Eight. EDUCATION AS A SOCIAL INSTITUTION. SOCIAL INEQUALITY

Looking Ahead

Unit eight presents the last social institution, education. It considers different sociological perspectives on education and examines its functions. Particular attention is given to three factors that promote differential access to higher education.

Then the unit focuses on the structure and processes of social inequality. It defines stratification as a most important and complex subject of sociological investigation and examines its different forms.

Learning Objectives

After studying this unit, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • 1. How does education transmit the norms and values of a culture and function as an agent of social control and change?
  • 2. How does education function to meet the needs of modem societies?
  • 3. Is it possible to change anyone’s behavior simply by treating the person differently?
  • 4. Can life be organized without inequality and stratification?
  • 5. How do sociologists measure social class?
  • 6. What types of contact exist between dominant and subordinate social groups?
  • 7. Why is it that, despite outnumbering men, women are viewed by sociologists as a subordinate minority both outside and inside the home?
  • 8. Do humans tend to accept a negative attitude to the elderly? Do the elderly precisely fit the definition of a minority group?

XV. EDUCATION

In a sense, education is an aspect of socialization — the lifelong process of learning the attitudes, values, and behavior appropriate to individuals as members of a particular culture. Thus, education is a process of learning in which some persons consciously and formally teach while others adopt the social role of learner.

Like with other social institutions there are different sociological perspectives on education. The functionalist view stresses the functions that education performs. The most basic function of education is the transmission of knowledge. Sociologists call it a rather conservative function because education in any society transmits the dominant, or the existing culture. Through schooling, each generation of young people studies the existing beliefs, norms, and values of a distinctive culture. They learn respect for social control and established social institutions, such as religion, the family, and government.

Promoting social and political integration is another important function of education because it transforms a population composed of different racial, ethnic, and religious groups into a society whose members share — to some extent at least — a common identity. Schools socialize children into the norms, beliefs, and values of the dominant culture. The integrative function of education is obvious through its emphasis on promoting a common language.

The third function of education is maintaining social control. Schoolchildren are introduced to standards of proper conduct in public life, students are trained for what is ahead in their adult lives. Like other social institutions, education prepares young people to lead productive and orderly lives in the larger society. They are taught various skills and values which will be essential in their future labor positions, whether it be the assembly line or the office.

Thus far, we have discussed the conservative functions of education. Yet, education can stimulate or bring about desired social change if it is open to new ideas and social and political viewpoints.

Another sociological approach to education is the conflict perspective. It takes a critical view of the social institution of education in the contemporary capitalist society by stating that education maintains social class differences and sorts pupils according to their social class background. Conflict theorists point out three factors that contribute to this role of education:

  • 1. Public versus private schooling. Private high schools provide a better education than public high schools and students who graduate from private schools are much more likely to enter colleges and universities than public school graduates are. Thus, schools deliberately sort and select students either for future high-status positions or for subordinate ones.
  • 2. Economic disparities between school communities. Very often schools are financed through local property taxes. Therefore, upperand middle-class schools get more funding, better facilities, and more experienced teachers than low-class schools do.
  • 3. Tracking (or streaming) students into curriculum groups. This refers to the practice of placing students in specific curriculum groups on the basis of intelligence test scores and other criteria. Tracking begins very early, often during the first grade and puts children from low-income families at a disadvantage.

Differential access to higher education and tracking are evident in many nations around the world. In the view of conflict theorists, the educational inequalities resulting from funding disparities and tracking are designed to meet the needs of modern capitalist societies.

In George Bernard Shaw’s play «Pygmalion» the flower girl Eliza Doolittle is transformed into a «lady» by Professor Henry Higgins. He changes her manner of speech and teaches her the etiquette of «high society». But is it actually possible to change anyone’s behavior simply by treating the person differently? Researchers who view education from interactionist perspective have been particularly interested in this question. They suggest that if we treat people in particular ways, they may fulfill our expectations. The authors of the book «Pygmalion in the Classroom» prove that teacher’s expectations about a student’s performance can sometimes have an impact on the student’s actual achievements.

Clearly, education has become a vast and complex social institution throughout the world. It prepares citizens for the various roles demanded by other social institutions, such as the family, government, and the economy. In many respects, today’s educational institutions, when viewed as formal organizations, are similar to factories, hospitals, and business firms.

VOCABULARY PRACTICE

I. Read and translate the text using a dictionaryif necessary.

II. Find in the text English equivalents for the following:

пожизненный (непрерывный), сознательно, принимать роль, взгляд (точка зрения) на, подчеркивать (выделять), господствующий, обучение, уважение к, учрежденный, содействовать (способствовать), расовый, этнический, представлять единство (идентичность), до некоторой степени, общий язык, поддерживать (осуществлять), нормы поведения, общественная жизнь, дисциплинированный, существенный, до сих пор, вызывать изменения, точка зрения, подход к, иметь критическую точку зрения о, классовые различия, подразделять в соответствии с классовым происхождением, указывать на (отмечать) что-либо, намеренно, экономическое неравенство, община (общность), налог на собственность, финансирование, оборудование, опытный, организация групп с особой программой обучения, коэффициент умственного развития, критерий — критерии, учебная программа (Sg, PI), поставить кого-либо в невыгодное положение, дифференцированный (отличительный) доступ к, проистекать от (иметь результатом), обращаться с кем-либо, ожидание (надежда), во многих отношениях, подобный (сходный).

III. Supplythe missing words and word combinations choosing among those given below.

1) In a sense, education is an aspect of ... — the ... process of learning the attitudes, values, and behavior... to individuals as members of a ... culture. 2) Education in any society transmits the ... or the ... culture. 3) Through ... young people study the existing ...» norms, and values of a ... culture. 4) Education transforms a population into a society whose members ... a common identity. 5) The integrative function of education is ... through its ... on promoting a ... language. 6) Education prepares young people to lead ... and ... lives in the larger society. 7) Education can stimulate or ... desired social control. 8) Conflict theorists state that education maintains ... . 9) Education sorts pupils according to their social class .... 10) Very often schools are ... through ... property taxes. 11) Tracking puts children from ... families .... 12) The educational inequalities ... from these factors are designed to ... of modem capitalist societies. 13) Professor Henry Higgins changes Elise’s manners of speech and teaches her the etiquette of.... 14) Interactionist theorists suggest that, if we ... people in particular ways, they may ... our expectations. 15) Teacher... about a student’s ... can have an impact on the student’s actual.... 16)... today’s schools are ... to factories, hospitals, and business firms.

in many respects, similar, expectations, performance, achievements, treat, fulfill, «high society», resulting, meet the needs, low-income, at a disadvantage, background, financed, local, social class differences, bring about, productive, orderly, obvious, emphasis, common, share, schooling, beliefs, distinctive, dominant, existing, socialization h lifelong, appropriate, particular.

IV. Studythe following word combinations and use them in sentences of your own:

appropriate to, through schooling, to have respect for (but: to respect smth), to promote smth, to transform smth into smth, to some extent,

to socialize smb into smth, through an emphasis on, to maintain smth, standards of proper conduct, to be ahead, to teach various skills, to bring about smth, to take a view of, to provide a better education, to graduate from a private (public) school, to be financed through, to get better facilities, to put smb at a disadvantage, differential access to, to result from, to treat smb.

COMPREHENSION EXERCISES

I. Reread the text and answer the following questions:

  • 1) What is education if viewed as an aspect of socialization? 2) What is the functionalist view on education? 3) What are the functions of education in modern society? 4) How can you prove that there are the conservative functions of education? 5) Can education bring about desired social change? 6) What is the conflict perspective on education?
  • 7) What factors prove that education maintains social class differences?
  • 8) Why are educational inequalities evident in many nations around the world? 9) How do interactionist theorists view education? 10) How can you prove that education has become a vast and complex social institution throughout the world? 11) Speak on education as viewed from different sociological perspectives. Which of them do you share? Give your arguments for or against.

III. Describe the educational system in Russia and its distinctive features employing the ideas and terms from the text.

IV. Comment on the following topics thinking like sociologists.

1) Public versus private schooling. Are you for or against it? 2) Tracking students into curriculum groups. What about tracking talented and gifted students into curriculum groups? 3) A teacher-expectancy impact. Do you accept or question the validity of this «Pygmalion effect»? Were there «Pygmalion’s in the classroom» among your school teachers?

V. Express your opinion:

a) of the education you got at school: its level, school facilities, teachers and administrators. Are you proud of your school? Were your school years happy?

b) of the education you are getting at Ivanovo State Power University. Does the РИТМ[1] technology truly promote good academic teaching, encourage student creative thought and develop students’ aspirations? What do you think of its emphasis on precise and constant current control of students’ actual achievements in studies?

  • [1] Система РИТМ — the Individual Creative Thinking Development Technology, introduced by the University Academic Council in 1987
 
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