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Chapter 16

Summary by Russ Long
May 26, 20

"The cost of tuition is the price of admission to much more than a set of classes.... it’s the cost of exposure to events and concepts and, if you’re lucky, people who inspire you."

---- Rebecca Shirley

I.     The American Educational Institution

Education is the social institution that is responsible for transmitting knowledge, skills, and cultural values in a formally organized structure (Kendall, 1998:274-297).

II.     Sociological Perspectives on Education

A.     Functionalist Perspectives

1.     Manifest Functions

a.     Socialization

Kendall (1998:276) contends that from kindergarten through college schools teach students the student-roles, specific academic subjects, and political socialization (e.g., the importance of the democratic process)

b.     Transmission of culture

Schools transmit cultural norms and values to each new generation.  It plays, as well, an important process in the assimilation of new immigrants.  Immigrants learn the dominant cultural vales, attitudes, and behaviors so that they can be productive members in their new society (Kendall, 1998:276).

c.     Social Control

Schools are responsible for teaching discipline, respect, obedience, punctuality, and perseverance.  They teach conformity by teaching young people to be good students, conscientious future workers, and law abiders (Kendall, 1998:276).

d.     Social Placement: Tracking

Schools are responsible for identifying the most qualified people to fill advanced positions in society.  Schools often channel students into programs based on their ability and academic achievement.  Graduates receive appropriate credentials for entering the paid work force (Kendall, 1998:276)

Tracking is the assigning students to specific courses and educational programs based on their test scores, previous grades, or both (Kendall, 1998:276).

e.     Change and Innovation

Schools are sources of change and innovation.  To meet student needs at a given time, new programs (such as AIDs education, computer education, and multicultural education are created.  College and university faculty are expected to conduct research and publish new knowledge that benefits the overall society.  A major goal of education is to reduce social problems (see Kendall, 1998:276).

2.     Latent Functions

Latent functions are the not-so-obvious functions associated with education.   Kendall (1998:277) suggests that some examples are the role schools play in keeping young people off the streets.  School also provides the service of matchmaking.   We often meet our future mates in school.  The transmission of cultural values and norms is often done quietly via the hidden curriculum.

a.     Cultural Capital

Cultural capital are social assets such as values, beliefs, attitudes, and competencies in language and culture that they learn at home, but which are reinforced in school.

b.     Hidden Curriculum

The hidden curriculum is the way 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 (Kendall, 1998:277-279).

B.     Conflict Perspective

1.     Local Control of Schools:

We finance most education in the US on a local level. We guard local control of schools "jealously." Local school boards have control over such matters as allocation of monies, curricular content, school rules, and hiring and firing policies (see Eitzen, 1997:394-396).

One positive benefit of locally based education is that we teach a greater diversity of material to the population at large.

Problems related to extreme local control of schools may include the following:

         Tax bases vary from community to community. The tax base influences the quality of education provided to local students (Eitzen, 1997:394).

         Local taxes are much more subject to tax revolts than taxes assessed by higher levels of government (Eitzen, 1997:394).

         Usually ruling bodies of school boards are not representative of the total community. They often represent business and professional interests and under represent blue-collar and minority interests (Eitzen, 1997:395).

         Curriculum standards vary from school districts to school districts. This causes problems to many because the average American moves about once every five years (Eitzen, 1997:395).

2.     Education as a Conserving Force.

Eitzen (1997:392-393) describes the American education system as conservative because its goal is the maintenance and preservation of culture and society. In school, we teach one to be patriotic. We teach one the myths of the culture and society. "The American way is the only really right way."

Example: "Politics of the Classroom."

Seldom are students taught to consider the viability of alternate approaches. How often have you been taught about Karl Marx and world government in High school? When we raise controversial subjects, pressure is brought to bear to rectify the situation (Eitzen, 1997:392-393).

Example: Knoxville High School

The teacher who attempted to address the Monroe Doctrine from an alternate approach.

The consequence of that activity is to limit creativity and questioning attitudes of students.

3.     Competition

Schools teach one to be competitive. Competition "extends to virtually all school activities" (Eitzen, 1997:3964). We see competition in athletic teams, cheer leading squads, debate teams, choruses, drill teams, bands, and casts for dramatic plays. Grading is obviously one component of the competition. Eitzen (1997:396) argues that there are two important "hidden lessons" embedded in such competition. The first lesson is the idea that "your class mates are your enemies" and the second is "the fear of failure."

4.     The Sifting and Sorting Functions of Schools: Cooling Out the Failures

Schools plays an important part in determining which youth will finally come to occupy high-status positions in society (in Eitzen, 1997:396-397). There are two criteria: a child's ability and his or her social class. The aspect related to ability is assumed. The ascribed status, one's social class, is more hidden, but none-the-less plays a major role in the way teachers relate to a child.

a.     Cooling Out

The classroom is not only an area where students "learn to succeed," they also learn how to fail. "Cooling-out" refers to the process where schools handle "the failures." Society does not want a group of disenchanted and rejected people running the streets waging revolution against the system that rejected them. Citizens must not identify the social system with the problems experienced by ordinary people. The blame has to be directed at the individual.

b.     Steps in the Cooling-Out Process

Cooling-out happens at various levels.

1.     Self Selection

Many students do not even have to be cooled-out, because they learned at an early age "that they were stupid." Many failures cannot wait to get as far away from school as possible. They experience complete alienation.

2.     The Ideology of Stupidity

For those who need a little cooling-out, one often uses what Eitzen (1986:326) calls ideology, individualism, and equal opportunity. Schools teach students that people make their own way up the latter of success based on their own abilities. If you do not make it, it is your own fault. The individual is to blame.

3.     The School Counselor

For those whom ideological messages do not convince, there is the school counselor. Counselors will direct you to areas that are "more suited to your abilities."  The counselor may say to a student "You will be happier doing something else."

4.     Look at Those Who Passed

Another technique used in "cooling-out" poor students who came from lower SES's is to point to members from that student's particular group who have made it. Concerning the last point, Eitzen (1986:326) concludes that obviously many have made it, but their numbers are few. He argues that the act of allowing some members of poor populations to "pass" may do a great deal to keep the lid on social revolution on a more general scale.

5.     The Preoccupation with Order and Control

Eitzen (1997:397) points out that another function of school is to instill a sense of order and control. "School is a collective experience requiring subordination of individual needs to those of the school."

a.     The Clock and the Tyranny of the Schedule

Among the constraints placed on the individual freedom are constraints related to "the clock." Activities begin and end on highly regimented schedules and no one addresses these activities according to the interest of the student or the learning obtained. Silberman calls this "the tyranny of the lesson plan." There is a preoccupation with discipline.

b.     The Dress Code

The quest for conformity may take the form of "dress codes."

Example: Dress Codes in the Inner City.

Dress codes are coming back into vogue in some school districts, but the conformity that this involves is welcome by many. In poor neighborhoods, competition (drug monies enhance this problem) has become so extreme that children are killing children in school over arguments involving who has the "badest threads." By requiring children to wear uniforms, schools hope to remove this element of competition."

c.     Give the Answer the Teacher Expects

Schools also teach conformity through more academic matters, such as the setting of margins. The student learns to answer questions about what teachers expects. The belief in order is so important that schools rate teachers, not on their ability to get students to learn, but on their ability to keep quiet and order in the class room.

d.     What You Remember and What You Forget

"Maintaining discipline is more important than student self-inquiry" (Eitzen, 1986:327).

Schools see learning to be a secondary consideration when compared with the order and social control aspects of education. The notion presented (in Eitzen, 1986:327) suggests that after 12 years of school, many students have forgotten how to do algebra, they have learned to hate literature, and they cannot write. Nevertheless, students can follow orders. "They give up expecting things to make sense . . . things are true because the teacher says they are true" (in Eitzen, 1986:327).

"Miss Wiedemeyer tells you a noun is a person, place or thing. So, let it be. You do not give a rat's ass and she does not give a rat's ass. The important thing is to please her. Back in Kindergarten, you found out that teachers only love children that stand in nice straight lines. And that's where it's been ever since" (in Eitzen, 1986:327).

III.     Problems in U.S. Education

A.     What Can Be Done About Illiteracy?

1.     Functionally Illiterate

Functionally illiterate is being unable to read and/or write at the skill level necessary for carrying out everyday tasks (Kendall, 1998:281).


Eitzen, D. Stanley and Maxine Baca-Zinn

1986  Social Problems, (3rd Ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

1997  Social Problems, (7th Ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

2000  Social Problems, (8th Ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

2003  Social Problems. (9th Ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Kendall, Diana

1998 Social Problems in a Diverse Society. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Robertson, Ian

1989 Society: A Brief Introduction. New York: Worth Publishing.