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Why Do we go to college?
As we journey down this road called life, many of us face the rigors of academia during the early years of our life. One of the most critical junctures in this path is that of whether we should continue on with education into college, or veer off this path and one towards a job or other future prospects. For most technological and industrial advanced societies, going to college has become an integrated part of the learning process. But the fact that it is not done everywhere or by everyone makes it questionable if it is necessary and brings up the question of what function does school and going on to college, in particular, really serve for society as a whole. To resolve this dilemma, it is important to approach the question, not just from one view, but from all of the major schools of thought: the functionalist, the conflict-theorist, and the symbolic interaction. By looking at how each one views how going to college serves our society, a better assessment can be made of the question at hand, especially since all three are feasible ways of looking at and studying our society.
Before understanding what each of the schools of thought would have to say, it is important to first see how they view our society, which would determine what they have to say. The functionalist and conflict-theorist, using the big-picture, macro-level view, would look at society as the sum of its parts, rather than just the parts individually. But the functionalist, while viewing it as a whole, deems that society can be representative of an organism, and all the parts work together for the good of the whole. The conflict-theorist, on the other hand, while also seeing society as a whole, views it differently from the functionalist by seeing how the different parts of society try to gain from each other by exploitation and inequality. The symbolic-interactionist, differs completely from the other two completely by taking a micro-level approach rather than the macro-level approach taken be the functionalist and conflict-theorist. In doing so, the symbolic-interactionist would go within society instead of viewing it from abroad, and would, in turn, see society from its parts rather than the whole and see how the parts work and interact together to get a clearer picture of the situation.
Understanding what type of views that each of the schools of thought carry, it is now easier to determine how they would go about analyzing the question in hand. The functionalist would determine how the furthering of education into college has been integrated into society, how it affects society by its continued existence, and how it relates to and with the other parts of the organism (society). Looking at societies where getting a college education has become a part of life, mostly growth oriented countries, the functionalist would be able to determine that a college education has become an essential part of the structure, otherwise those societies would come to a grinding halt. These societies have been based on continued growth and advancement, neither of which would be possible without the members of these societies being educated. For more relaxed and, for lack of a better word, primitive societies, growth would not be as important as continued existence of the group, which would not require much education outside what is learned in the home. So, going on to college is a vital part of the advanced societies in which it does exist, and is central to its continued existence. It has become integrated because in order for growth to take place, knowledge had to be passed on to the next generations, and over time this evolved into the formal educational system that exists today. Without it, growth would take much longer and wouldn't be as progressive. Basically, it could be considered the backbone of the organism, since the well being of the other parts of these growth-driven societies depend on its existence.
The conflict-theorist, instead of seeing how going to college worked for the good of society, would see how it divides society, how different groups try to exploit its use for their own gain, and how it creates inequality within society. In studying, the conflict-theorist would see that, in fact, going to college creates a lot of inequalities within society. For instance, in societies like the United States, the extremely high costs of college prevent a great number of people from going to college, and in some cases, finishing college. So, in turn, only the rich groups would be able to afford to send their children to college, and, since they will have the higher education, they will receive the highest-paying jobs. And, in turn, they will continue this cycle will their kids. This prevents many from being able to move up within the economic classes within their society, further dividing the rich from the poor. And as time goes on, more and more people will slump down in the lower economic brackets shifting more and more of the wealth into fewer hands. So, in effect, college will divide society into groups that can go and groups that cannot go. These divisions can lead to great tension between the classes that can end in disputes and standoffs. And, in turn, they can use the college degree to claim intellectual superiority which they might not actually have, but because the power a degree holds, it may seem that way. In more socialist societies, however, increased taxes provide for the government's funding of college so it is available to everyone. In this case, the inequalities will be reduced since more people will have access to the same opportunities, thus reducing the power of the wealthy to keep their elevated positions. In societies where going to college is not an integral part of life, many of the members are more equal since there is less to distinguish themselves from one another, and, thus, there is less stratification within their groups. So, in effect, college serves as a means for stratifying society, especially since, in many cases, only the rich will have access to the best education, which will prevent the redistribution of wealth throughout the classes, while also exploiting a college degree to try and show their supposed intellectual superiority.
The symbolic-interactionist, on the other hand, instead of asking question about the society as a whole, will see how the process of going to college interacts with the other parts of society, and how is reacted to and perceived by other people and groups. Within the society, the process of going to college affects different people differently. For many, it is a means to get ahead, to try and secure a good future for themselves. As well, many will use it to give others a better image of themselves, since going to the university is looked upon highly by others, in effect, serving as a status symbol. Rich families will be able to use this to their advantage since they will be the ones being able to afford the superior academic institutions. This, coupled with pressure from family and peers, will, as well, often lead to forcing many to go on to college even if they don't know if they are ready or not. All in search of riches and fame. Even if they cannot afford it, pressure pulls them in for this image. Basically, going to college provides an image of intelligence, superiority, and prosperity, which many groups will try to use to their own advantage and forces many to go to college in search of this image.
By only looking at this scenario from one school of thought, there is only one spectrum of thought going into the overall judgement. But, in reality, all three show us something different that provides a fuller picture of what is going on. As from the question of what purpose does going to college serve, the functionalist view shows us that it is used by society to further advancement and growth and quicker rates, but at the same time, as the conflict-theorist view shows us, it also fosters widespread inequality unless there is government intervention in the payment of college costs. And from the final view, the symbolic-interactionist shows that people use college in an attempt to better their image since it command respect. With the societies that were more relaxed, there would be minimal inequality, but less growth. By understanding all three views, the reason for a college education becomes much more apparent and understandable: to push forward the growth of society at whatever costs to the members, especially inequality and the harsh struggle to try and make it to the top.
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