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Education and Social Structure

Talking about education plunges you into the Nature Versus Nurture debate. Stereotypically, nurture argues that social inequality is caused by unequal education, while an extreme nature position says that says that education functions mainly by sorting out the smart people.

Until roughly the industrial revolution, school was for elites. High school has only been universal in US since around 1900. It's odd to argue that universal execution is designed to perpetuate the underclass; this has more traditionally been done by not educating.

Education (or anything else) can never make everyone an elite, but of the levers that are accessible to policy, it does seem like one of the more plausible ways to increase social mobility. One problem with this program is that in countries with historic class inequality, lower classes have culturally differentiated, and to some degree reject the norm of the ruling elite.

Current hand wringing about US primary and secondary education is not about any deterioration in education, it's about increased expectations. Both “other countries have higher scores, and that shouldn't be”, and also a good intention to raise all students up to the level that would enable them to go to college, which is now seen as a minimum credential for a good job. In contrast, many aspects of the system are largely unchanged from the pre-1900 era, when higher education was overtly elitist.

While the desire to insure that “no child is left behind” is commendable, the particular methods (frequent standardized tests, grading teachers and schools) are a huge experiment that isn't founded on science or any actual understanding of how education works. This isn't because reformers are ignorant about how the current system works (though that may also be true), but because nobody really understands how the institutions of education are currently contributing to overall good (see puzzles.) These efforts largely take the current curriculum for granted, yet necessarily also trivialize it because of the limitations of testing.

It is indeed a moral failing that we for years largely ignored the fate of children from poor neighborhoods, and local government was perhaps somewhat complicit in not holding students to higher standards, but simply blaming schools and teachers isn't going to solve the problem, and may indeed make it worse. These schools are now highly motivated to improve test results, but given the loose coupling between curriculum and whatever the actual function of education is, this may not help.

Academic achievement is not just a matter of classes and teachers. Peer attitudes, home environment and sense of opportunity affect motivation. Learning does happen all day long, but what is learned depends on what is on offer. Clearly a large part of the problem is the effects of poverty on the community, creating stresses at home and in school that aren't conducive to learning. Another problem is (sub-)cultural adaptations to poverty and to working class status. If you don't believe you can get ahead, then you weigh things differently, and solidarity with your class mates (both senses) becomes more important.


Amanda Hawks, 2015/09/11 22:09 This article is about how elitism applies to education. It went over the historical structure of education and how at some point education was primary for those who had a higher social status. It later explained that education no longer works this way, but instead social and economic circumstances can still create an inequality in how well kids are willing to work. Those from a background of poverty who do not believe that they are able to get ahead. These days education caters to the idea of “no child left behind” but children are willing to fall behind if their end game is not the same as the one that was predicted for them to have. For example if a kid knows that they’re not in an economic situation to get to college they might not work as hard to gain the same grades as someone who knows that they can go to college. I don’t fully believe in this theory because I feel like colleges at this point can cater and help those with financial need, but I also have bias because I’ve never seen this claim in person. I think this relates to title two because when I read it I was interested in the hierarchy of knowledge and who awards knowledge and who is granted knowledge. This gives an interesting perspective on my idea and I feel like I can use this article to examine the social structures in indigenous knowledge systems and see how it affects the ability to attain knowledge. Bold Text

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analysis/social/education/social_structure.txt · Last modified: 2014/04/26 22:38 by ram