why? Don’t want to be brainwashed, don’t want to be multicultural or egalitarian, don’t want to be secular or scientific. Which of course the textbook scoffs at.

Some parents isolate their children from the opposite sex. Does it help? Research is inconclusive. On one hand this saves time and energy. On the other students don’t know about the opposite sex which can cause trouble trouble trouble.

Classic Studies: Crestwood Heights

What is the connection between family life, school experience, and mental health? John R. Seeley wrote a book.

Crestwood Heights is a project to learn about the mental health of children in Canada. Post WWII. Seeley wants to study “the culture of the child under pressures of conformity”. What’s a child’s culture? What’s his values, goals in life, and problems? (see UP) Focused on Forest Hill community of Toronto.

To the residents of Forest Hill, the child is a problem to be solved. Like other things in life. They want a trophy child. A child that they can be proud of. These parents are successful and upwardly mobile people, usually businesspeople or professionals. To varying degrees they all want their homes to look like Hollywood movies or haute-couture photo shoots.

They teach their children to be “perfect”: competitive and successful in their pursuits. Children are a reflection of the parent. They need to be successful in scout groups, music lessons, and in school! School is a place where children can prove their worth. Thus the Parent-Teacher Association becomes important. It retrains parents and restrains teachers.

There is tension. Parents don’t like their children below A which leads to grade inflation. Which means they’ll get destroyed in universities.


  • Small and biased sample space. (Bidwell, 1957, good to see him again).
  • Elkin (1957) said book is descriptively vague and lacks a theoretical framework. Mostly anecdotes.

Praised for “faithful ethnography”.

Even 50 years later many of the same patterns exist. Especially immigrant parents socialize their children to be ambitious and independent (rather than, say, dutiful, generous, or pious). Often the values schools promote are just an extension of parents’ values — ambition and advancement.
But social capital and cultural capital matter too.

Abuse or Violence in Schools

Bullying is bad and a source of concern. With Internet comes cyber-bullying. Bullies terrorize their victims, physically, emotionally, or socially. They consume their souls. Bullies are either buff or popular at school (or both). Forms include a “roughing up”, threats, or gossip (this one is usually by girls), or exclusion.

Childhood bullies are also likely to display anti-social behaviours in adulthood — 40% of childhood bullies have violent tendencies as adults. Motives originate at home, and bullies often imitate their parents. Bullies show aggression to many people, even teachers and parents, with little empathy.

Victims are often associated with tension, fears, worry, low self-esteem, and depression. Bullies grow up to be bullies. Victims may or may not still be victimized when they grow up.
Five out of six students say they feel uncomfortable when they see someone get bullied.

Bullying is not merely psychological but also social. E.g. bullying serves a function in the “adolescent society” of Coleman — to distinguish winners and losers. Bullying often focus on certain culturally supported stereotypes — handicaps (deafness, blindness, obesity, etc.), unpopularity, or homosexuality. e.g. Calling victims “gay”. Hyper-masculine activities (like football) are especially likely to encourage bullying.

The Integrating Power of Schools

It is in the school setting that children broaden their base of close friendships. School brings people together by driving them apart. We are cleaved from our parents and able to form relationships with our peers.

Early in life, we are most concerned with our relations with parents. But at school we are aware of a much larger world. We are confronted with moral doubt. And we grow and see identities and goals of our own. We want to find our true selves but also be part of the crowd.

Schools contribute to the evolution of independence. From adolescence into adulthood. How?

  1. Schools bring together large numbers of young people, giving them an opportunity to communicate and interact easily.
  2. Most children want to make friends, and school provides this opportunity.

Erik Erikson (nice name…) said that we all grow up following a predictable human life cycle, made up of 8 stages. At each stage we are faced with a specific task. If we complete it and beat the boss, we can advance to the next level. We’ll look at two of them.

Stage 4: latency stage, 6-12 years old. Children learn new skills, developing a sense of industry and competence. They also develop socially, comparing themselves to others and (sometimes) feeling inadequate and inferior. As these times they confront problems with their self esteem. Most significant relationships are school, neighbourhood, and peers. Parents are important but not the most important.

Stage 5: 12-19 years old. Development depends mainly on what they do, not what others do to them. Neither children nor adults – life gets more complex as young people try to find their own identities, struggle with social interactions, and grapple with moral issues. Ultimate goal is to find the self to move forward.

At this stage adolescents may distance themselves from their families: Erikson calls this a “moratorium” of family relations. Because they lack experience, adolescents substitute ideals for experience. They develop strong devotion to friends and causes, wanting to idealize them. Most important relationships are often peer groups.

It’s so good to be young!

James S. Coleman

A Columbia grad, Coleman understands well how young people influence one another. Coleman did one of the largest studies in history and surveyed over 150000 students. This report is called Equality of Educational Opportunity. Aka Coleman report.

Coleman said that students’ achievements do not depend on school funding but depends on student’s background and socioeconomic status. e.g. Black students perform better in mixed schools instead of segregated schools — leads to desegregation!

Coleman is interested in how schools provide cultural capital (as opposed to the Frenchman, Bourdieu, who contended that cultural capital are passed down through inheritance. Kind of an interesting illustration of American vs. French thinkings.) and social capital.

Lillbacka (2006) is the first to try to measure social capital empirically, through indicators as 1) interpersonal trust, 2) a strong social network, 3) self-confidence, and 4) belonging to voluntary associations.

Healy (2004) said that social capital is contextual. What works in one situation may not work in another. So social capital is kind of like currency – Canadian dollars may not work in Sri Lanka!
Healy and Lillbacka say that these contextual problems cannot be solved. But they can be improved!

Barnett (2005) tested Coleman’s hypothesis that “Catholic schools instill more social capital than public schools”, and therefore Catholic students do better in school. Barnett found that Catholic school students do have more social capital but not necessarily do better.

Bankston (2004) looked at immigrant children — ethnicity is a kind of social capital. But it’s only beneficial if that ethnicity endorses cultural values that pertain to school achievement.

Ethnic minorities — especially, immigrants — benefit from what Raymond Breton (student of Coleman) called “institutional completeness”. Students benefit from integration into their ethnic group, and they benefit from higher aspirations. That’s not it though. They benefit most from an interaction of the two.

e.g. Chinese Canadians will have more educational payoff than integration into a culture that doesn’t value education that much. So education depends also on “cultural investments”.

Bonikowski (2004) says that stratification studies like Coleman’s (which emphasize on socioeconomics) do not consider the effect of curriculum on academic outcomes. Curriculum design itself may be influenced by socioeconomy. So Bonikowski says that the theory is incomplete — did not consider all variables.

Elster (2003) says Coleman is perceptive but dogmatic. Apart from lack of variables, Coleman is following the “rational choice theory”, saying that social investment is conscious. It may not be. e.g. Teens and their fixation on sports and acne? Oh gee.

Lindenberg (2003) says that Coleman isn’t practical enough. Coleman did very little institutional design, so why should anyone listen to him? (Article: How to Keep Learning as an Expert). Lindenberg says that Coleman is trying to be all microeconomical, but life isn’t microeconomics!

Coleman’s later work involve “economic sociology” and “mathematical sociology” — often hard to understand! Some sociologists are simply not good at math. Others view it as and oversimplistic, overidealized approach. But Coleman may have potential.

Coleman is trained as both an engineer and a sociologist and he deserves some respect.

New Insights

Scott (2009) writes about Chris Searle who taught with “resistance education” — a way of reaching awareness and freedom to the working class. Scott notes that Searle’s writings draw on his own students’ lives and thoughts in the practice of critical literacy.

All Are Welcome
Davis tells a story. Searle spent most of his time at non-white schools where he brought together Yemeni, Pakistani, and white students, along with the community. Polar opposite to Crestwood Heights.

The Truth Behind Truth
Roth (2009) says that discovering and imparting truth cannot be the goal of education for postmodernists. A “new critical language of education” must be massed on understanding and justification.

This Woman is High
Amatucci (2009) describes learning and teaching as a personal search. Education should be emancipatory — “freeing”, in a sense.

Porn Frees Our Souls
McNair describes another emancipatory form of education — “pedagogy of porn”. Pornography became more and more available, and is influenced by feminism, gay rights movement, and Internet.

Yea, It’s My Life, In My Own Words I guess
Klugkist (2009) said that telling personal stories can help you “rewrite yourself”. Former students of a private European school in South Africa tells their stories of how they behaved in school long after. They were able to lean more about themselves.

Whosoever Slayeth, Vengeance Shall be Taken on him Sevenfold
Henry (2009) is traditional and used survey data. He studied the 1999 mass murder at Columbine High School in Colorado. Theretofore school violence was examined in isolation, but not anymore! Henry proposes an interdisciplinary approach.

Creative Commons License
SOC103 Notes by digitalhardhat is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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