Theorist: Jean Anyon
This analysis is focused on research concerning educational options for high school dropouts. Anyon’s theory of social reproduction provides the framework for this study. Social reproduction takes place by design in order to insure the social system meets the needs of the capitalistic society. Anyon contends the purpose of education differs greatly according to the socioeconomic background of target student populations. She argues a hidden curriculum exists within the curriculum, purposely paving the way for predetermined career opportunities. Anyon concludes, in this way, students are sorted according to social class, and are prepared, for example, to follow either a vocational path or professional path, depending on their present social class. This theory has significant, far reaching implications as it relates to the issue of social transformation (1981).
Social reproduction refers to the theory people remain in the same social class background their whole lives. Anyon’s research gives compelling evidence schools cement social sorting through calculated education according to social class. Anyon researches the theory knowledge and skills leading to power and influence in society are provided for elite students, but they are withheld from lower income students as early as elementary school. Schools teach children attitudes, dispositions, and skills to keep them in their present social class. Anyon observes working class schools teach isolated facts by rote learning, leaving little choice or opportunity for decision making. The classroom environment is based on internal rules, and rewards are based on compliance and correctly following directions. The elite schools teach students to investigate and solve problems, to develop one’s own analytical and intellectual powers, to present theories, and to develop high levels of creativity. Rewards are based on the ability to think, problem solve, and lead. The opinions of these children are significant. This process of systematic sorting promotes the socially advantaged students while simultaneously disenfranchising students of low social status, ultimately creating or destroying the ability to obtain and utilize social power and influence in society (1981).
According to Anyon (1997), social reproduction in the US takes place in a democratic society which claims education is the vehicle for upward social mobility. However, schools cement social sorting of students into their present socioeconomic strata for life. Research gives clear evidence of inequalities in education between students of differing socioeconomic classes. The unfair practice of funding education through property taxes insures low income children receive an under-funded education, while wealthy districts receive elite schooling. Research shows minority children living in poverty, especially those of African American, Hispanic, and Native American descent, receive inferior education. The response by some students to these obvious inequities is noncompliant behavior within a hostile environment and ultimate rejection of the system itself. A large percentage of these students drop out of secondary school and face a life of complacency, failure, poverty, and despair. They have no vision and all hope is lost.
The theory of social reproduction and social sorting provides an interesting lens through which to view the current literature relating to educational options for high school dropouts. The practice of social sorting in the context of education communicates a devaluing of students who dwell in the bottom social strata. Students in the higher strata believe performing well and achieving in school provides access to better jobs and more earning power in the future. Students in the lowest stratum know educational achievement will not provide access to better jobs at all. Victims of this sorting process are desperate for options which restore hope, provide a chance at an equal future, and reverse the reproduction of predetermined life paths of poverty and isolation. Research shows educational options for high school dropouts are blaringly absent and desperately needed in order to ensure these individuals have a chance to be productive and contributing citizens of society. These children who have experienced physical, emotional, psychological, and educational harm require comprehensive services to meet their needs and to restore hope and value to their very existence (Anyon, 1997).
Anyon concludes social reproduction and social sorting is designed by the present educational system to meet the needs of the capitalistic society. As a result, a large percentage of minority students living in poverty exit secondary schools without obtaining a high school diploma, leaving them with few educational options. These individuals serve society by working the lowest paying jobs in the market. School reform requires comprehensive, fundamental transformation within society as a whole. Political, economic, and cultural change must take place. True social transformation takes place only when those who hold power and influence in society come to the rescue of those who are victims of the system. Federal dollars need to provide resources to poor schools which are in dire need of billions of dollars to rebuild the dilapidated schools and provide needed technology and resources. Teachers and administrators need to be trained to encourage and empower students rather than mimic their oppressors and devalue students. Secondary school dropouts need options provided to ensure they receive training to prepare them to work and to provide for themselves and their families. The practice of social sorting must be demolished, and society must be transformed through equitable education across all social classes (1997).