Education is the social institution responsible for the systematic transmission of knowledge, skills, and
cultural values within a formally organized structure. It is an extension of the socialization process that
begins in the family.
• The experience and success of students in the educational institution is socially structured. One’s
social class, race, and sex play an important part in determining access to specific schools as well as
which fields are the most “appropriate” to study.
• A Nation at Risk - A 1983 governmental commission (the National Commission on Excellence in
Education) issued a very scathing report of what students are learning and are not learning after their
• 40% of those screened could not draw inferences from written materials
• 33% of those screened could not complete multi-step mathematical problems
• Other Insights
-lack of understanding of and interest in the importance of education
-apathetic attitudes toward classes, course materials, doing assignments, and attendance
-belief that good grades need not be “earned,” but rather just rewarded (as if students had a right to
- Following the commission’s report, many state and local school districts initiated reforms; despite
some progress, recent repots suggest that many problems remain:
• The U.S. devotes the shortest amount to time to teaching its children of any advanced nation. A 1999
study revealed that U.S. high school students score considerably below international averages in both
mathematics and science.
• In 1998, average SAT verbal scores were 27 points lower than they were in 1970
• Nearly half of all college students in 1999 needed to take at least one remedial course.
• A 1999 report said little change occurred in students’ reading performance between 1971 and 1996;
one-fourth of eighth graders and twelfth graders score below average.
• A 1999 report reveled that one-third of fourth-grade students perform below grade level, although
that is an improvement from one-half in 1990.
• One in four U.S. adults is functionally illiterate -- unable to read and/or write at the skill level necessary
for carrying out everyday tasks.
Problems in Schools
• School Discipline – many believe that schools need to teach discipline because it is not addressed
within the home setting • Violence in Schools – students and teachers are assaulted, weapons are brought to school, and various
social problems spill into schools
• The Silent Classroom – it is the norm to be quiet during class; only a handful of students speak
• Apathy – students frequently do not involve themselves in the learning process
Characteristics of Education in the U.S.
1) Education as a Conserving Force
- The formal system of education in the U.S. (and in all societies) is conservative because the avowed
function of the schools is to teach newcomers the attitudes, values, roles, specialties, information, and
training necessary for the maintenance of society. The special task of education is to preserve the
culture—not to transform it. There is always an explicit or implicit assumption in U.S. schools that the
American way is the only really right way.
2) “Sifting” and “Sorting” Function of Schools