Posts in: SO280

A String of Thoughts

“We fixed the education system”, my classmate exclaimed during our group discussion on Tuesday. Later in the week, we found out that our “solution” to the education system in the U.S was closely related to market theory, and that has a lot of issues in and of itself. We have been aggressively looking for answers through debates and questioning. Every day, our class has a new set of discussion leaders. Their job is to lead the class in thoughtful and productive conversation. So far, this is one of my favorite things about the class. Every day, we gain a new perspective on how to question our current system because we have different people every day questioning us.

Today in class, the discussion leaders wanted us to work in a pair to create thought diagrams relating to a theme and set of questions. Their only instructions were to look at the questions and create a visual. The options were endless on how each group wanted to present their set of questions. Through this process, we came up with potential solutions to inequality in schools.

My partner and I focused on collaboration among schools to reach a more unified form of educating. We identified forms of collaboration that are already implemented but could be used in a greater magnitude to be effective in unifying education. Data-based decision making, teacher and administrative conferences that focus on training, and online forums (blogs) could all be used in this manner.

Another group focused their thought diagram on innovation as a way to resolve inequality. An idea this group had was to put more importance of qualitative data in conjunction with quantitative data. An example they gave of qualitative data used in schools was student testimonials.

One group dealt with a difficult question about who has the right to choose a child’s education. Their thought diagram expressed the benefits and consequences of government choice and parent choice. One of the benefits to government choice is standardization, but parents have more “skin in the game”. A consequence to making only parents accountable for choosing their child’s school is that information is power. Families with higher socioeconomic status have more access to information, and this process reproduces inequality.

 

Because families with higher socioeconomic status are privileged due to their access to information, another group worked on how to get the information about choosing schools to all parents. This group believed that it was essential for the schools to reach out to the parents besides the parents having to seek out information for themselves. Their main categories for getting information to parents included ads/pamphlets, sessions, the internet, public service announcements, and information given in class.

 

I enjoyed making thought diagrams as a brainstorming process. The activity produced great conversations and debates.

An Open Letter to the U.S Education System

Dear U.S Education System,

Why can’t we fix you? My class has spent a total of nine hours this week talking about how to combat re-segregation alone, and we have not gotten the slightest bit close to an answer. My problem is that I don’t even know where to start. Re-segregation is only one problem among many, but I will start there.

In class this week, we have talked about the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. After Brown v. Board, the problem switched from de jure segregation to de facto segregation. Basically, after the law tried to fix you, U.S Education System, people were still able to segregate schools based on housing segregation and zoning. Not only were schools re-segregated, but some schools shut down because the whites did not want to integrate. In Prince Edward County, the public schools shut down, and a private school was created for white students only. The public schools were shut down for over five years. When they finally opened up, the public school was predominately for black students, and the private school was predominately white. We watched a video about Prince Edward County in class, and it was powerful to hear students’ stories about not having access to an education for over five years. We talked a bit about the idea of sacrificing an entire generation for a cause, and this concept has stuck with me for the past couple days. That is what happened in Prince Edward County, an entire generation was sacrificed.

The situation that occurred in Prince Edward County also made me question the power of court rulings. Brown v. Board was viewed as a victory for the Civil Rights Movement, but black students in that county went more than five years without an education. Why don’t people follow the laws that apply to you? I believe that is has to do with choice; you give people too much choice. Integration theory says that choice without civil rights considerations will lead to inequality. Maybe, this is why our schools are re-segregating.

I want to say that we need to write up an entire new system because there is so much flaw in you, but I do not think that is a possibility because of your history. Besides, I am learning more and more through this class that it is hard to please everyone with one set plan of action. I believe choice has created issues, and I blame you for that. On the other hand, if you were a different system, there would be a new issue at hand to address. That being said, you’re not off the hook. There are ways to fix de facto segregation. Magnet schools were created in the 1970’s to combat segregation and to provide minority students with a “better” education. Although Magnet and Charter schools come with their own problems, the idea is a step in the right direction. Magnet and Charter schools bring in the question of more choice, but I am personally not against choice alone. I am against choice without civil rights considerations.

Ultimately, U.S Education System, you’re a mess. I wish I could offer more constructive criticism, but I have tried my best to make sense of you. The further I dig into your policies and trends, the more confused I get. The more questions I try to answer, the more questions I seem to have. I hope my class, the Sociology of Education, continues in this manner. Questions and confusion aren’t bad, but I used to think they were. I thought that the more questions I had meant the less I knew. In fact, the more questions I have means how much I want to fix you.

A concerned student,

Harley Guzman

P.S: On an unrelated note, why didn’t I learn about how to pay taxes in high school. I think that’s important. You should get on that.

Winter Ball Examined Through Theories of Sociology in Education

The ballroom was dim, and the music was loud. All I could see were my peers lumped into one organism, flowing on the floor, spinning like a tornado, and destroying everything in its path. All I could hear was the chatter of students and jazz music. All I could feel was hypocrisy itchy down my spine like a spider full of venom. Not only was I feeling and experiencing hypocrisy, but I was a hypocrite, myself. On Friday night, I attended the Winter Ball: Enchanted Forest at the Antler’s Hotel, and I left more confused and dazed than I have ever felt before.

In light of the Winter Ball this weekend, I would like to take the opportunity to examine what I witnessed and experienced Friday night using the sociological theories of education I learned in class last week. Our class began with the history of public education in the United States, and we moved on later in the week to talk about sociological theories relating to the purpose of education and why inequality exists in terms of education. The Winter Ball can be examined through two macro-level theories of education. First, there is the functionalist theory which focuses on how education helps society run smoothly. Contrastly, there is the conflict theory which focuses on how education serves the needs of the elite class. Both of these theories can be applied to the events I witnessed on Friday. I would like to clarify that I don’t mean to bash the students who attended the Winter Ball through this analysis. I mean to bring to light some problematic social features of the Winter ball. Clearly, I am no expert. Take what I have to say with a grain of salt because I am clueless. Simply, I am trying to make sense of the world around me through the sociological theories SO280 has taught me.

The aftermath of the Winter Ball has made me question why a college would provide its student body with a giant party. If you look at other colleges, especially larger universities, institutions of higher education rarely provide dances that equate to high school homecoming dances or prom. If you do see celebrations like these in college, they are run by student organizations or Greek life. Functionalists would argue that the Winter Ball serves a purpose for the college and for the students, but it is not for the reason you may think. Functionalists view education as a means to equip youth with the tools they need to be successful in society. For example, teaching students physics will equip them with the knowledge to be successful engineers. Functionalists would say that the Winter Ball is a tool used by the college to socialize its student body. Everyone comes together and mingles. Although we don’t view the Winter ball as a ploy to control us as students, perhaps it is. It could just be a fun night for all, but maybe there are hidden intentions. Functionalists say that a part of education is the manifest function of maintaining social order through shared knowledge and national principles. Based on what I have learned this week in class, I would argue that the Winter ball could be used to do just that. We get dressed up in a nice outfit, listen to music (good or bad), and we see all of our friends in a formal setting. An event like the Winter Ball could be used to teach us how to socialize and behave at formal events. Of course, the intention backfires and what I am arguing is a stretch, but events like the Winter Ball could serve this purpose.

I remember sitting at a table near the food in the Jazz room with my two best friends, and we were eating citrus tasting cheesecake bites. The plates from the people before us were piled on the table, and one of the boys helping run the event came over to clear off the table. We looked around us, and we saw plates scattered all over the place. There was food on the floor and lost items littering the tables. The boy who cleared off the table I was sitting at couldn’t have been older than fifteen years old, and it made me wonder what kind of people were working the Winter Ball and what kind of people were attending the Winter Ball. When my friends and I got back on the bus to head back to campus, my friend next to me turned to me and said, “I’m disgusted.” I didn’t say anything for a few seconds thinking about what I had experienced. I turned back to her and said, “Yeah, me too.” Although applying the functionalist theory to the Winter Ball was a stretch, conflict theory is pretty spot on. Collectively, we like to think of ourselves as warriors for social justice, but maybe the Winter Ball has problematic social implications. Conflict theory focuses on how groups compete for resources, power, and status. Education is a resource, and the winners obtain and maintain this resource. In terms of the Winter Ball, we are allowed to go because our institution provides this event. We would not be at this institution if we did not have some sort of intellectual or economic resource to be here. Because we attend CC, we have the privilege of a college education. We have the resources to go to Winter Ball. On the other hand, the workers at the Winter Ball did not, yet they had to clean up our mess which was a big mess. Conflict theory would argue that students from high socioeconomic status families or white students made it to CC because of their elite status in society. It is beneficial to be white and rich. For students who do not fit these categories, conflict theory would argue that you are at CC because you were not tracked in school at an early age.

All of this being said, the Winter Ball made me think of conflict theory relating to education because we like to think that we are at CC because of our merit, but maybe it is because of luck. Maybe, you were born into the right family. Maybe, you were born with the right skin color. Maybe, the people who weren’t born into the right family or with the right skin color were working Friday night at the Antler’s Hotel to clean up after the people who were given the luck to attend CC. We went into the Winter Ball privileged, and we didn’t think about who had the job of cleaning up after us.

For these reasons, that is why I felt like a hypocrite. I like to think of myself as a pretty liberal person, but I participated in Winter Ball. I want to major in Sociology, yet I didn’t think about the underlying implications of Winter Ball until I got on the bus. I didn’t question my participation until after I took advantage of the event provided for me. Seriously, I don’t mean to ruin the fun of Winter Ball, but I think the student body should question these events more. We should question the purpose of college run events and how they might be reproducing inequality in our community. Yes, SO 280 is teaching me a lot of sociological theories, but most importantly, it is teaching me how to question everyday life.