Function of Education: Integration & Assimilation
One of the functions of education has been to teach students to assimilate to a specific community standard which encourages students to either continue their educations or enter the workforce upon high school graduation. A closer examination of this practice reveals that each student's experience is often predicated on the socioeconomic status of one's parents, creating inequities for children from low income families and privilege for others in the K-12 education system. Many colleges use Vincent Tinto's theory of Student Departure and John Weidman's model of socialization as the foundation for creating programs and activities to help college students integrate into the academic community in an effort to increase persistence and, thus college success. However, implementation of programs utilizing these theories often serve to support students from homes with higher socioeconomic status while inadvertently missing the very students who would most benefit from programs encouraging integration and assimilation, creating a sorting mechanism in the educational system which tends to promise potential social mobility to children from low-income families while concomitantly maintaining the current social hierarchy which traps them in a low-income future.
Keywords Assimilation; Civic Engagement; Demographics; Educational Sociology; Elitist; Homogeneity; Integration; Massification; Normative; Public Good; Reference Group; Socialization; Social Reproduction Theory
The Function of Education: Integration
Americans portend to use their educational system to teach their students academic skills such as reading and math. They also use it to prepare students to participate in the job market and to encourage them to participate in civic engagement. What many parents do not understand is that the educational system is also used to socialize their children to accept the social position into which they were born. Public schools usually hire their teachers from the local community; thus, teachers imbue local values, culture, and knowledge in their students. Under ideal circumstances, this is a very good model. However, not all circumstances are ideal. Educational writers have exposed inequities in the existing K-12 education models. These inequities tend to socialize children regarding their place in the social framework in ways that privilege children of the wealthy while promulgating disadvantages for other children. In other words, children in some schools are educated to be governors; children in the other schools are trained for being governed (Kozol, 1991).
Jean Anyon's work exposed inequities in how children are trained to accept a status place similar to that of their parents. Children attending schools in low income areas are given few choices, held to strict rules, and are taught to defer to authority figures. Children attending schools in high income areas are given choice-making latitude, are rarely expected to adhere to strict rules, and are taught to critically analyze instruction provided to them from authority figures (Anyon, 1980). Jonathon Kozol's work exposed the inequities in public school funding and described how those inequities ensure the children of the wealthy will excel while children from low-income families receive a lesser form of education that cannot be proven to be less than adequate. The latter sort of education will teach children how to vote (deemed to be adequate) without teaching them how to mobilize resources in the political arena to meet their needs (Kozol, 1991). In this way, education becomes a sorting mechanism which tends to promise potential social mobility to children from low-income families while concomitantly maintaining the current social hierarchy which traps them in a low-income future (Zhang & Thomas, 2005).
According to Social Reproduction Theory, a student who is graduating from high school has already received strong messages and concurrent training which will work to maintain the social class into which the student has been born. Most low-income students will graduate from high school with strong technical training and will be encouraged to enter the workforce. Students from the middle and upper classes will graduate from high school with strong academic skills and will be encouraged to enter a college or university. It is in this way that students are sorted into an existing class structure which will be largely maintained via the educational process (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977; McLeod, 1987).
During the K-12 years children primarily attend neighborhood schools. Children are assimilated into the existing community and culture. Many of the students will only meet students who share similar racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds. In schools where children of varying economic backgrounds are in attendance, the schools often track students into classes based on economic criteria. In this way, there is differentiation in what the children are taught and with whom the children associate. These students are socialized to the societal norms of the communities in which they were born and they may never even be aware of the "other" class of students within their school (Gandara, 1995). Upon graduation, students from every socio-economic class will contemplate entry into a college or university; their preparatory periods will obviously have been very different based upon the socialization process embedded in the current educational curriculum.
American colleges have always experienced tensions regarding their true purpose. Initially, college was conceptualized as an elitist educational forum in which men (and only men) could become better citizens and leaders. However, as early as 1850, men receiving a college education were quick to realize how they would personally benefit from their time spent in institutions of higher education. College was always intended for the "aristocracy" (Rudolph, 1962, p. 66), and the men who attended the Land Grant universities (i.e., farmers, engineers, etc.) noticed a college education could also be used as an excellent social elevator. Over the next several decades, colleges became institutions styled to serve all types of American citizens. After World War II, the advent of the Cold War and enhanced veterans benefits began a massification of colleges which continues today. Federal and state governments participated in paying for college because it was considered largely as a public good. Women, people of color, children from low-income families, and others were slowly included in efforts to make college accessible to everyone.
As massification efforts grew, college became the American icon of opportunity. Everyone wanted the opportunity to attend college. Unfortunately, not all students who came to the colleges and universities were prepared to succeed and eventually graduate (Rudolph, 1962; Tinto, 1982). College administrators needed to identify ways to make college work for their newly diversified population. A few theorists stepped forward with ideas regarding how to engage a diverse group of students in a college lifestyle. These theorists had come to the conclusion that students could succeed in college once they had mastered the necessary social adjustments. Vincent Tinto developed a Theory of Student Departure which noted how pre-college experiences affect each student's commitment and intention to attend and persist in the college environment. The implicit foundation of this theory was that the white, male colleges of the past were the optimal models of college success and that those who were not white males were working from a deficit which needed to be addressed.
Further Insights: Higher Education
Tinto's Theory of Student Departure
Tinto's model is still one of the most widely cited models in student retention/dropout literature. It utilizes a commonsense approach incorporating the notion of integration at its center. Tinto's primary hypothesis is that a student's decision to persist or voluntarily drop out can be predicted by the degree of academic and social integration attained by that student. Levels of academic and social integration may ebb and flow over time. However, a student who has high goal commitment (i.e., very committed to earning the diploma) or high social commitment (i.e., well integrated into the institution's social structure) will choose to persist. Academic integration is often measured by grades, perceptions of academic ability, a connection with the subjects being studied,...
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