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College education is vital for each student to survive in today's cut throat competition. As the environment changes persistently, the norms, symbols, values, and beliefs change accordingly. This has not been the case with the college education in the United States. Even though the American ideologies perpetuate equality, while, in actuality there is a growing social inequality in America today which relates to the failure of our college-level educational system. This mounting educational failure can be examined by ways in which income inequality diminishes; social mobility increases, and class conflicts should not simmer beneath the surface of equality so that there are equal opportunities for the rich and the poor.
The educational system in the U.S. helps to perpetuate the ideology of the American dream by its outward appearance of equality, while, in actuality, the American educational system reproduces inequality within the larger social structure. The class conflicts existing in the American society serves as the reason of American's broken, locally-funded education system. As the Father of American Education "Horace Mann" idealistically once said that "education is the great equalizer" among people in the United States. Historically, in the United States, public education was not mandatory and universal through primary school until the Common School Movement based on the concept of Horace Mann which made the school open for the rich and the poor (Hunt). Even in the 1930s and 1940s, many children of poor families, including my grandfather, remained monotonous like his ancestors which was to quit school before ninth grade and help the family with the family farm or otherwise earn their keeps. Secondary and higher education were, by and large, the domains of the wealthy.
For African-Americans in the U.S., universal public education has been even more inaccessible because of segregation and ingrained racism. However, over time, the economy changed, child labor laws increased, segregation was declared illegal, and perhaps Americans started to see that it went against the democratic ideals of the U.S. and the cultural myth of the American dream not to have universal secondary education accessible to all (Richardson). Unfortunately, today while our American college educational system may increasingly have the outward appearance of providing opportunity to all, in reality it provides scarce opportunity for any real social mobility for the children of the poor. Indeed, a recent study points out that:
[College students at prestigious colleges today] are richer on average than their predecessors [in the early days of higher education]. Between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s, in a sample of eleven prestigious colleges, the percentage of students from families in the bottom quartile of national family income remained roughly steady- around 10 percent. During the same period the percentage of students from the top quartile rose sharply, from a little more than one third to fully half [. . .] In short, there are very few poor students at America's top colleges, and a large and growing number of rich ones. (Delbanco)
It appears that just as gaps in social inequality in the U.S. have widened, so have the gaps in educational access. This data can be better understood through the lens of class conflicts. The ideology of the American dream states that if you work hard enough, you can rise to become the president or the richest man in the world (like Barack Obama and Bill Gates). Sadly, it is hard for the children of the poor to attain social mobility because they are forced to attend run-down and inadequate colleges. The grand myth in American society is that we are a democratic society when really we are anything but. In reality, class conflict is burning under the surface.
Public schools and colleges are funded by local taxes, so is it any wonder that poorer areas do not have the tax base to adequately fund their local public schools, while rich communities can fund all types of innovative enrichment and technology programs for their students. In this day and age, a college education is increasingly a requirement for entry into most white collar jobs (and even some blue collar jobs). Indeed, in 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau published a report highlighting that "adults age 18 and older with a bachelor's degree earned an average of $51,554 in 2004, while those with a high school diploma earned $28,645" (US Census Press Releases). According to researchers, this earnings difference equates to a million dollars over a person's lifetime (Cheeseman Day, and Newburger). Unfortunately, the entire college admissions process nowadays has became an escalated competition that is skewed largely in favor of the children of the rich (Delbanco).
Firstly, children have to be prepared enough academically to compete in the college application process. Even more importantly, poor children from the inner-city are not able to compete with children from the rich suburbs who attend elite private schools or better-funded public schools, take private instrument lessons, go to expensive summer enrichment camps, take expensive SAT preparation courses, and meet regularly with attentive college counselors. The children of the rich will most likely be admitted into well respected colleges, and many of these children may not have to worry about the costs of their educations. In contrast, the children of the poor perhaps do not have the money nor the leisure time to spend four years or more in college and even longer in graduate school.
While the government does provide financial aid to help the children of the poor attend college, many times this financial aid falls short. Rich parents invest money in their children so that perhaps no one is surprised when the children of the rich become rich adults, and the children of the poor become poor adults. The children of the rich may congratulate themselves, thinking that they are innately more intelligent, more "praiseworthy," more scholastically hard-working than the children of the poor. The children of the rich may judge, look down upon, fear, or, even worse yet, ignore the children of the poor. In fact, the two groups of children may lead their lives in largely different social and geographic worlds. The children of the rich earn more than the children of the poor based on studies because they are schooled in separate zip codes and in very different social setting (Lichter, and Eggebeen ). The only thing that unites them is the American Ideology.
It is not because the poor do not love their children enough that their children by and large fail to attain the American dream. It is because the children of the poor and their parents lack opportunities. In their heart of hearts, perhaps the rich do not really want the poor or the children of the poor to have a plentitude of opportunities because both classes are competing fiercely for the scarce resources of wealth and power. Therefore, the rich make it hard for the children of the poor and their parents to have true opportunities. Only money (or perhaps, in some few instances, scholarships) will buy true opportunities in our capitalistic society. And in the end, the children of the rich will "earn" their college degrees and will become rich (or at least relatively well-off) themselves. Researchers say that the children of the rich will become rich because those with college degrees make, on average, much more money over their lifetimes than those without college degrees (Cheeseman Day, and Newburger).
For as long as the poor believe in the ideology of the American dream, they will not unite in a revolution against the rich - a revolution which Karl Marx believed was the only true way of achieving social equality (Henslin).
Given this brutal reality, sociologist C. Wright Mills said that the children of the poor may come to sense that "their private lives are a series of traps. They sense that within their everyday worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles, and in this feeling, they are often quite correct". It is hard to believe that the poor dispossessed youth feels powerless in front of the children of the rich which perhaps forces them to turn to crime and drugs. Looking through the lens of the sociological imagination, it is evident why the children of the poor are trapped. Sociology, as C. Wright Mills pointed out, can provide us with insight about the roots of poverty, crime, drug use, and other social ills - in this case, the root is the class conflict between the rich and the poor. Confronted with such a harsh statistical reality, it serves as the reason why some poor kids turn to crimes such as stealing or drug trafficking, because they think this is the only way to become wealthy. Morality becomes a slippery slope for the children of the poor, who may sense how an indifferent society already wronged them in their infancies.
Therefore, it is hard to believe that social inequalities are still existent in the college-level educational system because of the increasing income inequalities, less social mobility, and the ever existence of class conflicts which relates to educational failures and the failure of the American ideology in the minds of these individuals. It is evident that the American college-level educational systems appears to promote equality but in actuality promotes inequality within the larger social structure.