New Book: Schooled and Sorted: How Educational Categories Create Inequality

August 10, 2023

We tend to view education primarily as a way to teach students skills and knowledge that they will draw upon as they move into their adult lives. However, schools do more than educate students – they also place students into categories, such as kindergartner, English language learner, or honor roll student. In Schooled and Sorted, Thurston Domina, Andrew M. Penner, and Emily K. Penner, explore processes of educational categorization in order to explain the complex relationship between education and social inequality – and to identify strategies that can help build more just educational systems.

Some educational categories have broadly egalitarian consequences. Domina, Penner, and Penner argue that when societies enroll young people in school, making them students, they mark them as individuals who are worthy of rights. But other educational categories reinforce powerful social categories – including race, gender, and class – and ultimately reproduce social and economic inequality in society. Elite colleges, tracked high schools, and elementary school gifted programs provide not only different educational experiences, but also create merit and inequality by sorting students into categories that are defined by the students who are excluded.

Schooled and Sorted highlights that many of the decisions that define educational categories occur in school-based committee meetings and other relatively local settings. The local nature of these decisions provides many opportunities to define educational categories differently, and for school communities to bring about change.

Schooled and Sorted is an illuminating investigation into the ways sorting within schools translates into inequality in the larger world. While some educational categorization may be unavoidable, the authors suggest ways to build a more equitable system—and thus a more equitable society.

Read more and purchase a copy of the book.


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