In the society that we live in, education is highly valued. From a sociological standpoint, education is very important because schools are one of the main agents of socialization in our lives. In school, children learn many skills. They learn skills that help them function as members of society, they develop friendships and form peer groups that also socialize them, and they learn many cultural values through schools. Many people believe in the idea that education is equal for every member of society regardless of race. However that is not true, race still plays a very big role in schools and our educational system. Today, the link between race and education can cause controversy.
In the views of a Structural functionalist, the link between race and education is there to serve a particular purpose in keeping society stable. The inequality that students of different races are confronted with in school serves the purpose of preparing those students for the inequality they will face in the workforce. Sociologists often talk about the “hidden curriculum” in schools. The curriculum teaches students values and norms from their society. Part of this hidden curriculum would include preparing students for social inequality they will have to deal with for the rest of their lives. In order to deal with inequality, some students may feel the need to adapt and change in order to limit the amount of injustice they face. For example, an article from the Pew Research Center website reported that many black college students felt the need to ‘code-switch’. These students felt intense pressure to change the way they spoke and behaved when around people who had different ethnic and racial backgrounds. The more education a black person had, the more they felt the need to be aware of their actions and words when around other races. The article also stated that black people with college degrees had experienced more racial discrimination (PEW)
In the views of conflict theorists, inequality in education is good because it enhances competition and innovation. Segregation in schools was labeled unconstitutional in the United States Supreme Court on May 17, 1954. However, this did not end racism in the school system. For example, in 2016 a school district in Mississippi still had segregated schools. The school district was distributing students and faculty to schools in the district based on race. It is really easy to find evidence and support of inequality and discrimination in schools. It is now reported that more segregated now than they were twenty years ago. There is also a discrepancy in resources that are available to different schools. Children in low-income areas tend to not be given access to good resources, teachers, and important social connections. Schools in predominantly wealthy, white neighborhoods tend to offer much better resources for students. (source) Many times we hear people say that we are making progress with moving toward equal opportunity education for all races. While it is true that we have made some progress, we still have a long way to go. By getting rid of segregated schools we rid educational systems of overt racism. However, there are still many signs of covert racism that still exist in our schools and educational systems. According to studies, whites and Asian Americans are much more likely to attend and complete college than African Americans. African Americans only make up ten percent of people who have earned college degrees in the United States. I came from a small town that only had three small public high schools. Two of the high schools were predominantly black high schools in low-income areas. One school was predominantly white. The two predominantly black schools were failing schools. They lacked resources and certified teachers. The high school I attended was a private school. The issue with private schools is even if a parent wants to send their child to get the best education possible, many families in my area just could not afford the tuition. My private high school had nothing but white children and if you read about the school online, it was founded as a segregation school and pretty much remains that way today.
It is very easy to discuss race and education in terms of symbolic interactionism. We are socialized through our schools, our teachers, and our peers in school. According To our textbook, Caucasians and Asians are much more likely to be placed in gifted programs or advanced placement classes than their African American classmates. Many times, this can cause white and asian children to make the generalization that black and Hispanic students are just not as smart. This can lead black and Hispanic students to also begin thinking that are just not as smart.
Teachers also play a major role in socializing students. According to the textbook, the labels put on students are often brought about by prejudices and bias. Teachers may do this consciously or unconsciously. Teachers can unknowingly be reinforcing inequalities. This quarter we talked about teachers who were more receptive and encouraging with male students than they were with female students. This can also be the case between races. Teachers may unknowingly reinforce the idea that white and Asian students are just smarter than Black or Hispanic Students (textbook). We have also talked about the term self-fulfilling prophecies. If a student is told they are not smart enough or that they are a troublemaker they may give into that label or give up altogether. Many times, students internalize these ideas and labels and have a hard time seeing passed them. If they think that other races are just naturally smarter they may begin to wonder why they should even try to finish school.(textbook)
I talked to a black woman in my home community. She said that when she was in high school, black kids were never placed in Advanced Classes. White kids were allowed to make their own schedule and select the classes they wanted. She was never allowed to do that. She was given nothing but general classes. When she took her ACT she made a twenty. She wanted to take it again to improve her school, but she was told not to because no one expected her to go to college anyway. She attended Louisiana Tech University from nineteen seventy eight until nineteen eighty one. She was one of the only black students on campus at that time. Sadly, she did not complete her degree at Tech because of racial discrimination that she faces. She told me a story about an economics professor that stood in front of a class of thirty people and said, “I do not have anything for a black girl unless she is bouncing a ball on a basketball court”. She told the professor that he could not talk to her or about a member of her race like that. The professor said, “I will be damned if you ever pass this class.” This was a student who up to that point had As and Bs in all her other classes. She received an F in that class not once but twice. She eventually had to leave Tech and finish her degree elsewhere.
That experience really relates to the symbolic interactionism theory. The woman told me that after all her experiences with the educational system she felt hopeless. She even said that she struggled with feelings of inadequacy for many years. She even told me that in the Black culture it is rare for higher education to be promoted.
While that experience took place in the late seventies and early eighties, there are still many examples of bias and discrimination in the educational system today. In fact, some abuse and discrimination can come from people of the same race. I found an interesting article about a Black Prep School located in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. The school was named T.M. Landry Prep School. According to the New York Times, the school received national attention for sending black students to well-known prestigious universities. While that sounds good, it turns out that the school administrators had lied and twisted things in order to get students to those schools. The administrators of the school were a married Black Couple. From all outside appearances, the school appeared to be wonderful. The principal lies on the children’s transcripts and made-up stories to get the young ones accepted in universities like Harvard and Yale. The principal was even abusive toward the Black students. In reality, the school administrators were playing on black stereotypes to make the children appealing to Ivy League and prestigious schools. For example, one student said that the principal made it seem that the student’s father was the stereotypical black absentee father. The school created an environment of fear among students. The students’ transcripts and even ACT scores were falsified. Sadly, many of the students who made it to prestigious universities had to switch schools or even drop out because they were ultimately set up for failure by their high school. Many black parents said that they thought the prep school was a good opportunity for their children who were only ever encouraged to play sports. The principal attracted members of the black public by playing on the idea of disadvantages. He promised a better place for black students who suffered disadvantage and inequality in the educational system. Sadly, the administrator’s main priority only seemed to be getting famous and making money.
Prejudice and inequality can beat people down and lead them to give up. AS far as education goes, it is pretty easy to see racial injustice. Many students’ negative interactions influence their behavior in school and their attitudes toward education altogether. Many students give up because they are labeled a troublemaker or not good enough. Also, they may not be encouraged to pursue high goals in education. If students do not receive support at school, at home, anf from peers, it is hard for them to succeed. The interaction that many black students have at school leads to them not seeing the point of college or worse yet, not seeing the point in finishing high school. It is pretty clear to see that many people that face racial inequality in school carry that with them and develop a negative or critical view of education. The lady in my hometown still has a negative view and deals with feelings of inadequacy from her negative experience in a college classroom. If we do not change something we are never going to rid our educational system of racial inequality. In fact, things might even get worse.