Social problems in the world impact the operation and effectiveness of public education. In fact, a major portion of the school’s work devotes itself to responding, directly or indirectly, to students whose lives are challenged by social ills, such as poverty or violence. Such problems, including homelessness, teen parenting, substance abuse, child abuse, and youth suicide, complicate students’ efforts to learn. Other social problems, such as vandalism, school violence, and the dropout rate, are exacerbated when students feel alienated from the school structure. The chapter briefly discusses each of these topics and the ways in which public education is responding as an introduction for prospective teachers, not as a detailed analysis.
Some social issues arise due to the economic strata a student belongs to. Students who belong to poor families are most likely to attend public schools. These schools are, however, not as well equipped with technology as private schools. This then automatically puts them at a disadvantage when compared to other students who go to private schools.
When the economy takes a downward turn, everyone can quickly suffer. With less money making its way through society, schools may feel a funding crunch and go into a budget crisis. For example, during a slow economy, the costs of fuel for school buses and food for school lunches may increase. These costs are often passed on to the schools, the parents and the students. When the costs to the schools begin to outweigh the money coming in through taxes and other funding sources, programs that are deemed unessential — such as non-academic or arts concentrations — are cut and teachers may lose their jobs. These cuts not only affect the schools but also impact the students and their opportunities to get a quality education.
Drugs and Alcohol
Substance use and abuse, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are major issues affecting American students. A 2011 survey of American high school students by the CDC notes that 39 percent of teens reported drinking alcohol within the past 30 days and 22 percent engaged in binge drinking. Teens who regularly engage in substance use often have scholastic problems that include lower grades, memory issues and a higher likelihood of school absences.
Teen pregnancy isn’t just a societal issue or a statistic to shake one’s head at. With more than 329,000 births to teen moms in 2011 alone, according to the CDC, unplanned pregnancies have a drastic impact on many students and their schooling. Teen pregnancy is a societal problem that costs taxpayers roughly $11 billion per year in health care, foster care, and other related expenses. Teen moms have a higher likelihood of getting lower grades or dropping out of school completely. According to the CDC, only half of all teen mothers graduate from high school or get their diploma.
Society has changed considerably in the last few decades. Today, the divorce rate is very high in America and many school-going children are brought up in single-parent families. Growing up in broken homes can adversely affect the emotional health of a student and it may thus lower his performance at school. However, even when children are brought up in homes where both parents are present, it’s not necessary that their emotional needs will be met, since in the majority of families today, both the parents are working.
Another social issue in education is the differential treatment provided on the basis of gender. In certain sections of the society, girls are provided with lesser opportunities for studying, in comparison to boys. Expectations from girls to score high in studies or study further are less as well.
Finally, the issue of sex education in the schools is explored in light of the growing concern over the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the problem of teen pregnancies. The goals of sex education 47 programs are described. The appropriateness of sex education in schools is debated, as are various approaches to sex education.