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Социология Text XV. EDUCATION
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Learning Objectives

Looking Ahead

Unit Eight. EDUCATION AS A SOCIAL INSTITUTION. SOCIAL INEQUALITY

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.

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 modern 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?

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 isthe 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 ismaintaining 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 aboutdesired social change if it is open to new ideas and social and political viewpoints.

Another sociological approach to education isthe 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, upper-and 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 frominteractionist 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.