The History of Unequal Education

The American Educational System

The American educational system’s foundations as an unequal system rooted in hierarchies of race and class have both inspired and limited attempts at reform that seek to remedy the long-term effects of these inequalities. Over the course of the twentieth century, social scientific considerations of educational inequality have shifted from a belief that schools are the sources of social difference with the capacity to fundamentally change society to the more critical understanding that schools have powerful effects in society but are limited in their ability to effect change through social engineering. The current body of social science literature on education focuses on the role that schools played in reinforcing and legitimizing hierarchies of race and class through a variety of means, including, but not limited to, curricular choices, school cultures, patterns of organization, and policies governing school funding.


bibliography and contributors 

  • Joseph O. Jewell
  • Bourdieu, Pierre, and Jean-Claude Passeron. 1990. Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
  • Bowles, Samuel, and Herbert Gintis. 1976. Schooling in Capitalist America: Educational Reform and the Contradictions
    of Economic Life. New York: Basic Books.
  • Coleman, James, Ernest Q. Campbell, and Carol J. Hobson. 1966. Equality of Educational Opportunity. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
  • Jencks, Christopher, et al. 1972. Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and Schooling in America. New York: Basic Books.
  • McLeod, Jay. 1987. Ain’t No Makin’ It: Leveled Aspirations in a Low-Income Neighborhood. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  • Oakes, Jeannie. 2005. Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
    Orfield, Gary, and Susan Eaton. 1997. Dismantling Desegregation: The Quiet Reversal of Brown v. Board of Education. New York: The New Press.
  • Patterson, James T. 2001. Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy. New York and London: Oxford University Press.
  • Peterson, Paul E., and Martin R. West, eds. 2003. No Child Left Behind? The Politics and Practice of School Accountability. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
  • United States National Commission on Excellence in Education. 1983. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
  • Willis, Paul E. 1981. Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs. New York: Columbia University Press.

About Quianna Canada

Quianna Canada is an anti-police brutality activist, author, and opinion writer living in the United States.
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  • Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family. ~Kofi Annan

    Education. Activism. History.