The Problem With Education

The news lately has been ridden with nonsense. This Presidential election has been so overshadowed by disgusting behavior and theatrics, I have rarely heard or seen a candidate talk about the real issues.

One of the issues I am most passionate about is inequality in our country: inequality in healthcare (particularly mental healthcare) and education are the two issues at the top of my list. I believe education inequality in our country is an epidemic, and so rarely spoken about you would think it doesn’t exist…

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The most valuable resource in receiving a quality education in our country is one thing: cultural and social capital. Capital is the primary force underlying the social world. Capital takes time to accumulate and has the capacity to produce profits and reproduce itself over time. The unequal nature of the social world, or “constraints”, can be explained by the unequal distribution of capital. Henceforth, the unequal nature of education can be explained by the unequal distribution of cultural and social capital.

Economists who say monetary capital is the most evident contributor to unequal levels of education fail to acknowledge this “social rate of return” that exists because of cultural capital. How many books one has read, how many museums one has visited, or how many operas one has seen, are all dictated by social class. One has to read esteemed pieces of literature to be cultured on the works of prominent authors, one has to go to a museum and see pieces of art to be cultured on certain artists, and this embodied capital turns into wealth in the form of exchange with other people. Unlike money, which is a clear indicator of social class, cultural capital is a more restrained benchmark for social class. Although it is up to the individual how much cultural capital he or she acquires, ultimately the opportunities available for accumulating such capital depends on one’s social class. For example, a wealthy individual would have more access to prestigious art galleries than a poor person. Or, a wealthy person might have more leisure time to read than a poor person. In this way, cultural capital is a symbolic form of capital indicating one’s social class and how one was socialized as a child. Families with more cultural capital will raise their children to accumulate more cultural capital. Insofar as education, cultural capital can be identified in the objectified state as books read in English class, languages learned, technology one is exposed to, etc. The product of the conversion of economic capital into cultural capital establishes the value that cultural capital has when exchanged on the labor market.

The accumulation of cultural capital is an investment in one’s future.

One’s membership in a particular social class provides that person with the backing of collectively owned capital. For example- anyone from the famous “Kennedy” family in America is automatically awarded with the credentials that the family name of “Kennedy” has earned them over the years. Exchanges of social capital imply the acknowledgment of a certain amount of homogeneity. Thus, the magnitude of social capital depends on the size of the network of connections he or she can mobilize. Belonging to a particular social group automatically leads to a certain level of a network of connections.

When it comes to education, being a part of a particular social group gains one access to the better neighborhoods, or the better private schools, which in turn leads to better connections when getting into college and ultimately getting a job. There is a sort of domino effect where each level of education builds on the other and is ultimately converted into economic capital with one making a large amount of money in a certain career. Above all, social capital indicates that the value of networking is a pivotal part of education.

The notion of “The American Dream” simply doesn’t exist anymore. An immigrant or member of a minority group can “pull himself up by his bootstraps” all we wants- but he is a victim of a culture with almost no chance of social mobility.

Let’s all stop making memes and start making moves.

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