The equality concept in education can be influenced negatively or positively according to the gender, race, and social class of the society’s individuals. How these three factors interact with the education system is discussed in this paper. In one of the approaches to this subject, the concept of ‘race’/ethnicity and the relation between race and education will be discussed. The other approaches will also be in accordance with gender and social class. Before a quick historical overview, all concepts will be correlated with the actual education system.
Race and Ethnicity Perception
Starting with the first concept, ‘Race’ and ethnicity concerns in society are becoming very important phenomena and as result, there is a public recognition about these concepts and an academic growing about the analyzing of the role and impact of racism movements, inequality according to race and racial and ethnic violence (Back & Solomos, 1999). Some authors find ‘race’ and ethnicity difficult to define (Rattansi, 2007), this is because ‘race’ is a system of social construction (Gillborn, 2008) although theorists agree that ‘race’ is a concept related to biological difference and ethnicity standing for kinship and cultural differences (Gunaratnan, 2003). However, throughout history, these concepts had taken different meanings and interpretations (Gunaratnan, 2003). ‘Race’ and ethnicity are two complex realities that change according to the relations between individual experience and social processes (Gunaratnan, 2003).
There are four dimensions of concern that are addressed about racial identity constructivism. First is the degree to which race influences the process of constructing identity, second, the degree to which race and ethnicity influence the relationships the students create with the education system and other aspects of the dominant community, third, is the means through which various social statuses integrate to create an identity and finally the degree to which race and ethnicity identity can be regarded as focused, identifiable and bounded phenomenon.
The identity problems especially concerning race and ethnicity have been found to have great implications on the educational aspirations and upward mobility opportunities for students. (Rattansi, 2007). It’s evident from studies that those students who retain their racial and ethnic identities usually tend to highly achieve better social-economic success than those who assimilate to other cultures. Gerald Horne said that people were threatened according to the country where they came from and where they went (Horne, 2004). In the 20th century, the black people who arrived in Britain would not have the same treatment as a white, the sophisticated hotels would say to them that they do not accept ‘negroes’ (Horne, 2004). On another hand, the black race was very welcome in Asia (specifically Japan) and they had very good conditions, however, the white race was not welcome and they did not have any privileges or decent treatment (Horne, 2004). With this attitude, Tokyo was trying to gain the trust of the black race to obtain their help in case of a war with Washington and London (Horne, 2004). The big question is how this diversify is affecting the Educational system.
There is a strong link between race and education. Most of the people who fall into the lower class group are mainly from the minority groups or race such as blacks, Indians, and other immigrant communities. Their economic state determines the quality of education they offer their children. If their children receive poor education or even drop out, this means that in adulthood they get low-paying jobs. Social-economic factors will determine whether one gets quality books and access to technology that enhances education. There is an increased reliance on education on computer technology and the internet with the minority communities having low access to these facilities means that they are unable to study well and do their homework on time.
Sometimes the culture of the minority races affects how children perform in school. If parents expect little from their children their children will not feel the need to work hard to perform well in school. Some parents have a misconception that their communities cannot easily excel in life lie people from the dominant races. An example is a misconception that a person of African or black can only grow rich by becoming a rapper.
Because most of the people from minority ethnic groups fall under the low-class income bracket, their choices for the desired course of a college education are limited. Affluent parents from the dominant ethnic groups can choose lucrative courses and colleges. There has been a call for positive discrimination in the selection of students in college education which has not been applied. Positive discrimination refers to choosing the minority race over the dominant race if the student from the minority race qualifies for a certain course or college. The dominant race claims that this is discrimination against them. This means that the minority races will keep being left out.
Teachers have reported a need to include racial education in education to help eliminate prejudices and question biased racial statements. There is a need to sensitize the people that immigrants have not come to take away their jobs. They only occupy positions that natives are reluctant to take up.
Gender and Sexual Identity
The second concept to be discussed is gender and sexual identity. In recent years we have seen significant development in the recognition of diversity and gender difference (Blair, Holland, & Sheldon 1995). A number of political, social, and economic features affecting education policy since the Second World War increased the interest in gender balance and education (Arnot, & Weiner, 1987). The concepts of gender and sex are generally separate according to researchers for clarification and eloquence reasons (Walsh, 1997). They characterize sex as the biological differences between women and men and gender is not an intrinsic attribute in a human being, gender is something that is socially constructed (Walsh, 1997). Kimball tells that individuals “do not have gender… they do gender” (Kimball, 1995 cited in Walsh, 1997). However, gender as practical social relation integrity can be defined by the meanings of ‘male’ and ‘female’ and these concepts and practices will vary according to age, culture, class, and time (Arnot, &Weiner, 1987).
The concept of identity formation is hence a continuous process that classifies sexual orientation as a distinctive identity construct. In the last century, there were not many substantive studies on the female life experience, this is because the studies were based on male behavior (Walsh, 1997). The female experience was ignored and male behavior was the standard of all human behavior and for this reason, employers and sex officers have often relied on these studies to discriminate against women (Walsh, 1997).
With education comes better income, good jobs, decent housing, the social and economical opportunities will increase and, better than that, educated people can have the ability to choose, however, men and women did not have the same level of access to Education in all times (Blair, Holland & Sheldon, 1995). In the second half of the twentieth century, feminist campaigns about education, the fight for equal rights, the 1914 Education Act are just a few examples of important antecedents in the history of Education (Arnot, & Weiner, 1987). The men and women had different roles in the education system and normally women did not have access to it in some cases. This is because in the early 20th-century education was mostly for men and schools should prepare male pupils for male occupational and vocational targets (Arnot, & Weiner, 1987). The girls from the working class had their education from their houses (homeschooled) and it was dominated by training in the domestic economy (cookery, laundry, and childcare) (Cole, 2000). The middle-class girls, on other hand, were educated at home or in some private boarding schools but their education was not more than training for marriage (Cole, 2000).
Social mobility, class conflict, and access to higher education were topics discussed mainly by men and whites (Arnot, & Weiner, 1987), although this situation was changed with the introduction of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the USA and the UK. The women with economic power had an active fight in the 1960s and they were able to participate actively in public life and economy (Arnot, & Weiner, 1987). Education for women is empowering and assured them of a better future as they were more likely to be independent. In the U.K. women had equal opportunity in terms of access to education with the introduction of law about Sex Discrimination (1975). However, education as a social institution was criticized by feminists because they did not agree with the ‘white dominance’ in the educational system as they were against gender differentiation, especially the divergence between the educational routes taken by boys and girls (Arnot, & Weiner, 1987).
There is no way to deny that in the last decades significant changes (Industrial Revolution, the right to vote for women (1928 in the UK) have increased significantly the life of women in modern societies, however, Cole believes that we are still far from achieving equality between men and women. In the same jobs as men, women still only earn 72.7% of the male wage (Cole, 2000). Women had numerous obstacles to access education from society and they still do not have complete access to it. Probably this is the main reason for recent research that shows that girls have less confidence when compared to boys in their ability to succeed in the intellectual task (Arnot & Weiner, 1987). Girls have a strong tendency to attribute their success to luck which implies that there is still some insecurity about their ability to succeed in the future, however, they perform as well as boys. On other hand, boys are more likely to see their failure as a result of insufficient effort, and they useability to explain their success (Arnot & Weiner, 1987).
Despite all these barriers, a recent study in 2008 in the USA showed that there was a big achievement gap between boys and girls. In maths subjects, researchers found that there are no longer differences but, on other hand, in reading girls greatly outperformed boys in all school levels (10%) (Chudowsky & Chudowsky, 2010). The sex-role stereotypes are reinforced by teachers in many subtle ways and if teachers hope that children will be free to develop as individuals, they should be aware of their attitudes and do more than just ‘countering’ traditional sex-role stereotypes (label) (Marland, 1983). The girls should be encouraged to choose their majors based on their interests and ability rather than fear failure (Marland, 1983). With this behavior, it would be possible in the future to achieve gender equality for professionals. schools could be led, managed, and planned by both sexes and this will be good for curriculum, leadership, and organization of educational institutions and, finally, the children will have the opportunity to see both men and women assuming a full range of positions and responsibilities and take it as an example (Marland, 1983).
Formal legal equality can never be real equality in a capitalist society and 30 years after the first Women’s Liberation Conference women remain unequal – in education, at home, at work, and in law (Cole, 2000). Capitalists will always impede genuine equal rights and the reason behind that is that capitalism is an unequal model and where it is right to exploit the poor by the rich (Cole, 2000).
The Social Class Concept
Finally, the third concept that causes inequality in education is related to social class. Social class can be defined as an organized group, with a real existence inside one society; however, classes are not differentiated by income, occupation of their members, or by status because this criterion is rejected as being insufficient (Elster, 1986). According to the Marxism theory, the definition of the class must consider exploitation, domination, possessions, and market behavior. For a social context, the social class concept is very important and on this point, children in schools are usually disadvantaged on these grounds (Gamble, Marsh & Tant, 1999). As we had seen Karl Marx played a significant role because he viewed history as a process of consecutive phases of class domination hence he purported that the ruling class was always right. They make the rules. This idea is implicitly exercised almost everywhere as the rich tend to use their money power to maneuver things around like sidestepping the law and so on (Gamble, Marsh & Tant, 1999). It is clear that in every society exists a dominant class which although being in minority is capable of exploiting a lower, majority, class (Gamble, Marsh & Tant, 1999). Marx’s theories distinguished the capitalist class by those who buy the labor, the working class is made up of those who sell their labor and small bourgeoisie members do neither (Elster, 1986).
In what concerns education, during the First World War, many children from the working class left school because children’s earnings from work made a real difference to the household budgets (Abbott, 2003). From the Second World War emerged the working class in Britain and with the expansion in education, the idea of leaving a poor background and scaling the social pyramid was seen as ‘technically’ possible, however, in practice that situation is almost impossible (Cashmore, 1989). Basically, the class differences are usually reflected in educational achievement whereby children from affluent families are likely to attain graduate degrees and performance much better. Their counterparts from disadvantaged families often fail to achieve such success due to financial constraints or the low self-esteem that can be a result of the poor lifestyle (Abbott, 2003). This is a clear indication that school performance is influenced by a condition outside leading than the schooling conditions themself. Nonetheless, schooling has greatly assisted in limiting these gaps in social class. As the children grow, the social class becomes less of an influencer of education achievement.
There is no way to deny that economic changes which can bring about poverty, harmfully influence children’s educational life due to restrictions of ability to financially support children in education (Kumar,1993). In 1914, the British middle-class was about 20% and they are not able to finance their children’s studies at University, this is because poverty was limiting their families financially (Lambert, 2008). These families even could not provide basic things such as electricity for children to be able to study after school (Lambert, 2008). In the 19th century, 25% of the British population was in poverty and this situation was a barrier to children’s education (Lambert, 2008). Only families with financial security (Upper classes) could afford access to education by their family members (Lambert, 2008). As an example, rich people could send their pupils to university since the beginning of the 19th century however, only in 1960 the working-class families in British Society could afford it and it was just possible because the U.K. government started to finance Universities in that period (Abbott, 2003). As can be easily noted, the social classes give different roles such as determining ‘life chances’ to schools in society (Farmer, 1979).
Social classes are so important that some authors believe that the keys to belonging completely to a nation (especially to a European country) are class and religion (Fenton, 2010). Although, the societies’ history shows that any society arises from inequality or, in other words, there are discrepancies in accessing resources (housing and money) and revoltingly unequal distributions of power (Cashmore, 1989). Society is divided into various distinct groups. Some groups have interests in decreasing inequalities and others that need inequalities to serve their interests (Cashmore, 1989). It is a fact that people have a desire to improve their situation, however, this can only be improved collectively by the creation of the public good (Elster, 1986). In other words, people have an interest in not being dominated and exploited but this goal can only be realized by collective action. This is because individual betterment by ascendant social mobility is an option for some people but not for the big majority in a capitalist society (Elster, 1986). Marx believed that only class interests can develop into organized interest groups (Elster, 1986). According to Marxism ideology, in a capitalist system the schools prepare people to understand the social rules, it means that schools normally teach people to follow more often than to lead nevertheless, schools do not give enough effort to break the hierarchies, or otherwise ‘barriers between classes’ (Price, 1986).
Inequality is a result of a ‘two-speed society’ which creates exclusion, poverty, and frustration (Madanipour, Cars & Allen, 1998). An example of this situation is the European free market and monetary union. They represent a growth factor for Europe as a whole. However, it also represents risk factors for the social groups and weakest regions (Madanipour, Cars & Allen, 1998). In 1998 a study revealed that there were 10,404 children permanently excluded from British schools for one of the three reasons: race, sex, or class (Aries, 2008). National Curriculum does not reflect the diversity of children’s experience and it implies that their exclusion will continue to be a reality in the future (Searle, 2001).
To sum up, the major sources of inequality in education are race, gender, and class. These three factors originate from inequality in the educational system. The minority groups do not have the same chances in education. Furthermore, education is still seen as not a democratic right and it continues to not be available for all. The educational system is not adequate for a multicultural society, like in Britain. In what concerns gender, women continue to have a low status in society.
Women’s participation in education is increasing, although, women are still far from obtaining real equality with men in terms of wages and achieving leadership posts. However, in my opinion, the factor that mostly contributes to inequality in education is caused by social class discrepancies. This is because progress and participation in education can only be possible if financial security existed in the independence of race or gender. Social and economic changes are highly effective factors in determining the education role of schools in children’s life. With little resources, families are unable to help children to progress in their education; the family is deprived of participating culturally in their children’s education.
Consequently, we are aware that equality can be reached metaphorically in a capitalist system. Our society is unfair and there will always be dominant social classes and it will continue to be admissible for the poor to become poorer while the rich become richer exploiting the low classes. (Word Count: 3108)
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