The Sociology of Education
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The Sociology of Education

A Systematic Analysis

Jeanne H Ballantine, Jenny Stuber, Judson G. Everitt

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eBook - ePub

The Sociology of Education

A Systematic Analysis

Jeanne H Ballantine, Jenny Stuber, Judson G. Everitt

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About This Book

The ninth edition of The Sociology of Education examines the field in rare breadth by incorporating a diverse range of theoretical approaches and a distinct sociological lens in its overview of education and schooling.

Education is changing rapidly, just as the social forces outside of schools are, and to present the material in a meaningful way, the authors of this book provide a unifying framework—an open systems approach—to illustrate how the issues and structures we find in education are all interconnected. Separate chapters are devoted to how schools help shape who has access to educational opportunities and who does not; issues of race, class and gender; the organization of schools and the roles that make up educational settings, and more. Throughout the book, readers will have an opportunity to engage with theories and issues that are discussed and to apply their newly obtained understanding in response to emerging and persistent problems in the educational system.

The new edition continues to be a critical point of reference for students interested in exploring the social context of education and the role education has in shaping our society. It is perfect for sociology of education and social foundations of education courses at the undergraduate or early graduate level.

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A Unique Perspective for Understanding Schools


  • This little boy works at a market in his refugee camp;
  • This little rural girl stays home to help on the farm;
  • This little boy goes to an elite nursery school;
  • This little girl has no schooling, and was beaten for trying to attend;
  • And this teenager escaped her country, a target for transgender hatred, only to be locked up in a detention camp with no family or educational opportunities.
Each of these children arrived on planet Earth, possessing the same potential biologically—but their life chances and opportunities to learn are dramatically different. Consider their situations one by one!
Child #1: Mohib lives in Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Bangladesh and works in a camp market in exchange for one meal a day. Those family members and neighbors who are left, along with hundreds of thousands of other Rohingya Muslim minority group members, were driven out of their homes in northern Myanmar; these are the ones lucky enough to survive the killing and burning of their villages. The 500,000 children in the refugee camps lack access to food, a roof over their heads, and anything resembling sanitation. Education is far down the list of needs when survival is the priority. These vulnerable children, some with no parent, are more likely to be trafficked for child labor than they are to go to school. International organizations try to meet the population’s basic needs, but few children go to school (World Migration Report, 2020).
Child #2: Ava lives in a rural county in North Carolina. It is not easy to get to school, as is true in many rural areas of the U.S. where one in five U.S. students live. Yet around one-half of school districts, one-third of schools, and one-fifth of students in the U.S. are in rural areas (NCES, 2016). For Ava, the bus ride is long and she is needed to do chores around the small family farm, she misses many days of school (Lavalley, 2018). Ava and many other rural children live in areas with deep and persistent poverty; in fact, one in six children in rural areas of the U.S. live below the poverty line. The high cost for busing rural students takes away from the already limited budget, and the low salaries make it difficult to find good teachers. Rural teachers make 40–50 percent less than their urban counterparts. In terms of educational outcomes, expenditures, graduation rates, and college readiness, rural kids lose out (Showalter and Hartman, 2019).
Child #3: This little boy lives in a wealthy neighborhood of Los Angeles (could be Chicago, New York, or any large city in the world) and is driven to nursery school each morning by the chauffer. William is learning how to be a member of the elite class, as are his wealthy peers in his select nursery school. Most will go to elite elementary schools, private preparatory high schools, and top universities. Money is not an obstacle, and the goal is a prestigious job and high salary. William was born into this position—as were most of the other children in his school. Private education, beginning with nursery schools and continuing through college, is largely reserved for the wealthy. While Catholic private schools once served both wealthy and less advantaged children, they are becoming fewer (Murnane, et al., 2018; Wong, 2018).
Child #4. In the rural male-centered culture of Pakistan, where the Taliban control much of the countryside, girls’ education is a low priority. Nearly 32 percent of primary-age girls are not in school; this number is 59 percent by grade 6. Women are generally married off as child brides, and women who disobey face the threat of acid attacks and honor killings (Human Rights Watch, 2018). Attention was brought to these girls when Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani girl, demanded the right to education for girls and was shot by the Taliban. She recovered in England and has become an international spokesperson for girls’ education, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 at the age of 17. She has written an autobiography and started a fund for girls’ education, The Malala Fund for Education (Yousafzai and Lamb, 2013).
Child #5: Alejandra, a teenage transgender migrant from Central America, lives in a U.S. detention center for unaccompanied minors, with 3,000 other children (Dickerson, 2019). Although U.S. law says the children must be provided with basic essentials, including education, many facilities struggle to provide adequate food and mats for sleeping, much less education (Ujifusa and Mitchell, 2020). Migrant transgender teens are at particular risk for exploitation, rape, and sex trafficking (Cheatham, 2020). Not only is adequate education scarce, mental health services are rare. Alejandra cries for her family and her uncertain life.
Five children—five very different life experiences and educational outcomes. The children’s surroundings, the family into which they are born, political and economic circumstances, the opportunity structure, cultural norms and expectations all influence the life chances of children—and there is little most children can do about it! Education has a big impact on each child’s life chances. If the educational opportunities available are poor to non-existent, the child is unlikely to attain school knowledge, a good job, and wealth. In this book, you will be introduced to many of the variables that influence a child’s chances in life, especially educational opportunity. Keep this in mind as you read about the subject matter that makes up The Sociology of Education.
Education is a lifelong process. It begins the day we are born and ends the day we die. It is found in every society and comes in many forms, ranging from the “school of hard knocks,” or learning by experience, to formal institutional learning; it engages very young children as well as adult learners. Sociologists of education ask questions like: Who has access to schooling? Do schools simply perpetuate the country’s stratification system, rich versus poor? How can teachers increase academic achievement? Are children who have access to technology in schools better prepared for the future? What moral or religious impact should schools have on young people? While sociologists try not to make value judgments about what is right and wrong or good and bad when it comes to education, they do research the state of education and the outcomes that result from policies and practices.

Sociology and Education

Sociologists study interactions between people in small to large groups. Within this broad framework are many specialties; these can be divided into studies of institutions in societies (those addressing common needs of people, such as education, family, economics, and healthcare); studies of processes (actions taking place, such as teaching, learning, communicating); and studies of interactions between individuals and groups (relationships between teachers, students, peers). The structure of societies—meaning patterns of behavior and interactions—is represented by six major institutions: family, religion, education, politics, economics, and health. Formal, complex organizations, such as schools, are part of the institutional structures that make up “society.”

Source: b) Farooq Naeem/AFP via Getty Image; c) Office of Inspector General/Department of Homeland Security via Getty Images
Processes, the action part of society, bring educational structures alive. Through the process of socialization, people learn how to fit into society and what roles are expected of them. The process of stratification determines where people fit into the social structure (as illustrated in our opening examples); that, in turn, affects their lifestyles and life chances. Change is an ever-present, and constantly forces schools and other organizations to adjust to new demands.
Not all children in the world receive a formal school education, as seen in the opening examples, but they all experience processes that prepare them for adult roles. Learning takes place both formally in school settings and informally in schools and family, with peers, through media, and from other influences in our lives. The institution of education—formal schooling or informal learning by experience—is interdependent with each of the other institutions. For instance, the family’s interest and involvement in education will affect the child’s achievement in school, as will the political and economic systems of the child’s society.
Sociology of education focuses on understanding educational systems—their structures and processes. Sociologists study everything from micro-interactions within individual classrooms to national systems of education. By studying education systematically, sociologists offer insights to help guide policies for schools and national education systems. This research is grounded in sociological theories and uses scientific methods.
Although sociology provides unique and powerful tools to explore the educational systems of societies, it may disappoint those who have an axe to grind or whose goal is to proselytize rather than objectively understand. The goal of sociology of education is to objectively consider educational practices, sometimes controversial topics, and even unpopular beliefs to gain an understanding of a system that affects us all.
As you read this book, please ask questions. Challenge ideas. Explore findings—but do so with the intent of opening new avenues for thought, discussion, and research. The purpose of this introductory chapter is to acquaint you with the unique perspective of the sociology of education: the questions it addresses, the open systems approach used in this book, and the theoretical and methodological approaches used to study educational systems. We begin our discussion with an overview of sociology of education.

Why Study Sociology of Education?

There are several answers to this question. Someday you may be a professional in t...

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