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Education as a Social Institution

Social institutions are an important element in the structure of human societies. They provide a structure for behavior in a particular part of social life. The five major social institutions in large societies are family, education, religion, politics, and economics. While each institution does deal with a different aspect of life, they are interrelated and intersect often in the course of daily life. For example, for schools to be able to exist they rely on funding from the government. This is an intersection between politics and education. Social institutions affect individual lives through other aspects of society such as culture, socialization, social stratification, and deviance. This paper will focus on the social institution of education, and how it affects individual lives through socialization, deviance, and social stratification.
Education plays a large part in the socialization of children into society. Most American children spend the required 180 days each year in school from the first grade through high school. Most of a child’s day through these years is devoted to activities involving school such as attending classes, doing homework, and participating in extracurricular activities. The school format is designed to teach children to be productive members of society.
Schools bear most of the responsibility of preparing young people for the working environment. Children learn punctuality, time management, and to respect the authority of their teacher which prepares them to respect their boss. The curriculum also plays an important role. A class in civics teaches a child to be a good American, and a class in home economics teaches a child how to operate a household. Most socialization, however, occurs beyond the curriculum. Extra-curricular activities such as student government, being a part of a school newspaper, or being in a business club provide anticipatory socialization for adult jobs. Children spend much time with their peers while at school, and peers are a very important agent of socialization. Adolescents tend to choose friends that are similar to them in race, social class, and interests. Students use their reference group as a way to measure self-worth.
Education and deviance have a close relationship. The education system serves several different purposes in regard to deviance. Foremost, education is a deterrent for deviance. Children learn very early about crime and punishment. They learn it in the curriculum, but they also learn it in a practical way. They are punished for cheating, fighting, and other deviant behaviors. Therefore, the education system plays a vital role in social control by producing compliant citizens that understand what deviance is and how to avoid it. Although education is used as a tool to deter deviance, it can unknowingly perpetuate it as well. We all remember those kids in school who were labeled as stupid or troublemakers. Teachers as well as classmates treat these students differently. Teachers are stricter with troublemakers and assume that if something goes wrong that the troublemaker was the cause of it. If a child is labeled as stupid, a teacher expects less out of that child. The mainstream peer population avoids any peer that is deviant. Thus, these students feel that their only identity is their so-called deviant behavior. It seems to the child that they will never be able to escape this label, so they continue with the behavior that is considered deviant.
Social stratification and education are tightly linked. Many Americans have the ideal that education is a main promoter of social equality. Everyone has the same opportunity to work hard, gain credentials, and become upwardly mobile. However, research has shown that the exact opposite is true. Schools may promote social inequality by limiting the opportunities of women, minorities, and those in the lower classes. This can because of purposeful discrimination, but more often it is because the social institution of education has sexism and racism built into it.
Study after study has shown that students from upper classes consistently do better in school and continue their education, whereas lower classes students do not have the same success. Students from upper class families have high expectations placed on them that they will be successful in school and achieve an occupation of equal or great value than that of their parents. It is expected that they can and will do well, and therefore they do. Students from lower class families do not have high expectations for themselves, and they often only aspire to the occupation level of their parents thus maintaining the status quo.
The credentials of a college degree are also not equal. A student who obtains a degree from a private, elite school will have lifetime earnings increase of over 85%, while a degree from a good private school or better state school increases earnings by 50%, and a degree from any other school provides no advantage. The cost of tuition for the very elite schools is often out of range for all but the most upper class. Lower classes can usually only afford to attend the last category. The lower classes are still denied opportunities to get ahead and the class stratification is continued.
Schools perpetuate gender and race stratification as well. Boys tend to receive more encouragement to take more math and science as well as more advanced courses than girls do. In the professional world, women are shut out of occupations involving higher math and science skills. Minorities also have less opportunity to do well in school. Minorities are more likely to grow up in poverty and live in unhealthy environments. Their parents may lack the skills to help the child with schoolwork. Minorities are concentrated in the inner city where the worst, most impoverished schools are located. Therefore, even if they wish to attend school, they still receive have less access to good teachers and a good learning environment. And perhaps the most detrimental issue that minorities face is that they are often stigmatized as inferior. This causes them to be treated differently and it causes them to have low expectations for themselves, which leads to poor performance.
Education is a vital part of society. It serves the beneficial purpose of educating our children and getting them ready to be productive adults in today’s society. But, the social institution of education is not without its problems. Continual efforts to modify and improve the system need to be made, if we are to reap the highest benefits that education has to offer to our children and our society as a whole.

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