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The Sociological Imagination


In understanding the differences in educational attainment across races and ethnic groups, it is important to understand the natural/popular understanding of race and ethnic groups. Race is a social construction, interpreted in a distinct manner whose results are taken as obvious or natural. This creates a framework which extends to all aspects and activities of individuals in that society/race such as education. On the other hand, race gives rise to the notion ethnicity or ethnic groups. Ethnicity has to do with how individuals self identify themselves and others as belonging to a particular group upon which collective cultural orientations and behavior develops (Henslin and James).

Ethic/ Racial Inequality

Wright Mills proposition emanates from his understanding that failure to interrogate public issues in the context of private values or failure to appreciate that societies are formed in the continuum of individual lives leads to lack of understanding the intricate relations between the society and the individual. This gap leads to lack of understanding of both. In education, evidence shows that blacks and whites have a huge disparity in high school completion and college degree attainment.

The current situation therefore indicates a merger of inequality and the conflict theory; in this context, education has maintained the status quo by keeping the minorities in low achievement profiles. The demands of the current education system can only be met satisfactorily by members of the native dominant culture within which education is offered; this is because the conditions of life of middle and low class of others cultures in the UK and US have to fulfill others social calls. Thus, as the conflict theory stipulates, the system rewards natives and dominant cultures through more high school education attainment and more college degrees.

In the 80’s United Kingdom faced polarization under two opposed educational movements of antiracism and multiculturalism. Their response to this problem can explain the difference in educational attainment across races in the context of policies that carried the day in an attempt to solve racial issues. Multiculturalism worked under the concept of creating tolerance for the black minority in a predominantly white culture. It viewed intolerance as stemming from prejudice and an aspect of attitude. Thus, teaching people of different cultures would dispel ignorance. This failed to follow Wright’s proposition and has not solved the situation completely. The supporters of this movement failed to understand that some cultural attitudes are not acquired rationally by choice. It did not invest time in understanding the components of the society and the individual, breaking the racist tendencies embedded in institutions, but only confronted human/personal racial tendencies through information (Henslin and James).

Sociological theories

Sociologists have applied diverse theories in their attempt to explain the difference in educational achievement most popular one being the IQ theories. Due to the apparent shortcomings of the theories, they have turned to theories that focus on the student’s material advantage/disadvantage; cultural attitudes; and organizational processes within schools of different races. One such theory is the functionalism theory that views education as a social institution with social roles. Traditionally (and until today in some cultures) schools use to teach the dominant culture; this may explain the poor performance of immigrants due to discomfort and feelings of out of place.

Consequently, education in its manifest function, attempt to teach socialization skills while in its latent functions, education achieves goals such as dating which ultimately come to face with the cultural/racial question. However, the failure of addressing these conflicting cultures creates disfavor to some races that are not from the dominant culture. This could explain why figures indicate that non-natives attain fewer college degrees compared to natives. This could be because of discomfort in high school level which lowers their desire to proceed to higher learning. Cultural ability is rewarded instead of exploiting and rewarding natural abilities. The symbolic interactionism theory is also an explanation of the evident disparity in performance. Students from different cultures/races are labeled educationally (with obvious influence of social cultural views) as disadvantaged/low achievers and with lower intelligent levels compared to their native counterparts. This places them in a self-fulfilling position (Henslin and James).

Social Institution: Family

Sociologists have made consideration on the role that family plays in educational achievement across races. Studies are particularly more regarding minority groups such as Afro-Caribbean parents; studies indicate that their predisposition to single parenthood gives the parents (mothers) a lot of drive in encouraging their children to take education seriously. This might explain the relatively high achievement of Bangladesh, Indian and Pakistani children’s high attainment. On the other hand, the relatively low performance of White children could be due to their comfort and liberal parenting. This reduces the parental hold and influence on a child. These studies indicate that the family unit plays a big role in educational attainment of children. However, it is important to understand that inconsistency in results may arise due to other factors such as material wellbeing, which might undermine educational attainment despite parental/family seriousness. For instance, Afro-Caribbean students might have fewer college degrees than Whites due to poor education structures and fewer universities (Henslin and James).

Thus, parental/family involvement in a child’s education determines their notion of education and their determination/resilience. Afro-Caribbean children attain degrees and score highly in high school since their parents are persistent in seeing them through. It should also be noted that family factor in education attainment also occurs in other complimentary forms. Ethnic minorities in the UK are more likely to take a personal interest in their children’s education compared to the native majority. This is through aspects such as weekend visits and homework assistance among others. As such, cultures which merge social life and individual needs in education, achieve more success. Unfortunately, the difference in cultural views account for the differences in college degrees and high school completion.


This study concludes that indeed ethnic/racial differences impact on educational achievement. However, it also adds that while culture affects the primary resources available towards educational pursuance, the core choices regarding education are rational and not imposed. For instance, it is a choice to take art or science subjects which may differ relatively in employability, pay and prestige. Studies indicate that ethnic minority students prefer arts to sciences. Therefore, students and societies have choices as well despite their situations. Additionally, since it is not possible to have equality of conditions across cultures, government policies have a duty to ensure equality of opportunities hence equality of outcomes (Henslin and James).

Finally, in pursuance of Mills contention, no aspect; inequality, race, social system or theory can conclusively explain the disparity. This is because educational achievement is an outcome of an interaction of factors, and the only chance is to study the human and the society/culture/race and make deductions. For instance, some disparity between different races immigrants performance can only be understood in the context of how the immigrant’s cultures interacted with the natives, their conditions of reception among other subjective issues.

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