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Sociology of Education

The sociology of education is the study of how public institutions and individual experiences affect education. The sociology of education is most concerned with public schooling in industrial, or first world countries. It focuses on the expansion of higher, further, and adult education.¹>

Education is understood by many to be a means of overcoming handicaps, achieving greater equality, and acquiring wealth and social status.² Education is also seen as a place where children can develop according to their unique needs and potential.²>

Few argue that education allows children the ability to expand to their full potential perfectly. Some take an even more negative view and argue that the education system is designed with the intention of causing inequality.²

The sociology of education is interested in studying the teaching of formal knowledge such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as teaching other things such as morals, values, and ethics. Since education teaches young children how to move into normal society, it is a form of socialization.¹

The sociology of education focuses on two levels of analysis: macro-level and micro-level. At the macro-level, sociology works to find how social forces (politics, economics, culture) creates variations in schools. At a micro-level, sociologists look to identify how variation in school practices lead to individual student outcomes.¹

James Coleman did a classic example of a sociology of education study in 1966 known as the “Coleman Report”. Coleman looked at the performance of 150,000 students and found that student background and socioeconomic differences were more important in determining educational outcomes than differences in school resources.³ Coleman also found that socially disadvantaged Black students benefitted and did better in school when they were in racially mixed classrooms.³




1. Gordon Marshall (ed). A Dictionary of Sociology (Article: Sociology of Education). Oxford University Press, 1998.

2. Sargent, M. (1994). The New Sociology for Australians (3rd Ed), Longman Chesire, Melbourne.

3. Kiviat, Barbara J. (2000). “The Social Side of Schooling.” Johns Hopkins Magazine. April 2000. 

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