Connection between Race and Confidence in Education

Updated January 13, 2022

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Connection between Race and Confidence in Education essay

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Statement of the Problem & Research Question

I am interested in education and the way it intersects with issues and tensions of identity. More specifically, I am interested in the relationships—the confidence—that different communities have in the social institutions which provide education. This topic is of interest to me because confidence in education heavily informs educational outcomes and, more broadly, life outcomes. The anchoring research question of this investigation is: to what extent does race inform confidence in education?

The variables from the GSS that I will be using for the sake of this investigation are RACE, CLASS and CONEDUC. Race and class are the independent variables, measuring respondents race and class position in society. CONEDUC is the dependent variable, surveying the levels of confidence that individuals have in education. Both CLASS and CONEDUC are ordinal variables, whereas RACE is a nominal variable; to examine the relationship between them I will perform a cross-tab analysis as well as a chi-squared test of significance to determine the exigence and significance of my findings. My hypothesis is that lower class people and black people have less confidence and trust in education than wealthier people and white people. This hypothesis is predicated on the notion that white communities are wealthier than black communities.

Background & Review of Literature

To further examine the relationship that exists between race, class and confidence in social institutions I will be examining articles which look at confidence in social institutions, constructions of trust along the lines of race and class, and the way that each of those concepts intersect with education and the larger education system. To begin, I examined Joshua Klugman and Jun Xu’s article on racial disparities in public confidence of education. This article purports that the racial differences in class, politics and religion can explain why Black people have more confidence in educational institutions.

More specifically, individuals with more education have less confidence in educational institutions; thus, the levels of confidence in education along the lines of race often mirror that of socioeconomic attainment—lower class individuals tend to have less education and more confidence, whereas higher class individuals tend to have the opposite, more education and less confidence. Socioeconomic difference further plays into the dynamics of confidence in education as black families tend to have less wealth than white families, barring them from many of the institutions and social ties which allow for access to resources—the lack of which results in a greater need for education. This results in little social mobility across generations, resulting in no change in conceptions of confidence in education.

Further, this paper asserts that education, income, religion, party affiliation, and political views are all large factors in determining confidence in education. White Americans tend to have higher class positions and more conservative political views—trends that all correlate with and suggest less trust in education. That being said, this study also notes that the finding that blacks have more confidence in education is counterintuitive because there has been a great deal of research that suggests that blacks are more skeptical of society.

Sandra Smith further explores the intersection of race and trust—more specifically, disparities of trust along the lines of race—purporting that the three demographic conditions which are axiomatic to determining trust are age, education and race. Further, she establishes the three most relevant types of trust are generalized, particularized and strategic. Indicators of class correlate with levels of trust; because members of minority groups are generally less educated—often having lower incomes—the correlation between class status informs levels of generalized trust.

Smith notes that across all levels of educational attainment, whites report higher rates of trust than blacks. The lack of trust that many black people have can be attributed to historical and contemporary experiences of discrimination, neighborhood and community context and ethnoracial socialization. Further, Smith purports that the most salient dimension of mistrust is the role that ethnoracial socialization plays in the formation of confidence and trust across generations in black and brown communities. The exigence of trust and confidence cannot be understated; according to Smith, “trust is [a] social lubricant that reduces complexity…[it] encouraged solidarity, consensus and cooperation…”

Distrust and a lack of confidence in institutions leaves many at a severe disadvantage; it hinders people’s ability to create meaningful, fruitful relationships, thus greatly limiting mobility. The most important assertion made by Smith, however, is that race is the most important determinant of trust. This claim is exigent because trust informs the levels of confidence that individuals have.

While understanding constructions of trust is integral to understanding confidence, it is also imperative to understand the way that mistrust operates. In their article Dorothy Taylor, Frank Biafora and George Warheit examine the relationship between racialized distrust and delinquency within black and brown communities. They purport that the roots of racial mistrust begin in one’s home, where families shape many of the “initial definitions, parameters and cautions of being Black in a predominantly white society.” This ethnoracial socialization is furthered in schools, where black students face racialized biases both through teacher-student interactions and the larger culture of the education system. According to this article, the way that this overarching culture manifests in the lives of young black and brown children is in mistrust.

When contrasted to White non-Hispanics, African American and Haitian Blacks report a greater willingness to violate the law and, further, many perceive certain rewards for it. These findings also showed the levels of racial mistrust by asking a myriad of questions—either agree or disagree—oriented towards the notion of trust. At a general level, the percentage of agreement ranged from a little less than 20% of the Black samples, who agreed that Black parents should teach their children not to trust White teachers, to about 25%, who responded affirmatively that Blacks should be suspicious of a White person who tries to be friendly. The findings regarding the construction and manifestations of mistrust are included in the scope of this paper because they illuminates the relationship that mistrust has to race and class.

Further examination into the specific manifestations of mistrust and education are pertinent to understanding the dimensions of the relationship that exists between class, race education and confidence. Irving and Hudley examine the relationship between cultural mistrust, academic outcome expectations, and outcome values among young African American men, hypothesizing that there is an inverse relationship between cultural mistrust and the outcome expectations held for individuals.

Furthermore, they operationalized the influence of social inequity on feelings of motivation through the notion of cultural mistrust along racial lines. In their exploration of constructions of trust, they highlight the history of economic and social oppression that has plagued the African Americans in the US. In this vein, they argue that it is precisely because of this history that many African Americans are unwilling to trust in social and cultural institutions. This mistrust then negatively informs the interactions and relationships that many African Americans have to large institutions.

Within the discussion of confidence in social institutions, it is imperative to note that the existence of cultural mistrust informs academic outcomes and achievement. This assertion is a central tenant of the paper; it is supported by the finding that upward social and economic mobility create powerful incentives for achievement. The steep history of discrimination that plagues the African American community heavily informs academic achievement because it calls into question achievement motivation by negatively impacting constructions of expectations, outcomes and values. The results of this study found that high cultural mistrust relates heavily to low outcome expectations and, subsequently, low academic performance.

More specifically within the arena of education, Roslyn Mickelson examines the attitude achievement paradox among black adolescents—a paradox which purports that although many black people of all ages express a high regard for education, their academic record and performance is poor.


I examined variables from the GSS dataset surveyed individuals on their race as well as their confidence in education. The GSS conducts nationwide surveys on issues that are of interest to the public; the research of the GSS allows for deeper understanding of the attributes of individuals within the US as well as their opinions on issues that are of public interest and exigence. Although all households in the US have an equal chance of being chosen to participate in the survey, the GSS randomly selects households from different regions of the country to participate and be respondents.

By using a form of probability sampling, a great deal of bias is eliminated from the study and its results. Furthermore, representativeness is increased by use of probability sampling—something that allows for generalizability of the results. Moreover, probability sampling minimizes error while maximizing variation and controlling for other variables—such as spurious variables. Using probability sampling allows for the GSS to identify the key variables that inform different issues and situations—for the purposes of this study, issues that exist at the intersection of race, class and confidence in the social institution of education. If people do decide to participate, they will be interviewed and their information will be protected.

The variables chosen for this study are RACE, CLASS and CONEDUC. I chose these variables as a form of conceptualization of the underpinning question and arena of inquiry that this examination looks at—to what extent does race inform trust in social institutions such as education? By operationalizing the tension that exists at the intersection of identity and confidence in education through the variables of race and class, this investigation aims to illuminate the relationship that exists.

Quantitative Data Analysis

After running a cross-tab analysis of CONEDUC and CLASS it is evident that there is a relationship between the two variables. As shown in figure 1, 40.4% of respondents who identified as upper class have a great deal of confidence in education, whereas only 24.2% of those who identified as lower class said they had a great deal of confidence. Furthermore, respondents who identified as lower class were the largest group of respondents who had hardly any confidence in education, with 19.2% of respondents answering this way. The chi-squared value is 0.183, meaning there is a very weak but positive association between the variables CLASS and CONEDUC.

After running a cross-tab analysis of CONEDUC and RACE it is evident that there is a relationship between the two variables. 41.4% of black respondents said that they had a great deal of confidence in education, whereas only 23% of white respondents said the same thing. 61.6% of white respondents said that they had “only some” confidence in education and 47.3% of black respondents said the same. The chi-squared value is 0.000 meaning that there is not a significant association between the variables.


  1. Babbie, Earl R. The Practice of Social Research. Cengage Learning, 2014.
  2. Irving, Miles Anthony, and Cynthia Hudley. ‘Cultural Mistrust, Academic Outcome Expectations, and Outcome Values among African American Adolescent Men.’ Urban Education 40, no. 5 (09 2005): 476-96. doi:10.1177/0042085905278019.
  3. Klugman, Joshua, and Jun Xu. ‘Racial Differences in Public Confidence in Education: 1974-2002*.’ Social Science Quarterly 89, no. 1 (01, 2008): 155-76. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6237.2008.00526.x.
  4. Mickelson, Roslyn Arlin. ‘The Attitude-Achievement Paradox Among Black Adolescents.’ Sociology of Education 63, no. 1 (01 1990): 44. doi:10.2307/2112896.
  5. Smith, Sandra Susan. ‘Race and Trust.’ Annual Review of Sociology 36, no. 1 (06 2010): 453-75. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.012809.102526.
  6. Taylor, Dorothy L., Frank A. Biafora, and George J. Warheit. ‘Racial Mistrust and Disposition to Deviance among African American, Haitian, and Other Caribbean Island Adolescent Boys.’ Law and Human Behavior 18, no. 3 (1994): 291-303. doi:10.1007/bf01499589.
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