Archive for the ‘Education’ Category


Is Education A Civil Right or a False Promise?

July 17, 2009

Sociologists can divide societies into two broad groups based upon class mobility: open societies and closed societies. Open societies allow for people to move up or down the class structure. For example, a person might be born into a poor family, but later become rich through work, talent, and luck. A closed society, however, doesn’t allow for social mobility; if you are born poor, you will die poor. Of course, most societies don’t fall neatly into these extremes, but instead fall somewhere between.

Some sociologists hold that our society is closer to an open system, while others believe that it is closed for many people. Social scientists who believe that our society is more open argue that it provides “ladders” for motivated people to move upward in both social and economic class. Among the most common of these mechanisms for upward mobility is education. The belief is that all children have the opportunity to acquire an education that will afford them a life-improving career, for example as a lawyer, dentist, engineer, doctor, or nurse. Depending upon their desire and ability, it is argued that most people have the ability to fulfill their life potential through a government-provided education. However, other researchers hold that education is not equal in society, so neither is opportunity.

Watch the video below and if you like, respond to one of the talking points below:

1. How closely do you think education is linked to civil rights in our country?

2. Do you think the author is right and it is time for another civil rights movement? How would you remedy this situation?

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Marketing Education?

June 18, 2009

Will this look like a convenience store in 10 more years?

Will this look like a convenience store in 10 more years?

Some sociologists worry that for-profit universities in the United States have lead to a “marketing process” in American education. This is the idea that colleges have evolved from a service oriented government institution to a government regulated business that prioritizes becoming profitable, something like General Motors! Of course the fear is that making money will become more important to colleges than teaching students. While some sociologists contend this process has already reached a point of domination in many of our colleges, social researchers are suggesting this approach is spreading down as far as elementary school and preschool!

Would you like to respond to this posting? If so, select a topic below:

1. Does the shift from a government institution to a for-profit business approach in colleges worry you? If so, why? If, not why?

2. Discuss the for-profit American health care system. What are its advantages and disadvantages? Can any of these be generalized to a for-profit education system? If so, what insights does this afford you?

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Does Social Class Still Influence Life Course?

April 26, 2009

Some sociologists have suggested that in “advanced societies” such as America, Britain, Canada, and France, class isn’t as relevant in determining individuals’ life courses as it is in other societies. Sociologists define life course as the opportunities and choices people make. In simpler terms, it is the major and decisive happenings in your life such as marriage, family size, education, or career direction.

In the past, a person’s economic status, religion, race, ethnicity, or sex could limit or expand their choices and opportunities. Usually, these characteristics determined social position in a social stratification or a social ranking. The key thing to remember is that people in different positions were afforded different choices.

50004british-flag-postersRecent research in Britain conducted by Dr. Atkinson and presented at the British Sociological Association Annual Conference suggests social class might still have a significant effect on a person’s life course. In other words, the education level, wealth, and social connections a person’s family has may affect the choices that person has in life.

The research suggested that working-class people in the study were less able achieve a higher education than upper classes in part because they couldn’t afford a private education, tutors, and other expenses associated with preparing for and attending college. This might explain why only 13% of the British working class go to college compared to 44% of the British middle class.

What do you think? Would you like to respond to this question? If so, please post your response to one of the discussion topics below:

1. Do you think your parents’ social status affected the important choices you had about the direction of your life?

2. Do you think your life goals are affected by your social status? Do you think your opportunities are affected by your social status?

3. Which do you think has the strongest effect on your life course: your social status or your parents? Why?

4. How could you integrate the findings described in the study above to support the strain theory of crime?

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The Function of Academic Competition in Education

April 26, 2009

U.S. Secretary of Education

U.S. Secretary of Education

For some time, select schools in America have been experimenting with the idea of ending some forms of competitive grading. Some sociologists suggest that this would eliminate something called “stigma.” Stigma is a life changing, negative, social label. The underlying idea is that students will become demotivated if they receive poor or failing grades—bad grades causes more bad grades.

What do you think? If you would like to respond to this topic, please choose a discussion point below:

1. Do you think students should be graded for their work? Why?

2. How can traditional grading both help and hurt students’ motivation to learn? What do you think determines which effect it has?

3. If schools don’t grade students’ work, how can future employers judge whom to hire? How would this affect processes of higher education admissions?

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Conflicts Between Assimilation and Education

March 30, 2009

Some sociological research suggests a major function of education is “mainstreaming” or social assimilation. Social assimilation refers to the process of teaching a host society’s values, norms, and other beliefs to people. In this paradigm, school would be charged not only with the responsibilities of teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic—but also values such as democracy, rule of law, monogamous marriage, social compromise, respect for authority, English language, and patriotism in American society.

In her New York Times article “Where Education and Assimilation Collide,” Ginger Thompson notes such expectations can cause problems. Administration and faculty in some schools are conflicted as to how to properly “educate” their immigrant students. For example, Thompson notes Cecil D. Hylton High School in Washington D.C. enjoys high test scores and graduation rates. The school has a large immigrant population and tensions can run high. Thompson offered the case of an American flag being ripped off a wall by immigrant students and black students suggesting they return to their own country.

Many sociologists note such patterns of in-migration are not uncommon in American history. They can cite influxes of Irish, Scottish, Jewish, Greek, German, and Chinese immigrants as examples. In all these cases, similar instances of strain have been recorded during the assimilation process. Other social researchers have noted that while America has a history of large in-migration phases, the nature of these migrations and their impact on American society have varied. Thus, it might be an error to assume all immigration is either “good” or “bad” for American society. Like most social phenomena, sociologists could argue each manifestation should be analyzed before it is categorized.

Would you like to respond to this posting? If so, select one of the topics below and respond to it or to another student’s comments.

1) Do you think schools should be responsible for assimilating immigrant students into American society or do you think our schools are already over burdened? If schools are not viewed as a major assimilation agent, who or what do you think should perform such a function?

2) What social function do you think immigration serves in American society? What negative ramifications do you think there would be if we curtailed immigration levels?

3) How would you determine whether particular waves of immigration are good or bad for America? What factors would you use (for example, assimilation rates, pre-existing cultural values, region of occurrence, size of immigrant population, education levels of immigrants, etc.) and why? How could you reach such conclusions based upon generalities, good or bad, without being susceptible to charges of racism, xenophobia, or ethnocentrism?

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Mainstreaming Academics through Failing Newspapers

March 11, 2009

If you watch the news, read newspapers, and view Internet-based news sources—as I do daily—then you can’t help but be aware of an apparent downward trend in the readership of local and national newspapers. Everyone seems to be writing about it, especially newspaper journalists. There seems to be what many sociologists call a “flow-of-events” associated with the phenomena.

Readership of a newspaper drops. Business responds by reducing advertisements in newspapers and going to other media in an attempt to communicate with more potential customers. Newspapers lose money and respond by releasing staff, reducing issues, or closing. This process may result in the reduction of information sources for the public.

Some academics, such as Jonathan Zimmerman, suggest that newspapers turn to college professors for help. He argues professors could donate quality writings for free or at a much lower cost. Some sociologists would agree with him, concluding scholars in social sciences would be pre-qualified for such a task through their own expertise in such fields as economics, criminal justice, criminology, politics, education, history, or military studies (academics often refer to these as “field of interest” or “specialty”). Most college professors would bring to the table the writing experience associated with a long list of publications.

Would you like to discuss this possibility from a sociological perspective? If so, select one or more of the discussion topics below and post your response:

1. Zimmerman suggests that having professors donate writings to newspapers might re-introduce academics to the general public—a process sociologists have referred to as “mainstreaming.” Mainstreaming could result in a strengthened respect and appreciation for economics, history, philosophy, political science, or psychology in the public mind. What would be some additional advantages to these academic disciplines? Can you think of some disadvantages or dangers this might have for these disciplines?

2. Do you think the skill set of a journalist is different than an academic researcher? If so, how? Do you think such differences would improve or degrade the content of newspapers? Do you think such differences would increase or decrease newspaper circulation? Why?

3. Some sociologists would suggest instead of “propping up” failing newspapers by reducing operation costs, newspaper management should review why readership is dropping and address that issue instead of trying to adapt to a lower level of readership. What social factors do you think might explain reduced levels of newspaper readership? Can newspaper management control or adapt to the social facts you’ve listed? If so, explain how. If not, explain why.

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