Race and Education
Structural theory or Structural Functionalism theory views society as one built upon order, interrelation, and balance among all the parts that constitute it as a way of maintaining the smooth functioning of the whole. Shared norms and values are seen as the basis of society and focus is on social order based on agreements between groups and organizations. It vies social change as a gradual orderly process. The change is regarded as a necessary evil that corrects social dysfunctions which must happen slowly so that the people and institutions in the society get to adapt to the changes without rapid disorder.
The Conflict Theory is the direct opposite of the Structural Theory/Structural Functionalism. Conflict theory propagates for the dominance of some given social groups over others and so views social order as maintained by manipulation and control by dominant groups with social change happening rapidly in disorganized forms. The minority or subordinate groups therefore are always trying to overthrow the dominant groups so as to realize equality in the system. In summary, conflict theory views social change as rapid, continuous, and inevitable as groups constantly seek to succeed each other in the social hierarchy and education plays a major role in this power balance struggle (Wexler, 2009).
Conflict Theory according to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels is a political and economic philosophy of in which the concept of class struggle plays a pivotal role in comprehending society’s supposed inevitable development from bourgeois oppression under capitalism to a socialist leading to a classless society (Wolters, 2008). The society is in perpetual conflict as the different societal groups struggle for dominance of power, authority, or positions. This is because the powerful members of the dominant groups limit the freedom and authority of the less subordinate groups through creation of rules for success and opportunity in society. This is what results in social problem.
The Race factor is so pronounced in America that it has led to disparities in educational achievement among races as evidenced in test scores, grades, drop-out and graduation rates among other indicators of academic performance. As pertains to education, the Structural Functionalism perceives education as contributing to the smooth functioning of society. Durkheim (the founder of Functionalist theory) identifies the core role of education as one of socializing people in the mainstream of society. He argues that education helps to form a more-cohesive social structure by bringing together people from diverse backgrounds (Wolters, 2008).
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The Structure theory points to the latent roles of education like transmission of core values and social control which play a big role in fuelling political and economic systems in America. On the classroom level, the core values are instilled in children through rewarding them accordingly when they do such actions as follow directions and schedules, meet deadlines and obey authorities.
Given that the theory argue that high rewarding positions or jobs are the most important for society, education systems are believed to play a key role in the training of the most qualified individuals and in so doing preparing them for the most socially important positions. Education is not seen to contribute to inequality based on race, gender, class, and other lines because people are not only imparted with skills and thinking skills to fully use their potential, but also taught to be good citizens who live in harmony with the other members of the society. Therefore, the theory is credited to serving to the positive function of the society as a whole without inequalities or emphasizing superiority or inferiority of certain racial groups (Wexler, 2009).
The Conflict Theory & Education
The core purpose of education, as preached by the Conflict Theory, is to maintain social inequality as well as preserve the power of dominants members or groups of society. It sees the educational system as the perpetuator of status quo through dulling of the lower or inferior classes into obedient workers of the higher or superior classes of the society. Unlike in functionalism where sorting in schools is based on merit, the conflict theory argue that sorting in schools has to be based on distinct race and class lines. As such students from minority races (African Americans, Latinos, and Hispanics in this case) are trained for blue-color jobs using what is termed as “hidden curriculum” (CliffNotes, 2011). On the other hand, their colleagues from the so-called higher racial classes, Whites and Asian, are trained to occupy the most rewarding positions in the job market. There’s educational inequality among the different races in America because of the use of different curriculum meaning that the net results in terms of achievement or outcome are poor for lower-class and minority students and good for White and Asian students. Furthermore, teachers treat African-American students like less competent students placing them in lower classes. This is because in the first place the students have had fewer opportunities ro develop their language, critical thinking, and social skills compared to the fully prepared students of White and Asian origins (Jay, 2009).
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Similarly, the economic status of the different races has a greater bearing on the educational outcomes. Most Whites and Asians are affluent or well-off unlike most African Americans, Latinos and Hispanics who come from poor backgrounds. Thus they cannot afford the luxury of schooling in private schools thus attend public schools which are mostly underfunded, and understaffed. The Whites and Asians who mainly go through the best schools gain substancial advantages in enrolling into best colleges/universities and ultimately landing high-paying professions. The less affluent students may only be tracked into vocational or technical training and ending up working under their White and Asian colleagues. Conflict theory thus perceives education as a social benefit, opportunity and powerful means of maintaining power structures as well as creating docile work force for capitalism (CliffNotes, 2011).
Finally, the mandatory use of English as lingua franca in schools across the nation often put students of non-English backgrounds at a disadvantage as it makes them to be dominated by the natives of the language. It is the view of many conflict theorists that little can be done to reduce the inequality in education without extensive reforms in society. For instance, that there is need for creation of a broader base of high-paying jobs and equalizing disparities in the tax of the different races (Jay, 2009).
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Weighing the two theories of education, the Conflict Theory is best suited for explaining the issue of racial inequalities as pertains to attainment and outcomes of education in America. The arguments presented by the Conflict Theory, especially economic reasons for the inequalities, best capture the situation of racial differences in education in the country. This is reinforced by the Socioeconomic Theory which holds that one’s culture, family background, social and economic conditions and other factors outside an individual’s control highly influence a person’s identity, values, and overall human as well as educational outcome. The Blacks, Latinos and Hispanic are socially and economically inferior to Asians and Whites and thus have less power to influence their lives in the best ways. They end up being second best and are forced to take whatever petty opportunities are thrown their by the high and mighty of the dominant races – the Whites and Asians (Wexler, 2009).
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