EDUCATION AND THE SOCIAL CLASSES
One of the most persistent theories about social stratification and social mobility accompanied the spread of education among the masses during the last century, to wit: The classes receive different amounts of education -- in order to create conditions of equal opportunity, schools and colleges should be built for all the younger generation. If every there was to come about the development of the latent talents among the masses, it would have to be through the route of an extensive program of mass education. That was the theory. At least, a program of universal public education was instituted.Next Page
What has been the effect upon the social class structure, formerly so strongly buttressed by wide differences in literacy among the different social classes? Certainly the "hope" of achieving a position equivalent of their efforts and abilities has been instilled in great numbers of school children whose parents lost out in the struggle of life.
In the foregoing chapter it was seen that education, per se, did not affect the German hierarchy of classes, because only elementary and practical education were within the reach of the lower orders. One sees this, in that only three per cent of the university students had working class parents during the Republic. How small must have been their percentage of all the children of the working classes!
The same may be said of the American eastern seaboard where college education has been for centuries available, in general, only to the middle and upper classes, until recent years when city colleges, teachers colleges, and junior colleges sprang up. In some parts of the West higher education has been relatively more available. However, in America at the present time not one child in ten who enters school finishes a standard college course, and there is a close relationship between these figures and the proportion of the middle and upper classes to the commonalty. So long as these figures stand, it is illogical to argue that higher education is reaching the masses. It is true that some children of the lower classes get college degrees, but it is likewise true that these degrees are frequently of little social class consequence because (1) of the reputations of the colleges which grant the greater proportion of them, and because (2) the frequent need by the graduate of immediate employment condemns him to take the first opening he can find, a procedure not conducive to obtaining a good start on a career.
It is certainly true that many who have hitched their wagon to the star of higher education have failed to reach their objectives. Geiger says that 25 years ago the heruntergekommenen Akademiker were looked upon with pity and embarrassment; whereas today he "has become a typical figure of academic fate . . . the 'proletarianization of the academic class' is not the correct term; the class as such is not proletarianized . . . . " 40 Lawyers on WPA do not indicate a decline in the status of all lawyers. They indicate that some persons have passed the Bar only to find themselves barred, for want of clientele or entrance into a large firm. Sons of the higher classes who become lawyers do not often encounter such bad luck. The social forces are with them.
Ideas and opinions. With regard to the relationship of education to social stratification there are many and varied opinions. Someone has optimistically written that "the distinctive thing about this country is that, so far as the educational system is concerned, the gateway to the higher callings is as wide open to the working class child as to every other." In slang, this would be called "laying it on thick."
Goblot generalizes to the effect that "there is a higher class, the bourgeoisie, and a lower class, the common people, and the most obvious difference between them is a difference in education." 41 This is true, but it is more clearly defined as a social phenomenon in France than in North America.
40. Theodor Geiger, Die Soziale Schichtung des Deutschen Volkes (Stuttgart, 1932) p. 101; translation ours.
41. Edmond Goblet, "Les classes de la societe," in Revue d'Economie Politique, vol. 13 (Paris, 1899) p. 34; translation ours.