Sociology of Education

After the Industrial Revolution, the responsibility for educating youth shifted from families to schools in developed nations. Schools are now a major social institution, educating the majority of children and youth in the developed world and functioning as a primary engine of change in developing countries. Sociology of education has sought to understand the central role that schools play in society from a variety of perspectives, with great emphasis on issues pertaining to equality and opportunity. Sociologists have two broad theoretical approaches to studying education's role in society: the functionalist and conflict paradigms. The functionalist paradigm emphasizes the role that education plays for society, while the conflict paradigm focuses on divisions within society that education maintains or reinforces.

The structure of a country's educational system is closely linked to its economic and political history. Though all developed nations provide universal education, some countries' school systems are run by the central government that ensures standardized curricula and funding, while others are more decentralized. In the developing world, many countries do not have a history of stability and this affects developing countries' ability to provide universal education. In many developing countries the school system is inherited in a large part from the former colonial power and is heavily shaped by the policies of the World Bank. Education systems are closely related to economic growth and having a disciplined and educated labor force is an important step in economic development.

Affirmative Action

The term affirmative action encompasses a broad range of voluntary and mandated policies and procedures intended to provide equal access to educational and employment opportunities for members of historically excluded groups. Foremost among the bases for historical exclusion have been race, ethnicity, and sex, although consideration is sometimes extended to other groups (e.g., Vietnam veterans, […]

Bell Curve

The bell curve provides a foundation for the majority of statistical procedures in sociology. Conceptually it is a histogram, but with such fine distinctions between outcomes that it is a line in the shape of a bell. Beneath this curve are all possible outcomes, with the outcomes on the x-axis and the y-axis describing the […]

Community College

Although American community colleges (formerly known as junior colleges) have existed since the late nineteenth century, little sociological attention has been paid to these institutions until recently. The conceptual frameworks that do exist highlight the juxtaposition of the community college’s function of expanding access to higher education while also limiting opportunity for many students. Previously […]

Critical Pedagogy

Critical pedagogy challenges both students and teachers to channel their experiences of oppression into educating and empowering marginalized peoples. Critical pedagogues approach education as a process of social, cultural, political, and individual transformation, where social equity can be nourished or social inequity perpetuated. According to critical pedagogues, notions defining rational classification of people into categories […]


After the Industrial Revolution, the responsibility for educating youth shifted from families to schools in developed nations. Schools are now a major social institution, educating the majority of children and youth in the developed world and functioning as a primary engine of change in developing countries. Sociology of education has sought to understand the central […]

Educational Inequality

Educational attainment is affected by effort and ability which, in turn, are affected by the characteristics of students’ families of origin. Students raised by educated parents are more likely to exhibit higher levels of scholastic ability and motivation than those raised by less educated parents. It has been argued (Bourdieu et al. 1977) that children […]

Feminist Pedagogy

Feminist pedagogy begins with the premise that gender and the social inequality it represents in the wider society are often reproduced in the classroom. Existing curricula and classroom practices contain sexist biases and patriarchal assumptions as reflected in the fact that the contributions of women are often absent from textbooks; girls and women are portrayed […]

Education and Gender

Social scientists and educational researchers paid relatively little attention to issues of gender in education until the 1970s, when questions emerged concerning equity in girls’ and women’s access to education across the world. Increasing female representation in primary and secondary education was cited as an important factor in promoting national economic development, and therefore seen […]

Hidden Curriculum

The term hidden curriculum refers to the unofficial rules, routines, and structures of schools through which students learn behaviors, values, beliefs, and attitudes. Elements of the hidden curriculum do not appear in schools’ written goals, formal lesson plans, or learning objectives although they may reflect culturally dominant social values and ideas about what schools should […]

Literacy and Illiteracy

Traditionally, literacy has meant the ability to read and write. As the cognitive skill requirements of work and daily life have increased, the definition has expanded. In the National Literacy Act of 1991, the US Congress defined literacy as ”an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English and compute and solve problems at […]


The term ”meritocracy” has three interrelated meanings. First, it refers to the type of social order where rewards are distributed to individuals in accordance with criteria of personal merit. Put differently, it denotes the ”rule of the talented,” a system of governance wherein the brightest and most conscientious individuals are accurately and efficiently assigned to […]

School Segregation and Desegregation

The USA has a long history of providing racially segregated and unequal public education to its children. Racially separate and unequal public education was not an accident; it was created by public laws and policies enacted and enforced by state governments and local school systems. After a series of Supreme Court decisions eliminated the formal […]

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

The self-fulfilling prophecy is the process by which one’s expectations of other people lead those people to behave in ways that confirm those expectations. The term ”self-fulfilling prophecy” was coined in 1948 by Robert K. Merton, who drew upon W. I. Thomas’s well-known dictum: ”if men define situations as real, they are real in their […]

Sex Education

Whilst often purporting to be the conveyance of a body of scientific knowledge, in fact ”sex education” connotes and has always connoted hegemonic discourses relating to politics, morality, sexuality, and social control. As such, it is subject to a multitude of approaches, meanings, and pedagogical strategies and is highly contextual, with localized cultures and understandings […]

Status Attainment

Status attainment research begun by sociologists in the USA in the 1970s laid the foundation for the study of the transmission of socioeconomic advantage from one generation to the next (also called intergenerational social mobility). Status attainment research seeks to understand how characteristics of an individual’s family background (also called socioeconomic origins) relate to his […]


Tracking is the process of grouping students for instructional purposes based on actual or assumed differences in academic development or interests. In theory, such practices can maximize learning by allowing instruction to be tailored to the needs of each classroom of students. In practice, the quality of instruction often varies dramatically based on the course […]