Tag Archives: education

What Names are Normal? Shifting the Center of the World

1Sociologists observe that cultures are centered around some people and  not others such that members of some groups just seem like people and others are perceived as deviations from that presumed norm.

Names are part of how we divide the world into the normals and the deviants.  Illustrating this, the sketch comedy duo Key and Peele are super creative in this 3 minute skit.  They reverse the white-teacher-goes-into-the-inner-city trope and put a non-white teacher into a suburban school.  As he calls roll, the skit center HIS reality instead of that of the white, middle class kids.  He pronounces their names like stereotypically black names, confusing the heck out of the kids, and never considering the possibility that the names he’s familiar with isn’t how all names really are.

It’s not a safe skit — it potentially reinforces the conflation of non-white and urban and the stereotypes of inner city students and the names low-income black parents give their kids — but it does a great job of playing with what life might be like if we shifted the center of the world.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

U.S. Rare in Spending More Money on the Education of Rich Children

“The United States is one of few advanced nations where schools serving better-off children usually have more educational resources than those serving poor students,” writes Eduardo Porter for the New York Times.  This is because a large percentage of funding for public education comes not from the federal government, but from the property taxes collected in each school district.  Rich kids, then, get more lavish educations.

This means differences in how much we spend per student both across and within states.  New York, for example, spends about $19,000 per student.  In Tennessee they spend $8,200 and in Utah $5,321.  Money within New York, is also unequally distributed: $25,505 was spent per student in the richest neighborhoods, compared to $12,861 in the poorest.

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This makes us one of the three countries in the OECD — with Israel and Turkey — in which the student/teacher ratio is less favorable in poor neighborhoods compared to rich ones.  The other 31 nations in the survey invest equally in each student or disproportionately in poor students.  This is not meritocracy and it is certainly not equal opportunity.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

48% of U.S. Schoolchildren Live in Poverty

A new study has discovered that 48% of the nation’s 50 million public school students are in poverty, as measured by whether they qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches.  In 17 states, the majority of schoolchildren are poor.  Poverty rates are led by Mississippi, where 71% of children are in poverty.

These data represent a startling rise since 2000:

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While the statistics are the worst for states in the South and the West, the percent increase in poor children was the highest in the Midwest (up 40% since 2001, compared to 33% in the South, 31% in the West, and 21% in the Northeast).  All, of course, extraordinary increases.

h/t @Miel_Machetes.  Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

College Photoshops Black Man’s Head into Marketing Material… Again

UPDATE: I may have been wrong about this one and, if so, I apologize.  The Univ. of Alabama has released a statement saying that the image is not photoshopped, including a quote from the student saying “It’s kind of funny, but people are blowing it out of proportion a little bit.”  If anyone has further information on this story, please email it to socimages@thesocietypages.org.

In 2000, the University of Wisconsin – Madison was sued by a man named Diallo Shabazz.  Because the college wanted to present itself as a diverse place, Shabazz, a black man, had been featured in university marketing materials for several years.  That year, however, his face was photoshopped into a picture of a crowd at a football game.   He complained, but was blown off.  He’d had enough.  In his lawsuit, he asked not for a settlement, but for a “budgetary apology”: money dedicated to increasing the actual diversity of the campus.

Today @EricTTung sent us another example of this kind of doctored diversity, currently the first slide on the homepage of the University of Alabama.  Do you see it?

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How about now?

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Note the skin color of the African American man’s hands.

As I’d written in the post about Shabazz, this teaches us both that colleges believe that diversity is a useful commodity with which to market their institutions and that, “if real diversity isn’t possible, cosmetic diversity will do.”

Recruitment of minorities to a mostly white campus: tricky.  Addressing the systematic educational underinvestment in minorities prior to arriving: expensive.  Retaining minorities in that environment: challenging.  Photoshop: easy.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Economic Mobility and Education in the U.S. Today

The phrase “economic mobility” refers to the likelihood that a child will end up in the same or a different economic strata than their parent.  Education is usually cited as a key to improving economic well-being intergenerationally. Conversely, but often unstated, is the idea that if a child of college graduates doesn’t attend college, than they should perhaps do worse than their parents.

What does the data say?

The figure below is from the Pew Economic Mobility Project.  Along the horizontal axis is the parent’s household income quintile: economic strata broken up into fifths from the lowest (left) to highest (right).  The bars represent the adult child’s income for those who didn’t graduate from college (red) and those that did (blue).

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Often we focus on the left side.  Does attending college help poor and working class Americans?  The answer is yes. Only 10% of children born into the bottom 20% of household incomes will grow up and stay in the bottom 20%, compared to almost half of people who don’t go to college.    It’s similar, if less stark, for those in the 2nd to bottom quintile.

But what about the rich kids?  I want to look at the right side.  Notice that a quarter of kids born into the top quintile stay there even if they don’t get a college degree.  Half of non-degree earning children will stay in the top 40% of income earners.

Among the richest kids who do go to college, about 50% will remain in the top quintile.  There are lots of reasons for this, but one is paternal connections.  One study found that a whopping 70% of sons of the 1% had worked for the same employer as their father.  I wonder how high that number would be if we added daddy’s friends?

In sum, it’s hard to go up from down below, but it’s also relatively easy to stay sitting pretty if you’re already way up there.

Via Matthew O’Brien at The Atlantic. Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Race and Beliefs about the Ongoing Fight for Civil Rights

Last week sociologist Philip Cohen, who blogs at Family Inequality, attended the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.  He noted that the crowd was primarily Black; you can see participants in his photoset here.  Are White people unenthusiastic about Civil Rights?  Perhaps.  There is evidence, in any case, that they are less likely than Black Americans to think that ongoing activism is necessary.  Cohen offers the results of a series of polls.

Pew Research Data published in the Los Angeles Times reveals that Black people are less likely than White people to think we’ve made  a lot of progress in the last 50 years.  They are also substantially more likely to believe that Blacks are treated less fairly than Whites in a wide range of circumstances:

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Gallup poll confirms that Black Americans are less likely than Whites to feel that race-related rights are “greatly improved.”  It also reveals that they are more than twice as likely to endorse new civil rights laws and government intervention to assure non-discrimination.

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Finally, the General Social Survey asks whether the fact that Blacks are worse off than Whites is due to mainly to discrimination or because of some other cause.  More than half of Blacks and a third of Whites say “yes, it’s discrimination.”

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These data reveal that plenty of White Americans are concerned with racial equality, believe we have a long way to go, and support working to improve the treatment of Black Americans. There are also plenty of Black Americans that think things aren’t so bad. Nonetheless, there is a significant and persistent racial gap between the two groups.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Advice for New College Students from Two Sociologists

Screenshot_22Congratulations to everyone starting college this semester!  College can be a bewildering new challenge, but a bit of advice can go a long way.  Below are some of the secrets of college success from us: two sociologists — one teaching at an open-access four-year school and one teaching from a private liberal arts school — with over 15 years of college teaching combined.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to get straight As from the get-go.

College is a unique institution with its own rules and skills.  You will not simply get an A because you are smart.  Getting an A in a course is a combination of effort, prior knowledge, and experience, so being smart at college means learning a specific skill set.  If you are in your first year, you may find that you must work harder to get the same grade as a senior who has much more experience at excelling in college classrooms and, thus, knows better how to do it.  Be patient with yourself.  Acknowledge that there will be a learning curve and give yourself some time to climb it. In the meantime, look forward to when you will be the one who knows exactly what to do.

Sometimes studying hurts and that’s a good thing.

 The mind is like a muscle.  If you use it, it becomes stronger.  You can improve your emotional intelligence, your reasoning skills, your mathematical ability, how quickly and effectively you absorb new information, and more.  But it isn’t necessarily fun.  Like working out your body, working out your mind can be uncomfortable, even painful.  You’re not really challenging and improving your mind until it hurts a little.  So you may find that learning can sometimes feel kind of like suffering.  This is normal.  It doesn’t mean that you’re not smart, it means that you’re getting even smarter.

Memorize the phrase “pluralistic ignorance.”

Research shows that most college students misperceive their peers’ behaviors and attitudes. They think drug and alcohol use is higher than it is and that their peers are less concerned about it than they are. They also tend to think that everyone else might be having more fun. We suspect this is even worse now that everyone stalks each other on social networks.  Keep in mind the possibility that studying a lot, having other responsibilities, and not partying all the time is normal.  Because it is.

 If you don’t like the parties, there may be something you can do.

Some schools have a much more dominant party culture than others. If you start to feel like your campus isn’t a good fit for you, there may be solutions—different dorms can have dramatically different atmospheres, for instance. A simple move across campus might help you find a community that you’re more comfortable in. But sometimes transferring to a school that isn’t dominated by a distracting status-based party culture — even if it’s a less prestigious school — can be a more successful route.

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Collect as many mentors as you can.

Often new students will be assigned an advisor when they arrive on campus.  That’s great. Definitely go talk to them. But don’t think that you only get to have one.  Collect lots.  Turn to older students, professors you like, counselors and coaches, and members of the staff or administration.  Build a range of relationships with people who understand this college thing pretty well and lean on them all.  You will be glad to have their advice and, later, they’ll all be lining up to write you letters of recommendation for jobs and graduate programs.

On tests, change your answers if you second-guess yourself.

Somewhere along the line, you’ve probably heard the standard advice for taking multiple-choice or true/false tests: stick with your first answer. Instructors often reinforce this adage before each exam, and students encounter it everywhere from SAT prep books to the study skills lecture in their Intro to College course. Just one problem: decades of research show it isn’t true. There’s overwhelming evidence that when students change their answers, they do better on the test. In one study of 1,561 students, 51% of the changes were from wrong answers to right ones; only 25% were from right to wrong ones (the others were from one wrong answer to another wrong one).

So why are we still so convinced we should stick with our first answer? Because we feel more regret when a bad outcome is due to an action we took than when it’s due to our inaction, and that regret makes us more likely to remember it. You shouldn’t change answers just for the sake of it, of course, but if you’re taking an exam and begin to doubt an answer, don’t be afraid to change it. You’ll be wrong sometimes, but mounds of data strongly suggest you’ll be right quite a bit more often—even though it might not feel that way.

Think hard about whether online classes are the best choice for you.

Online classes—and even entirely online degrees—are increasingly common at most campuses. They offer flexibility that can help you fit classes in around work, family life, or conflicting class schedules. But before you sign up, think honestly about your strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself:

  • Can you keep yourself on schedule without in-person classes where instructors or other students might remind you of upcoming due dates?
  • Do you learn well independently?
  • Do you have reliable access to a decent computer and fast internet connection?
  • Do you struggle with the topic, making it likely that you might need at least some one-on-one help?

It’s not that face-to-face classes are always or inherently better than online courses. But the flexibility that online courses offer may make them particularly tempting, even when they’re unlikely to be your best choice for success. Online classes aren’t always the smartest way to go, even if they’re convenient.

When picking a major, get the facts.

Research shows that many students choose a major somewhat randomly.  In the process of fulfilling their required range of classes, they encounter a particularly inspiring or effective instructor in an intro-level course and the rest is history.

Inspiration can help narrow down your choices, but most students have to be at least a little bit practical, too. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Does the major have a rigid set of pre-reqs you have to take in order, and if so, when do you need to start taking them?  Are you “on track?”  If not, can you afford to stay in school longer to pursue a major you’re really passionate about?
  • Are lengthy unpaid internships usually required after graduation? If they are, can you or your parents afford to support you while you work for free to build up a resume?
  • Will you need to go to grad school to have many job options in the field and, if you will, are there good graduate programs in your area or will you need to move?  Can you do so if needed?
  • What’s your starting salary likely to be, and if you’re taking out student loans, how much of your likely income would go to paying them each month?

Don’t get us wrong—being passionate about a topic or discovering you have a particular knack for a field should be important factors as you pick a major! But it’s a good idea to turn to older students, professors, and advisers with these questions so that you know what you’re getting into. Whatever you decide, you’ll likely be more satisfied long-term if you go into it with a clear understanding of the implications of your decision.

Finally, take the time to make true friends.

Not Facebook friends, but real, solid, good, we-can-count-on-each-other besties. We know, we know.  College is supposedly about freedom and parties and drinking and hooking up!  There’s plenty of time for that.  Also make friends a big priority.  There’s a very strong correlation between happiness and being surrounded by friends you can really talk to.  In fact, both psychological and physical well-being are more strongly related to friendship than they are to romance.  So, hook up and form relationships if you want, but don’t prioritize sex and romance over friendship.  The latter is equally important to a happy, fulfilling life.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.  Gwen Sharp is a professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter.

Race and the Life Expectancy of People with Down Syndrome

This post originally appeared in 2010.

Most of us familiar with Down‘s Syndrome know that it brings characteristic facial features and delayed or impaired cognitive development. People with Down, however, are also more vulnerable than the general population to diabetes, leukemia, and infectious and autoimmune disease, and about 40% are born with heart defects.

For most of history, then, the life expectancy of people with Down was very low.  But, with advances in knowledge and access to health care, life expectancy has risen dramatically… especially for white people:

The Centers for Disease Control explain that severity of Down does not vary by race, so most likely the cause of the gap in life expectancy is differences in the quantity and quality of health care.

Possibilities include differences in factors that may be associated with improved health in the general population such as socioeconomic status, education, community support, medical or surgical treatment of serious complications, or access to, use of, or quality of preventative health care.

This is just one striking example of the wide racial gap in health outcomes and access to care.  We see data with similar patterns most everywhere we look.  As examples, pre-term birthscancer diagnosis and treatment, and likelihood of living near a toxic release facility.

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, via Family Inequality.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.