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Chapter 16 Education

Social Issues in the News

“Lewistown Voters Say No to Bond for School,” the headline said. We usually associate crowded, decaying schools with urban areas, but they are also found in rural areas. In September 2010, voters in Lewistown, a small town in central Montana surrounded by prairies and mountains, defeated a bond issue for the construction of a new middle school. The new school would have replaced the town’s only junior high school. Built in 1921, the school had a host of problems, according to the news article: it did not meet accessibility standards for people with physical disabilities; plaster was routinely falling off walls and ceilings, requiring six classrooms to add suspended ceilings to prevent injuries from falling plaster; and the school was so crowded that some classes met in the gym or hallways and some students had to take tests in closets. (Hall, 2010)Hall, R. (2010, September 22). Lewistown voters say no to bond for school. Great Falls [MT] Tribune. Retrieved from

Education is one of our most important social institutions. Youngsters and adolescents spend most of their weekday waking hours in school, doing homework, or participating in extracurricular activities, and many then go on to college. People everywhere care deeply about what happens in our nation’s schools, and issues about the schools ignite passions across the political spectrum. Yet, as this story about a very old school in Montana illustrates, many schools are ill equipped to prepare their students for the complex needs of today’s world.

This chapter’s discussion of education begins with the development of schooling in the United States and then turns to sociological perspectives on education. The remainder of the chapter discusses education in today’s society. This discussion highlights education as a source and consequence of various social inequalities and examines several key issues affecting the nation’s schools and the schooling of its children.