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US Education System: Cultural, Political & Social Influences

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

The educational system of the United States is a vast network of unique cultural, political and social influences. This lesson will explore this topic and will end with a brief quiz to test what you have learned.

Overview of the Educational System of the United States

Think about your education for a moment. How old were you when you began attending school? Did you attend public school or private school? Did you stay in one school for most of your education, or did you change schools depending on grade level? If you attended school in the United States, then your answers to these questions may help to outline a basic understanding of the educational system of the United States. If you moved or changed schools during your education, then you likely have a unique understanding of the cultural, political, and social influences on the US educational system.

The educational system of the United States began in a very rudimentary and unorganized way with the earliest settlers establishing single room school houses in emerging communities. This system has evolved to a massive network of schools and universities that educate over 71 million students each year. The levels of education include early childhood education which lasts from birth through about age five, elementary education for ages five through about twelve, secondary education for ages thirteen to about eighteen, and vocational/technical or postsecondary education for those age eighteen and up. Most states require students to attend school until the age of sixteen, with some mandating attendance through age eighteen.

One might assume that US students receive the same education no matter where they live. Interestingly though, the education system in America is not a federal system mandated by the government. In America, individual states wield the lion's share of responsibility for funding and operating schools with very little governance or funding coming from the US federal government. Furthermore, there are differences from district to district within states in terms of curriculum and funding. Early childhood, elementary, and secondary students who attend public school in America do not pay for their education. Private schools usually receive no funding from state or government, thus students who attend these schools must pay tuition. Almost all postsecondary schools in America charge tuition. This unique structure ensures that no two schools are alike. Instead, America's schools are shaped by regional cultural, political and social influences.

Cultural Influences

Have you ever taken a road trip? If so, you probably noticed differences between cities and states. Some of these differences might include foods, language or accent, or even changes in the landscape. All of these differences create what we call culture. Culture might be explained as the norms for behavior in a given place . Each place tends to have its own unique culture. For example, in the southern United States, there is a distinct accent or southern drawl. People who hail from Alabama usually sound very different than those who come from New York! It does not end with language though. Foods are different. Buildings look different. The land looks different. Needless to say, these cultural differences impact the education system. Therefore, while a Kindergarten class in Alabama and one in New York may both be made up of the same number of students of about the same age, they will likely be very different in terms of culture. These differences influence learning.

Political Influences

When you think of politics, you probably envision people such as the president, your state governor, or maybe even the mayor of your town. You may also consider the individual political parties: democrats, republicans, independents, etc. Maybe you think about your own political beliefs. How do these beliefs impact the US educational system, or do they? Well, political influences are very important things to consider when discussing the educational system of the United States of America. Politicians run the government at the city, state, and federal levels, thus have great power when it comes to education. One's political beliefs usually influence the way he or she feels about education and how it is structured and funded. This is another reason why we see many differences from city to city and state to state in America's schools. The political structure of local government impacts schools in that community in an intimate and profound way. The federal government also has some impact on schools, but not as directly.

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