Responding to Pertinent Issues in Education

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will explain how to respond to pertinent political, social, and economic issues that impact the educational environment both internally and externally.

We've Got Issues

What do we mean when we talk about societal issues pertinent to internal and external educational environment? What are these issues exactly, and how can they impact education? Every element of human life and society has influence on all others.

The Social Ecological Model

Based on the social ecological model of human interaction, individuals are at the center of several spheres of influence, extending out like concentric circles and expanding in size, scope, and power. Imagine, at the center of concentric circles, there is a dot representing an individual. The first circle around the dot represents the influence of family and friends. The next circles represent the influence of associates in school or work. The circles after that are for the community, city, region, state, and nation. Generally, these larger circles have the influence of economic, legal, and political power. This description of human interaction is called the social ecological model and is a helpful way to conceptualize group dynamics.

Even larger and more powerful than governments are the outermost circles representing sociocultural influence. These are social and cultural norms and values found in religion, ethnicity, the economy, medicine, criminal justice, and other major societal institutions. These sociocultural norms influence our behavior to fit in with the larger group to ensure survival.

This image provides a visual analogy for the social ecological model. The ripple effect of social issues can impact the individuals at the center.
image of a ripple effect

Let's look at the specific influences issues involving politics, the economy, and other major social institutions may have on educational environments and the appropriate ways to respond.

Politics

The political climate certainly has an influence on educational environments. This could manifest internally (coming from within the school) through interpersonal challenges between students who identify as progressive, liberal, or conservative. In the present political climate that has escalated in its divisiveness, it seems likely that disruptions between students may happen. This could be a teachable moment for effective research, civil debate, and skills in human compassion. Schools can respond to these internal struggles by providing educational outlets to express ideologically different perspectives on the political spectrum.

Political issues can also have an external (coming from outside the school) influence on schools. For example, federal legislation on educational standards has taken some power away from individual states and teachers. Another example could be in the federal discrimination protections for vulnerable students, like Title IX. Politics also influences how much federal and state funding should be devoted to education. One way that local and regional governments have external influences on educational environments is by drawing the districts, occasionally moving students to schools far away from home.

Economy

Economics certainly has a profound influence on educational environments. Internally, schools may have socioeconomic disparities between low-income and high-income students. Within poorer schools, there is also a likelihood that some students' educational needs cannot be met. Some students may struggle just to acquire a few basic school supplies, while others have access to expensive technology helping them get ahead. Some schools can afford more enrichment for extracurricular activities than others, widening the achievement gap and contributing to intergenerational poverty.

The economy can also have an external influence coming in from outside the school. Because school funding is largely based on property values in the neighborhood, most schools do not have economic diversity. This means that students in each school are usually mostly wealthy or mostly low income, depending on the location of the school. The political influence of drawing districts mentioned above may have some financial motivation, effectively perpetuating cycles of poverty within certain regions. At the federal level, the president and congress can make decisions that directly impact how much funding schools can receive.

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