Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin,
is a great equalizer
of conditions of men--the balance wheel of the social machinery.
--Horace Mann, 1848
Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.
--H.G. Wells (1866-1946)
In large states public education will always be mediocre,
for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is usually bad.
With cognitive labor rapidly supplanting physical labor, the theme of the times seems to be that if Americans are to successfully compete in the new economic world system then the quality and quantity of their education must be increased. Education is seen to be the great panacea by which inequality and poverty can be reduced, a national investment in human capital now that people costs comprise about two-thirds of the cost of any product (see causal models of education's role in status attainment). In addition, education has been viewed as the mechanism by which immigrants are "Americanized"--the very cauldron of the American "melting pot."
But there a number of latent, less idealistic functions of this institution. Mandatory schooling and child labor laws were enacted at the turn of the century not so much for the welfare of the young but for the benefit of other interests: to keep unruly urchins off urban streets and to provide an abeyance mechanism by which cheap young workers could be kept out of the labor market. In the late 1970s, John Meyer and Brian Rowan argued that the primary function of education is to sort people and to certify them in such a way as to reaffirm existent stratification orders. Schools are judged by the appropriateness of their structures and not by the knowledge product imparted, hence we measure "education" by counting the number of graduates, courses in the curriculum, and programs for special students (have you ever noticed the absence of studies correlating students' final high school standings with their adulthood outcomes, like income, job satisfaction, and number of divorces?)
Further, with the proliferation of McJobs in the service sector wherein work is "dumbed down," with the increasing numbers of over-educated and underemployed individuals in the labor force, and with Bureau of Labor Statistics projections of nursing aides and janitors being among the fastest growing occupations, doubts have been raised about education's true functions. And then there are the reportings of the General Accounting Office showing that it's tens of thousands of dollars cheaper for the government to send youngsters to the Ivy League than to imprison them!
So what is the educational payoff? Click here to see real hourly wages by education, using CPS education definitions 1992-96.
AVERAGE COMBINED VERBAL & MATH SAT SCORES
Source: The College Board
|FAMILY INCOME||MEAN SCORES|
Since the nation's founding, education has been the primary
mechanism by which immigrants became Americanized. And probably in no
state nowadays does this melting pot institution face greater assimilative
challenge than in the state of California. Here are some
statistics for that state:
According to a study released in 1994 by the National Education Commission on Time and Learning, most American students spend only 41 percent of their school days on academic subjects. During their four years in high school, American students were found to spend about 1,460 hours studying subjects like math, science and history, compared to Japanese, French and German students who spend 3,170, 3,280 and 3,528 hours, respectively.
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