Are schools meritocratic?

In this post I apply some sociological concepts to develop arguments for and against the view that schools are meritocratic.

This post is really designed to show students how they can apply concepts to this question from across the sociology of education topic within A-level sociology.

applying sociology concepts education.png

Arguments for the view that education is meritocratic 

Particularistic values

Functionalists argue that at in school students are judged by universalistic values, so it is more meritocratic than at home where children are judged by different particularistic values.

Cultural deprivation

Schools offer children equality of opportunity and so are fair, it’s the inferior values of working-class parents such as immediate gratification that stops them achieving.

School ethos

Nearly all schools today, especially academies have a high ethos of achievement.

Pupil Premium

Introduced under The Coalition government, this encourages schools to accept more students from poor backgrounds, helping to combat selection by mortgage, which is not meritocratic.

Other supporting concepts and evidence

Life-long learning, parity of esteem, expansion of modern apprenticeships, compensatory education.

Arguments and evidence against the view that education is meritocratic 

Correspondence principle

In state school children are taught to obey authority and accept hierarchy rather than to use their talents to achieve.

Cultural capital

Middle class parents have always been more able than working class parents to use their skills to get their kids into the best schools, thus there is not real equality of opportunity

Teacher labelling

Teachers are more likely to negatively label boys, working class and Black Caribbean children as problem students, meaning they are held back through being put in lower bands.

1988 Education Act

Unfairly benefitted middle class parents through selection by mortgage and the school-parent alliance.

Other criticising concepts and evidence

Banding and streaming, myth of meritocracy, hidden curriculum, ethnocentric curriculum.

Sociology Teaching Resources for Sale

If you’re a sociology teacher and you like this sort of thing, and you want to support my resource development work, then you might like these teaching resources for the sociology of education. They are specifically designed for A-level sociology students and consist of three documents:

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Sociological Perspectives on ‘Renting a Womb’  

Kim Kardashian and Kayne West are apparently expecting a fourth child, employing a surrogate mother to carry their fertilised eggs. This will be the second surrogate child, following the birth of their first surrogate child, ‘Chicago’, born in January 2018.

Paying someone to be a surrogate mother, or ‘renting a womb’ is legal in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, surrogacy is legal, but parents are only allowed to pay the surrogate expenses related to the pregnancy, rather than paying them a fee for actually carrying the child.

The reason Kim Kardashian and Kayne West have opted for surrogates recently is because Kim has a medical condition which means that becoming pregnant again carries a higher than usual risk of her dying, so this isn’t just a lifestyle choice, but an interesting ethical/ sociological question is whether or not paid for surrogacy should be legal in the U.K. (NB – there’s a chance that it will be, as the surrogacy law is currently under review.

This topic is clearly relevant to families and households and especially social policy, and it’s quite useful to use it to explore different Feminist perspectives on the family….

Liberal Feminism

From a liberal feminist point of view, renting a womb should be acceptable because it would enable career-women to avoid taking time off work to pregnancy and child birth, and thus prevent the kind of career-breaks which put them at a disadvantage to men.

In fact, as far as the couple hiring the surrogate are concerned, this puts them on an entirely equal footing in relation to the new baby, meaning that it would be practically possible for them to share maternity/ paternity leave equally, rather than it ‘making sense’ for the woman to carry on taking time off after she’s done so in order to give birth.

Paid for surrogacy also provides an economic opportunity for the surrogate mothers, an opportunity only available to women.

Marxist Feminism

From a marxist feminist point of view renting a womb is kind of paying women for their labour in one sense, however it’s a long way off providing women a wage for ‘traditionally women’s work’ within the family, such as child care and domestic labour.

Ultimately renting a womb does little to address economic inequality between men and women because it’s only available to wealthier couples, meanwhile on the supply side of the rent a womb industry the only women likely to enter into a surrogacy contract are those that are financially desperate, i.e. they have no other means to make money.

Radical Feminism

From a radical feminist perspective renting a womb does nothing to combat patriarchy more generally. If paid for surrogacy was made legal in the UK, the only consequence would be to give wealthy couples the freedom to pay poor women to carry their children for 9 months.

This does nothing to combat more serious issues such as violence against women.

In conclusion…

While it’s an interesting phenomenon, renting a womb, rather than just voluntary surrogacy, will probably do very little to further the goal of female empowerment. However, it will obviously be of benefit to potentially millions of couples (in the long term) who are unable to have children.

A Brief Sociological Analysis of The 2018 Climate Change Agreement

Sociological perspectives applied to the 2018 climate change conference.

sociology environment climate change.png

The 2018 United Nations climate summit ended with a new pact among 196 countries to curb global warming which included the following:

  • A new ‘rulebook’ which provides a framework for how to implement the pledges from the last 2015 climate summit
  • A commitment to restrict average temperature rises in the 21st century to well below 2 degrees.
  • An agreement on how countries should measure greenhouse gas emissions and how they should account for meeting them.

The agreement was even approved by the United States, and despite the fact that irrational climate change denier and puppet of the oil companies Donald Trump called it ridiculous, he can’t withdraw from the deal until the day after the next presidential election.

Sociological analysis 

This seems to be a rare example of nation states agreeing on joint action to tackle a shared global problem…. which you could say offers broad support for the Functionalist point of view at a global level, because we have (near enough) value consensus.

HOWEVER, this may all be a bit of a sham, as Leslie Hood, writing in The Financial Times points out…

  • Nation states are still free to set their CO2 emissions at whatever level they like.
  • There is no agreement on the best way to actually reduce emissions.
  • There is no regime of sanctions in place to penalise nations who don’t meet their targets.

Ultimately, the success of climate accord largely depends on the top five polluters playing ball, and these are China, the US, Russia, India and the EU. Together these account for 50% of global CO2 emissions, but the first two of these, China and The USA don’t seem to be that committed…. China is still building coal burning power plants and Trump wants to pull out of the deal asap.

Fingers crossed Trump will be elected out and someone who cares about the future of the next generation will be elected into power in November 2020 and the US will be on board. However, even if this does happen, there’s enough evidence of this being a weak deal to say that, where climate change is concerned, nation states still have the power to not commit effectively to reducing it!

 

What is New Media?

New media refers to “those digital media that are interactive, incorporate two-way communication and involve some form of computing,” (R. Logan Understanding New Media.)

According to Professor Lev Manovich, examples of new media include:

  • websites
  • virtual worlds and virtual reality,
  • multimedia
  • computer games.

New Media is something most of use and largely take for granted today. The best known specific examples of new media are probably Google, Wikipedia, Amazon and social media applications such as Facebook.

New media is (obviously?) a relative term, and has been used since the 1990s to distinguish interactive media technologies based on computing from ‘old media’ forms – namely print media such as newspapers, radio and television, which were traditionally consisted of one way broadcasts to mass populations.

New Media really started to emerge in the 1990s with mass adoption of computer technologies, and really took off in the mid 2000s with the mass adoption of mobile technologies, especially smart phones.

The distinction between old and new media is somewhat artificial, as ‘old media’ technologies have today reinvented themselves so they are now also forms of ‘new media: newspapers are online and allow comments, and radio and T.V. are similar online and allow for greater levels of interactivity with the audience.

 

Main characteristics of New Media

New Media are digital, interactive, hypertextual, networked, virtual and simulated. These are the six key characteristics which distinguish New Media from old media.

New Media are Digital, interactive, hypertextual, globally networked, virtual and sometimes based on simulation. 

This post provides further information and elaboration on these six key features of New Media.  Main Characteristics of New Media_1.png

Digital

With the growth of digital technology in the 1990s, the vast majority of information is now converted, stored and transmitted as binary code (a series of 1s and 0s.). Qualitative information has today become ‘digitalised’.

Digitalisation what allows so much information to be stored in compact hard disks or micro memory cards and it is also what allows for the near instantaneous transmission of information via cable and satellite.

Digitalisation has also resulted in ‘technological convergence’, or the convergence of different forms of information (text, audio and visual) into one single ‘system’ – most web sites today offer a fusion of text and audio-visual information, and our mobile devices allow us to perform a variety of functions – not only reading text and watching/ listening to videos, but also searching for information, sending messages, shopping and using GPS functions.

Analogue is the opposite of digital.  It is stored in physical form and examples include print newspapers, records, and old films and T.V. programmes stored on tape.

Interactivity

‘Old media’ tended to be very much a ‘one way’ affair, with audiences on the receiving end of broadcasts, for the most part able to do little else that just passively watch media content.

New Media however is much more of a two way affair and it allows consumers and users to get more involved. It is much more of a two way form of communication than old media. 

Increased interactivity can be seen in simple acts such as liking a Facebook post or commenting on news piece or blog. However some users get much more involved and create their own blogs and videos and actively upload their own content as ‘prosumers’.

New Media seem to have fostered a more participatory culture, with more people involved and the roles between consumer and producer of media content becoming ever more blurred!

Hypertextual

Hypertext, or ‘links’ are a common feature of new media, which allows users more freedom of choice over how they navigate the different sources of information available to them.

In more technical terms, links in web sites offer non-sequential connections between all kinds of data facilitated by the computer.

Optimists tend to see this feature as allowing for more individualised lifestyle choices, giving users the chance to act more independently, and to make the most of the opportunities new media markets make available to them.

Global Networks

Digital Media has also facilitated cultural globalisation – we now interact much more globally and via virtual networks of people rather than locally.

These networks allow for ‘collective intelligence’ to increase – they allow us to pool our resources much more easily and to draw on a wider range of talents and sources of information (depending on our needs) than ever before.

NB one question to ask about networks is what the main hubs are, through which information flows. This has implications for power.

Virtual Worlds

New Media presents to us a very different reality from face to face to ‘lived reality’ – for most of us this means a very fast paced flow of information with numerous products and people screaming for our attention.

However, this situation has only existed since the mid 2000s, and it must be remembered that New Media reality is virtual reality.

This is especially true when it comes to social media sites  which give users the opportunity to present themselves in any way they see fit, and while most users don’t go full Cat Fish, most people choose to present only one aspect of themselves.

Simulation

Simulation goes a step beyond the ‘virtual’ nature of New Media as usual. Simulation is most obviously experienced computer games which provide an immersive experience for users into a “virtual life” that is simulated through digital technology.

These virtual worlds are synthetic creations that ultimately rely on algorithms which set the parameters through which events in the gaming environment unfold.

Examples today include not only online RPG games, but also driving and flight simulations.

Sources 

Adapted from  Martin Lister et al – New Media: A critical Introduction (Second Edition).

What are the most valuable degrees?

The most valuable degree you can do is economics, and the least valuable is health and social care. 

At least according to the latest research by the IFS on the impact of Higher Education on future earnings

The table below compares earnings at age 29 of female graduates compared to non graduates for different subject areas.

highest earning degree subjects.pngAs you can see, female economics graduates earn 150% more than non graduates, with medicine not far behind and most of the rest of the STEM subject graduates earning 100% more. 

Meanwhile at the other end of the scale social care and create arts degree graduates only earn about 20-25% more than non-graduates, making these degrees a lot less valuable in terms of purely financial returns. 

The significance of these statistics 

Fair enough I guess that medicine yields a decent return, I don’t think there’s much scope to criticise that, and given the innovation within science and engineering, the fact that these degrees result in 100% higher earnings at age 29 isn’t surprising either. 

HOWEVER, I have a problem with economics graduates earning so much more. It’s very unlikely that these people are earning so much money because of the social good they are doing. It’s probably more likely that they’re sucking money upwards to the already rich working for corporations and hedge funds, or doing crude econometric (read ‘guess work’) analysis for large institutions like the World Bank. They’re reward is probably making the rich richer, or at least keeping them rich. 

Meanwhile down at the bottom, I’m not so sure whether the low return on the caring degrees shows how little we value this qualitative side of life, rather than the fact that degrees in such subjects maybe can’t teach you that much?!? I mean with caring, how much is there that you can’t learn on the job, honestly, or just learn at level 3. 

Don’t get me wrong though, I think caring professions are very much underpaid. 

As to creative arts… I’m not sure whether these are undervalued, difficult for me to say with any level of objectivity, although if these stats are anything to go by, it shows us that ‘society’ doesn’t value art very highly! 

NB – The figures for men are a little different, check out the above study if yer interested! 

 

The effect of private schools on future income

Men who went to a private school* go on to earn 78% more at age 29 than men who come from the lowest ‘social class’ quintile. 

Women who went to a private school* go on to earn 100% more at age 29 than women from the lowest ‘social class’ quintile.

private schools income.png

By age 29, men who had been to a private school earn on average £41 000 per annum, compared to only £23 000 per annum for those from the lowest SES background. 

The respective figures for women are £36 000 and £18000. 

Those who attended private school even earn considerably more on average than those from the top SES quintile. 

This is from the latest IFS study on the impact of Higher Education on future earnings

The significance of these statistics 

This is YET MORE evidence of how private schools seem to play a crucial role in the reproduction of class inequality. The chain seems to be:

  • Go to a private school and get hot-housed
  • Get into a Russel Group university
  • Get a better paid job. 

It also shows that we need to keep researching exactly how private schools confer advantages on children from rich backgrounds and on just exactly how material and cultural capital combine to get these kids better jobs as adults. 

You might like to read this post for more detailed info

Limitations with these statistics 

The above stats show all earners, including those who failed their GCSEs, so we’re not really comparing like with like when we compare highest and lowest SES categories, because so many people from the lowest SES category fail to get 5 A*-C grades at GCSE, which means they are much less likely to go to HE, which has a significant negative impact on their earnings at age 29.

With these stats we are going back to a cohort which sat their GCSEs over 10 years ago, so they are already dated, although in fairness, this is unavoidable with a longitudinal analysis such as this. 

*Given that only 7% of UK children go to private school, and that most have to pay fees, attendance at private school strongly suggests that this is the top tenth decile of students by ‘social class’ background, so the top half of the top fifth. 

 

Globalisation and Religion

The AQA Specification states students need to know about the relationship between globalisation and religion. This post is a few thoughts on whether globalisation has resulted in the decline of religion or not!

Religious motives were a fundamental part of early globalisation

  • The Spanish conquistadores colonised The Americas in the name of God and were often accompanied by missionaries who tried to convert natives. Many of the towns and cities are named after Christian saints, showing the influence of Christianity.
  • The Protestant Pilgrim Fathers came to the Americas seeking freedom from religious persecution in Europe.
  • Many of the first people to contact traditional peoples all over the world were religious missionaries.
  • However, early globalisation (or conquest) was always about more than just religion and in time, economic and cultural globalisation seem to have become increasingly secular.

More recent globalisation may have undermined religion

  • Technological innovations in travel and communications have underpinned globalisation, which have been accompanied by an increasing ‘scientific outlook’. Some sociologists argue that science undermines religion.
  • Economic globalisation has involved increasing rationalisation and differentiation, both of which seem to undermine the role of religion in societies.
  • Some aspects of cultural globalisation, such as the growth of consumer culture seem to undermine religious values – with some churches being converted into homes and shops in the West.
  • One aspect of globalisation is more contact with other religions – when there are many religions, it undermines the authority of those religions which claim to have a monopoly on the truth, such as Christianity and Islam.

However, globalisation doesn’t necessarily undermine religion

  • Huntington argues that religion has become more important in ‘civilizational identity’ as other sources of identity are undermined. As a result, globalisation, which brings cultures in closer contact, makes religion more important as a source of identity and conflict.
  • Karen Armstrong argues that the perception that Western Imperialism is undermining religion has led to the increase of religious Fundamentalism.
  • Monopoly of truth religions might be in decline, but more postmodern religions may be taking their place – such as New Age religions.
  • Globalisation may have increased the prevalence of the scientific worldview globally, but science is not necessarily incompatible with religion.

How to Bag a Billionaire: tips for young women feeling held back by their average joe boyfriends

There must be millions of young women in the world who, having graduated with high hopes for a bright future, now find themselves wondering which is more tedious: their job or their relationship: the job only paying them enough for food, bills, rent and debt servicing, and the boyfriend frustrating them because his porn and video game addictions have killed his aspiration to strive for something better.

Anna Bey: Gold Digger or Jet Set Babe?

But fear not young ladies for help is at hand, in the form of self-styled Jet set Babe Anna Bey, who provides advice on how you can ‘bag yourself a billionaire’ via her blog – JetsetBabe.com.

Bey, 32, is originally from Estonia and grew up in a middle-class family environment in Sweden but has successfully navigated the international jet-set and ‘levelled-up’ (her own term) so that she now resides in a flat in Knightsbridge, which is paid for by her banker-boyfriend.

The blog, along with her online ‘finishing school’, provides advice to aspiring ‘JetsetBabes’ on how to find and attract a rich boyfriend – it includes several posts on ‘how to dress’ (‘classy, like Grace Kelly, not Kim Kardashian), ‘demeanour’ (don’t get drunk), where to find rich men (hotel lobbies, not first class in a plane), and even the kind of ‘mind-set’ you need to adopt to ‘level-up’ – as in this post on ‘ditching your average-jo boyfriend’.

JetsetBabes.com – the positives

Bey’s rational for setting up the site was that when she first started out on her quest to find a rich boyfriend, she made a few style and demeanour boo-boos, and wished there had been someone like she is now to show her the ropes, so I guess she’s well-intentioned.

There is also clearly a market for this sort of service…. The closed Facebook group linked to the bog has 3000 members, and I imagine many more readers, but there are only a handful of extremely rich men, and an even smaller handful of decent extremely rich men…. one of the downsides of playing the jet set game is that you might find yourself waking up having been drugged at some point, as has happened to Bey in the past.

Many of the women involved in the JetsetBabe circle find comfort in the fact that the group provides them somewhere where they can discuss their aspirations without being looked down on by members of wider society, somewhere where they won’t be labelled ‘Gold Diggers’ or ‘Sugar babies’.

I think they have a point criticising the labels given to them, when the men who are prepared to pay for them don’t get such negative labels.

Is this liberating for women?

If your definition of freedom is the freedom to shop, dependent on your partner’s wealth for as long as he is your partner, then yes, this is female liberation. The problem is, that’s an extremely limited definition of ‘liberation’…. And it’s a form of liberation that’s totally dependent on the man with the debit card, or bag full of cash.

It also does little to challenge the practice of men treating women like they are sex objects. In fact, if anything it reinforces this…. Among some members of the Facebook group, women seeking to live off their partners financially is justified BECAUSE men treat women like sex objects who can be bought… the logic is ‘if they do it, why can’t we’.

What about equality?

If you believe one of the goals of Feminism is reducing the income and wealth inequalities between men and women, this strategy does absolutely nothing to bring this goal closer. Bey has the explicit belief that women have a hard time in life compared to men, and so men should effectively compensate them by paying for everything, which surely can do nothing other than maintain gender wealth inequalities?

Simply ‘demanding financial compensation’ isn’t exactly empowering yourself financially or putting yourself on an ‘equal’ footing with men’.

In terms of ‘inequalities between women’, there’s the problem of ‘being traded in for a younger model’ and being left to bring up the children on your own. The golden age for bagging a billionaire is tight, and the over 30s in the JSB group are mocked as being ‘used goods’.

Final Thoughts…

As low-consumption tight wad, I’m never going to feel any sense of empathy with women who want a millionaire lifestyle, however, neither do I feel the need to ‘condemn’ women who engage in such a strategy.

Trying to bag a billionaire is, after all, just another individualised coping strategy: an escape from the mundane drudgery and uncertainties of ordinary day to day life in postmodern society, at least until you’re traded in for a younger model.

I’m actually left feeling a sense of pity for these women, not only for the ones who invest time and money in seeking a rich boyfriend but never succeed, but even the ones who do succeed… it just seems like such a shallow life.

However, as a final ‘qualifier’, I’m aware that not all women who do this are shallow, some will use their time gained through financial freedom to do amazing things…. but somehow, I doubt that will include fighting for a ‘deeper’ type of female liberation.

This post was written for educational purposes 

Sources

Jet Set – https://jetsetbabe.com/

Anna Bey – https://www.instagram.com/p/Bqfq0OhAB8N/

Gender Wealth Gap – https://womenswealthgap.org/

Inspired by this article in The Times: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/anna-bey-interview-how-to-bag-a-rich-boyfriend-by-the-woman-behind-school-of-affluence-krljnb9n5

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What is Religious Fundamentalism?

The early 21st Century has seen the rise of various Fundamentalist groups, for example:

  • The increasing influence of the New Religious Right in the United States
  • The rise of Zionism in Israel
  • The rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Steve Bruce: Communal and Individual Fundamentalism

  • Communal individualism is that usually found in less developed countries and is primarily concerned with defending communities (or nations) against what are perceived to be ‘modernist’ threats such as western materialism, individualism, multiculturalism, and human rights. These are typically seen by ‘communal fundamentalists’ as secularising forces which undermine religion.
  • Individualist fundamentalism is more likely to be found within developed nations and is mainly associated with the New Christian Right in the United States – it is concerned with maintaining traditional values within the context of a stable liberal democratic nation state.

Five Key Features of Fundamentalist Movements

According to Chapman et al (2015) Fundamentalist movements share the following characteristics:

  1. A literal interpretation of religious texts, which are seen as infallible – they take their ‘moral codes’ straight from their sacred texts. A good fundamentalist is supposed to lead their life in accordance with the original sacred text of the religion, and there is little room for flexibility in this. However, one of the major criticisms of Fundamentalism is that religious texts are often obscure and they have been interpreted at some point by whoever is in power, so there is no such thing as a ‘literal interpretation’.
  2. They regard all areas of social life as sacred – Fundamentalists tend to impose their views on others in a society, and police people’s day to day behaviour closely to make sure that day to day life is being lived in line with their interpretation of the sacred text.
  3. They do not tolerate other religions – they have a monopoly on truth, and when Fundamentalists take power, they tend to purge the symbols of other religions from their area and persecute people of other faiths.
  4. They have conservative beliefs – Fundamentalists tend to support traditional gender roles and are against ‘progressive’ liberalisation, such as women playing a greater role in work and politics and they tend towards tolerance and even celebration of sexuality diversity.
  5. They tend to look at past religious eras with nostalgia, and sometimes want to change society back to how it used to be, before secularisation, when society was more religions

 Sources

Chapman et al (2015) Sociology AQA A-Level Student Book 2