Professor Marshall

LESSON 16: Education

Lesson 16

Target Competencies (Outcomes)

Compare and contrast worldwide educational systems and outcomes

Analyze education via the major sociological theories

Characterize common educational controversies in the United States

You will demonstrate your competence by:

Completing the learning activities in this Learning Plan

Your performance will be successful when:

You can identify differences in worldwide educational resources

You can explain the concept of universal access to education

You can characterize the different sociological theories on education

You can explain educational controversies in the United States

Learning Activities

1. If you have not yet done so, READ Chapter 17of your text.

2. COMPLETE the lesson below.


Regardless of whether or not you plan to work is a sociologist, having a basic understanding of our system of education is going to be beneficial to you. As a student yourself knowing the functions of our educational system is essential. In addition, since most of you will become parents (or perhaps already are parents) understanding how our system of education works will be beneficial for you, your children, and for society at large. For this lesson, we use FUNCTIONAL theory to ask the question: what are the primary functions of our system of education in the United States?

As Schaefer states, education serves several primary functions for a society:

  • Transmitting Culture
    • Exposing young people to existing beliefs, norms, and values of their culture--aside from being at home, children spend the bulk of their time school. This means that our school systems have a tremendous amount of influence on how our children behave. While providing our young with formal education, schools also socialize children by teaching them what is appropriate and what is not appropriate based on prevailing social norms, attitudes, and beliefs. This can be problematic if the values that you are teaching your children at home do not align with the values that your children are learning in school.
  • Promoting Social and Political Integration
    • Common identity and social integration fostered by education contributes to societal stability and consensus--schools teach us which social roles are appropriate, and which political identities are important. We learn about group identities in school – school plays, being allocated to group activity, playgrounds, choruses, and so on teach us how to be a part of the group. These types of activities help to foster group identity, and also help to promote a collective consciousness. A collective consciousness is an important element of the society because it allows for cohesion to take place among members of a group. All of these types of activities that lead toward the cultivation of the collective consciousness contribute to social stability.
  • Maintaining Social Control
    • Schools teach students punctuality, discipline, scheduling, responsible work habits, and how to negotiate a bureaucratic organization--it is important for members of the society not to cause trouble. The institution of education helps to teach our young to conform and not to cause trouble. By instilling social values which conform to the consensus of society, our children are taught to be complacent and productive members of society who don't question authority. In the classroom, teachers tell students what to do and students do what teachers tell them to do. Likewise, at home parents tell children what to do and children do what parents tell them to do. Both of these hierarchical models reinforce each other. As children age out of the school system and into the workplace, they find the same hierarchical structure between supervisor and worker. The school system reinforces in children that they must pay attention to people in positions of authority and that they must comply with the demands of those who have power and control in society. This makes for a smooth transition into the workplace.
  • Serving as an Agent of Change
    • When change is needed, schools and the system of education is often the way that appropriate behavioral or cultural changes are transmitted to the members of a society--we do not want individual change to take place in society on a grand scale – that is to say we do not want many individuals changing at once. Instead, when social change needs to take place, on a macro level it would be preferred that it happen in an orderly fashion. Schools can assist in shifting behaviors and cultural attitudes in an orderly way. This can help to eliminate the possibility of social upheaval in a society, and can encourage a smooth transition to new ways of doing things.

As Steele and Price point out (71), schools also play a significant role in the process of socialization, and the socialization that schools provide to our young can be both beneficial and problematic.

In today's American society, the family structure is radically different for most families than it was even 50 years ago. In what is referred to as "the Golden Era" in American society, the nuclear family was a common family model. Furthermore, not only did we find two-parent families to be more common in our society prior to the 1960s, we also found a family structure in which it was more common that one parent stayed at home to care for the children. Although this is a quite one-dimensional view of the history of the American family and does not account for differences in family models (for example it does not account for the historical differences in the African-American family model), in general, this model did tend to be more common in our past. With family life being different in our past, this allowed for a greater emphasis with in the family for socialization of children to occur.

Today, it is common for there to be myriad family forms. Single parenting is much more common than it was in our past, and it is also more common for both parents in a two parent family to work outside of the home. This presents issues and concerns for the socialization processes of children. If parents are not at home to socialize children, who will take up the task of doing so? Increasingly, we find that our school system, and in particular are primary school system, is tasked with the role of helping children to adjust to being members of society. This means that the system of education have acquired a new and important function in our society. While some of these benefits may be positive, there are also many that can be problematic in a multicultural and diverse society such as ours.

The Benefits of Socialization in Education

Some of the benefits to socialization occurring within our system of education can be in the uniformity that it provides. The school system will educate instructors and teachers who will then in turn educate children any uniform and systematic way, annual socialize them in a way which emphasizes overarching norms and customs of the broader society. This will be beneficial to our broader society because it will socialize our young to understand important cultural ideals, such as patriotism, as well as teaching them to conform to those things which help to support a structure which is already in place in our society. This contributes to the overall stability of our society.

The Problems with Socialization in Education

Some of the drawbacks to allowing socialization to occur within the system of education instead of with in the individual family are that it takes away from the richness and diversity that the family would teach to the individual child and replaces it with messages and lessons which are thought to be important regardless of whether the individual family deems them so. What this means for the individual family is that some of the socialization processes that they may teach will be lost or replaced by things that may not be important or relevant to the family.

Depending on one's point of view, there are several overarching theme of socialization that we are taught within the system of education they can be viewed as either beneficial or problematic (Carl 266):

  • Myth Number One: INDIVIDUALISM — schools teach children that they should be able to be self-reliant and that the individual is the primary unit in American society. One of the ways in which they do this is by requiring students to do their own work and by earning grades for producing their own work. One of the subtle messages that schools constantly send to children is that they, and they alone, should be judged for their efforts and that they, and they alone, are the determiners of their own fate in society.
  • Myth Number Two: GROUP-ism — schools teach children that our nation is a nation of fairness, and that groups are not the most important factor to consider when making decisions. Schools stress that when you learn you are bettering your own self and therefore eventually your community will be better. However, the main message is that the welfare of the group is secondary to the welfare of the individual. The overarching theme of this type of thinking from the system of education is that our nation is not a group, rather it is a bunch of individuals.
  • Myth Number Three: PROGRESS — socializing children within the system of education leads to and good character will benefit our nation. The system of education will impart to young people those socialization processes and ideals which are essential to a beneficial to our society. This means that, in essence, the system of education is the state's job to raise good, loyal, and patriotic children will become good, loyal, and patriotic adults.

As you can see from the above, depending on your point of view, these things can be seen as either positive or negative in the overall scheme of the structure of society. Some families may struggle with these issues as schools socialize their children, while others may find that this type of education is beneficial not only within their family but also within the structure of society.


Carl, John. Think Sociology Second Edition. Upper Saddle River: Pearson. 2011. Print.

Schaefer, Richard. Sociology 13th Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill. 2013. Print.

Steele, Stephen F., Jammie Price. Applied Sociology. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008. Print.