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Essentials of Sociology

In understanding the differences in educational attainment across races and ethnic groups, it is important to understand the natural/popular understanding of race and ethnic groups. Race is a social construction, interpreted in a distinct manner whose results are taken as obvious or natural. This creates a framework which extends to all aspects and activities of individuals in that society/race such as education. On the other hand, race gives rise to the notion ethnicity or ethnic groups. Ethnicity has to do with how individuals self identify themselves and others as belonging to a particular group upon which collective cultural orientations and behavior develops (Henslin and James).

Ethic/ Racial Inequality

Wright Mills proposition emanates from his understanding that failure to interrogate public issues in the context of private values or failure to appreciate that societies are formed in the continuum of individual lives leads to lack of understanding the intricate relations between the society and the individual. This gap leads to lack of understanding of both. In education, evidence shows that Latinos (who are relatively poor) and Asian Americans have lower attainment levels of high school education at 25.9% and 16% respectively. Latinos are worse at 8.9% at college degrees. Comparing this to native Americans these numbers indicate historical and continued inequality that limits access to education and other determinants of it e.g. income.  Natives have high material and cultural capital hence high rates in high school. However, this wealth also hampers higher progress due to other opportunities and could explain the sharp drop at college to 8.7%.

The current situation therefore indicates a merger of inequality and the conflict theory; while efforts have been made to improve equality of education access to Native Americans and white, it has not responded to the challenges of Latinos and Asians; thus, it has maintained the status quo that is inequitable. The high attainment by Whites and Native Americans at high school indicates that the demands of the current education system can only be met satisfactorily by members of the native dominant culture within which education and cultural demands are congruent. This is because the conditions of life of middle and low class of others cultures such as Latinos US have to fulfill others social calls.

The relatively high attainment of the African Americans can be explained by the adoption of multiculturalism in the US curricula. Multiculturalism worked under the concept of creating tolerance for the black minority in a predominantly white culture. It argues that teaching many cultures would dispel ignorance. However, the system still has faults since it failed to follow Wright’s proposition. They failed to understand that some cultural attitudes are not acquired rationally by choice. It did not invest time in understanding the components of the society and the individual, breaking the racist tendencies embedded in institutions, but only confronted human/personal racial tendencies through information (Henslin and James).

Sociological theories

Sociologists have applied diverse theories in their attempt to explain the difference in educational achievement most popular one being the IQ theories. IQ theory for instance explains the high achievement of Asians at college levels to genetic ability. Due to the apparent shortcomings of the theories, they have turned to theories that focus on the student’s material advantage/disadvantage; cultural attitudes; and organizational processes within schools of different races. One such theory is the functionalism theory that views education as a social institution with social roles. Traditionally (and until today in some cultures) schools use to teach the dominant culture; this may explain the poor performance of minority groups such as Latinos, African Americans and Asians at some levels (not all) due to the conflicting perspectives.

Consequently, education in its manifest function, attempt to teach socialization skills while in its latent functions, education achieves goals such as dating which ultimately come to face with the cultural/racial question. However, the failure of addressing these conflicting cultures creates disfavor minority races. This could explain why Whites attain better results than all others in overall. Discomfort in high school level may reduce the desire to seek higher learning. Cultural ability is rewarded instead of exploiting and rewarding natural abilities. The symbolic interactionism theory is also an explanation of the evident disparity in performance. Students from different cultures/races are labeled educationally (for instance African Americans as violent and not social) as disadvantaged/low achievers and with lower intelligent levels compared to their native counterparts. Asians are labeled as mentally superior hence their high college record is 29.8% that is a self-fulfilling prophecy (Henslin and James).

Social Institution: Family

Sociologists have made consideration on the role that family plays in educational achievement across races. Studies are particularly more regarding minority groups such as Afro-Caribbean and Asian parents; studies indicate that their predisposition to single parenthood gives the parents (mothers) a lot of drive in encouraging their children to take education seriously and pursue it to higher levels e.g. Asians. This might explain the relatively high achievement of Asians at high college level. On the other hand, the relatively low performance of White and Native American children at high college level (19.3% and 8.7%, which is lower than their attainment in high school level) could be due to liberal parenting, less parental hold and low influence on a child dominant in White culture/families. Latinos record low college degrees at 8.9% due to social conflict of poverty, drugs and gangs that tear the social fabric and weaken family ties. However, others factors such as resources may affect family role on various levels (Henslin and James).

Thus, parental/family involvement in a child’s education affects their determination to remain within the education system to higher levels. Afro-Caribbean children attain degrees and score highly in high school since their parents are persistent in seeing them through. It should be noted that family factor in education attainment also occurs in other complimentary forms. Ethnic minorities such as Asian Americans are more likely to take a personal interest in their children’s education compared to native majority. Native Americans indicate parental preoccupation with other life affairs at the detriment of education. Majority plan but do not participate in their children’s education. As such, cultures which merge social life and individual needs in education, achieve more success.


This study concludes that indeed ethnic/racial differences impact on educational achievement through perceptions, acts, omissions or endowment issues. However, it also adds that while culture affects the primary resources available towards educational pursuance, the core choices regarding education are rational and not imposed. For instance, it is a choice to take art or science subjects which may differ relatively in employability, pay and prestige. Studies indicate that ethnic minority students prefer arts to sciences. Therefore, students and societies have choices as well despite their situations. Additionally, since it is not possible to have equality of conditions across cultures, government policies have a duty to ensure equality of opportunities hence equality of outcomes (Henslin and James).

Finally, in pursuance of Mills contention, no aspect; inequality, race, social system or theory can conclusively explain the disparity. This is because educational achievement is an outcome of an interaction of factors, and the only chance is to study the human and the society/culture/race and make deductions. For instance, some disparity between different races immigrants performance can only be understood in the context of how the immigrant’s cultures interacted with the natives, their conditions of reception among other subjective issues.

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