Education In Society: Crash Course Sociology #40


The average American spends 13 and a half
years of their life in school. And that’s not counting the amount of time
that you spend watching Crash Course. Getting a bachelor’s degree means spending
upwards of 17 years as a student. And advanced degrees like medical degrees
or PhDs can tack on another 4 to 6 years on
top of that. So, why do we spend so much time in the classroom? With so much information available to us with
just a few taps on our phones and computers, it might seem like sitting in a classroom
to learn about the world isn’t really necessary
anymore. But educational institutions aren’t just places
where we learn facts – and Google is no substitute
for the social functions that schools provide. In fact, neither is Crash Course. So let’s take a look at how educational institutions are
organized in our society and what those institutional
structures can tell us about how our society functions. [Theme Music] You know what I mean when I talk
about “Education,” right? For our purposes, education is the social institution
through which society provides its members with all
kinds of important knowledge, not just basic facts and job skills but
also cultural norms and values. And this can come in the form of formal schooling,
where instruction comes from specially trained
teachers, but it doesn’t have to. What education has looked like across different
eras and different places is very different from
the schooling that you probably know. Historically, education was a privilege of
the wealthy. In fact, the word school comes from the Greek
word for leisure – ‘Scole’. In Ancient Greece, wealthy young men spent
their free time learning from scholars like
Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato. Nowadays, most high-income countries
have formal schooling systems that are
available to everyone. So the amount of schooling that the average
person gets in most societies is closely tied to the
country’s level of economic development. While young people in the US can expect to
spend at least 12 years in school, those who live in lower-income countries are much
more likely to never get past middle school. The US, however, will be the setting that we’ll
be using to explore how sociology understands
education as a social institution. So let’s go right to the Thought Bubble for a
quick overview of how schooling is structured
in the United States. In the US, publicly funded schools have existed
since almost the beginning of our country. Thomas Jefferson was an early proponent of
separating schools from religious institutions, which
at the time were the main providers of education. The widespread availability of public schools
really took off in the middle of the 19th century, when politician and educational reformer
Horace Mann pushed for Massachusetts to create a
formalized, state funded system of primary schools. By 1918, all states had passed mandatory
education laws, which required children to attend
school until they reached the age of 16. A major aim of these laws was to promote literacy. Both Jefferson and Mann pushed for public education
systems because they believed that a well-educated
populace was a necessary requirement for a democracy. Nowadays, about 87% of students in the US
attend public schools, which start in kindergarten
when children are five. And when I say public schools, this refers
to schools funded through the government
with taxpayer dollars. And of course, US public schools are organized
into primary and secondary education. Compulsory education starts with elementary
school, which begins for most Americans around age
5 and continues through 5th grade, until ages 10 or 11. These grades are considered “primary”
schooling. Starting at age 11 or 12, children enter middle-
or junior high school, which consists of grades
6th through 8th in most states. Around age 14, they typically enter high school,
which often includes 9th through 12th grades. Middle and High school are also referred to
as “secondary schooling.” And many school districts offer alternatives
to the standard high school curriculum, in the form of Vocational and Technical training
schools, sometimes known as VoTech schools. Votech schools focus on teaching specific
skills, like automotive repair or cosmetology, and students leave school with certifications
that help them enter the workforce right away. Thanks Thought Bubble! Another educational option is private school
– those schools not funded by taxpayer dollars. Why might a family choose a private school
over a public school? Well, for one thing, private schools are often able
to tailor their curricula to specific populations. Because public schools are open to everybody, they try
to serve the widest swath of the student populace –
what’s sometimes referred to as ‘teaching the middle.’ So the 10% of American students who attend
private schools might be there in search of a
more rigorous education. Parents of kids with disabilities may also choose a
private school that’s specially tailored to their child’s
needs, which may not be available in a public school. And it’s worth pointing out that most private
schools in the US are religiously affiliated. These schools provide religious instruction
alongside academic training – a practice that’s
not allowed in public schools. You know, because of the whole separation
of church and state thing in the Constitution. Another option for parents who don’t want to
send their kids to public school is homeschooling. That’s just where a kid is educated at home,
typically by a parent. About 3% of students in the US are homeschooled. All of these different approaches to education
cover the K-12 years, when children are required
to attend school. But some people may choose to keep going to
school and enter post-secondary institutions,
better known as college or university. Unlike primary and secondary schooling,
post-secondary schooling – in the US at least –
is largely funded by the students themselves. Public state colleges and universities are
joint ventures between taxpayers and students,
who pay some tuition to attend. Two-year colleges, sometimes known as
junior or community colleges, typically give associates degrees, technical
certifications, and sometimes high-school
equivalency degrees, or GEDs. The highest level of education attained by
28% of Americans over the age of 25 is attending
some college or have a two-year degree. Four-year institutions in the US can either be
public universities, funded jointly by state taxes
and student tuition, or private universities funded almost exclusively
through tuition and private donations. The reason I keep talking about funding is that,
in the US, paying for college is one of the highest
barriers to getting a post-secondary education. As a result, going to college is by no means
a given for Americans. Only 32.5% of Americans over the age of 25
have graduated with a bachelor’s degree from
a four-year university. Of these graduates, about one third will go on to
get more education, like medical school or a masters
or a doctorate in a discipline like sociology. 12% of American over the age of 25 have some
sort of advanced degree. Education must matter an awful lot for people
to willingly choose to spend so much time
and money on it. And, of course, our schools of sociological thought
can help us understand how educational systems
help shape society, and why education carries such
importance in people’s lives. Today, we’ll be looking at Structural Functionalism
and Symbolic Interactionism and next week, we’ll look more in-depth at education using
a conflict theory perspective. As you might expect by this point, structural
functionalism looks at how formal education helps
keep a society running smoothly. Because structural functionalism looks at
everything that way. And we can think of how education works in society,
in terms of both manifest and latent functions. Manifest functions are the intended consequences
of education. And an obvious example of a manifest function is
just…teaching kids the basic facts about the world. It’s pretty hard to get through the world
without knowing how to read or write. And even for people who don’t use math every
single day, it’s pretty useful to be able to calculate a
20% tip without needing to pull out a calculator. Another manifest function of schooling is
socialization. By going to school outside the home, kids
begin to learn norms and values beyond what
their parents might teach them. For example, schools engage in cultural
transmission, or passing along knowledge
to a new generation of citizens. Children in public schools start their day
by pledging allegiance to the American flag
– and by doing so, learn patriotic values. Similarly, civics and history courses teach them
how political processes work, which helps create a
well-informed, well-functioning civil society. In this way, schools also act to promote social
integration, taking people from different backgrounds
and exposing them to social norms and cultural values, in an effort to promote a shared
understanding of the social world. And educational institutions do more than just pass
on knowledge – they also help us create new knowledge
through cultural innovation and research. Every major advance in our society – whether it’s the
technology of self-driving cars, or new understandings
of the inequalities we see in the world – has been possible because it built on the
knowledge we learn in schools. Yet another manifest function of schools is to
educate the future workforce, teaching the skills that
people need to be productive members of society. So formal education acts as a form of credentialing,
a way of establishing someone’s qualifications
to work in a certain field. You know that diploma you got when you graduated
– or will get when you do graduate? That’s documented proof of your credentials. And educational credentials are often used
as a way of determining social status – they determine social placement by telling us
who can access which jobs, and how much they
should be paid for that work – factors that determine socioeconomic status. Now, in addition to all of these intended functions
of education, there are some unintended consequences,
or latent functions, of schooling, too. One of the more important ones is learning
how to be a good 9 to 5 worker. Horace Mann’s original vision of public schools
was based on a Prussian model of schooling
now known as the ‘factory school model,’ because it teaches children how to work within a
set schedule and listen to authority figures. Those are skills that come in handy as an
adult when your boss tells you to be at your
desk at 9 in the morning. K-12 Schools also provide childcare that makes working
parents’ lives easier – not the intended purpose of
schools certainly, but a pretty useful latent function. And a third latent function of schools is
that they just help you make friends! Schools help people form social groups by introducing
them to many people around their same age. This also makes it easy to meet and interact
with potential romantic partners around your age – which might be why we see so many college
and high school sweethearts who tie the knot. Structural functionalism stresses all the
ways that schooling helps maintains the order
and stability of society. But our other theories of sociological thought point
out the ways that educational institutions may maintain
practices that are not beneficial to everyone. Recall that symbolic-interactionist approaches
explore how people create the world that we live
in through their day-to-day interactions. In the context of education, we see this play
out in how stereotypes created by society can
turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Teachers who believe a student has high ability tend
to give that student more attention and feedback – which in turn helps that student believe that
they have high ability, which in turn helps that
student develop greater academic ability. Similarly, if you decide you’re just not a “math person,”
you might try to avoid doing math at all and stop taking
math classes as soon as your school lets you – which will pretty much guarantee that you
end up not being all that good at math. Self-fulfilling prophecies can have very real
consequences when its beliefs about student’s abilities
are influenced by stereotypes of race, gender, or class. The lower graduation rate of racial minorities
is one outcome. So too is women’s underrepresentation in Science,
Technology, Engineering, and Math fields. Next week, we’ll use the lens of social conflict
theory to explore more about how schooling can
both cause and perpetuate social inequalities. This week, we discussed the history of education
as a social institution, with a specific focus on
how the US organizes its educational system. We also talked about structural functionalist
approaches to education and some of the manifest
and latent functions associated with education. Finally, we discussed a symbolic interactionist
approach to education that shows us how self-fulfilling prophecies in educational settings contribute
to differences in academic outcomes for students. Crash Course Sociology is filmed in the Dr.
Cheryl C. Kinney Studio in Missoula, MT, and it’s
made with the help of all of these nice people. Our animation team is Thought Cafe and Crash
Course is made with Adobe Creative Cloud. If you’d like to keep Crash Course free for everyone,
forever, you can support the series at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows
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