What Can A 16 Year Old Teach Us About Education Today?

If you had the opportunity to meet President Obama and the Queen of England what would you want to discuss? Now imagine, you are 16 years old, what topics would be most important to you at that age? Your school? Your parents? Your favorite celebrities? For one 16 year old today, educational equality, rights for women, and terrorism are the issues she eagerly wants to discuss with heads of state and members of the United Nations. If you have not heard of Malala Yousafzai, her story is sure to inspire.  A year ago, at age 15, Malala was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen simply because she wanted to go to school. Miraculously, she survived and is now bravely speaking out in an effort to improve educational opportunities for children around the world. In this post, Mediha Din describes education from the sociological point of view known as Conflict Theory.

According to Conflict Theory, education is a mechanism that produces and reproduces inequality in society. Malala Yousafzai is passionate about combating this inequality. The recent 20/20 special about her journey describes a young girl growing up in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan. In 2009, the Taliban banned girls in her region from attending school.

Malala began a blog for BBC News in opposition to the order and voiced her desire for education. Soon after, the New York Times created a documentary about her struggle for education, and her name became known.

In 2011, Malala told CNN, “I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk.”

A year later, Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while riding the bus home from school. She amazingly survived and continues to work as an activist for children’s education.

Conflict theory is a perspective in sociology that sees the world as an arena of competition. When analyzing any situation from this point of view, a conflict theorist emphasizes the importance of:

1. Competition: over scarce resources

2. Inequality: conflicts between haves” andhave-nots”

3. Discrimination: different treatment and opportunities for different groups such as rich versus poor, males versus females, employers versus employees.

Malala’s story clearly illustrates a competition over scarce resources. In this case, the precious resource is education. “In some parts of the world, students are going to school every day. It’s their normal life,” Malala told Diane Sawyer in an interview for ABC News. “But in other parts of the world, we are starving for education … it’s like a precious gift. It’s like a diamond.” Today, millions of children around the world reach age 15 unable to read or write. According to data from the Central Intelligence Agency, 774 million people age 15 and older are illiterate, 52% of these people live in South and West Asia, and 22% percent live in sub-Saharan Africa….

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Moochers, Government Handouts, & You

Welfare (i.e. government monies going to the poor) can really make people mad. Critics of welfare say that the poor are dangerous free loaders who are very different from those who do not receive welfare. They’d have us believe that poor folks are parasites that will suck the life out of our society if we let them. In this post Nathan Palmer explains why this criticism is overblown and most likely hypocritical.

Hey, before we start I want to ask you a question. Do you receive any financial aid from the government? Alright, got the answer? Let’s go.

Moochers, free loaders, drains on the system, good for nothings. We have many harsh names for people who receive aid from the government (i.e. welfare). For whatever reason, in the U.S. we shame and stigmatize people who are dependent upon government aid. Today I want to show you who relies on government social programs and ask you to think about why many of us are so critical of welfare recipients.

The Aid Recipients are Parasites Argument

Most of the arguments against welfare suggest that welfare recipients are people of low character, who abuse social systems. In other words, they are people who will suck resources out of the rest of society like a parasite because they don’t know any better or they are lazy or they are otherwise rotten people. For instance, in 2010 Lt. Governor of South Carolina Andre Bauer said,

  • “My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”

If you can believe it, Bauer said this as an argument against giving free and reduced meals to school children. His logic is clear, poor people are intellectually inferior to the people who can afford to pay for their children’s lunches. Poor people are also ravenous consumers of resources who will “breed” and eat through the resources of a community if they aren’t stopped.[1]

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What is College For? The Manifest & Latent Functions of College

What is college for? Getting a job? Finding your soulmate? Developing your professional network? Learning how to party? Well, in this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath answer this question by explaining the difference between manifest and latent functions of college.

As college tuitions continue to increase, students (and their parents) are asking, what is college for? A sociologist might answer that question using the symbolic interactionist, conflict, or functionalist perspective. Let’s explore how a functionalist might answer this question.

Once upon a time, it was thought that a woman who attended college was primarily after her MRS degree and only secondarily, if at all, a college degree. While many people do meet their significant other while attending college, there are many more functions of college besides matchmaking.

Matchmaking would be a latent function of college. A latent function is an outcome that is unintended or not the main point.

In contrast, a manifest function is an intended outcome of a phenomena. Most would agree that manifest functions of college attendance include gaining the necessary skills and knowledge to secure emloyment.

Increasingly, college student and their parents expect a college graduate to be both employable and earning more money than they would without a college degree. On both counts, college graduates do succeed. College graduates have lower unemployment rates and earn higher wages over the course of their lifetime. Some critics go as far to suggest that students should focus on the return on investment they get out of a college degree. Forbes has even created two lists of the colleges with the best and worst return on investment….

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Wanna Buy Some Candy? School Fundraising & Inequality

Dang, what’s a parent to do. Every school year cash strapped school districts (which is basically all of them) ask their students to sell candy, or wrapping paper, or some other trinket to scrounge a few more dollars together to help educate their students. The problem is, poorer school districts tend to have poorer who come from poorer families. So it can be really hard for the students to find anyone to purchase their overpriced wares. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how we can understand these school fundraising woes with the sociological imagination and then explains how a concept called the Matthew Effect works to perpetuate school inequality. 

I have been thrust full-force into the world of fundraising, due to being a parent of a school-aged child. Seriously, at any given moment I can hook you up with wrapping paper or chocolates and sometimes both. Of course, all this selling presents a personal trouble for me. I do a combination of choosing not to sell due to the product or how the funds are going to be used, actively selling, and donating directly instead of selling. When I actively sell, I have to figure out who my potential customers might be.

So who are my customers? Let’s examine the city in which I work. The average household income for this small Midwestern city is $35,194. Broke down further, 57% of households (or 4,425 households) earn less than $40,000 each year, while 6% (or 252.5 households) earn $100,000 or more each year. In other words, most residents simply can not afford to buy my high-priced wrapping paper and chocolates, which is why I also choose not to sell or donate instead of sell. The reality is that I am not the only parent in this predicament, suggesting thatwhat looks like a personal trouble (i.e., lack of rich people in my social network), may in fact be a public issue (i.e., lack of a critical mass of rich households in a community).

In The Sociological Imagination, C. Wright Mills distinguished between troubles and issues when describing the sociological imagination. Mills argued that a person’s biography could not be understood without also understanding the historical moment in which that biography was created. In other words, the historical context matters….

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Princess Scientist

In this post Stephanie Medley-Rath explores how The Big Bang Theory relied on individual choice as the explanation for the lack of women in science instead of focusing on institutionalized sexism among scientists. 

Boy looking into microscope

The Big Bang Theory (BBT) jumped on the princess scientist trend in this week’s episode, “The Contractual Obligation Implementation.” The episode tackled a hot topic: recruiting more girls and women into the STEM fields (i.e., science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields).

The white men of BBT where charged with figuring out how to increase the number of girls and women in STEM fields as part of their committee work at the university. Raj had his own dedicated storyline which involved a socially-awkward date fulfilling the “sexless Asian man” trope. Spoiler alert: Raj does not get a kiss good night.

The white men of BBT brainstormed to come up with brilliant ideas to recruit more women to STEM fields….

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Socialization & The Advantage of Being a 2nd Generation Student

First-generation college students (i.e. students whose parents did not graduate from college) have lower graduation rates than second-generation college students. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains the ways in which having college-educated parents influenced her own college experience and success.

First-generation college students (i.e. students whose parents did not graduate from college) are at higher risk of not completing college compared to students who have parents who completed college. Consider these statistics reported in USA Today:

Nationally, 89% of low-income first-gen[eration college students] leave college within six years without a degree. More than a quarter leave after their first year — four times the dropout rate of higher-income second-generation students.

What is going on here?

First-generation college students face obstacles that non-first-generation college students do not face, while non-first-generation college students typically fail to recognize the advantages they have as college students. I’m a third-generation college graduate. Besides a statistically likely income advantage compared to first-generation college students, I can think of specific examples of how the fact that my parents’ (and my grandma) graduated college helped me succeed in college. They used their experiences to socialize me towards college success.

My parents told stories about college….

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Educational Fee Hikes, Student Protests, and Police Response

It is an interesting time to be a student of higher education, or perhaps an individual wanting to be a student of higher education. Across the world, universities are aligning themselves with conservative political entities as they raise student tuition and cut student support. In this post, David Mayeda reports on a recent student protest in Aotearoa/New Zealand, illustrating how state police continue to act in violent ways when faced with peaceful protests, and asks further, what future lies ahead for those who will not be able to afford a university education.

In Chile, hundreds of thousands of students and concerned citizens have been protesting for nearly a year, upset with the country’s highly privatized education system. As in many other regions, in Chile, if one lives in economic stress, securing a university education is highly unlikely. Likewise, the past few weeks in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, hundreds of thousands of protestors have been speaking out against proposed tuition hikes and newly imposed laws that restrict fundamental freedoms of assembly.

And as covered here in SociologyInFocus last year, University of California students were pepper sprayed by an officer while sitting peacefully in protest of tuition hikes at the system’s Davis campus, while a week before, Berkeley students were struck by police with batons. Below is some of the more benign footage I took on Friday 1 June at a University of Auckland student protest before being told to put away my iPad by police, or be arrested myself. With all these student protests and conflicts with police happening across the globe, what is going on?

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Human Capital & Your “Useless Major”

It’s that time of year. College graduates will don silly looking black robes and square hats, sit through mediocre commencement spearkers, and then be thrust into the world, unemployed and desperate for a break. Some of them will find a good, high paying job easily, and others will struggle mightily. In this piece Nathan Palmer explores the sociological term human capital and answers the question, are there “useless majors”?

very funny graduation a young man

Not all majors are created equal. That is the finding of a study done by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce . The study finds that student who pick a major that has a career attached to it (like accounting and being a CPA) are more likely to get hired after college. The study also finds that graduates who are skilled at making technology as opposed to using technology are more likely to be find a job post graduation. News outlet, TheDailyBeast.com used the data from this Georgetown study to put together a list of 13 “useless majors” that includes everything from fine art to theater to political science. At this point you may be wondering is my major a “useless major”?

Well fear not, sociology is here to answer your question, but before we do, let’s examine your college education through a sociological lens. Why did you go to college? If you took out money to invest in your education, why did you do that? My guess is among your many reasons one of them was, you wanted to get a good job. Someone told you that if you wanted to get a high paying job with benefits, you’d need to go to college.

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