alright. pretty huge paper for my class. thought i'd let you people pick at it.
Education: The Driving Factor Determining Socio-Economic Status
By Chris Mercer
June 24, 2006
In the book Class Dismissed, many factors contribute to the level of success of the students of Berkley High. Where many factors such as race, class, poverty, and gender all contribute to the level of success in these adolescences’ lives, I submit that the most influential factor is an emphasis, or lack thereof, on education in the students’ family and culture. In a school like Berkley High which prides itself in diversity, equality, and opportunity; it is often advanced that race and poverty are the most significant factors determining an individual’s level of success in society. However, I believe that focusing on race and poverty as the source of limited opportunities misses the overriding reason disadvantaged individuals do not achieve the higher levels of success in society. Contrary to the theorists of the Conflict Perspective, it is the underlying existence, or absence, of education in an individual’s family and culture that determine their level of success; not the circumstantial position they are raised in with respect to race, class, and poverty.
Conflict Theorists Say: “It’s ALL About Race, Class and Gender”
Conflict perspective theorists believe that levels of success in society are determined largely by inequalities due to race, class, and gender. This belief is advanced in Social Problems in a Diverse Society which cites (Apple 1982) in stating, “Sociologists using a conflict framework for analyzing problems in education believe that schools – which are supposed to reduce social inequalities in society – actually perpetuate inequalities based on class, race, and gender” (Kendall 2004, chap.12:263). Conflict theorists argue that disadvantaged students possess an inferior amount of cultural capital in comparison to advantaged students as a result of class, race, and poverty, influencing poor performances on standardized tests. Further, the conflict theorists argue that educational standardized testing perpetuates these disadvantages by eliminating the opportunities of further advancement for these disadvantaged students based on their lower performances on these very tests! “Children from middle- and upper-income homes have considerable cultural capital because their parents have taught them about books, art, music, and other forms of culture. According to Bourdieu, children from low-income and poverty-level families have not had the same opportunities to acquire cultural capital (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990). Some social analysts believe that it is students’ cultural capital, rather than their “natural” intelligence or aptitude, that is measured on the standardized tests used for tracking. Thus test results unfairly limit some students’ academic choices and career opportunities (Oakes, 1985)” (Kendall 2004, chap.12:263-264). Conflict theorists identify and cite a “hidden curriculum” wherein the elite and over-privileged are guaranteed to maintain their status and keep the under-privileged down. This is accomplished by teaching students values that mold them into compliant workers. “The hidden curriculum refers to how certain cultural values and attitudes, such as conformity and obedience to authority, are transmitted through implied demands in the everyday rules and routines of schools (Snyder, 1971). These conflict theorists suggest that elites use a hidden curriculum that teaches students to be obedient and patriotic – values that uphold the status quo in society and turn students into compliant workers – to manipulate the masses and maintain their power in society (Bowles and Gintis, 1976)” (Kendall 2004, chap.12:264).
Conflict Theorists Have Missed The Point!
Conflict Theorists are so focused on attributing inequities in society to class, race, and gender; that they overlook the overriding factor determining an individual’s level of success in society. This factor is an emphasis, or lack thereof, on education in an individual’s family and culture. Conflict theorists cite race as the most influential reason African-American and Mexican individuals, per capita, do not achieve the same levels of success as other races. The reason African-American and Mexican individuals do not rise at the same levels as other races in society is due to a lack of emphasis on education in their families and cultures; not race. History has been filled with examples of cultural races that were prejudiced against, ostracized, disenfranchised, and dispossessed of all their assets. These cultural races rebounded within one or two generations because education was important in their culture, religion, and family.
In 1942, Japanese and Japanese-Americans were viewed as a threat to the war efforts of the United States during World War II. Resulting in, “the relocation of approximately 112,000 to 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans, 62 percent of whom were United States citizens, from the West Coast of the United States during World War II to hastily constructed housing facilities called War Relocation Camps in remote portions of the nation's interior” (Wikipedia 2006). These families lost all of their possessions and upon release started their lives again with nothing. Prejudice against Japanese-Americans remained evident in the United States after the war. In spite of having no material possessions and this prejudice, the Japanese-American culture rebounded within one generation. “Asian Americans are at a disadvantage in turning education into income, as are new immigrants and women; the only possible exception is Japanese, whom they suggested had “made it” as of 1975” (Barringer, Takeuchi, and Xenos 1990:28). Japanese-Americans assured their children were taught English, finished their homework, and insisted they were in the top percentages of their classes resulting in their race rebounding to higher levels in society with no resources or public assistance.
Similarly, the Jews of Europe were severely prejudiced against before World War II. Their numbers were decimated through the many concentration camps in Germany, Poland, and Eastern Europe. “The Holocaust was geographically widespread and systematically conducted in virtually all areas of Nazi-occupied territory, where Jews and other victims were targeted in what are now 35 separate European nations, and sent to labor camps in some nations or extermination camps in others. The mass killing was at its worst in Central and Eastern Europe, which had more than 7 million Jews in 1939; about 5 million Jews were killed there, including 3 million in Poland and over 1 million in the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands also died in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Greece” (Wikipedia 2006). After the war, many Jewish refugees immigrated all over the world. These Jews often possessed nothing more than what was in their suitcases. As a cultural race, the Jewish people started with nothing and prejudice against them was evident. Within two generations, an emphasis on education throughout the Jewish family, culture, and religion has helped them rise to the higher levels of virtually every facet of society.
Mexican Immigrants and Illegals continue to enter into the United States at record numbers and have inundated the school systems in the Southwest. Significant problems have occurred in terms of these individuals assimilating into American society because these Mexican Nationals resist learning the English language. “Whites show little variation, but other ethnicities are best educated in the East and worst educated in the South and West” (Barringer et al.1990:32). As a result, the offspring of these families do not perform very well in school and are shut out of many facets of society.
On average, African-Americans tend to not succeed at societal levels as high as other minority groups in society (Barringer et al.1990, table 1-3). History shows that White America disenfranchised and dispossessed African-Americans through the heinous practice of Slavery. Further, due to “the failure of Reconstruction, freed slaves in the United States were treated as second class citizens. For decades after their emancipation, many former slaves living in the South sharecropped and had a low standard of living. In some states, it was only after the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s that blacks obtained legal protection from racial discrimination” (Wikipedia 2006). It is evident that Slavery took more than freedom from African-Americans. Due to the “Ownership” of African-Americans for the purpose of manual labor, educating them was considered counterproductive to their value. White America removed education as an integral part of the African-American culture. To further add insult to injury, during the 1900’s the United States government subsidized welfare programs in which incentives were based on the amount of children one had, rather than striving to better one’s life. “What anthropologists have known for a long time – and what they seem reluctant to say now – is that marriage and family formation are institutions that differ widely across cultures. Among other things, those cross-cultural differences help explain why African-Americans have been especially susceptible to the negative incentives of welfare. At the same time, an understanding of how marriage patterns among American blacks have changed during the last few centuries suggests that the damage can be reversed” (Tucker 1995). As a result, the African-American culture and family values lacked an emphasis on education for many years. To the extent this race has rebounded in society, it is due to the increased importance of education in their culture and families.
If the conflict theorists are correct in their perspective, then Caucasians should always have access to the upper levels of success. Some areas in the country beg to offer a differing view, where the vast majority of Caucasians are extraordinarily poor. In these areas, the “American Dream” eludes them generation after generation. “The Appalachians who argued for economic reform, however, still believed in the prospects that a "reformed" capitalism could achieve the American utopian dream, what Warren I. Susman has called the "culture of abundance”” (Chase 1998). I believe areas like Appalachia are chronically poor because the cultures for these Caucasians lack an emphasis on education.
My proposition that the existence of education is the most influential factor effecting individuals in society has support in the academic community. Functionalist perspective theorists “believe that education is one of the most important social institutions because it contributes to the smooth functioning of society and provides individuals with opportunities for personal fulfillment and upward social mobility” (Kendall 2004, chap.12:262). My point exactly!
Families & Culture Applied To Class Dismissed
The three characters in Class Dismissed are great examples of the importance of education in determining one’s level of success in society. Jordan fits the mold of an individual with a family and culture where education is valued far more than any other endeavor. Where school is considered a task for other students, Jordan takes for granted his ability to perform well academically. Jordan rarely worries whether he will get into college but rather, concerns himself as to where he will attend college. Due to his family resources, Jordan possesses the ability to search the nation for a college that will accommodate his wants and needs. When personal conflicts such as his father’s death and depression contribute to Jordan slacking off for an entire semester, the family’s enormous cushion enables him to graduate with few consequences. Rather than going to a prestigious college like his friends, Jordan is limited to the option of attending UCSC. Unlike other students, Jordan did not face this struggle by himself. “at dinner Natalie has little to report. She’s spent half her day waiting to talk to Ms. Saunders, heard “a bunch of mumbo-jumbo” about why the wrong grades were sent out, and extracted a promise from Ms. Saunders to call all the colleges on Jordan’s list and explain that his GPA is really 3.1, not the 2.5 his mid-semester grades would indicate. She’s also spoken to Joanne, Jordan’s private college counselor, who pronounced this “the worst screw-up I’ve ever heard of in all my years in this business.” For all the money Jordan and Natalie have paid Joanne, for all the certainty her expertise was suppose to provide, there isn’t much that she can do now” (Maran 2001; January:132). Jordan’s mother, Natalie, contributed an enormous amount of effort to assure there would be a set path for his success. Only when Natalie was occupied by a business trip or death of a family member, was Jordan left to assure this path was pursued.
Keith possesses strong family values in the completion of high school and his dreams of college. However, Keith also possesses a learning disability and limited resources to help improve this disadvantage. Whereas a wealthier family could afford to provide a tutor or additional help for Keith, he is stuck to fend for himself with his disability. Keith’s mother, Patricia, is only capable of missing work to keep her son out of trouble and in school. Otherwise, the family cannot pay the bills. Keith is placed in remedial classes which lack academic challenges and structure. In turn, Keith develops sub-par academic habits and contributes minimal effort into school work. Once placed in a structured and academically challenging classroom, Keith develops a stronger sense of self-confidence in his intelligence and a greater emphasis on the energy he applies to school. “Keith responds immediately, “you can do anything you want to.” Keith is feeling particularly powerful these days. For one thing, he just quit his job at Mel’s Diner. “They were treating me like I couldn’t just go and get another job. So I went and got one”” (Maran 2001; May:250-251).
Autumn is the victim of a family where education is not emphasized. Through extremely rough experiences consisting of the responsibilities of raising her younger brothers, holding a job to contribute to paying the bills, maintaining a decent household for the family, and witnessing the reality of a drunken homeless father; Autumn made the choice to adopt a different culture than that of her family. “it broke her heart the day she stepped onto a city bus, sat down opposite of a homeless man stinking of alcohol, mumbling incoherently, dressed in rags, and realized that she was staring into the blank, unseeing eyes of her father” (Maran 2001; November:87). Autumn applied extra effort to be enrolled in and attend Berkley High instead of the original school her district would have placed her in. Autumn strived to excel in AP classes and overcame many obstacles that would have prevented the average student from achieving her success. With a lack of family support, Autumn sought strength through her church’s cultural values. She implemented these values for herself and her brothers and constantly badgered them to comply. Autumn’s story highlights the heartaches one must endure when their culture and family lack an emphasis on education.
The purpose of this paper was to show the importance of education in one’s culture and family in determining the level of success that will be achieved. Functional theorists support this argument of education being the most influential factor and debunk conflict theorists’ specious arguments that it is “always about race, class, and gender.”
Weaving the importance of education into the fabric of the many cultural races of our society provides so many beneficial effects to society at large. Some of these benefits include the transmission and assimilation of culture; socialization, social placement, social control, and the ability to accommodate change and innovation. If as a society we could learn the lessons from history and come to a consensus about the importance of education in creating opportunities for our citizens, then we would all benefit from the effort.
1.) Kendall, Diana. 2004. Social Problems In A Diverse Society 3rd Edition. Massachusetts: Pearson Education Company.
2.) Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 2006. "Japanese American Internment." Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, Retrieved June 26, 2006
3.) Herbert R. Barringer; David T. Takeuchi; Peter Xenos. 63:vol.1 “Education, Occupational Prestige, and Income of Asian Americans.” Sociology of Education 63:27-43, Retrieved June 27, 2006
4.) Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 2006. "The Holocaust." Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, Retrieved June 26, 2006
5.) Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 2006. "Slavery." Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, Retrieved June 28, 2006
6.) William Tucker. “All in the family. (African American families)(Illegitimacy and Welfare Dependence).” National Review, Retrieved June 27, 2006
7.) Robert T. Chase. “Class Resurrection: The Poor People's Campaign of 1968 and Resurrection City.” Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia, Retrieved June 27, 2006
8.) Maran, Meredith. 2000. Class Dismissed. New York: First St. Martin’s Griffin Edition.