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Why Education Cannot Compensate For Society Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1401 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Gillian Evans’s article employs Martin Heidegger’s concept of “being-in-the-world” (Heidegger, 1978) to understand the world of “commoners” in their own terms. While this method helps her to overcome her “snobbery” to some extent, the author fails to transcend completely the opposition of “them” to “us.” However, this failure strengthens her core argument that the middle-class and “commoners” are best understood as two different cultures; in essence, she is sufficiently successful to discern that significant cultural differences exist, but those differences are so large that she cannot fully be the commoner-in-the-world. Thus, her analysis that school perpetuates the values of the dominant culture (the middle class) helps to explain the low value accorded by the subaltern culture (the commoners) to education: commoners are less prepared for school as their culture does not prioritise the discipline that schooling methods presume, and they are existentially driven to avoid school as it attempts to impose values anathema to their group.

But this analysis appears to reify class distinctions by dividing working and middle classes (conventionally defined in economic terms) into two different “lifeworlds” (Welton, 1995). This seems to reduce the possibility of understanding, compromise and integration between the two, perpetuating rather than overcoming difference.

Works cited:

Heidegger, M. (1978) Being and Time (London: Blackwell Publishing)

Welton, M., (1995) In Defence of the Lifeworld: Critical Pespectives on Adult Education (Albany: State University of New York Press)

Bernstein, B., “Education Cannot Compensate for Society” The New Sociology of Modern Britain; Kogan, M., “Why Education is Political” The New Sociology of Modern Britain; Glass, D. V., “Education and Social Change” The New Sociology of Modern Britain

These three articles by Bernstein, Kogan and Glass take a post-structuralist look at the intersection of education with class politics. Bernstein argues that the concept of “compensatory education” represents a Foucauldian discourse rarefaction that assumes that the life outside school of working-class students is without value and in need of rectification (Foucault, 1972). As such, school becomes the only legitimate value source, which suppresses alternative values and so can only comprehend pupil-failure by attributing it to non-school sources. As Kogan argues, this is an inherently political position as it promotes the value system of the middle class while delegitimising that of the working class. Thus, all pupils are socialised into accepting the dominant value system, helping perpetuate the status quo.

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Furthermore, the construction of a binary between school and non-school life serves to dissimulate the role of school under-funding in the educational failure of working class pupils. Yet, such differences in school spending appear to be a continuation of the class politics that Glass argues has permeated education policy for hundreds of years. In essence, working classes are educated enough to remain placid, but sufficiently disadvantaged to confine them to their socio-economic position.

Works cited:

Foucault, M. (1972) A Discourse on Language” in Archaeology of Knowledge (London: Pantheon Books) pp. 215-245

Author Unknown (Year Unknown) “Why Education Matters” Education Policy in Britain

This article seeks to deconstruct the ubiquitous commitment to “raising standards” in education. The meaning of this pledge depends on one’s conception of the goal of education. On the one hand, education is conceived by some as a tool for the reproduction of existing social structures, preparing individuals to fulfil their predetermined station in life. Thus, “over-education” will create expectations of employment that the economy cannot fulfil, and produce workers who feel alienated and discontent. In contrast, education is viewed by others as a means for changing social structures. It is a method of improving equality by redressing inequitable starting positions in life. Such means of self-improvement are here understood as a basic human right.

The author’s response to this problem is to combine these simplistic views into one that sees education as serving the dual purpose of preparing individuals both to operate within existing structures and to critique structures with the goal of improving them. But this straight-forward amalgamation requires much greater articulation in light of the notorious agency-structure debate (see typically Giddens 1979: 49-95); for example, to what extent does training an individual to operate within a given structure limit that individual’s capacity for conceiving of alternatives?

Works cited:

Giddens, A. (1979) Central Problems in Social Theory: Agency, Structure and Contradiction in Social Analysis (Los Angles: University of California Press).

Haydn, T., (2004) “The strange death of the comprehensive school in England and Wales, 1965-2002” Research Papers in Education, vol. 19, no. 4, December

Terry Haydn offers two complimentary reasons – one structural, one ideological – for why the comprehensive school experiment was considered a failure and abandoned without any supporting research. The first was the failure to implement a truly comprehensive system. During the comprehensive school era, a significant number of “elite” grammar and private schools remained in existence, removing higher classes and thus thwarting the goal of creating schools with a representative cross-section of society. Furthermore, even within comprehensive schools setting/streaming created an internal hierarchy, again separating children of different social groups.

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The second cause was a rising suspicion of dirigisme and the return of individualism and meritocracy to dominate political discourse in Britain. This left comprehensives vulnerable to accusations of “levelling down” and prompted measures comparing the performance of different schools to promote choice. Once some schools were authoritatively declared “better,” the energies of middle classes with political clout were channelled into securing the best school for their child, using their greater economic resources to create an achievement gap, rather than rectifying the education system as a whole.

Haydn’s argument, therefore, supports the position that Britain’s education system firmly re-entrenches class structures rather than challenging them, as it structurally disadvantages working classes.

Reay, D., (2001) “Finding or losing yourself: working-class relationships to education” J. Education Policy, vol. 16, no. 4

Through performing a number of representative interviews with individuals in higher, secondary and primary education, Diane Reay argues that Britain’s education system continues to manifest elite class prejudices. Her interviews suggest that working class students are compelled to conform to middle class expectations in order both to access elite educational institutions and to succeed in formal examinations earlier in school; however, this results in alienation from their “authentic” selves. Thus, working class students of all ages are confronted by a dilemma that opposes identity to success.

But while Reay is right to emphasise how middle class values dominate the British education system, creating bias towards middle class children, her argument appears guilty of romanticising the working class. Her invocation of the notion of identity “authenticity” – a problematic anthropological term – invites the criticism that she is essentiallising identity by assuming it to be largely innate (see Gardener and Lewis 1996, particularly pp. 22-4). Furthermore, this “natural” identity seems synonymous with educational failure, meaning that, according to her definitions, no “authentic” working class student can succeed in education. The benefits of this are questionable.


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