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Sociology Education Essay Titles

This article presents an overview of the sociology of education. Unlike many academic disciplines, the sociology of education is a relatively new field of study. Despite its short history, however, it is a rich and diverse field. Educational sociologists study a variety of topics, using a variety of theoretical approaches and methodologies. Unlike educational psychologists who study the relationship between learning and an individual student's mental processes (e.g. memory, attention, and perception), educational sociologists are interested in the relationship between learning and variables outside the individual's control - such as family background, race, access to resources, and social class. They also study education as a social institution, and its relationship to other institutions and society in general. The following will highlight some of the theoretical, methodological, and topical contributions of the field.

Keywords Conflict Theory; Durkheim, Emile; Interaction Theory; Positivism; Postmodernism; Sociology; Structural-Functionalism; Qualitative Methodologies

Overview

Unlike many academic disciplines, the sociology of education is a relatively new field of study. Although it is an outgrowth of sociology, whose origins date to the turn of the 20th century, sociologists didn't begin systematically studying educational institutions until the 1950s. Prior to that time, sociological studies in education were few in number, were largely based on anecdotal evidence and value judgments, and avoided the more controversial aspects of teaching and learning (Ballantine, 1997; Boocock, 1985).

In general, sociology is the study of people in groups, or more specifically, the study of human societies and social interaction. Sociologists sometimes describe their field as the study of social structures and institutions, and the processes that bring the structures and institutions alive (Ballantine, 1997). Education and schools are but one institution of society; others include family, religion, politics, economics, and health. The sociology of education should also be distinguished from the psychology of education, which focuses on the mental processes - such as memory, perception, and cognitive stages of development - that affect learning. Whereas psychologists study achievement in relation to the individual, sociologists study achievement in relation to the larger social environment.

Even though the sociology of education emerged more recently than some academic disciplines, it has grown exponentially in the last several decades. As a field, the diversity of theoretical perspectives, levels of analyses, and questions asked make it impossible to define singularly. As one sociologist explains, "any attempt to encompass or sum up the sociology of education within a single framework is fraught with difficulties. Indeed, there is no single, unified or stable discipline or intellectual project to which we can refer" (Ball, 2004, p. 1). Nevertheless, the following will attempt to summarize the discipline by outlining its theoretical and methodological history, and by taking a brief look at some of its core topics of study.

Applications: Theoretical

Structural - Functionalism

As a theoretical perspective, structural-functionalism is known by many different names which include functionalism, consensus theory, and equilibrium theory (Ballantine, 1997). Functionalists approach the sociology of education from a macro level, arguing that society and its institutions are made up of interdependent parts, all of which function together to create a whole. They often use the body as a metaphor, suggesting that schools contribute to the healthy functioning of society in much the same way as the heart, for example, contributes to the healthy functioning of the body.

Emile Durkheim, a professor of pedagogy in early 20th century France, was not only one of the earliest proponents of functionalism, he is also considered the "father of sociology," and one of the first to study education from a sociological perspective. Durkheim studied many aspects of society - including but not limited to religion, crime, and suicide - but his contributions to the sociology of teaching and learning are documented in his works Moral Education, The Evolution of Educational Thought, and Education and Sociology.

One of the questions Durkheim spent much of his lifetime studying was the way in which societies maintain and reproduce themselves. As a functionalist, he believed schools served a critical role in perpetuating a society. He wrote, "Education is the influence exercised by adult generations on those that are not yet ready for social life. Its object is to arouse and to develop in the child a certain number of physical, intellectual and moral states which are demanded of him by…the political society" (as quoted in Ballantine, 1997, p. 7). He also recognized that schools would differ across time and place, in relation to the larger society in which they were embedded.

Critics of Durkheim and of functionalists more generally, argue that functionalism fails to take into account conflict and instability. It may explain how some societies maintain the status quo, but it doesn't adequately represent reality to the extent that groups of people often have different agendas and goals, and subscribe to different ideologies. Ballantine (1997) suggests "that the dominant theoretical approach of structural-functionalism has not been capable of moving the field ahead because of its status quo orientation in a society faced with constant change" (p. 8).

Michael Apple (2013), on the other hand, wrote that “one of the things that sets [educational sociologist] Stephen Ball apart from many others is his insistence that both structural and poststructural theories and analyses are necessary for ‘bearing witness’ and for an adequate critical understanding of educational realities” (Apple, 2013). Apple then demonstrates how Ball “creatively employs both sets of traditions.”

Conflict Theory

As its name suggests, conflict theory assumes a much less stable view of society than structural-functionalism. Based largely on the writings of Karl Marx and Max Weber, conflict theorists suggest that a society is largely defined by two groups - those who have a larger share of the resources, often referred to as 'the haves,' and those who have few resources, often referred to as the 'have nots.' Societies are generally unstable because the 'have nots' compete with the 'haves' to gain more resources; change is inevitable and happens quickly.

One of the predominant issues studied by present-day conflict theorists is class structure, and the role education plays in its perpetuation. Schools are often thought to be vehicles for upward social mobility, but according to conflict theorists, "education in fact serves to reproduce inequalities based on power, income, and social status" (Ballantine, 1997, p. 64). Bowles and Gintis (1976), and more recently Apple (1993) and Giroux (1994), suggest that capitalists control access to educational resources, thereby reproducing existing class structures. But conflict theorists recognize the possibility of change, and the individual's ability to fight the system. Willis' (1979) classic study of working-class boys in England was one of the first to document the ways in which students resist the dominant power structure.

Interaction Theories

While stucturalists and conflict theorists understand society and education very differently, both have been criticized for ignoring what happens in schools on a micro-level - in terms of the person-to-person interactions between students and teachers, for example, and in terms of what (content) is taught and how (method) it is taught. As a result, interaction theorists have adopted a more social-psychological approach to education, studying individuals in interaction with one another, recognizing that they bring shared norms to the interaction, as well as individual differences based on social class, race, gender, and experience.

Some of the questions that interactionists have introduced to the field include the impact of teacher expectations on student achievement, the relationship of socio-economic status to achievement, and the way in which a student's understanding and experience of education is a function of her cultural and ethnic background.

Labeling Theory - the idea that labels can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies, as when a teacher calls a student dumb and he acts in such a way as to confirm the label - and Exchange Theory - the notion that there are rewards and costs in every interaction - are two offshoots of interaction theories (Ballantine, 1997).

Standpoint Theories

Before discussing the theoretical approach of what are sometimes called 'standpoint theories' (Ball, 2004), it is important to make a note about methodology. Although methodology and theory are not necessarily determined by one another, Ball (2004) shows how shifts in the way education is studied (method) can lead to shifts in theory and content as well. While positivism - the notion that the social sciences can be studied in much the same way as the natural sciences, using empirical, objectivity-seeking, quantitative analysis - brought legitimacy to the developing field of sociology of education in the 1950s, it was the rejection of positivism in the 1970s and 80s that opened to the door to...

The AS and A Level Exams 

There are two 90 minute papers at the end of the AS year, and three two hour papers at the end of the A Level Year. Remember that if you do the AS qualification, your grades don’t count towards the A level, you are reassessed in a slightly different format on all of the first year material, along with all of the second year material as part of the A level exams at the end of the two years of study. 

Exam Papers for AS and A Level Sociology – this link just takes you to the AQA web site’s assessment page – you should definitely check out the exam papers, and practice them!

AQA A Level Sociology – The Three Exam Papers

AQA Paper 1 – Education with Theory and Methods – hints and tips for answering the six questions on this 2 hour exam paper. 

AQA Paper 2 – Topics in Sociology – hints and tips for answering the 6 (optional) questions on this two hour exam paper 

How I would’ve answered the families and households section of A level sociology paper 2 (AQA, 2017)

AQA Paper 3 – Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods –

You might find my cheesy exam guide for the AS sociology exam useful….

 

Assessment Objectives in AS and A Level Sociology – It’s useful to know how the marks are distributed in the exam – there are complex question by question breakdowns on the specification, but to simplify it – Knowledge and Understanding (of concepts, theories, research) is worth about 50% of the marks in the exam, the other 50% are for Application, Analysis and Evaluation. 

Essays and Essay Plans

This will gradually be populated with more and more essays, please check back for more!

Assess the Marxist View of the Role of Education in Society (20)

Evaluate the view that differences in educational achievement between social groups are the result of factors and processes within schools (30)

Assess the extent to which it is home based factors, rather than in-school factors which explain social class differences in educational achievement (20)

Research Methods in Context – essay template (20)

Assess the Strengths of Using Participant Observation in Social Research (16)

Evaluate the view that the main aim of the family is to meet the needs of capitalism (20)

Assess the reasons for the long term increase in the divorce rate (20)

Evaluate the Contribution of Consensus Theory to Our Understanding of Crime and Deviance (30)

Assess sociological perspectives on prison as a form of punishment (30)

Extended Paragraphs 

An essay typically consists of a number of paragraphs, and the general paragraph structure in a sociology essay is to make a point, explain it, expand on it, and then analyse/ evaluate it. The points you make will obviously depend on the question you’re being asked, and you’re generally looking to make from 3-5 points in each essay. At least one of these, ideally two should go into some depth, and the paragraphs below have been written to show you how deep you could go into analysing and evaluating just one point within an essay. 

An Evaluation of Zero Tolerance Policing – This is an overkill paragraph demonstrating different aspects of ZTP with 6 evaluation points. You might discuss ZTP in response to a question about Realism in general, right realism specifically, policies of crime control, or the role of the police in reducing crime.

 10 Mark Questions 

Outline and explain two ways in which changes to gender roles have affected diversity of family structures (10)

Outline and analyse two reasons for the formation of subcultures (10)

Outline and analyse some of the ways crime has changed in postmodern society (10)

A Suggested Revision Strategy for A Level Sociology

As I see it – Revision Should be done in Three Stages

Stage One – Planning and Preparation – START FEB HALF TERM (or earlier)

Stage Two – Doing and Learning Summary Revision Notes – Start in Easter Vacation

Stage Three – Reviewing and Hench Exam Practice – Starts Mid-April

Of course there’s no reason why you can’t mix it up and/ or get ahead – these are just suggestions. The more the merrier when it comes to revision. NB don’t forget to eat and sleep. 

  1. Planning/ Preparation for revision
  • Know What you Need to know – Keep in mind the main topics and sub topics (know what you need to know) – Ideally stick an A3 copy of the course structure on your wall – keep referring back to it
  • Know how you are assessed – Stick an A3 copy of the two exam papers on the wall – keep referring back to them
  • Do an overview of a revision timetable – allow enough time to cover every topic at least three times (not including the last week of the exam when you should be constantly reviewing everything)
  1. Make your own detailed revision notes and memorise them

Construct Summary Revision Notesfor each Sub-Topic write 1-2 pages of revision notes covering the following:

  • Intro Blurb – roughly what is it about?
  • 3-5 Key points about the sub-topic
  • Overall evaluation points – NB these will overlap with other sub-topics!)
  • Key concepts/ evidence/ sociologists highlighted
  1. Exam practice
  • Test yourself on short answer questions
  • Plan essays using the ‘Intro – PEEC*4 – Overall Evaluations – Conclusion’ structure
  • Write essays under timed conditions
  • Also look at actual exam papers which will ask you questions which cover two or more topics.

 

 

 

 

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