Evaluate the view that the growth of family diversity has led to a decline in the nuclear family (20)

An example of a top band answer (17/20) to a possible question on the AQA’s 7192/2 topics in sociology paper (families option, section A)

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This is an example of a 17/20 top band answer to the above question, as marked by the AQA.

In the pictures below, I’ve highlighted all of the candidate’s evaluations in red to show you the balance of knowledge and evaluation required to get into the top mark band!

This is also a good example of a borderline Band 4-Band 5 answer… it just wants a little more evaluation to go up even higher.

The mark scheme (top two bands)

Sociology essay mark scheme

Student’s Response (concepts highlighted in blue, evaluation in burnt orange)

NB It’s the same response all the way through, I’ve just repeated the title on the two pages!

 

Family diversity essay 2018

A-level sociology essay full marks

 

KT’s commentary

This is a bit of a bizarre essay, but this is a good example of how to answer it.

Without the final paragraph it would be floundering down in the middle mark band!

 

Source 

AQA specimen material 2016

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Applying material from Item B and your knowledge, evaluate sociological explanations of the role of education in transmitting ideas and values.

How to top mark band in a 30 mark education essay, A-level sociology, AQA.

Below is an example of a 30 mark essay question which achieved 28/30.

It’s an interesting example of a question which looks like its asking you to evaluate a specific aspect of the Functionalist perspective on education. However, if you look more closely at the item, you’ll need to do this by drawing on Feminism and Postmodernism to evaluate!

The example is taken from the 2017 Education with Theory and Methods Paper (paper and mark schemes available from the AQA 0website) and the specific question is as follows:

The Question with Item 

A-level-sociology-30-mark-question-item

Mark Scheme (Top Band Only)

A-level-sociology-mark-scheme-30-mark-question-top-band.png

Student Response (paraphrased by KT)

Item B states that education plays a role in socialisation. Feminists argue that education reinforces hegemonic masculinity. However, other sociologists such as Functionalists argue that education transmits shared values and post-modernists for example argue that education is diverse and transmits a range of values.

Feminists suggest that education transmits patriarchal ideology. Radical Feminists would say that male teachers/ pupils behave in ways that reinforce hegemonic masculinity. For example, male teachers tell boys off for ‘behaving like girls’ and they also ‘rescue’ female teachers when they are disciplining students. Radical feminists say that this makes females feel inferior to males and therefor means that the role of education is to reinforce the idea that males are the dominant gender. However, a specific evaluation is that the male teachers may rescue female teachers because they are in a more authoritative position. Additionally, post-modernists would disagree with feminists and argue that education is no longer based on inequality, but based on diversity.

Functionalists suggest that education transmits shared values. Durkheim argues that the role of education is to create social solidarity and value consensus. He argues that education achieves this via assemblies, teaching a common history (giving a sense of national identity and bring people together) and teaching core values such as respect which bring social order. Parsons agrees and argues that education is the focal socialising agency and ‘Parsons bridge implies that education takes people from particularistic values of the family/ home to universalistic values of the work place. The New right agree with functionalists that the role of education is to transmit shared values. However, Marxists disagree with functionalists and argue that the socialisation aspect of the role of education is not to create value consensus but that education is uses as an ideological state apparatus, to transmit ruling class ideology.

Marxists suggest that the role of education is to ‘brainwash’ the working class. Althusser argues that education is an ideological state apparatus that transmits ruling class ideology in order to legitimse the inequality caused by the capitalist class. Bowles and Gintis argue that there is a ‘hidden curriculum’ that socialises the working class into obedient workers in order to benefit capitalism. For example, they are taught that being punished for minor issues is acceptable and the importance of punctuality and that they have to obey the people above them in the social hierarchy – e.g. teachers then boss. However, a specific problem of the hidden curriculum is that a study by Willis showed that students can see through the role of education and reject the hidden curriculum.

Bowles and Gintis also argued that there is a correspondence principle where school mirrors work. Similarities such as extrinsic satisfaction (only doing something for rewards, not because you enjoy it eg school to get GCSEs, work to get money) socialise working class pupils to not expect a rewarding job when they leave school and this benefits the capitalist class. As a result, Marxists argue that the role of education is to transmit ruling class ideology and benefit the bourgeoisie. However, functionalists and new right disagree and argue that values are shared to create a value consensus. They argue that marxism is wrong for basing it on conflict when it is really consensus.

Functionasts such as Parsons suggest that education is meritocratic. This means that pupils are taught that they need to work hard if they want to achieve. He argues that the education system is based on this which suggests people only fail if they do not try hard enough. However, Marxists such as Bordieu argue that education promotes middle class values which means working class students fail because their values are not wanted by the school – not because of meritocracy. Ball argued that meritocracy is a myth. However, new right agree and argue that it is down to the individual to work hard and achieve.

Perhaps the main strength of explaining the role of education in transmitting ideas/ values is the functionalist view that education is used to create shared values, because it can be applied to real life education because schools do have assemblies and promote core values. Perhaps the main weakness is the postmodern view because although education is more diverse, each school still has an ETHOS that has been developed by middle class individuals.

Post modernists argue that marxists, feminists and functionalists are out of date. Liberal feminists would argue that the role of education is no longer to reinforce hegemonic masculinity but that inequality/ patriarchy is improving.

Examiner Commentary 

Mark 28/30

Conceptually detailed and located within a broad theoretical framework. Sophisticated analysis and applied clearly to the question. Explicit evaluation throughout.

Did not score maximum as at times evaluation was not fully developed, e.g. postmodernism.

KT’s commentary

An obvious strength of this answer, in addition to the above is it’s clear use of the item!

They also use phrases, such as ‘a specific evaluation’ of this is….

This also shows you that you need good depth of knowledge of the basics of functionalism and Marxism, but you also need to evaluate them with specific comments and P/M to top mark band.

Source:

A-level
SOCIOLOGY
Feedback on the Examinations
Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 7192/1 Education with Theory and Methods
Published: Autumn 2017

Assess the view that western models of education are not appropriate to developing countries (20)

Overview plan

  1. What are Western Models of Education?
  2. What are the arguments and evidence for western models being appropriate to developing countries?
  3. What are the arguments and evidence against/ what other models might be appropriate?
  4. Conclusion – when might Western models be appropriate/ when not?

This is a possible 20 mark essay which might come up on the AQA’s A-level sociology (7192/2) topics in sociology paper. Below is my extend plan. You might like to read this post on education and international development first, most of the material below is based on this.

Extended plan

1. What are Western Models of Education?

  • Free state education for all, funded by tax payer
  • Functions – apply Functionalism – crucial link to work and economy
  • Expensive, requires tax base, trained professionals
  • Industrial model/ factory model
  • National curriculums, standardised testing (downsides)

2. What are the arguments and evidence for western models being appropriate to developing countries?

  • Mainly modernisation theory – link to breaking traditional values
  • There is a correlation between education and economic growth.
  • Would anyone disagree with the idea that teaching kids to read/ keeping them out of work is a good idea? Near universal agreement.
  • Western companies are involved in running education systems in developing countries (linked to neoliberalism)

3. What are the arguments and evidence against western education being appropriate/ what other models might more appropriate?

  • Dependency theory argues western education is simply part of the colonial project – a ‘reward’ for the natives who obey the colonisers.
  • Western education focuses too much on Western history, it’s ethnocentric, and erases diverse voices (Galeano)
  • Bare Foot Education (people centred development) might be more appropriate – local education systems run by local people to meet local needs (focussing on agricultural technology, women’s empowerment for example).
  • Most obvious reasons ‘Western education’ might not work are due to numerous barriers to education – e.g. poorer countries cannot afford the teachers, rural populations are too dispersed.
  • Building on point d above, two of the biggest barriers are groups such as Boko Haram who prevent girls from getting an education.
  • Neoliberals and others suggest we can educate effectively in poor countries without the need for massive state sectors like in the west (through online learning, e.g. the hole in the wall experiment).

4. Conclusion – when might Western models be appropriate/ when not?

  • In principle the western idea of funding education for children for 11 years is hard to argue against
  • However, there are problems with many aspects of the western education system – top-down national curriculums for example, and the focus on too much testing, and the sheer expense.
  • Also, there are massive barriers to rolling out western style education systems in developing countries which would make massive state education difficult to maintain.
  • So in conclusion I’d say the most effective way to implement and improve education in poorer countries is to adopt some but not all aspects of western models – maybe having the state and aid money guarantee teacher training and reading programmes, combined with a more ground-up people centred development approach to make sure local people are included in shaping specific aspects of education to meet their local needs.

 

Evaluate the Functionalist View of the Role of Education in Society (30) #LONG VERSION

An A-level sociology essay written for the AQA’s 7192 (1) specification, exam paper 1. This is the long, ‘overkill’ version of the essay, written using the PEAC system (Point – Explain – Analyse – Criticise)

An obvious starting point before reading this essay would be to read my post on the Functionalist Perspective on Education.

NB – At time of posting, it’s half an essay, more to follow!

Introduction

Functionalism is a somewhat dated structural theory popular in 19th century France (Durkheim) and mid-20th century America (Parsons). Functionalist theorists adopted a ‘top-down’ approach to analysing the role which institutions, such as schools play in relation to other institutions, such as work, and generally believe that schools form an important part of a society’s structure. Functionalism is also a consensus theory: functionalists generally emphasise the positive functions which schools perform for individuals and society, arguing that schools tend to promote social harmony and social order, which they see as a good thing.

Below I will analyse and evaluate four specific ‘functions’ or roles which schools perform according to Functionalist theory, ultimately arguing that it obscures more than it enlightens our understanding of the role of education in society.

POINT 1: According to Emile Durkheim (1890s), the founder of modern Functionalism, the first role of education was to create a sense of social solidarity which in turn promoted value consensus.

EXPLANATION: Social Solidarity is where the individual members of society feel themselves to be a part of a single ‘body’ or community and work together towards shared goals. According to Durkhiem schools achieved social solidarity through children learning subjects such as history and English which gave them a shared sense of national identity, which in turn promoted value consensus, or agreement on shared values at the societal level.

Analysis: Durkheim thought schools were one of the few institutions which could promote solidarity at a national level – he may have a point. It is difficult to imagine any other institution which governments could use to socialise individuals in to a sense of national identity.

Evaluation: To evaluate this point, there do seem to be examples of where schools attempt to promote a sense of social solidarity. Writing in the 1950s, Talcott Parsons pointed to how, in American schools, children pledge allegiance to the flag; while today British schools and colleges are obliged to promote ‘British Values’ (woohoo!)

However, it is debatable whether schools are successful in instilling a genuine sense of social solidarity into most, let alone all students. A minority of students are excluded from schools, and around 5% are persistent absentees – if students are not in mainstream education, then schools cannot promote a sense of belonging; while for those students who are at school, many are there ‘in body, but not necessarily in spirit. Finally there is the fact there is such a huge diversity of schools (faith schools, private schools, home education) that surely education is too fragmented and divided for it to promote true solidarity at the national level – to the extent that postmodernists suggested there is no such thing as a unified culture anymore.

POINT 2: A second function of education, again according to Durkhiem, is that schools teach individuals the specialist skills for work, which is crucial in a complex, modern industrial economy. (Schools thus have an important economic function).

Durkhiem argued that school was an efficient way of teaching individuals these diverse skills while at the same time teaching them to co-operate with each-other – schools thus instilled a sense of organic solidarity, or solidarity based on difference and interdependency, with school being one of the only institutions which could do both of these functions simultaneously within the context of a national economy.

The idea that schools have an economic function certainly seems to be true – basic literacy and numeracy are certainly important for any job today, and ever since the New Right, Vocational education has expanded, right up to the present day in the form of Modern Apprenticeships, and today. There is also a relationship between government expenditure on education and economic growth – more developed countries tend to have stronger economies.

However, it is debatable whether schools prepare children adequately for work – for example, there is a shortage of STEM graduates, and many doctors come to Britain from abroad, so maybe the education system today focuses on the wrong subjects, not the subjects the economy actually needs to grow effectively? There is also a Postmodern critique from Ken Robinson that suggests that ‘schools kill creativity’ – a system obsessed with standardised testing hardly prepares people to go into the creative industries or become entrepreneurs, both of which are growth areas in the current UK economy.

More to follow…!

Short version of this essay

  • Point – Simply state something Functionalists say about education
  • Explain – Explain what is meant by the ‘Function’ of education mentioned previously
  • Expand – this could mean giving examples, evidence, or explaining in more depth
  • Criticise – criticise with evidence against or limitations

(P1) Secondary Socialisation and Value consensus       

  • The teaching of norms and values after the family – leading to agreement around these norms and values
  • Formal Curriculum – Shared history/ Shared language/ Shared religion
  • Team sports – working together shared aim
  • Ethnocentric Curriculum
  • Sub cultures
  • More school types – more diversity, surely = less value consensus?

(P2) Teaching skills for work – economic function          

  • Diverse subjects,
  • Punctuality
  • Vocationalism and apprenticeships have expanded
  • Are apprenticeships useful?
  • Tea servers

(P3) Bridge between home and school  

  • School prepares us for the world outside the family – it acts like a society in miniature
  • Particularistic/ Universalistic Standards
  • Doesn’t apply to everyone – Home schooling

R(P4) Role Allocation  

  • Different qualifications sift people into appropriate jobs
  • Does this through exams – sifting and sorting
  • Meritocracy (since 1944)
  • Marxism – not meritocratic – myth of meritocracy,
  • Private schools
  • Feminism – gender stereotyping and subject choice

Evaluate using other perspectives –

  • Marxism – Agrees with Functionalists that school socialises us into shared values, but these values are the values benefit the ruling class (we get taught that inequality is natural and inevitable, we believe in the myth of meritocracy and so end up passively accepting society as it is.
  • Feminism – Functionalism ignores the gender divide in school
  • Interactionism – Argues Functionalism is too deterministic – it sees individuals as passive, but there is a lot more evidence that pupils are active and aren’t just moulded by the school system

Conclusion – You must point out that this perspective is too optimistic and overgeneralises!

 

 

Related posts 

For more essays, please see my main post on exam advice, short answer questions and essays.

Evaluate the View that the Main Aim of the Family is to Meet the Needs of Capitalism (20)

Families marxism essay coverCapitalism is an economic system characterised by private ownership of means of production. The Marxist perspective argues that in many ways the family serves the needs of capitalism in a number of ways, ultimately benefitting the bourgeoisie and the proletariat remaining oppressed and exploited. Other perspectives however such as feminism would argue that serving the needs of capitalism is not the main aim of the family. They would argue instead that the family benefits males and reinforces a patriarchal society.

Engels argues that the nuclear family emerged as a direct result of capitalism. Primitive communism is the name given to society before capitalism had emerged. There was no private property and no family as such. Instead Engels called groups or tribes “the promiscuous horde” with no restrictions on sexual relationships. The introduction of capitalism meant that the wealthy wanted to secure control of the means of production. This brought around the monogamous nuclear family, as rich men had to ensure the paternity of their children so that they could pass down their property to legitimate heirs. This argument has been criticised by feminists who argue that this further reinforces patriarchy with women simply bearing children to provide men with legitimate heirs.

Functionalists however would dispute this view of the emergence of the nuclear family arguing instead that it came about in response to the demand of post-industrial society. Parsons functional fit theory explains how the family has evolved in keeping with the needs of society at that time. In post-industrial society when families farmed the land, they were typically extended, however after the industrial revolution the nuclear family emerged, creating a mobile workforce who could easily relocate to wherever work was available in the factories. This view has been criticised by Laslett who has argued that church records demonstrate that the extended family was already in decline and the nuclear family more popular even before the revolution, therefore cannot be seen as a direct response.

Marxists argued that the family can be seen as an ideological apparatus, helping to enforce a set of beliefs and values which ultimately benefit capitalism. For example children are bought up with a parental figure that they are taught to obey. This teaches them discipline, which will benefit their bosses when they join the workforce, but also teaches them about hierarchy and that inequality is inevitable making them less likely to question their position as an exploited proletariat when they go out to work, again benefitting capitalism. Again feminists have criticised this argument, due to the fact that children are socialised into the idea that the people in charge or at the top of the hierarchy are usually men again demonstrating that children are being socialised into gender specific roles in a patriarchal society.

Functionalists argue that rather than being an ideological apparatus spreading the ideas and values of capitalism, families benefit society as a whole through the function of primary socialisation. Functionalists argue that the family socialises children into the acceptable norms and values of society and ensures that order is maintained and deviance reduced. Marxists would challenge this view arguing that society is made up of two opposing groups, with a conflict of interests, therefore they would not interpret the family as having a positive role, or society’s agreeing on a set of shared norms and values.

Finally, Marxists argue that the family acts as a unit of consumption. The proletariat are exploited for their labour making consumer goods in factories which are then sold to them at a higher price than they were paid to produce them. Marxists argue that the family generates profits by targeting advertising at children who then use their ‘pester power’ to get goods bought by their parents. We also have a culture of ‘keeping up with the Jones’s where we consume the latest consumer products, again benefiting capitalism by lining the pockets of the bourgeoisie. However the Marxist perspective only views there being two classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Some commentators would argue that recently we have seen an emergence of an underclass who despite demonstrating a culture of unemployment, can still buy consumer goods without having to be exploited for their labour.

In conclusion the Marxist perspective has a number of compelling arguments as to how the family may serve the needs of capitalism; however it is unclear whether this argument is valid, especially in today’s diverse and rapidly changing society with a growing service sector and emergence of an underclass. Other perspectives such as feminism argue that the family does not serve the needs of capitalism, instead the needs of men, whereas functionalists focus on the positive functions of the family. Undeniably the family does hold benefits for its members by creating a supportive and loving environment for members, therefore to see it as purely benefiting capitalism would be short-sighted.

For a more accessible version of this plan, you might like to buy my AS Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle where you’ll find a completed template like the one above…

Families Revision Bundle CoverThe Bundle contains the following:

  1. 50 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within families and households
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering perspectives on the family
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – 3 examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ question.
  4.  9 essays/ essay plans spanning all the topics within the families and households topic.

Related Posts

The Marxist Perspective on the Family

Assess the view that education policies since 1988 have improved equality of educational opportunity (30)

 

If you get a question of education policies, the chances are you will be asked about ‘education policies since 1988’. This handout is designed to get you thinking about how you could use the info on the New Right’s 1988 Education Act and New Labour’s policies from 1997 onwards to answer an exam question in this area.

The New Right’s 1988 Education Act
Not interested in equal opps, mainly interested in raising standards… 

• Parentocracy – parents get to choose schools
• Marketisation – schools have to compete like businesses for students
• League tables to be published
• The above should raise standards as no parent would send child to failing school
• National Curriculum – ensures all schools teach core subjects
• OFSTED inspections

How 1988 worsened equality of opportunity… 
• Middle classes had more choice – cultural capital/ skilled choosers
• School/ parent alliance (Stephen Ball)
• Also selection by mortgage
• Polarisation of schools – sink schools

New Labour’s Policies
More interested in equal opps  

• Academies (Mossbourne) – set up in poorer areas
• EMA
• Sure start
• Expanded Vocationalism

Other aims of New Labour/ criticisms of the idea that New Labour’s policies raised standards

• Sure start didn’t work
• EMA did work but the Tories have now scrapped it
• Academies did work but new Tory academies are more selective
• Vocationalism offers more opportunities to the lower classes, but it is regarded as inferior.

Other Information you could include…

• Compensatory Education – lots to say here….

• You could talk about Gender and Ethnicity too….

• Private schools…

Assess the Usefulness of Positivist Approaches to Social Research (30)

Just a few thoughts on how you might go about answering this question… if it comes up on paper 3 of the A level sociology exam

 Paragraph one – outline the key ideas of Positivism

  • Positivists believe that sociology can and should use the same methods and approaches to study the social world that “natural” sciences such as biology and physics use to investigate the physical world.
  • By adopting “scientific” techniques sociologists should be able, eventually, to uncover the laws that govern societies and social behaviour just as scientists have discovered the laws that govern the physical world.
  • Positivists believe that good, scientific research should reveal objective truths about the causes of social action – science tells us that water boils at 100 degrees and this is true irrespective of what the researcher thinks – good social research should tell us similar things about social action
  • Because positivists want to uncover the general laws that shape human behaviour, they are interested in looking at society as a whole. They are interested in explaining patterns of human behaviour or general social trends. In other words, they are interested in getting to the ‘bigger picture’.
  • To do this, positivists use quantitative methods such as official statistics, structured questionnaires and social surveys
  • These methods also allow the researcher to remain relatively detached from the research process – this way, the values of the researcher should not interfere with the results of the research and knowledge should be objective

An example of the Positivist tradition in Sociological research – Durkheim’s cross national study of suicide in 1897. Durkheim believed that if he could prove that one of the most individual acts any human being could perform, that is, killing himself or herself, could be explained through social factors, then surely any action could be examined in such a way.  Durkheim’s analysis of official statistics, showed that rates of suicide were higher in countries experiencing rapid economic growth , among unmarried men rather than married men and in Protestant countries rather than Catholic countries.

Durkheim further theorised that the ‘causes’ of a higher suicide rate were low social integration and low social regulation. Thus Durkheim’s ‘general law of social action’ is that if people become detached from society they are more likely to kill themselves.

Paragraph two – Two Interpretivist criticisms of Positivism

Firstly, they argue that the ‘objective’ quantitative methods favoured by positivists are not actually objective at all, arguing that if we look at positivist methods in more detail, there are a number of subjective factors that influence the research process. Somebody has to write the structured questionnaires that are used to collect quantitative data, meaning there is probably selection bias over the questions used – and official statistics are collected by people.

Atkinson criticised Suicide Stats and Interpretivists more generally have criticised both police crime stats and imprisonment stats for being socially constructed.

Secondly, Interpretivists argue that human beings are not just puppets, merely reacting to social forces. In order to fully understand human action, once again, we need more in depth qualitative approaches to see why and how certain students can turn disadvantage around and make schooling work for them! People are also unpredictable, and sometimes irrational. Because individuals are thinking and self-aware, they can react to their situations in different ways.

Max Weber argued that human behaviour that has a “sense of purpose”. Human beings attribute their own meanings to their actions, and different people can engage in the same action for different reasons.   In order to understand human action, we need to ask individuals why they are doing what they are doing!

Interpretivists, or anti-positivists argue that one can only truly understand social action by understanding the meanings and motivations that people give to their own actions. They don’t believe that one’s actions are simply shaped by one’s position in the social structure, rather that they are a result of micro level interactions in daily life and how individuals interpret these micro-level interactions.

An Interpretivist approach to social research – An Interpretivist Approach to social research would be much more flexible and qualitative seeking to see the world through the eyes of the respondents. Good examples of Interpretivist research include Paul Willis’ study of ‘The Lads’, Venkatashes’ study – gang leader for a day and Douglas’s study of suicide – which explored the different meaning behind suicide.

What all of these qualitative studies provide is an in depth account of the lives of the people being researched. You get ‘their story’ and get to see the ‘world through their eyes’ – the researcher allows the respondents to speak for themselves and we can an empathetic understanding as they tell us what they think is important, find out why they act in the way they do according to their interpretation of the world.

The rich data the above studies doesn’t easily translate into stats and you can’t generalise these findings to the wider population, but Interpretivists argue that these qualitative studies are better because you get a much fuller understanding, at a human level, of why people act in the way that they do.

Paragraph three – Positivist criticisms of Interpretivism

A Positivist Criticism of Interpretivist research is that it may lack objectivity because of the intense involvement of the researcher with the respondents and that the government cannot use Interpretivist research to inform social policy because it is too expensive to get sample sizes that represent the whole of the population

Positivists are also uncomfortable with the idea that there is no ‘end goal’ to Interpretivist research, it just goes on and on, leading to an open ended post-modern relativism.

Paragraph four – Positivist research today/ Conclusion  

Sociologists have not completely abandoned the positivist tradition today – many researchers still do quantitative research focusing on correlations and generalisations. Two excellent recent examples of this are Inglehart’s World Values Survey and Richard Wilkinson’s cross national research on the effects of inequality – published in the spirit level – both suggest that a general ‘law’ of society is that the greater the level of inequality in a society, the more social problems such as crime and depression there are.

However, most researchers today have abandoned the extreme idea that society exists independently of the individual and that people are predictable – for example Anthony Giddens developed the concept of structuration to point out that people have to consciously make society, even though they often end up reproducing similar structures, while many recent events such as Brexit clearly show that people are not that predictable.

In conclusion, there is clearly still some usefulness in understanding society at a macro level and recognising the fact that individuals are ‘steered’ by the social structure, but we need to combine this will understanding people’s thoughts and feelings to truly explain human action.

Related Posts 

You might like this post: Positivism and Interpretivism in social research. 

 

 

 

Assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of school factors’ (30)

An essay on ethnicity and education written for the A Level Sociology paper 1 exam, AQA focus. 

Assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of school factors’ (30)

There are significant differences in educational achievement by ethnicity. Around 80% of Chinese children achieve 5 or more GCSE grades at A*- C compared to only 55% of Caribbean and about 15% of Gypsy Roma children. The national average is around 65%.

The idea that in-school processes are the main reason for these differences is associated with Interactionism which focuses on processes such as teacher labelling, Institutional racism and pupil subcultures. I will explore how these in-school factors affect pupils differently while evaluating using cultural deprivation and cultural capital theory.

Two classic studies in Sociology found that teacher labelling based on ethnic stereotypes did occur in British schools 25 years ago.

Cecile Wright (1992) Found that teachers perceived ethnic minority children differently from white children.  Asian children were seen as a problem that could be ignored, receiving the least attention and often being excluded from classroom discussion and rarely asked to answer questions. African Caribbean children were expected to behave badly, were seen as aggressive and disruptive, and were more likely to be disciplined for bad behaviour than children from other backgrounds.

David Gilborn (1990) found that teachers tended to see African-Caribbean children as a threat when no threat was intended and reacted accordingly with measures of control. Despite the fact that teachers rejected racism their ethnocentric perceptions meant that their actions were racist in consequence. African-Caribbean children experienced more conflict in relationships with pupils, were more subjected to the schools detention system.

The main problem with both of these studies are based on small scale samples and they are very dated, and they tell us nothing about whether ethnic stereotyping exists today. If anything, teacher bias is less likely given the greater emphasis put on multi-cultural education and the increased awareness of diversity.

Having said this, the rates of African-Caribbean pupils are still 3-4 times higher than the national average, which could be a result of the biases found by Wright and Gilborn, but given lack of recent research, we simply don’t know whether African-Caribbean children are objectively more deviant, or whether they are just perceived to be so by racist teachers.

A further problem with the above is that if teachers are just ignoring Asian pupils, and letting them get on with it, then they can’t really be having much of an impact on their education – and thus it must be home factors which explain why many Asian (Indian and Chinese) students today do better than the white majority.

A second reason for ethnic differences in achievement may be Institutional Racism which is where discrimination against minority groups is built into the organisation of the school – this can happen in various ways: through the ethnocentric curriculum, through banding and streaming and through the hiring of fewer minority teachers.

The ethnocentric curriculum is one which reflects the culture of one dominant group – for example the white majority culture in Britain. The curriculum can be described as Ethnocentric – for example students have to study British history from the European point of view, use out of date textbooks that racially stereotype and some subjects having a narrow, white British focus.

Banding and Streaming has been found to disadvantage both the working classes and some minority groups. Gilborn and Youdell (2007) point out that Black Caribbean children are overrepresented in the lower sets  and talk of how those in the lower sets get ‘written off’ because they have no hope of achieving A-Cs.

Crozier (2004) examined the experiences of racism among Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils and found that the experience of racism from both the school system and other pupils led to a feeling of exclusion.  The researchers discovered that Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils had experienced the following – anxieties about their safety; racist abuse was a lived experience of their schooling; careers advisors at school believed South Asian girls were bound by tradition and it was a waste of time advising them; Not being allowed off during Ramadan; feeling that assemblies were not relevant.

The problem with the idea of the ethnocentric curriculum is that it cannot explain why so many ethnic groups do better than white children. It may be the case the Pakistani and Bangladeshi children feel marginalised by it, but they have caught up with white children in recent years and so achieve well in spite of ethnocentricity in education.

Moreover, schools in recent years have made huge efforts to be more multicultural – with RE and PSHE lessons and event such as ‘black history month’ doing a lot to raise awareness of diversity, so this has changed significantly.

However, some recent statistics do suggest that institutional racism is rife – black applicants are half as likely to be accepted onto teacher training programmes compared to white applicants (around 20% compared to 40% success rate) – the end result of this was that in 2013, in the whole of the UK only three black people were accepted as trainee-history teachers. Professor Heidi Mirza, herself of African Caribbean origin, says there is evidence of discrimination within our education system today.

Another in-school factor is pupil subcultures – as with teacher racism a number of classic studies from 20 years ago have focused mainly on black subcultures:

Tony Sewell (1997) observed that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed, particularly at secondary school. Fordham and Ogbu (1986) further argue that notions of ‘acting White’ or ‘acting Black’ become identified in opposition to one another. Hence because acting White includes doing well at school, acting Black necessarily implies not doing well in school.

Mac an Ghail (1998) looked at three subcultures – the Asian Warriors, the African- Caribbean Rasta Heads and the Black Sisters. He used mainly participant observation both in the school and through befriending the students and socializing with them outside of the school. What he found was that the African Caribbean community experienced the world in very different ways to white people – namely because of institutional racism in the college and he argued that any anti-school attitudes were reactions against this racism.

As with the research on teacher labelling, the research on the relationship between pupil subcultures and educational achievement is somewhat thin today. If anything, today subcultures are probably less important, as there seems to be less resistance to the school today than in previous years.

Most sociologists seem to agree that home background is more important than in-school factors in explaining differences in achievement by ethnicity: As with class and gender, schools only account for s10% of the differences in achievement (according to a recent Analysis podcast), home-factors are much more important. Pupils only spend a minority of their time in-school after all!

Tony Sewell, for example, focuses on the higher rates of single parent households and the influence of gangsta culture on young black boys, which is far more significant than anything which goes on in-school.

Also, where the excellent achievement on Chinese children is concerned, it seems to be the ‘tiger parenting’ style which advantages these pupils compared to others.

Most of the research on in-school factors focuses on African-Caribbean underachievement, which is a narrow focus, there are other differences too – Gypsy Roma for example, and given that the main reason for their underachievement is the low attendance rate, again school is not a significant factor here.

However, in-school factors may play a role in explaining the biggest problem with underachievement today – that of white working class children, who themselves feel excluded from the culture of the school because they feel school does not reflect their culture, but this is more of a matter of social class (and gender) rather than ethnicity.

In conclusion, I would say that in-school factors explain very little of the differences in achievement by ethnicity, most of the difference is accounted for by home factors and schools cannot be expected and should not be expected to close the gap, moreover, I believe that focusing on issues of race within education are a red-herring, the issue of class and differential achievement is far more important, irrespective of ethnic background, and here, as with ethnicity, much of the differences in achievement are down to differences in home background, not differential achievement within schools.

Assess the View that Economic Indicators Provide an Unsatisfactory Picture of Development

Economic definitions and ways of measuring development are unsatisfactory. A much clearer and more useful picture emerges when wider social factors are included.’ Assess this view of development and underdevelopment. (20)

International organizations such as the World Bank prefer to measure development using economic indicators such as Gross National Product (GNP) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

GDP measures the total value of goods and services produced within a country in one year that are available for sale in the market place. GNP is the same but includes the value of all goods and services produced at home and abroad.

The use of GNP as a measurement of development is generally considered most useful by Modernisation theorists who believe that high GNP is an indication of how industrialised a country is, as high levels of production require efficient production in factories, and as far as Modernisation Theory is concerned, industrialisation will eventually lead to the developing countries catching up with the high age of mass consumption found in the west, thus GNP is the single most useful indicator of development.

Overall GNP/ GDP are more useful if we want an indication of how ‘powerful’ a country is, but if we want a better indication of social development; we need to divided GNP by head of population and take the cost of living into account (GNP per capita at PPP).

The usefulness of using GDP/ GNP is that they provide snapshot indicators of development which makes for easy comparisons between countries. However there are problems with both indicators.

However, there are many criticisms of the use of GNP as an indicator of development.

Firstly. It can disguise inequalities within countries. The USA, for example, has one of the highest GNPs in the world but some groups experience extreme poverty, suffering homelessness for example.

Secondly, GNP does not tell us how much wealth actually stays in the country, If production is carried out by Western Corporations, much of the profit may leave the country and not benefit the population. Similarly, some countries have a high GNP but a massive proportion of this goes on debt repayments.

Thirdly, if economic growth is driven by industrialization, this may bring about problems for some people in developing countries. In India for example, some villagers have has their farms destroyed and been reduced to coal scavenging for a living following the construction of open cast coal mines that are necessary to fuel economic growth.

Finally, it is the case that quality of life may be higher than suggested in poorer countries because production is often subsistence based, about survival and consumed locally in the community, and not sold in the market place. Subsistence agriculture is not measured in the GNP. Also, some people may get hold of goods and services illegally. This kind of economic activity is not included in GNP measurements.

Because of the limitations of economic indicators, the UN has developed social indicators such as the Human Development Index and the Millennium Development Goals which provide a picture of social rather than economic progress.

Many of these social indicators show us that high GNP is not necessarily accompanied by social progress, as in the case of Equatorial Guinea, which has a very high GNP but low social development because the corrupt elite keep most of the money to themselves.

The Millennium Development goals also provide a more useful indicator or development than GNP – The MDGs includes such things as female empowerment and sustainability, neither of which are taken into account by cruder economic indicators. Female Empowerment is especially important when considering development in India – it is rapidly developing in terms of GNP, but has very low gender equality, suggesting it has a lot of progress to make in that area.

Post-Development thinkers argue that sustainability indicators are especially important now that we are facing a climate change crisis, and if we take this as a measure of development, many of the richest countries are the biggest polluters, because consumption drives economic growth, which in turn drives pollution, which provides one of the most compelling challenges to the use of GNP as a valid measure of development.

Another seemingly more useful indicator of development is the level of peacefulness in a country – as measured by the Global Peace Index – this is important because where there is conflict, there is no chance of development, moreover, if we use this as an indicator, the USA and China fall down the development league tables because they spend so much money on their militaries, which are frequently used to oppress people and again reduce social development at home and abroad.

Another country which prefers to measure social development rather than economic development is Bhutan, which is poor, yet one of the happiest nations on earth, and the case of Bhutan seems to challenge the notion that economic growth results in greater happiness – many people living in Tokyo in Japan for example, are lonely and miserable.

The very fact that these other indicators exist suggests that many working within development feel that economic indicators are not a satisfactory measurement of ‘development’

In conclusion, it is clear that economic indicators do not provide a full picture of how developed a country is, and that it is clearly possible to have social development without a high GDP.

Moreover, it appears that the pursuit of economic growth can undermine social development, at home, if it leads to greater equality and misery, and abroad, if it leads to environmental decline and war and conflict.

Thus I believe that we really do need to look at a much wider range of indicators to fully understand how developed a country is, because development simply cannot be understood purely in economic terms alone.