07 SES 10 A, Students’ Views on Social Justice
In western societies equality is a highly valued social goal. However, it is also widely accepted that people with a low level of education earn less and have a lower social status than people with higher education. This raises the following question: If students are aware of social stratification based on education levels, how does that apply to their own position? Does it have an impact on the self-esteem of the students in the lowest track of education and could this lead to school drop-out? This article is based on a study that was carried out in the years 2008 and 2009. The research population consists of 177 youngsters between 15 and 17 years of age, from 3 different tracks of education in the south ofRotterdam. We used for this explorative study various methods of data gathering: questionnaires with open ended questions, in-depth interviews and a tailor made method with the use of photos. This new method, named Visually Identification Method (VIM) is based on observation while students had to comment on photos of people from various social classes and ethnic backgrounds, who find themselves in distinctive social situations. The assignment was to arrange them in a circle, representing society. The comments, conclusions and classifications made by these pupils were transcribed and analysed.
The conclusion of the study is that there is a strong awareness of social status among the respondents, a significant difference between the 3 educational levels and a negative impact on self-esteem of students in the lower vocational level, which could lead to school-dropout.
This research can be seen in line with the tradition of the Strain Theory of Merton (1938). Merton assumed that groups in society, who have few opportunities to achieve socially respected goals in a legitimate way, will try to reach these goals in an illegitimate way, for example by means of criminal activity or other deviant behaviour. In an ‘egalitarian’ society, cultural goals and success symbols apply almost in the same way to everyone, while for many people it is almost impossible to ever achieve these goals (Merton, 1938). The question is whether this theory is still useful in the study of the current problem of youngsters who fail in education: is the school drop out of some of the students in VMBO, easier to understand when we consider the relatively low social status of secondary school and the distance between the ambitious goals of students and the real possibilities to achieve these goals. The social pain that may be caused by being ‘inferior’ and having fewer opportunities to use an education, so as to achieve a respectful place in society, in their own eyes, can contribute to that students in VMBO and MBO are less motivated to invest in their education, such that they quit sooner.
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