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Race and Social Inequality in Education

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Essay title: Race and Social Inequality in Education

Major social institutions affect society, humanity, and prosperity in different ways. Education is a social institution that affects an individual’s “economic success and social progression (Wright 1368).

Throughout today’s society, the level of education that an individual acquires has a large impact on the amount of employment opportunities, job security, and wages that are attained. According to a 2006 study by the U.S. Census Bureau, the average salary for college or university graduates is greater than $51,000, exceeding the national average of those without a high school diploma by more than $23,000 (The Washington Post). The Census Bureau’s study supported the concept that education is a direct link to economic success.

Webster’s Dictionary defines education as “the process by which values, knowledge and skills are transmitted among individuals or groups” (qtd. in Sadovnik 241). Although education’s definition has remained the same over time, education’s role in society has changed.

In today’s society, the U.S. government requires all children to receive an education up to a certain age and the age limit varies by state. Although “all states require children to continue their education into their high school years,” 26 states set the cutoff age at 16 and the remaining states require students to stay in school through the age of 18 (Sadovnik 238). This government mandate over education, also known as compulsory education, is a giant step from the American government’s position on education during the early 20th Century (Ravitch 537).

In 1918 school attendance was mandatory, but only up to primary school, which is equivalent to the elementary school system of today. Most 11 year olds during the early 20th Century were qualified to join the work force after their completion of primary school, which is equivalent to the 5th grade of today (Ravitch 538). Although it was scarcely attended, secondary and higher education was available during the early 20th Century. Only 5% of American youth graduated high school in the year 1900 with only 1% going on to college. In contrast, 80 percent of Americans graduated from high school in 2005 with 40 percent going on to college and 25 percent actually earning a degree (The Washington Post).

Education evolved from the one-room school house format in the early 20th Century, to numerous options available today, including public schools, private schools and home schools. Certain sociologists declare that as the economy shifts, so does education in America.

The shift from an agrarian or rural economy, to the mass industrial economy “forced the institution of education to expand” (Ravitch 538). By the 1950s and 60s employers began to require more than a primary education from prospective employees. A high school diploma translated into a good job, with a good wage and economic security for one's family during the 50s and 60s, but in today's global economic marketplace no longer does the high school diploma guarantee a good job (Sadovnik 244). A significant majority of employers say that a high school diploma is not enough to prepare students to work for their companies. “Only 25% of employers say that a high school diploma is adequate, while 75% say that they prefer graduates with two- and four-year degrees” (The Washington Post).

In his research of race and class in America, Erik Wright found that there is a direct link between educational attainment and social equality, stating that “individuals with a higher education are viewed as being more valuable than those who don’t hold college degrees or advanced training” (1369). Because U.S. employers prefer individuals to be educated on increasingly higher levels in order to secure employment and competitive wages, those with high achievement will be trained for the most important jobs and in reward, be given the highest incomes, while those who achieve the least, will be given the least demanding jobs, and hence the lowest incomes. Overall the households and demographics featuring the highest educational attainment in the United States are also among those with the highest household income and wealth (Chubbs and Loveless 76).

Wright suggests that the link between education and income creates inequality in America because the institutional setting of education is not balanced. “Education is an unbalanced institution, aligned with the values and aims of the middle class and this alignment alienates people of other classes, forcing them to play catch up to the dominant group” (1369). In 2004, 77% of graduates with bachelor’s degrees or more grew up in middle class or upper class households and 64 % of middle class or upper class households were white. (The Washington Post).

Horace Mann referred

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