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Cultural Capital and Social class differences in educational achievement

Cultural Capital refers to the skills and knowledge middle class parents have that they can use to give their children an advantage in the education system.

A closely related concept is Social Capital – which is the support and information provided by contacts and social networks which can be converted into educational success and material rewards.

cultural capital

Three ways in which middle class parents use their cultural capital

  1. Middle class parents are better educated and are more able to help their children with homework
  2. Middle class parents are more skilled in researching schools
  3. Middle class parents teach their children the value of deferred gratification

Two ways in which middle class parents use their social capital

  1. They speak to parents of children who already attend the best schools
  2. They are more likely to know professionals who work in the best schools

Supporting evidence for the importance of cultural capital in education

Diane Reay (1988) – Mothers make cultural capital work for their children. Her research is based on the mothers of 33 children at two London primary schools. The mothers of working class children worked just as hard as the middle class mothers. But the cultural capital of the MC mothers gave their children an advantage.

Middle Class Mothers had more educational qualifications and more information about how the educational system operated. They used this cultural capital to help their children with homework, bolstering their confidence and sorting out their problems with teachers.

Stephen Ball argues that government policies of choice and competition place the middle class at an advantage. Ball refers to middle class parents as ‘skilled choosers’. Compared to working class parents (disconnected choosers) they are more comfortable with dealing with public institutions like schools, they are more used to extracting and assessing information. They use social networks to talk to parents whose children are attending the schools on offer and they are more used to dealing with and negotiating with administrators and teachers. As a result, if entry to a school is limited, they are more likely to gain a place for their child.

The school/ parent alliance: Middle class parents want middle class schools and schools want middle class pupils. In general the schools with more middle class students have better results.. Schools see middle class students as easy to teach and likely to perform well. They will maintain the schools position in the league tables and its status in the education market. 

Analysis point

For the sociologists in this section, the cause of lower class failure is the very existence of inequality itself in society and differences in power held by the working and middle classes.

The role of Cultural Capital – Evaluations

Cultural capital has proved difficult to operationalise and measure

However, more and more research suggests this is important in explaining middle class success and working class failure

Helps to explain why the Middle classes always do better despite compensatory education

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New Labour and Education Policy

There are three main strands to New Labour’s Education Policies –

  1. Raising standards – which essentially meant building on what the New Right had done previously
  2. Increasing diversity and choice within education
  3. Improving equality of opportunity

1. New Labour Policies designed to Improve Standards

  • Class sizes – were reduced to 30
  • Literacy and Numeracy Hour – one hour per day of reading and maths
  • Extension of school career and the school day – children now start at 4, even younger in Sure Start nurseries and the leaving age is being raised to 18.
  • Tougher Line on Inspection – Expanded the role of OFSTED
  • City Academies – 10% funded by the private or voluntary sector – extra money should help improve standards
  • Higher Education – expanded the number of places available in universities

2. New Labour Policies designed to reduce inequality of opportunity

  • Education Action Zones –  Extra money for schools in deprived areas
  • Sure Start  – 12 hours a week free nursery provision for children aged 2-4
  • Education Maintenance Allowance  – £30 per week to encourage students from low income households to stay on in 16-18 education

3. Polices designed to increase diversity

  • Specialist schools – Specialise in various subjects, providing expertise in areas from sciences to the performing arts.
  • Child centred learning (differentiation within schools) – Teachers are expected to focus more on each child’s individual learning needs and OFSTED focus on this more.
  • Special Educational Needs Provision – there has been a massive expansion of study and support under New Labour to support those with Special needs.
  • Faith schools – expanded under New Labour
  • Evaluating the Impact of New Labour’s policies

Positive Evaluations of New Labour Policies

  • Standards have improved and there is greater choice and diversity –
  • SATs and GCSE scores have improved significantly under New Labour
  • There are now a greater diversity of schools (Specialist Schools, City Academies) and a greater variety of subjects one can study (AS and A levels, Vocational A levels, the mix and match curriculum),  meaning there is more choice for parents and pupils.
  • New Labour have established a ‘Learning Society’ in which learning is more highly valued and created opportunities in which adults are able to relearn new skills in order to adapt to an ever changing economy,

Criticisms of New Labour policies

  • New Labour have not improved equality of educational opportunity
  • The gap between middle classes and working classes achievement continues to grow because of selection of by mortgage, cream skimming etc. (see last sheet)
  • The introduction of tuition fees in Higher Education puts many working class children off going to University
  • The Private school system still means that those with money can get their children a better education
  • City academies enable those with money to shape the curriculum
  • Gilborn and Youdell argue that more students have a negative experience of education in the ‘A-C economy’
  • Schools have become too test focussed, reducing real diversity of educational experience
  • Students are too taught to the test and less able to think critically
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The New Right and The Education Reform Act

The New Right refers to conservative, right wing political beliefs, best exemplified by the Thatcher government’s policies of the 1980s. Please note that the New Right is a political philosophy not a Sociological theory!

Underlying principles of the New Right

  • They believe the state (government) cannot meet people’s needs.
  • The most efficient way to meet people’s needs is through the free market – through private businesses competing with each other.
  • Economic growth is an important overall goal – to be achieved by allowing individuals the freedom to compete with each other.

Key ideas of The New Right on Education-

1. The New Right created an ‘education market’ – Schools were run like businesses – competing with each other for pupils and parents were given the choice over which school they send their children to rather than being limited to the local school in their catchment area. This lead to the establishment of league tables

2. Schools should teach subjects that prepare pupils for work, Hence education should be aimed at supporting economic growth.  Hence: New Vocationalism!

3. The state was to provide a framework in order to ensure that schools were all teaching the same thing and transmitting the same shared values – hence the National Curriculum
Evaluation of the New Right

  • Competition between schools benefitted the middle classes and lower classes, ethnic minorities and rural communities ended up having less effective choice – refer to the handout criticising the 1988 Education Act
  • Vocational Education was also often poor – refer to the HO on Vocational Education
  • There is a contradiction between wanting schools to be free to compete and imposing a national framework that restricts schools
  • The National Curriculum has been criticised for being ethnocentric and too restrictive on teachers and schools
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The Marxist Perspective on Education

Traditional Marxists see the education system as working in the interests of ruling class elites. According to the Marxist perspective on education, the system performs three functions for these elites:

  • Reproduces class inequality.
  • Legitimates class inequality.
  • It works in the interests of capitalist employers

Marxist theory of education - mind map

1. The reproduction of class inequality

In school, the middle classes use their material and cultural capital to ensure that their children get into the best schools and the top sets. This means that the wealthier pupils tend to get the best education and then go onto to get middle class jobs. Meanwhile working class children are more likely to get a poorer standard of education and end up in working class jobs. In this way class inequality is reproduced

2. The Legitimation of class inequality

Marxists argue that in reality money determines how good an education you get, but people do not realize this because schools spread the ‘myth of meritocracy’ – in school we learn that we all have an equal chance to succeed and that our grades depend on our effort and ability. Thus if we fail, we believe it is our own fault. This legitimates or justifies the system because we think it is fair when in reality it is not.

3. Teaching the skills future capitalist employers need

In ‘Schooling in Capitalist America’ (1976) Bowles and Gintis suggest that there is a correspondence between values learnt at school and the way in which the workplace operates. The values, they suggested, are taught through the ‘Hidden Curriculum’. The Hidden Curriculum consists of those things that pupils learn through the experience of attending school rather than the main curriculum subjects taught at the school. So pupils learn those values that are necessary for them to tow the line in menial manual jobs, as outlined below

SCHOOL VALUES  Corresponds to  EXPLOITATIVE LOGIC OF THE WORKPLACE

Passive subservience  (of pupils to teachers)   corresponds to Passive subservience of workers to managers

Acceptance of hierarchy (authority of teachers)  corresponds to Authority of managers

Motivation by external rewards (grades not learning)  corresponds to being Motivated by wages not the joy of the job

Evaluations of the Traditional Marxist Perspective on Education

Positive

  • There is an overwhelming wealth of evidence that schools do reproduce class inequality because the middle classes do much better in education because they have more cultural capital (Reay) and because the 1988 Education Act benefited them (Ball Bowe and Gewirtz)
  • Conversely, WWC children less likely to go to university because of fear of debt (Connor et al)

Negative

  • Henry Giroux, says the theory is too deterministic. He argues that working class pupils are not entirely molded by the capitalist system, and do not accept everything that they are taught – Paul Willis’ study of the ‘Lads’ also suggests this.
  • Education can actually harm the Bourgeois – many left wing, Marxist activists are university educated


Neo- Marxism: Paul Willis: – Learning to Labour (1977)

Willis’ research involved visiting one school and observing and interviewing 12 working class rebellious boys about their attitude to school during their last 18 months at school and during their first few months at work.

Willis argues pupils rebelling are evidence that not all pupils are brainwashed into being passive, subordinate people as a result of the hidden curriculum.

Willis therefore criticizes Traditional Marxism.   He says that pupils are not directly injected with the values and norms that benefit the ruling class, some actively reject these. These pupils also realise that they have no real opportunity to succeed in this system.

BUT, Willis still believes that this counter-school culture still produces workers who are easily exploited by their future employers:

The Counter School Culture

Willis described the friendship between these 12 boys (or the lads) as a counter-school culture. Their value system was opposed to that of the school. This value system was characterised as follows:

1. The lads felt superior to the teachers and other pupils
2. They attached no value to academic work, more to ‘having a laff’
3. The objective of school was to miss as many lessons as possible, the reward for this was status within the group
4. The time they were at school was spent trying to win control over their time and make it their own.

Attitudes to future work

  • They looked forward to paid manual work after leaving school and identified all non-school activities (smoking, going out) with this adult world, and valued such activities far more than school work.
  • The lads believed that manual work was proper work, and the type of jobs that hard working pupils would get were all the same and generally pointless.
  • Their counter school culture was also strongly sexist.

Evaluations of Willis

  • Very small sample of only working class white boys
  • Overly sympathetic with the boys – going native?

Essay Plans/ Revision Resources

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

Related Posts 

Evaluating the Marxist Perspective on Education

Summary of the key ideas of Marxism

The Functionalist Perspective on Education

The New Right’s View on Education

Sociological Perspectives on Education Summary Grid

 

 

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The Functionalist Perspective on Education

Functionalists focus on the positive functions performed by the education system. There are four positive functions that education performs

1. Creating social solidarity
2. Teaching skills necessary for work
3. Teaching us core values
4. Role Allocation and meritocracyFunctionalist perspective on education mind map for A-level sociology

1. Creating Social Solidarity

We have social solidarity when we feel as if we are part of something bigger. Emile Durkheim argued that school makes us feel like we are part of something bigger. This is done through the learning of subjects such as history and English which give us a shared sense of identity. Also in American schools, children pledge allegiance to the flag.

Durkheim argued that ‘school is a society in miniature.’ preparing us for life in wider society. For example, both in school and at work we have to cooperate with people who are neither friends or family – which gets us ready for dealing with people at work in later life.

2. Learning specialist skills for work

Durkheim noted that an advanced industrial economy required a massive and complex Division of Labour. At school, individuals learn the diverse skills necessary for this to take place. For example, we may all start off learning the same subjects, but later on we specialize when we do GCSEs.

3. Teaching us core values

Talcott Parsons argued that education acts as the ‘focal socializing agency’ in modern society. School plays the central role in the process of secondary socialisation, taking over from primary socialisation. He argued this was necessary because the family and the wider society work in different principles and children need to adapt if they re to cope In the wider world.

In the family, children are judged according to what he calls particularistic standards by their parents – that is they are judged by rules that only apply to that particular child. Individual children are given tasks based on their different abilities and judged according to their unique characteristics. Parents often adapt rules to suit the unique abilities of the child.

In contrast in school and in wider society, children and adults are judged according to the same universalistic standards (i.e they are judged by the same exams and the same laws). These rules and laws are applied equally to all people irrespective of the unique character of the individual. School gets us ready for this.

The above ties in quite nicely with the modernisation theory view of development – achieved status is seen as a superior system to the ascribed status found in traditional societies. 

4. Role Allocation and meritocracy

Education allocates people to the most appropriate job for their talents using examinations and qualifications. This ensures that the most talented are allocated to the occupations that are most important for society. This is seen to be fair because there is equality of opportunity – everyone has a chance of success and it is the most able who succeed through their own efforts – this is known as meritocracy

Positive evaluations of the Functionalist view on education

  1. School performs positive functions for most pupils – exclusion and truancy rates are very low
  2. Role Allocation – Those with degrees earn 85% more than those without degrees
  3. Schools do try to foster ‘solidarity’ – PSHE
  4. Education is more ‘work focused’ today – increasing amounts of vocational courses
  5. Schooling is more meritocratic than in the 19th century (fairer)

Negative Evaluations of Functionalism (Criticisms)

  1. Marxists argue the education system is not meritocratic – e.g. private schools benefit the wealthy.
  2. Functionalism ignores the negative sides of school – e.g. bullying/
  3. Postmodernists argue that ‘teaching to the test’ kills creativity.
  4. Functionalism reflects the views of the powerful – the education system tends to work for them and they suggests there is nothing to criticise.

FIN 

Sociology of Education Revision Bundle

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

You might also like my brief vodcast on the same topic…

Test Yourself:

The Functionalist Perspective on Education Key Terms Quiz (Quizlet)

Related Posts

The Functionalist perspective on education is usually the first discrete topic taught within the sociology of education module, and then followed by The Marxist Perspective on Educationand then The New Right View of Education

Also relevant is this post: Evaluating the Functionalist Perspective on Education

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The Role of Transnational Corporations in Development

A few criticisms of  the role of Transnational Corporations in International Development 

Criticisms of Coca ColaTransnational Corporations are one of the primary agents of Global Capitalism and many have been criticised because of the social and environmental harms they cause in the pursuit of profit. In this blog I outline some case studies of Corporations exploiting workers.

My main inspiration for writing this blog is ‘The Corporation’ (1) (2). However, although this blog does draw on this excellent resource, it also provides more contemporary examples of corporate harm than this 2004 documentary.

Examples of Corporations exploiting workers

Probably the best known criticism to be levelled at well known Corporations such as Nike, Addidas and Primark is that they profit from ‘sweatshop labour’ – with the workers who manufacture their products working extremely long hours in poor conditions and for extremely low wages.

In chapter 5 of The Corporation, one researcher calculates that workers at one of Nike’s factories in Indonesia were earning 0.3% of the final selling price of the products they were making. Now, I know there are middle men, but in classic Marxist terms, this is surely the extraction of surplus value taken to the extreme! The anti- sweat shop campaigns are years old now, but still ongoing –

Of course sweat shop labour is not limited to the clothing industry – the BBC3 series ‘Blood Sweat and T shirts/ Takeaways/ Luxuries’, (3) in which young Brits travel to developing countries to work alongside people in a wide range of jobs, clearly demonstrates how workers in many stages of the productive process, including rice sowing, prawn farming, gold mining, and coffee packing, suffer poor pay and conditions. Many of the goods focussed on in this series end up being bought and the sold in the West by Transnational Corporations for a huge mark up, and it is extremely interesting to see the Brits abroad struggling with the injustice of this.

Apple SweatshopsThe Daily Mail recently conducted some undercover journalism in a Chinese factory that makes the i-pad – where the report they ‘encountered a strange, disturbing world where new recruits are drilled along military lines, ordered to stand for the company song and kept in barracks like battery hens – all for little more than £20 a week.’ Apparently workers have to endure shifts up to 34 hour s long, and the factory has been dubbed the ‘i nightmare factory’ (4)

Even worse conditions are to be found at some of Coke’s bottling factories in Columbia according to the killer coke campaign. Campaigners have documented a ‘gruesome cycle of murders, kidnappings and torture of union leaders involved in a daily life and death struggle’ at these plants. The bosses at some of Coke’s factories in Columbia have contacts with right wing paramilitary forces, and use violence and intimidation to force unionised labour out of work, and then hire non unionised labour on worse contracts for half the pay. There have been more than 100 recorded disappearances of unionised labour at Coke’s factories. (5) (6)

Now the Coca Cola Corporation is obviously not directly to blame for this, as Columbia is one of the more violent countries on the planet, and this culture of violence and intimidation is widespread. The company is, however, responsible for making the conscious decision to choose to invest in a region well known for such practices, and failing to either pull out or protect its workers.

See http://www.nosweat.org.uk/ for more details of Corporate Complicity in sweat shop labour and Union Busting (7)

(1)  http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=FA50FBC214A6CE87 – All the chapters of the Corporation on youtube – although you should really show your support by purchasing this documentary!

(2)  http://www.thecorporation.com/ – The web site of The Corporation.

(3)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00s6103 – The BBC web site for the recent ‘Blood, Sweat and luxuries programme which has an interest blog of comments and a ‘what can you do to help’ link.

(4)  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1285980/Revealed-Inside-Chinese-suicide-sweatshop-workers-toil-34-hour-shifts-make-iPod.html

(5)  http://www.killercoke.org/pdf/KCBroch.pdf – a link to the main campaign leaflet of the ‘killer coke’ campaign.

(6) http://www.staticbrain.com/archive/killer-coke-coke-is-the-drink-of-the-death-squads/ – featuring a video of the song ‘Coke is the drink of the Despots’ – sing along if you like!

(7)  http://www.nosweat.org.uk/files/New%20general%20leaflet%2009.pdf – A link to the most recent nosweat leaflet which has some nice ‘sweatshop sums’ peppered throughout which provide facts such as ‘Children as young as 10 were found working in a shop for Primark – Primark made sales of 1.1 billion in the sixth months to March 2009.’

The Golden Arches Theory of Decline – This 2016 post by George Monbiot argues that Transnational Corporations such as Mcdonalds are undermining democracy and that a global system which concentrates power in the hands of a relatively few TNCs is not compatible with the democratic will of the people of Nation States – hence why Trump won in the USA – he’s one of the few political candidates to have promised to limit the power of TNCs.