Globalization has emphasized the effects that educational attainment has on social stratification. Service-based organizations work to assist developing nations and regions in increasing educational levels among their populations, yet they often forget that research findings based on developed nations may not easily translate into success for developing nations. It is true that state and global forces impact educational opportunities and family background influences both educational attainment and social mobility. However, these impacts and influences are often very different based on the wealth and governmental structure of the country. This paper compares the impacts of global forces and familial structure on educational and future social mobility for America, India, and Africa.
Keywords Colonization; Developing Country; Educational Sociology; Globalization; Gross Domestic Product; Infrastructure; Literacy Rate; Non-Governmental Organization (NGO); Socioeconomic Status; Social Justice; Stratification; Sustainable Development; Truancy
Global Stratification: Educational Stratification
In Barbara Kingsolver's novel, The Poisonwood Bible, a missionary family travels from the American state of Georgia to live in the African Congo as representatives of their Christian church. The opening chapters describe how the Price family prepares for this venture. They pack up their belongings under the assumption that life in the Congo will be similar to their current lives. They go to great lengths to take along cake mixes, bibles, hand mirrors, seeds, etc. with the intent to tame the Congo, convert the natives, and teach the natives a "better" approach to life. As the story progresses, Mrs. Price and her four daughters recognize that what they brought to the Congo is of no help at all: their seeds do not grow the way they had in the States, there is no oven in which to bake a cake, and their Western notions of truth and civility do not work in this culture. Even the language presents a barrier to Mr. Price, who never accepts that Western ways will not work in this new and different place. He never takes the time to actually learn the language and customs of these people as he zealously works to convert them to Christianity and the ways of his Western culture. He continues to ignore the subtleties of their language although he uses it in his sermons; preaching passionately that Jesus is bangala. His intent is to teach these natives that Jesus is the beloved one. However, his pronunciation of bangala is flawed — so the message conveyed to the Congolese is that Jesus is poisonwood (i.e., the source of pain and death).
As the book progresses, the reader begins to see the arrogance embedded in the Price family's initial opinions of the Congolese and to understand why their Western ways will not work in the Congo. This family is sincere (though clearly misguided) in their desire to help the Congolese. However, they come to realize that many of the Americans who are in the Congo under the guise of providing education and infrastructure to Africa are actually taking advantage by helping themselves to the rich resources of the land. Yes, they build roads; but only roads that facilitate the removal of gold and diamonds. Yes, they educate the Congolese; but only to the level that allows the Congolese to be useful while remaining in a colonized state (Meredith, 2007).
Researchers have come to realize that America often creates its own Poisonwood Bible story via the provision of educational assistance to developing countries. We have entered each country well equipped with the provisions that have worked at home while forgetting to consider how and why the culture of each country differs from ours (Heyneman & Loxley, 1983; King & van de Walle, 2007). But we are learning how state and global forces act differently in different countries, how a student's family background in developing nations differs from country to country, and how the education connects to social mobility and educational attainment in ways we can't understand if we have not come to learn the culture of the country we are purporting to help.
The United States
American communities are structured by values and laws which encourage children to go to school and stay in school. For decades America has enjoyed a strong economy with high degrees of educational opportunity and occupational attainment and has been grounded in the notion of Equal Educational Opportunity. Based on the privileges of life, liberty, and property secured for all people in the United States and the precedent for equal access set forth by Brown v. Board of Education (1954), several federal acts have been signed into law to guarantee basic educational rights to all students (Huefner, 2000). This intricate web of subordinate laws has been developed and enforced in order to support American educational values. The Compulsory Education Law compels parents to register and send their children aged 5-18 to school (although states may vary the age requirement). Parents who do not comply with compulsory education laws can be charged with a misdemeanor and their children may be punished under the state juvenile truancy laws. The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protects the time children need to access educational opportunities by restricting the number of hours and conditions under which all children may be employed. The FLSA laws are intended to ensure each generation will mature into educated citizens who contribute to their societies and to ensure children are too busy to get into much mischief (Buchmann & Hannum, 2001).
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provides Federal monies (i.e., a centralized governmental source) to pay the costs of attendance for each child in the public school system so that public education can remain "free" (i.e., taxpayer supported). However, the funding is somewhat tied to assurances regarding the quality of teaching as the reauthorized ESEA evolved into what is commonly known as No Child Left Behind. As a result, children at all levels of the economic strata are expected to attend school, protected from labor market expectations until they are 16 years old, and are ensured a meaningful educational experience supported by sufficient resources once they enter the classroom.
The American ideology assumes children to be non-contributing family members. This means parents have the luxury of rearing children without expecting the children to provide economic input to ensure the survival of the family. The federal and state governments share in the expense of educating each child enrolled in a public school system in an attempt to ensure access to the public school system. Historically speaking, America is a wealthy, stable country which can afford to provide rich resources for public schools. It reserves 5.6% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for education and these monies are enhanced by individual states and, often, parental donations (UNESCO, 2010). The American educational plan generally works precisely because America enjoys a strong and stable position in the global economy.
Education leads to enhanced job opportunities, reinforces sustainable development, and helps to form the next generation of good community members (Thornton & Jaeger, 2008). Many countries have asked for help in creating similar educational opportunities for their people and America has stepped up to the plate to lend them a hand. However, when American-based laws and structures are implemented in developing countries, economic and governmental structural differences can alter outcomes and impede success. The outcomes are seldom those expected- much like the Price family's garden seeds which only produced huge, malformed bushes that would bear no fruit when planted in Africa.
In America, the literacy rate stands at 99% for both males and females (CIA, 2008). Developing countries do not enjoy similar literacy rates. The lowest literacy rates are concentrated in three regions: South and West Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Arab states (CIA, 2008) despite the attention and assistance provided to them via foreign governments, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Bank, Unite for Children (UNICEF), and American Peace Corps these countries have not experienced a magnitude of success as quickly as hoped (UNESCO, 2008).
Developing countries have struggled to meaningfully implement laws compelling parents to register and send their children to school. Two economic impediments block the way to success. First, in developing countries, government resources are often scarce and the governments are weak and/or unstable. Second, families in developing countries often lack the resources to send their children to...
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