The purpose of this article is to outline some of the historical context of the sociology of education with a focus on Schooling in Capitalist America, a text with a Marxist approach. The article starts with the historical context of Schooling, which was published at a time of great change for the American education system. At the time, there was a view that education was necessary to continue the move from industry to technical knowledge, or a knowledge economy.
The central idea at the time was that education was an investment in the future of young people, rather than being something that was a burden on the state. Despite this, the 1960s saw a change in attitudes when these liberal ideas and policies were not living up to the promises that they made. There was a growing concern about racism and poverty influencing education from a sociological perspective.
Schooling was a response to this. There was a focus on functionalism in sociology, including the sociology of education. The text focused on conflict theory, which was a Marxist idea but one that deliberately attacked functionalism and its issues. They managed to identify three major issues in liberal approaches to education reform. The first was that education was not actually a way for people to move up the social ladder – although education levels have increased over time, the gaps between social classes have not closed. Attainment after education is still largely due to where and how you grew up. They also note that educational reforms were originally designed to be a great equalizer, but there are still major gaps that are nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with non-cognitive or social factors. The final argument is that individual development in the education system has failed, and that schools are still largely representative of the capitalist economy.
The article also notes that Schooling has been criticized for not giving enough examples of how to promote change in education, but that this is not actually the case. The text states that there needs to be a resolution to the problem of capital accumulation, with the argument being made that the issues in mass education stems from a discord between the needs of the individual and the needs of the state. Additionally, the article notes that Schooling is an optimistic text that suggests that change is possible and that the authors can present a contrast between the influence of capitalism. The message of Schooling is that changes to education will be a struggle but one that will be ultimately beneficial in terms of both education and society.
A final criticism of Schooling is that there is no clear identification of what schools and the education system do to perpetrate capitalist ideals, which again makes it difficult to extrapolate potential areas of change. The authors put an emphasis of schools being a tool for capitalism and a representation of inequalities in society but do not address the idea that schools can exist independently of class structures. It was also noted that religion was not even mentioned in the text. The article then goes on to discuss some of the modern shifts in thinking about Schooling, particularly in terms of the recent shift from the class-based ideas in that text to the focus on identity politics that we see today. The article suggests that, whilst Schooling is still an important text in the sociology of education, it has dated in some areas and shows how there has been a shift towards individual achievements in the classroom.