American Society has its own set of challenges since the initial days. Historically, what plagued the society was a challenge of race. There were clear challenges that the American society faced that were directly or indirectly attributed to race. The issues of unwed mothers, single parents and lower education were seen to be those affecting and impacting the African-Americans and the Asian-Americans. Over the last decade or so, thanks to the initiatives to even out racial differences – race seems to have taken a back seat and it is the class that seems to have become the new differentiator. Unlike the European class system, which is highly complicated with twelve class divisions in the society, the American class system is very simple and has only three classes namely, the upper-class, the middle-class, and the poor. We frequently get to know about the increasing divide between the rich and the poor in the American society.
American dream as the whole world knows promotes freedom and equality. In the capitalist democracy system college graduates are known to earn more. There seem to be many reasons why there is a growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots. The elite have the power and influence to shape the curriculum in schools. The college admission systems are heavily in favour of the rich. And, finally, there is an element of cultural poverty. There is a class based education system in place.
According to Davis and Moore, the fundamental function of stratification is place and motivate individuals in a society or rather a social structure. It is the responsibility of every society to offer sufficient work for every individual and thereby motivating them to work. Quite a few positions are functionally vital and such may deserve proper training when compared to other positions. Various skilled and trained people are placed in the various positions of the society and the motivation part is associated to some form of rewards thereby concluding that the stratification system is functional for the societal structure. On the contrary, Melvin M. Tumin claims that, a comprehensive theory of social stratification must make out that the existing system of incentives and rewards is not the only variant in the whole range of possible systems of motivation but one among many such options which theoretically are capable of motivating individuals in the social system.
A team of reporters of "The New York Times" spent more than a year investigating and surveying the ways in which class which has been defined as a blend of revenue/earnings, education, assets, and occupation, influences and individual’s destiny in the American society which basically likes to think of itself as a territory of limitless opportunity.
There is a common perception in the minds of most of the American citizens as the people of are not at all burdened by the distinctions in the societal class. World over, it is thought that Americans do not have any hereditary nobility or aristocracy. Also most of the people who live below the poverty line feel that it is not impossible to become rich and gain prosperity in the American Continent if they have sufficient education and hard work. But all said and done, social class still remains to be one of the most important forces that drive the life of every American.
Both Peter Sacks ‘Tearing Down the Gates’ and ‘Class Matters’ published by the New York Times team of editors beautifully describe and report the inequalities that are bent out of shape in the American society and gives an actual portrait of the present day society of the United States of America. The book, of course, presents extremely disturbing truths and realities of the American society in general. This book warns that social barriers in America are high and economic disparity is more distinct than at any time in the recent past. The book also frames this issue by emphasizing or entailing that the disparities amid different societal classes are hardening. Although the term class is widely used, it has always got a firm and clear definition.
However the fundamental premise of these works and many other similar works is to imply that fact that even though the distinctions amid various social classes may seem to be disappearing outwardly, the same class seems to be the most powerful force driving every individual of the American society. Also the concept of social mobility in not so widespread as commonly believed by people in general. This is very evident from the chapter titled "Fifteen Years on the Bottom Rung," which describes about an immigrant mired in an ordinary job. Another chapter titled "No Degree, and No Way Back to the Middle," depicts the story of a laid-off manager whose résumés are sent back due to the lack of a college degree. Reports like these and many other that were stated in the book are by no means unusual.
Much earlier, there have been studies to show how economic affluence is converted to cultural assets in the way of access to museums, travel, networking etc. These enhance the social power of the privileged. The upper-class parents by virtue of their ability to be in school classrooms serve on school boards volunteering etc. Buy the political clout required for lobbying furthering top-end programs for their children.
The schools further classify students into various academic tracks. This further creates another form of social inequality. Such classification only furthers the interests of the advantaged class. In a guise of choice or academic rigor there is a growing sense of entitlement by the privileged class. Public funds tend to get appropriated for the advantage of the privileged class again.
As there is movement from high school to higher education, the tests are only further discriminatory in nature. There is substantial evidence that the education system favours the rich further in terms of giving the financial aid which offers scholarships to attract the so-called right talent into the portals of the colleges.
People usually talk of the rich and poor, of people belonging to the middle class, of workers at various levels of the organizational hierarchy, hitherto endeavors to place most people in an apt class had never been successful. Even today, there exists no clear harmony on the number of classes that exist in the American society, and how each one of them should be defined. Undeniably, attempts at exactitude certainly create problems. “For instance, a 2004 study by the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania defined the middle class as everyone with incomes between $25,000 and $75,000. They make up half of all households, and include all families on both sides of the median family income of approximately $50,000. But has a family making, say $ 28,000 really reached the middle class? One with $95,000 might be called upper middle class; but that would still seem to locate it in the middle. Any attempt to set a floor or ceiling is bound to raise questions like these.”
More and more problems, similar to the ones quoted above as an example are very obvious and clear in this book. The team of reporters who aided in writing this book met a varied set of people situated in different parts of the nation and who were willing to talk frankly about themselves.
Post the Second World War, numerous people of the United States, began migrating suburban areas of the country. The increase in the number of suburbs was a result of several historical forces that include the societal bequest of the Great Depression, mass demobilization after the Second World War as well as the ‘baby boom’ that was an outcome of the war; increased participation of the government in the development of housing, and also a dramatic alteration in the demographics of the nation. The role played by the automobile industry and transit played a very larger role in the suburbanization of the United States. From the 1970s the automotive industry has been dominated by the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, three geographical areas known collectively as the Triad. Since the beginning until 1978, the automotive industry of the United States displayed a stable growth (History.com). In 1978, motor vehicle production reached an all-time high of 12.9 million units, including about 9.2 million cars; since then production has fluctuated.
In addition, race and class related forces started changing; the higher distance between the workplace and home led to the generation of a highway and this in turn resulted in housing boom. Apart from this, the older community institutions started to wane as families turned inward. The migration of more and more families from farms and cities into the suburbs resulted in a major transformation of the American Culture. The Dust Bowl, which was considered to be an ecological disaster that occurred in the Western Great Plain regions of the United States, resulted in The Great Migration of African Americans from the southern part to the northern and western urban places.
In the book “We can’t teach what we don’t know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools” the author Gary Howard concentrates on issues or rather efforts that teachers need to put in, in order for them to handle issues like racism, equity and social justice. The author entwines together his familiarity drawn from over 20 years in the fields of communal integrity and multicultural teaching along with research gained from the literature on communal supremacy, ethnic identity development, and multicultural conversion. The two major themes that have been focused upon in the book were - personal transformation and multicultural education as a course of social change and alteration.
Moreover, According to a recent statistics, the teacher segment is mostly white and on the contrary the student population is becoming more and more diverse by the day. This variation, according to the author, may result in the risk of multiracial students not being able to perform exceptionally. “The author deems that educational societies have not dealt sufficiently with the numerous issues presented by the intricacies of teaching in a multicultural realm (Gary R. Howard, We Can't Teach What We Don't Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools (2nd Ed)).” As the days are passing, the number of racially segregated schools are increasing but not coming down despite the various developments in the economic front. Additional issues with respect to schooling were racism and social injustice clubbed with language issues. Some schools were segregated and also had signs that read whites only.
Oscar Lewis in his article titled ‘Culture of Poverty’, all through the article strives to make ‘poor’ as lawful subjects whose livelihood is altered by poverty. He also goes on to disagree with the fact that even though the troubles of poverty were general and consequently forced upon this particular social class of the society, they resulted in the development of an independent subculture as children were mingled into behaviors and attitudes that enabled their incapability to flee the underclass. Lewis also portrays poor people as aliens belonging to their own nation and slams various institutions of the country that they fail to serve the interests and needs of poor people.
The diversities associated with education, of course, are regarded more critical for accomplishing success in the contemporary era. In this backdrop, diversity has turned out to be a source for all the educational institutions. Diversity, if dealt with appropriately, increases the inclination and capability of both teachers as well as the students alike, towards the contribution of the institution’s success by way of motivating the wards to take complete advantage of their talents, various opinions, skills, as well as practices that have been brought into the education system for the advantage of all the stakeholders of the institution.
People show substantial individual differences in how they respond to the same situation based on personal characteristics. Of course, there is a proposition in psychology, which says that behaviour is a function of the person interacting with his or her environment.
Today, the education systems by default are not designed to cater to different levels of emotional intelligence within a so called homogenous group. Teachers today fail to respect the needs of individual students for various reasons and constraints. It is more a systemic and a process issue rather than a teacher-centric issue.
According to Gareth Davies, no single system, thought or theory of bureaucracy can suffice at the current moment. There is an imminent need to create long-term focus and build institutions rather than pure commercial enterprises. There is a need to create a new order of capital enterprise that is capable of sustaining long-term growth and creating wealth beyond what is currently known and understood.
The ability to influence information has become one of the most crucial elements of success. High levels of intelligence are a growing into a precious raw material. However, irrespective of many decades of fashionable renunciation, the overruling and persistent reality about intellectual ability is that it is bestowed unequally. In the book ‘The Bell Curve,’ author Charles Murray looks for the methods that aspects like low intelligence levels that is free of social, economic, or cultural background, lies at the core of numerous of the social problems that the American society faces.
Murray also argues another distasteful subject that levels of intelligence vary among various ethnic groups. The authors claim that, only by handling these social and other differences can the American society appropriately evaluate the various problems faced by the nation and devise realistic plans to handle those problems. Y, if we accept that there are differences in the levels of intelligence among various ethnic groups, it is important to learn avoiding detrimental expectations about a particular individual from a specific group whose intelligence level fall anywhere below the bell curve.
Besides, the author elucidates that white America has grown increasingly separated along the lines of social class. There is a perceptible moral case the Murray makes here. The lower class is gradually falling into illegitimacy, delinquency, and dearth, while the upper class is outshining in terms of education, career, as well as family.
The major reason behind this is extremely simple, predominantly, a devaluation of the values of white middle class that are essentially a result of the increased governmental intervention. “This interpolation takes the form of welfare support, in which the government gives incentive for people to break apart families and avoid work. Meanwhile, the upper class is left alone to prosper in its highly technical fields.”
Rather than being a great democratic force for correcting the existing economic inequality, colleges and universities of the United States have always played an significant, if unknowing, role in worsening disparity. Irrespective of the belief that education is a prodigious equalizer, the current education system of United States tends to be a pro-cyclical system instead of being a counter-cyclical force for dealing with inequality.
A vast set of institutional rules of the game have been created by the current education system of the United states, which are essentially reinforcing massive amounts of disparities in the opportunities available in the field of education. The truth is that, this vicious cycle is seldom broken.
In conclusion, it can be stated that the current scenario in the American society is apparently encouraging an education system that is increasingly class-bound and in which only a negligible segment of the population can persuasively hope to get their post-graduate degrees. If the scenario continues in the same manner, then the result might be that the United States will turn out to be either a second- tier or possibly a third-tier economic power.
Undeniably, this deterioration has already started. In terms of accomplishments in the field of education, the United States is entering a period of stagnation. This is just one of the numerous educational and economic indicators that reveal the imminent need to shack the last remnants of the old paradigm. It is high time that the American society and the education system in particular, tears down the gates and makes higher education more comprehensive, rather than more high-class and elite.
Finally the cumulative effect of cultural tracking in the K-12 supports parents in their endeavour to get college admissions. It is almost impossible for the underprivileged class who do not have access to good counsellors face artificial restrictions on the talent flow.
There is a serious effort by the educators to fight the class divide by adopting innovate approaches. These approaches are aimed at the economically under-privileged and are even trying to broaden the admission criteria into systems of higher education. Despite these laudable efforts they are dwarfed by rampant capitalism. The elite have almost a stranglehold on the entire system, policies, processes and practices. There is substantiated in the saying that “who gets a college degree by the age of 24 is determined by birth!”
It is very rare that people break through the economic divide and class destiny. It is possible purely based on luck and not any other factor. They get help from people and organizations which they can’t get from their own families – but the moot point to be noted is that they get help nevertheless and it is essential to get the college admission.
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