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Educational sociology focuses attention on the social factors that both cause and are caused by education. It includes the study of factors relating to education, such as gender, social class, race and ethnicity, and rural–urban residence. Educational sociology has developed a range of sociological theories to explain and guide research into the various levels and types of education, and it has also contributed to the development of methodological and statistical techniques. Three current issues are discussed as examples, namely the relationship between education and social inequality, school violence and bullying, and teacher burnout and the accountability movement.
- Educational Sociology or Sociology of Education
- Theories and Methods in Educational Sociology
- Research Methods
- Some Current Topics in Educational Sociology
- Education and Social Inequalities
- School Violence and Bullying
- The Accountability Movement and Teacher Burnout
Educational sociology is one of the major subfields in sociology and also in the development and production of educational research and teaching. Because of the enormous breadth and scope of what is called ‘education’ in modern society, the sociological study of education covers a wide field and is perhaps one of the largest subfields within sociology. As Ballentine and Hammack (2012) point out, education starts with birth and does not end until death. In one form or another, either formal or informal, it takes place throughout one’s life. However, sociologists tend to direct their attention to the type of education that takes place in formal institutions which are designated by society to learning in an organized, systematic manner. Thus the sociological study of education, and what is called ‘educational sociology,’ is generally restricted to education in a formal sense, namely schools, colleges, and universities. Through these institutions, society ensures that a standard body of knowledge, skills, and values get transmitted to future generations.
Emile Durkheim, one of the first sociologists who studied formal education in a systematic manner, argued that formal education is the way that society guarantees its own survival (Saha, 2001). This does not mean that the process of education takes place seamlessly, and that the desired body of knowledge and values do not change, or that it is passed on without contestation. Durkheim himself understood that few societies are in agreement about what knowledge should be passed on through formal education. The divisions within society, such as social class, religion, gender, and race/ethnic groups, usually have some unique preferences about what knowledge should be passed on to the young. As a result, educational policy, particularly in modern multiethnic societies, is usually a source of much disagreement. These disagreements not only mean that much compromise often takes place in the establishment of formal educational systems, but that often two or more different types of schools become established, each passing on at least some unique knowledge and values to those students who attend them. This explains why many modern societies consist of a government school system and one or more private school systems. These are some of the kinds of phenomena that sociologists attempt to understand through their research.
Educational Sociology or Sociology of Education
Two labels have dominated the sociological study of education through its academic development in the English-speaking world. Perhaps the older of the two is ‘educational sociology.’ Indeed this was the label which was used for the title of the first dedicated journal in the United States, The Journal of Educational Sociology. The journal originally was established outside of the official professional academic sociological association, the American Sociological Association (ASA). The journal content reflected the two directions that sociologists took in their study of education. Some were concerned about educational policy and how education ‘ought to be’ in American society. Others, however, thought that the sociological study of education should be more ‘scientific,’ and thus more concerned with ‘what was actually happening’ in educational institutions. However, when a move was made to incorporate the journal into the official publications of the ASA, the members of the latter perspective prevailed, and the name of the journal was changed to Sociology of Education. The two labels continue to be used, sometimes interchangeably. For the most part, however, the former tends to be used by sociologists in academic departments of education, while the latter tends to be used in departments of sociology. In the end, both approaches are necessary, as sociologists need to address both the factual and ‘scientific’ operations of educational systems as well as the policies needed to administer them (Dworkin and Ballantine, 2012). In this research paper, the labels are used interchangeably.
The sociological study of education experienced rapid growth in the early history of the discipline. All of the ‘founding fathers’ of sociology, namely Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx, had something to say about education, although it was Durkheim who was most responsible for establishing the field.
There have been critics of educational sociology throughout its development. For example, some have referred to it as “ivory tower nonsense” (Hansen, 1967) and have noted that it has been characterized by the “sterility of the questions that it asked” (Corwin, 1965). However, more recently it has been considered as “extremely rich, vibrant and diverse” with “an exciting range of substantive issues for investigation, as well as an equally exciting range of theoretical considerations and methodological tools for undertaking these investigations.” (Noblit and Pink, 1995: p. 27).
But as the field continues to expand into the twenty-first century, better theories and methodological tools are opening the door to more rigorous research. Hallinan, for example, contends that “sociologists of education must conduct theoretically rich research that identifies mechanisms that link exogenous and endogenous factors to student outcomes” (Hallinan, 2011: p. 2).
Theories and Methods in Educational Sociology
Like other areas in sociology, the development of theory and research methods implies a continuing vitality in the field. This has certainly been true for educational sociology. Although the traditional theories emanating from the ‘founding fathers’ of sociology continue to be important in the study of education, new perspectives continually emerge which identify, clarify, and explain educational phenomena which are unique in an increasingly geographical mobile and technologically sophisticated world population.
The early classical sociological theories, primarily from Durkheim and Weber, made it clear that formal education, that is schools and universities, played a vital role not only in passing on the social and cultural heritage of society, but also in the maintenance and formation of social inequalities. In the case of Durkheim, these inequalities could be seen as functional insofar as they helped recognize innate talent and motivation among students. For Weber these inequalities which emerged from schooling had more to do with the cultural and political factors which already divided society. Although Marx never developed a coherent theory of education in his critique of capitalism, his ideas eventually led to a very important neo-Marxist educational perspective which focused on education as a form of ‘symbolic violence’ whereby the social class structure is reproduced through educational processes (Althusser, 1971; Bourdieu and Passeron, 1977). More importantly, this reproduction process has subsequently been found to occur with the corporation and compliance of the students from disadvantaged backgrounds (for example, see Giroux, 1983; Willis, 1977).
These theoretical perspectives focused primarily on the structures, both formal and informal, which divide society. There emerged a completely different (and opposite) theoretical perspective which pointed to micro-level interactions and subjective constructions related to the educational processes. Drawing on seminal work of the early interactionist theorists, such as George Herbert Mead, Charles Horton Cooley, Herbert Blumer, and Irving Goffman, a major sociological perspective was launched by Berger and Luckman (1967), who argued that reality was constructed through people’s creative action. In the study of education from a sociological perspective, labeling theory became a major theory which explained educational processes and outcomes in terms of the interactions between all parties involved in the education of young people. For example, teachers and students have expectations of one another’s behavior, and these have consequences on one another’s behavior. The important work of Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) has generated a large body of research which has investigated the impact of teacher labeling. However, as Rubie-Davies (2009) has pointed out, the characteristics of the teachers are as important in understanding this process as are the characteristics of the students. Most importantly, however, this rich body of research illustrates the importance of the interactionist perspective for research, which has helped understand educational processes in the classroom. Because these theories focus on the interaction of two or relatively few persons, the body of theories which fall into this category are referred to as micro-theories. Those which focus on organizational structures, or on the major group divisions in society, are referred to as macro-theories.
The sociological study of education has been influenced by many newer and more general theoretical perspectives. Indeed, it can be said that almost every theory in the social sciences has been used to investigate educational processes of one kind or another. These theories often occur in schools or interrelated clusters which are dominated by a particular underlying perspective. For example, in the 1970s a perspective called the ‘New Sociology of Education’ emerged which shifted the focus from educational student outcomes to the knowledge content of school curricula and who controlled it (Young, 1971). This critical approach provided not only the dual purpose of ‘exposing’ what really occurred in the structure and process of schooling, but also the liberation and empowerment of those students (and sections of society) who were dominated and disadvantaged by it. This perspective capitalizes on a “critical reflection which liberates or emancipates actors from false beliefs and subsequently leads to concrete proposals for overcoming oppression” (Lakomski, 1997: p. 57). Thus there is not one critical theory, but a range of critical theories, each with its own focal point depending on what aspect of schooling is being examined. These theoretical versions appear in educational sociological subfields such as the curriculum, educational administration, teacher education, educational policy, and planning, to name just a few.
One important critical theoretical perspective is reflected in feminist theories. Feminist theories not only challenge the male bias of most educational research, but they argue that as a consequence of this bias women’s experiences in schools are often neglected. Some of these concern the issues of social justice and differential treatment and opportunities in both educational experiences, but more fundamentally the focus has been on educational policies (Arnot and Weiler, 1993).
What is important, however, is that these approaches not only are designed to ‘uncover’ hidden features of what takes place in schools, but by so doing, they provide the tools to bring about change and reform. These theories stand in contrast to research and explanations emerging from the functional, conflict, and interactional perspectives which attempt to describe and explain educational processes.
A final influential theoretical perspective has influenced many researchers, and it focuses on the wider macro-processes which impact on the increasing expansion of standard organizational and structural schooling models which have rapidly spread, and continue to spread, throughout the world. The institutional and global approach, according to Benevot (1997), consists of three themes: (1) a focus on the origins and expansion of mass secular systems of schooling throughout the world in the twentieth century; (2) a focus on the institutional aspects of modern education, such as its selection function, its importance in the allocation of social status; and finally (3) the impact of education on other structures and institutions of society, such as gender roles, the nature of work, and even aspects of the nation-state, and the relations between nation-states. Because of the historical and macro-foci of the perspective, it is closely related to theories of globalization.
The spread of mass secular schooling suggests the emergence of a world culture which includes universal models of education systems, and in particular schooling. Meyer (1997) argues that the modern nation-states, and their subsequent educational systems, are shaped by common values relating to education, the nation, and the state. Robertson and Dale (2008), however, argue that these globalizing forces include additional fundamental factors such as international economic competitiveness and an increasingly interconnected global economy. Thus the social and economic values placed on education and mass schooling make this social institution vulnerable to these forces, which in turn are manifested through increasing standardization and accountability measures.
It has been argued that the institutionalization and globalization of schooling impacts not only the structures and processes of school systems, but also the values and expectations of the students within them. Sikora and Saha (2010) argue that the high levels of occupational expectations found across societies, in particular the developing societies, are a reflection of the globalization of the link between education and jobs. Using Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data from 50 countries, they found that high levels of occupational expectations were particularly noticeable in the less developed countries. Yet these countries are the recipients of considerable aid through international and nation-state agencies. Ironically, Sikora and Saha argue that this aid might itself be a conduit of the globalizing process which drives the expansion of a standard model of an educational system.
Looked at from a broad perspective, the theories which guide research in educational sociology are broad in their scope, but rich in the insights that they make possible in understanding the many faces of educational systems and the processes which occur within them.
The sociological study of education has always used research methods adopted from mainstream sociological research. However, because of the unique challenges in the study of educational systems and processes, given that students are nested in classes, and in schools, the discipline has also been the center for the development of new research methods, particularly in quantitative data analysis, which have eventually made their way into mainstream sociology. The following section provides an overview of the main characteristics of research methods used in this field.
From the very beginning, the methods used in educational research incorporated both qualitative and quantitative approaches. One only has to examine the methods of the early ‘classics’ in educational sociology to observe this practice. Early studies of education processes tended to be ‘holistic’ in nature, such as a study of a school, a particular social group, or education in a particular community, and in which both qualitative and quantitative data were used. This was the case in studies in many countries. For example, Hollingshead’s Elmstown’s Youth (1947) and Coleman’s Adolescent Society (1961) represent path-breaking sociological studies of American education over 50 years ago, and they are regarded as relevant even today. Similarly, in the UK Hargreaves’ Social Relations in a Secondary School (1967) and Ford’s Social Class and the Comprehensive School (1969) used multiple methods in their holistic studies of single schools, and they also produced research which has had long-lasting impact on British educational sociology. In France a classical monograph of this period was Bourdieu and Passeron’s Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (1977), which not only introduced the concept of culture capital to sociology, but was also responsible for the development of reproduction theory, which was to become one of the dominant theories in educational sociology. These, and other similar studies in the early years of educational sociology, were to highly influence research for several decades, until the emergence of more sophisticated computer technology and statistical packages made possible the analysis of educational systems and processes in an entirely different manner. But qualitative research methods also continued to develop, but in a very different manner.
In her article of trends in qualitative research in educational sociology, LeCompte (1997) describes how new approaches developed even while the old methods, largely influenced by anthropological and evaluation research, remained frequently used. However, according to LeCompte, what fundamentally changed was a move away from positivistic qualitative studies, based on methods such as observation and other forms of field work, to research based on critical theory and postmodernism. With this shift, the new focus has become the perspective and narratives of the subjects, as the objects of study, rather than that of the researcher. In other words, by focusing on the ‘voices’ of the subjects of research, the categories and interpretations are those of the teachers and students, for example, rather than those of the researcher. However the assumption is that teachers and students have ‘stories’ or narratives to tell and to analyze, and the interpretation of their presence or absence becomes problematic. Examples of these kinds of problems are found in studies where the informant is low income and mentally handicapped or where the informants have no ‘stories’ at all to tell (LeCompte, 1997).
Thus, research based on stories or the life experiences of individuals, and the analysis of narratives and biographies have opened new paths and challenges for qualitative research. According to LeCompte (2009) these shifts in qualitative methodologies can be traced in the series of handbooks of research on teaching produced under the sponsorship of the American Education Research Association from 1963 to 2001. While reflecting a ‘sea change’ during these years in theory and research in most social science disciplines, new epistemological issues emerged as researchers began to ask ‘Whose story is being told?’ and whether the researchers have got the stories right (LeCompte, 2009: p. 39). One of the driving forces of continued attempts to develop qualitative research methods has been desired to avoid a ‘top-down’ imposition of meanings and understandings of educational phenomena and replace it with new ways of researching which are more “collaborative, participatory, and action-oriented” (p. 41).
While in recent years qualitative research methods have continued to make a valuable contribution to research in educational sociology, so too have the developments in quantitative methods. For a period of time, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, developments in qualitative methods tended to overshadow those in quantitative research. As LeCompte observed, “Qualitative research was embraced by the educational community with such enthusiasm that in some academic quarters, quantitative research was relegated to the background, caricatured as unable to address real issues concerning real people” (LeCompte, 2009: p. 43).
However, during that period users of quantitative methods were not standing still, and developments in statistical techniques and modeling began to address some of the challenging contexts that educational research presented, namely, how do you study education processes and outcomes of students who are nested in classrooms, sometimes taught by different teachers throughout the day, all within different schools, and across different countries? To further complicate this challenge, quantitative techniques also had to be able to incorporate the educational effects of a myriad of family background characteristics as well as the effects of friendship groups and community contexts. Fortunately, breakthroughs in statistical packages, which emerged in the 1970s, began to reap returns just as qualitative methods were reaching a kind of epistemological endpoint in pushing that research deeper into the conscious world of individual students.
Quantitative research in education is divided into two main groups, depending on whether the research design is experimental or not. Researchers who come through a more psychological or educational psychological tradition tend to favor analyses which involve experimental designs based on a treatment group and a control group. The advantage of this approach is that a single variable can be manipulated in such a way that its causal effect on the outcome can be tested. Researchers from this perspective tend to use analysis of variance, or a variation of it, as their primary statistical tool. This statistical procedure has persisted for generations of researchers, and continues to be popular today.
However, for researchers who take a more sociological approach in the use of quantitative data, the use of survey designs is more typical. The primary difference between experimental and survey designs is that the latter tend to have only one study group, the research participants tend to be larger in number, and there are more variables included in the analysis. However, unlike experimental designs with control and treatment groups, survey designs are multivariate and the isolation of a single causal variable is replaced by multivariate and assumed multicausal models. Nevertheless, the development of new statistical techniques and the increasing frequency of longitudinal survey designs make both the identification of the multicausal effects easier to identify and the disaggregation of the between-student, between-class, between-school, and between-country effects possible. While correlational analysis and multiple regression techniques remain widely used, they are often limited by conditions where demonstrated causality or the disaggregation of effects between levels is less important.
One attempt to solve the problem of multicausality emerged in the 1960s with the development of path analysis. The use of path models was stimulated by an interest in the factors which explained occupational attainments. Following Blau and Duncan’s study of occupational attainment among adults in the United States, Sewell and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin used path analysis to study the attainments of high school graduates who were then followed through university and subsequent occupational careers. What made the work of the so-called Wisconsin model so important for educational sociology was the inclusion of educational variables. For over a decade the use of path analysis to study the determinants of both educational and occupational attainments became dominant among quantitative educational sociologists. Further developments of this approach, using partial least squares (PLSpath) and maximum likelihood techniques (LISREL), made it possible to create a latent variable from a number of observed variables, thus increasing the number of variables and refining their relationships and meanings for path models. However, for the study of school students, there remained the problem of nested data and problems of differentiating between the student, classroom, school, and, in the case of comparative studies, country-level effects.
Major breakthroughs in solving these latter statistical challenges began to occur in the 1980s with the development of hierarchical linear modeling through which the overall ability to explain educational or occupational attainments could be disaggregated into the various nested levels. Further developments which incorporated both path analysis and multilevel modeling have emerged, and procedures such as AMOS, MPLUS, and STREAMS have been developed and are increasingly being used by quantitative educational sociologists, with the result that there have been pressures to collect higher quality educational data which these procedures demand. Overall, these developments have greatly improved the understanding of the complex relationships and multiplex determinants of educational processes and attainments.
Perhaps equally important has been the gradual adoption of these highly sophisticated and complex procedures into mainstream sociological research. Thus advances in the quantitative research into education, to meet unique conditions in educational research, have been of benefit to sociology as a whole. For a more detailed description of the history and development of these procedures, and their importance for educational sociology, see Keeves (1997), Saha and Keeves (2003), and Keeves and Darmawan (2009).
Apart from the above types of research techniques, there are other approaches which have investigated education from a completely different perspective, namely the importance of the interconnection between individuals and the benefits or disadvantages they bring to educational attainments. Network analysis is a growing type of statistical analysis which makes possible the study of the effect of friendship and peer groups among students on educational attainments (Klovdahl, 1994; Saha, 1994). Theoretically, network analysis can be linked with the notion of social capital, a concept which originated in the work of Coleman, which focuses on the human resources that individuals possess that can be used for various social attainments, including education (Coleman, 1988). For example, Rizzuto et al. (2009) found, in their study of American university students, that the connectivity (network density) of students in a university classroom had a significant, though not the most important, effect on academic performance. In an innovative use of archival data, Eckles and Stradley (2012) found that students who were closely interconnected through residence and classes were more likely to remain at university, compared to those who dropped out, who were less socially connected. These two recent examples illustrate the utility and importance of social network analysis in educational research.
As this exposition has made clear, the theoretical and methodological approaches within educational sociology are varied and diverse. At times this diversity has resulted in conflict within the field. On the other hand, recent discussions of this diversity have seen it as a strength rather than a weakness. For example, Weis and her colleagues, in documenting the struggles between competing theories and methodologies, argue that working across the divisions, rather than maintaining boundaries, will be more productive for the discipline in the long run (Weis et al., 2009).
Some Current Topics in Educational Sociology
As should already be apparent, educational sociology is a broad and inclusive subarea of sociology. Because of the importance of education in society, hardly any aspect of social life is unaffected by it. The topics which are studied and researched are almost endless, ranging from early forms of education through socialization and preschool experiences, through formal educational experiences, both academic and vocational, and finally to forms of lifelong learning which follows the completion of formal educational studies. Furthermore, these educational experiences are often studied in the context of family background characteristics, friendship and peer group experiences, and other similar social contexts. It would be impossible here to summarize issues relating to these topical areas in this brief exposition. Therefore, three current key topics will be examined here to illustrate recent work by educational sociologists. These are education and social inequalities, school violence and bullying, and teacher burnout and the standardized testing and accountability movement.
Education and Social Inequalities
The direct relationship between education and various forms of social inequality has probably been the earliest and most widely theorized and researched topic in educational sociology. The general pattern in all societies is that the more education a person has attained, the greater will be other valued social attainments. But educational attainment is not equally distributed, so that those groups which acquire more education also enjoy more social benefits. The dimensions of these attainment inequalities generally are many, ranging from gender, ethnic and race origins, rural–urban residential locations, government and private school attendance, types of family socialization practices, and social and cognitive disabilities, to name just a few. What has been most striking is that, with the exception of gender inequalities, most of the traditional inequalities have persisted in spite of much research on education and educational reforms. Furthermore, these inequalities exist across societies.
Early theorizing about education and inequality was based on the functional perspective which argued that, because a social role of education is to sift, sort, and allocate the most talented and motivated students into the most important and lucrative social positions, the inequalities are a product of merit, and a sign that the education system is working. The complex process by which this comes about has been labeled the status attainment model. Basically the model assumes that there are many determinants of how much education a person attains, including home background factors, aspirations and expectations, and prior attainments. Then the amount and type of education acquired lead to other occupational and social attainments.
However, because the meritocratic process, studied in this way, always seemed to favor students from privileged backgrounds, countertheories argued that the continued existence of social inequalities in educational systems represented a form of social reproduction which was not merit based, but one based on hegemony, privilege, and power over the education system itself. Starting with Bernstein’s research between class-based language codes in England, and their importance in academic achievement (Bernstein, 1971), Bourdieu and Passeron (1977) also found the mechanisms of the reproduction of social class in education in France, not because of a meritocracy but because of the transmission of what he later called ‘cultural capital.’ Thus the concept of cultural capital, and Coleman’s related concept of social capital, provided an alternative explanation for the pervasiveness of social inequality and education.
Empirically, the quantitative studies of the link between education and social inequality found that the relationship existed in most western industrial societies (Erikson and Goldthorpe, 1992), and that class of social origin was a main contributor, although other research found that its effects were diminishing (Dronkers, 1993). Nevertheless the differences between the social classes and education have been found to be persistent across countries (Shavit and Blossfield, 1993).
The direct relationship between education and social inequality has also been found to vary between countries, depending on characteristics of the political and economic systems and also on characteristics of the educational systems. For example, countries with more social democratic systems tend to have lower educational and social inequalities than countries with liberal market economies (Beller and Hout, 2006). Similarly countries which have early selection of students into tracks based on presumed innate ability, or on vocational or academic occupational destinations, compared to countries with nontracked comprehensive education systems, tend to have stronger links between educational attainments and other social attainments (Marks, 2005). Furthermore, it has also been argued that even as the general levels of educational attainment in some societies have appeared to become more equal, for example in the expectation that everyone can attend university and obtain a university degree, there remain hidden factors which bring about negative and unequal consequences. These emerge when the realistic possibilities among students of attaining goals are not recognized or acknowledged, with the result that failures are worse than if realistic lower level goals were pursued to begin with (Rosenbaum et al., 2011). Thus, ironically, the ideal or perfectionist views about how to reduce or eradicate the link between education and inequality actually have been shown to maintain them, although through hidden processes. Clearly much sociological research remains to be done, and policies need to be developed, at both the school and the political and economic level to reduce the link between education and social inequality, if that is, indeed, the goal of a society.
School Violence and Bullying
Recent years have seen a rapid increase in various forms of violence taking place in schools in many countries of the world. Because schools serve young children and teenage youth, they are seen as places that should be free and safe from various forms of psychological and physical harm. Apart from the disruption that these harmful forms of behavior cause to the teaching and learning process, school students are extremely vulnerable and powerless to protect themselves when confronted with them. Similarly, it has been demonstrated that teachers suffer negative consequences, such as burnout, when they are made to work in an unsafe and threatening school environment. Therefore, sociologists, parents, and education administrators and policymakers have contributed much to our understanding of the factors which contribute to unsafe schools.
Violence in schools can take many forms, ranging from the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in the United States to physical and emotional abuse between students. While the Columbine High School incident may have been the result of individuals with social and emotional problems, the frequency and diversity of incidents such as these, not only in the United States but elsewhere, poses important sociological research challenges and subsequent policies. For example, the experience of violence among youth generally, whether domestic or in the school, can have disruptive consequences for academic performance among students, as well as their relationships with other, and their own psychological well-being (Huang and Mossige, 2012).
Bullying, in particular, has attracted considerable research attention from both sociologists and psychologists. Although school bullying had been regarded by many as a normal part of school life, ever since the seminal and influential work of Olweus, who began to study bullying in 1970 in Scandinavia, it has become regarded as an important social problem in schools. Olweus’ research has focused on both the bully and the victim, and takes into account both psychological and sociological factors (Olweus, 1993). Recent researchers on bullying have also included both sets of variables. For example Cassidy (2009), in his study of adolescent youth in the United Kingdom, found that bully victims were more likely to be girls, were more likely to come from less supportive families, and were more likely to have a lower group identity and to be poorer in problem-solving skills. Bibou-Nakou et al. (2012), who studied Greek secondary school students using a qualitative approach, found that the students themselves thought the school was partly responsible because of the competitive environment it fostered. Thus programs directed at lowering or eliminating the incidence of bullying in schools, such as that put forward in Norway, include primarily sociological variables, such as the promotion of more empathetic relationships between students and strong leadership by the teachers in fostering a more cooperative and an antibullying environment (Roland et al., 2010).
Bullying continues to be considered a serious issue in educational systems throughout the world. Rigby and Smith (2011) argue that, overall, the incidence of bullying has declined, largely because of the various intervention programs which have been put into place to reduce or prevent it. However, because of the growing dominance of electronic technology, new forms of bullying, such as outside-of-school cyber bullying, appear to be replacing the traditional in-school bullying. Research into both in-school and out-of-school bullying continues to expand our knowledge of the causes and consequences of this type of violence among youth. Sociological research has made considerable contribution to the better understanding of bullying in schools, and how to treat and prevent it.
The Accountability Movement and Teacher Burnout
The teacher counterpart to the consequences of bullying among students is teacher burnout. Teachers play a crucial role in educational processes, but at the same time they are caught between a number of conflicting pressures, in particular those relating to the expectations of parents, the indifference or even the hostility of students, and the authoritarianism or unsupportive posture of school principals and other administrators. The teacher has been the object of study virtually since the beginning of the sociological study of education itself, beginning with Durkheim’s study of education, especially what he called ‘moral education.’ Durkheim contended that a fundamental purpose of education was to form children into adults who were fully integrated into society and its norms. For him, the teacher played a central role in this process, especially in providing discipline, integration into social groups, and the gradual development of autonomy (Durkheim, 1961(1925)). Two important early sociological works on teachers were Waller’s Sociology of Teaching (1932) and Lortie’s Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study (1975).
Lortie (1975) foreshadowed some of the current problems facing the teaching profession and teachers when he observed that teachers, at least in America, were ‘both honored and disdained,’ partly because they are deemed to be professionals, but at the same time are paid relatively low wages (p. 10). According to him, they occupy a ‘shadowed social standing.’ This insight seems to have been predictive of many of the pressures on teachers today in light of their loss of autonomy and professional status, and their increasing subjection to accountability policies about which they have little control. These kinds of pressures have produced what contemporary sociologists and psychologists call ‘burnout.’
Although psychologists consider burnout to be primarily a problem internal to the individual, sociologists see it as a product of a work environment which removes the meaning and power from the teacher. Thus Dworkin (1987) has argued for a sociological approach to the study of teacher burnout which focuses more on the organizational structure of schools and the relationship between teachers and school administrators rather than with students and parents. Thus, rather than focus on the psychological characteristics of the teachers, a sociological approach would focus on aspects of the school, and in particular the administrative style of the principal and other aspects of the relationships between the teachers themselves. Indeed, Dworkin et al. (2003) found that teachers in schools with a more democratic environment and more teacher autonomy were less likely to experience burnout symptoms.
In contrast to the above, one feature of the current globalization process is the increase in the use of standardized testing of students to assess not only the students’ performance, but also that of teachers and principals. As Natriello (2009) points out, there are negative consequences for teachers with the introduction of standard testing, with costs to teachers for the low performance of students, thus the name ‘high stakes testing.’ The introduction of this form of standards-based policy is part of an increasing global movement which is removing teacher professional autonomy and reducing the profession to that of perfunctory bureaucratic personnel in the system. Sociologists who study education are increasingly turning their attention to the changing nature of the teacher profession under these new organizational circumstances.
The sociological study of education is a broad-ranging part of the educational and sociology disciplines. Because of the pervasive nature of education into all sectors of the lives of individuals, and also into the functioning of society as a whole, the discipline is extremely inclusive and there is hardly a sector of society where it is not relevant. Educational sociology has changed extensively since Emile Durkheim began to lecture about it to his students at the Sorbonne. But just as during the early days of sociology, so too today the study of education from a sociological perspective addresses important contemporary issues across societies. Some of these issues are common to all societies, such as those relating to inequality, while others are more unique to the characteristics of individual societies, for example issues relating to social and economic development. Educational sociology occupies a central place in the disciplines of education and sociology. In terms of both theory and research methods, it has made important contributions to the studies of education and also to wider fields of sociological research generally.
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