Education is the social institution responsible for the systematic transmission of knowledge, skills, and cultural values within a formally organized structure. It is an extension of the socialization process that begins in the family.

The experience and success of students in the educational institution is socially structured. One's social class, race, and sex play an important part in determining access to specific schools as well as which fields are the most "appropriate" to study.

Academic Standards

Problems in Schools

Characteristics of Education in the U.S.

  1. Education as a Conserving Force
    • The formal system of education in the U.S. (and in all societies) is conservative because the avowed function of the schools is to teach newcomers the attitudes, values, roles, specialties, information, and training necessary for the maintenance of society. The special task of education is to preserve the culture-not to transform it. There is always an explicit or implicit assumption in U.S. schools that the American way is the only really right way.
  2. "Sifting" and "Sorting" Function of Schools
    • Education is a selection process, where school performance separates those youths who come to occupy higher-status positions and those who will occupy the lower rungs in the occupational-prestige ladder. Although the goal of education is to select on ability alone, ascribed social status has a pronounced effect on the degree of success in the educational system.
  3. Mass Education
    • Education is provided for all citizens, and children are compelled to remain in school at least until eight grade or until age 16 (although the law varies somewhat from state to state). The result is that many students are in school for the wrong reason; the motivation is compulsion, not interest in acquiring skills or curiosity about their world. This involuntary feature of U.S. schools is unfortunate because many school problems are related to the lack of student interest.
  4. Preoccupation with Order and Control
    • U.S. schools are characterized by constraints on individual freedom. The school day is regimented by the dictates of the clock. Activities begin and cease on a timetable, not in accordance with the degree of interest shown or whether students have mastered the subject. Also, there is a preoccupation with discipline to address unwarranted noise and movement, as well as a concern for following orders. Some schools also demand conformity in clothing and hairstyles.
  5. Local Control of Education
    • Although the state and federal governments finance and control education in part, the bulk of the money and control for education comes from local communities. There is a general fear of centralization of education-into a statewide system or, even worse, federal control. Because, it is commonly argued, local people know best the special needs of their children, local boards control allocation of monies, curricular content, the rules for running the schools, and the hiring and firing of personnel. There are few negative consequences from local control of education:
      • Since tax money from the local area traditionally finances the schools, the quality of educations depends largely on whether the tax base is strong or weak.
      • There is a lack of common curriculum and standards, which results in a wide variation in the preparation of students. Also, because families move on the average of once every five years, there are large numbers of children who find the requirements different, sometimes very different, from their previous schools.
  6. Competitive Nature of U.S. Education
    • Competition in U.S. schools extends to virtually all school activities. The composition of athletic teams, cheerleading squads, debate teams, choruses, drill teams, bands, and dramatic play casts are almost always determined by competition among classmates. Grading in courses is also often based on the comparison of individuals (grading on a curve) rather than on measurement against a standard. Competitive classroom games may also be created to relieve boredom in the classroom. In all of these cases, the individual learns at least two lessons:
      • Your classmates are enemies, for if they succeed, they do so at your expense
      • You better not fail-fear of failure, rather than intellectual curiosity or the love of knowledge, is the motivation for students.

Functionalist Perspective of Education

The Conflict Perspective of Education

The Reproduction of Social Class

Research shows that poor students and the schools serving them:

  1. Have one computer for every sixteen students, compared to one computer for every seven students in the affluent schools
  2. Have teachers that are underpaid relatively to their peers in affluent schools. In Los Angeles, for example, teachers with 5 years experience make $29,500, while teachers in nearby Beverly Hills with similar experience make $73,400. The result is that poor districts will have trouble keeping excellent teachers.
  3. Are more likely than their affluent peers to be taught by teachers who did not major in the subject area in which they teach
  4. Are more likely to attend schools in need of repairs, renovations, and modernization
  5. Are more likely to attend schools that lack some necessary classroom materials
  6. Have higher pupil-teacher ratios

Sex and Education

Problems of Bureaucracy