My most toxic trait is that I am a White woman. I only live because of the crimes of my ancestors. My entire education has been Functionalist, to turn me into the perfect member of society. I can claim the Mexican side of my family, but then we have to break down how that is more of ethnicity than race. Then, we have to go through whether I am Chicana, Mexican, or both. I am approximately eighty percent colonizer and twenty percent Indigenous. My Indigenous/ Mexican heritage is not something I can genuinely claim because my father was raised to blend in and get a good job here in the United States. I have tried to learn more about my culture by looking for external sources, but it is hard to have an authentic connection with articles and videos instead of people you know and love. My father does not know or participate in many Mexican cultural practices that my neighbors and school peers have exposed me to. My aunt says that he wants to be White. My father is just light-skinned enough that he is not perceived as a threat by old White men. He did okay. He has been unemployed since 2017, but at least he married a woman that could support him begrudgingly.
He married my mother, a woman so White that her maiden name was Smith. Now, just because my mother is White does not mean we did well financially. She has never done well financially as her father did some criminal things and would leave them homeless for periods. She is on a teacher’s salary in a low-income district, relating to children of the same status she grew up experiencing. So, I grew up and still live across the street from my father’s childhood home in a primarily low-income Latinx neighborhood.
I could relate to my peers when it came to our socioeconomic statuses for the most part. However, there were some critical differences in how we were raised. I inherited my mother’s social capital. Coleman and Hoffer define it as “the relations between children and parents” (61), which is far less tangible than the human capital of houses or money. My mother is educated with a master’s degree, which she can informally pass down to me. While that made her very knowledgeable in topics that would help me in my education, it did put us in debt, giving my parents very little human capital to pass down to their children.
Another form of social capital that my mother passed down to my twin and me is White Privilege. My father also fed off of this, as if people did not know our last name, we looked like an average White family when we went to a White church. We fit in incredibly well since none of us could speak more than basic Spanish. As discussed in “English-Only Triumphs, but the Costs are High: Understanding People ...”, each new generation of immigrant families loses their ability to speak the mother tongue (Rojas 10). My grandfather did not think it essential to force my father and his siblings to carry on the language, so when my grandfather had dementia and could no longer remember English, I could not talk to him.
My father was raised Catholic, but he converted to Christianity at some point in his twenties, specifically the Baptist denomination. I can say for sure that religious institutions are damaging even though I am still a practicing Christian. Talcott Parsons names the agencies of a functionalist theory, “the family, informal ‘peer groups,’ churches, and sundry voluntary organizations all play a part” (298), all working with schools indirectly to create good upstanding members of society. I assumed it worked on me considering I am here at California State University Fullerton, just another White woman getting a middle-class education, attempting to be a teacher and “make a difference.” I am the cookie-cutter child for White parents in a White society, besides the fact that I think women and People of Color should have rights, I guess.
Just as the school system is functionalist by socializing students to conform to the dominant society, the church is the same. Durkheim discusses that schools are made for education and moral education and tasking the schools to teach children to adhere to social norms. He writes, “We have committed ourselves to provide in our schools completely rational moral education, that is to say, excluding all principles derived from revealed religion” (70). This excerpt presents another issue. American schools will only focus on the morals of the dominant religion, Christianity. I never had to face a compromise of morals of faith because the Pledge of Allegiance and the pastors at my church said we were under God, so what was there to question? I did not realize people could not believe in the same God until about fifth grade when I realized one of my Asian friends was a Buddhist.
I was a cultural straddler. According to Prudence L. Carter in her book Keepin’ It Real: School Success Beyond Black and White, cultural straddlers “negotiate schooling in a way that enables them not only to hold on to their native cultural styles but also to embrace dominant cultural codes and resources” (Carter, 13). I have attempted to keep what little culture I have close to me. With the functionalist point of socializing us, I connected with peers who understood what it was to be Mexican and would invite me to cultural events.
While I was the whitest of my peers most of the time, I was Mexican when I went to church. I remember the microaggressions that I brushed off because the other three Latinx in the high school group said nothing. I specifically remember my youth pastor telling us his favorite Mexican food was Taco Bell and then asking the darkest one of us to speak Spanish because he thought it sounded nice. Until recently, my church life taught me how to be a society member in a White society rather than the diverse country it is. I consider myself lucky that I have not experienced worse.
According to the article “Examining Racist Nativist Microaggressions on DACAmented College Students in the Trump Era,” microaggressions are “subtle racism” (4) that People of Color experience. These microaggressions are usually reflective of a racist environment that may not be outwardly racist. Earlier today, May 20th, my Latina coworker told me that in 2019 she went to her usual grocery store where a White woman came up behind her in the checkout line but refused to put her groceries on the belt until my coworker had left the register. My coworker said she even gestured for the woman to move forward and move her cart out of the way, but the woman only gave her a dirty look and waited for my coworker to leave.
I know that as a White woman, that would never happen to me, but it hurt to hear
As a White woman, English was my mother’s first language and, therefore, mine. My peers did not have the same advantage, falling behind in school as they struggled to learn English. In elementary school is when I first unknowingly experienced academic tracking. According to Lauren Anderson and Jeannie Oakes in their article “The Truth about Tracking,” tracking is “labeling students according to their perceived competencies and deficits and placing them in classes and programs accordingly” (199). As a child with home support whose mother is a teacher, of course, I would do well in school compared to the students whose parents worked more than one job and could not speak English. My teachers put me in the GATE program.
Tracking is a form of cultural deficit thinking where students are labeled by deficits and are left behind, affecting their self-worth. I got into the GATE program, but my twin sister did not. Having twins is like a social experiment. Imagine putting two kids in the same positions, comparing them to each other, and then seeing how it affects them. My mother did her best to separate us in our academics to grow separately, but it is hard not to compare yourself to someone who looks almost exactly alike. How are you supposed to be your person when you are constantly confused with someone else?
If you compare my sister and me now at the age of twenty-one, you can see how tracking and cultural deficit thinking have affected us. My sister, bless her, will believe you when you tell her that she does not do something well. A teacher told her in third grade that she was terrible at math, and now she says that every time she takes a math class. She has fulfilled the prophecy predicted by her elementary teachers. People told her that she was not as good-looking as me because I wore makeup. Now she constantly calls me the prettier twin. We have the same major, but when she gets low scores, he says it is because I am “the smarter twin.” The damage is done, and there is nothing we can do about it. On the other side, GATE made me think that I was naturally bright. I never learned how to study appropriately because I got away with the bare minimum at my early age.
When we got to high school, we both struggled to do the International Baccalaureate program. This program put me in the worst mental health state I have ever experienced. I am unsure whether it was the program or high school in general, but I had constant panic attacks over grades. It did not help that my father was hospitalized during my sophomore year, and then my friend committed suicide during my senior year. I dropped the program after my final of many breakdowns in the science closet of the biology classroom. I went back to the standard classes, facing deficit thinking once again. As I joined the traditional courses, I was in the classes with the kids who did not try their best. Looking back, I wonder if teachers told them that they were not going to amount to anything. I wonder how many of their parents did not speak English. I wonder how many were left behind by their educators because of how they dressed. I remember some of my peers only going through high school to enter the workforce after they graduated. For most of my high school experience, I was attached to my sophomore English teacher. I will not lie. I clung to him as a father figure who cared about my education. When it came time to apply for colleges, I only applied to my local community college because I could not afford to go to a University.
I was pressured by faculty and the teachers I trusted to go to a four-year university. “It’s not the same experience” was constantly thrown at me. If I could not afford the Disneyland experience, I could not afford the college experience either. Still, I was not treated like my peers accepted to four-year institutions right out of high school. I was looked down upon compared to my friends who had gotten accepted to four-year colleges. I know that the administration only wanted me to apply because it looks good on their records, but hearing it from a teacher you trust, you should go into debt for an “experience” hurt. It hurt because I know that college is unattainable for most students in my area and that they were also getting that treatment.
Students with low socioeconomic statuses were once again put at the bottom of the list for education. What I noticed at community college was that most of the students there were in low socioeconomic situations. During my first semester, a professor was arguing with us because some of the other students had not gotten their financial aid dispersed yet and could not afford their textbooks. Most of my classes were made up of adults of all ages who were either going back to school or had never left. Even though they were good students, their socioeconomic status would not permit them to get through school or transfer. Brint and Karabel discuss in the article “Community Colleges and the American Social Order” that community colleges were only created to support the illusion that education is for everyone while keeping unwanted populations from attending the universities.
The previously mentioned professor would also tell us that school was more important than our jobs, and for some reason, we could not grasp that we needed those jobs even to take his class. The workload is a central issue I have had to deal with in college. Yes, I know that more academic hours mean more considerable academic growth (Roska and Arim), but working three part-time jobs to support your education means never having enough time for the education you pay to have. I used to bring my laptop to work, and if it were a slow day, I would crank out my schoolwork. I thank God every day that I had a friendly manager. As long as I did my tasks, I could do schoolwork after. However, there were times where I could not make academic deadlines due to work or family issues. One of my professors deducted me points for not showing up to class even though I had emailed him that my grandfather had passed that morning. (He did pass away. I am not lying.) On the day of my grandfather’s funeral, I had to take my Spanish final. I am surprised I passed the class in the end.
When I finally transferred to California State University Fullerton, I was only a semester late on the whole two-year plan pushed upon the students. As the school continued to be online, I have observed no real difference between University and Community college; besides that, University costs me much more money for the same amount of education. I am unsure if this is just because school is online for now, and maybe schoolwork will pick up next semester when we have in-person classes. One key difference I have noticed is that University professors put themselves on a pedestal. I understand it to an extent. If I had a Ph.D., I would probably be a snob as well. However, when their snobbery extends to community colleges, I get irritated. I see it as classist and racist, considering that my community college experience included a large population of minorities in tough economic spots.
I told my professor how excited I was to take his class because I had taken a similar one at my community college. He said that was great, but his course would obviously be more in-depth than the community college one. They were both English Major classes. I had to take that class this semester because Fullerton would not accept that credit to fulfill the same criteria. His attitude made other transfers and me uncomfortable as he felt like he needed to explain more to us because we had not been at a University for as long as our peers. As per Friere, my professor was attempting to “adjust these ‘incompetent and lazy’ folk to its own patterns by changing their mentality” (74). He saw us as not having the same education like the kind he offers in his classroom. I know his job is to make us students into educated members of society and teach us how to perform in job settings. However, sometimes professors forget that their students are people with different statuses.
I feel that the whole education system is to prepare students to get a job rather than teach academia. Do not get me wrong, I am glad to be prepared as much as possible for a job, but I wish high school were more focused on genuine learning and good time learning. It has become such a chore to learn. I want to be a part of the functionalist education system. I hate to get a generation who genuinely understands instead of regurgitating information to get to the next grade. Yes, I still want them to be prepared for society, but that should not take the forefront, in my opinion.
Despite what I could call hardships, and hardships not mentioned because they were not relevant to Sociology of Education, I believe my life is incredibly privileged just because I am a White Christian. If my twin sister had written this, she might have had a more solid argument about being a product of a damaged system. However, you got me. I am your typical Christian White girl working on getting through life, hoping at some point there will be an end to it all when I can have some peace. I know it will not happen, but it is nice to dream. I am the product of an education system that benefits me. The functionalist approach prepared me to go into the world with no worries about how my race or upbringing will affect me in daily life. However, this theory only does well by the people this society intended, leaving behind minorities and People of Color for being too far off from the norm.
Brint, S., & Karabel, J. (1991). Community Colleges and the American Social Order. The Diverted Dream: Community Colleges and the Promise of Educational Opportunity in America, 1900–1985., 36(2), 650–659. https://doi.org/10.2307/2393368
Carter, P. L. (2007). Keepin’ It Real: School Success Beyond Black and White (Transgressing Boundaries: Studies in Black Politics and Black Communities) (Illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press.
Coleman, J. S., & Hoffer, T. (1987). Schools, Families, and Communities. In Public and Private High Schools: The Impact of Communities (First Printing ed., pp. 60–68). Basic Books.
Durkheim, E. (1973). The First Element of Morality: The Spirit of Discipline. Moral Education: A Study in Theory and Application of Sociology of Education, 69–76.
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition (30th Anniversary ed.). Continuum.
Gomez, V., & Perez Huber, L. (2019). Examining Racist Nativist Microagressions on DACAmented College Students in the Trump Era. California Journal of Politics and Policy, 11(2). https://doi.org/10.5070/p2cjpp11243089
Gorski, P. C., Zenkov, K., Anderson, L., & Oakes, J. (2014). The Big Lies of School Reform. In The Truth About Tracking (pp. 199–226). Taylor & Francis.
Parsons, T. (1959). The School Class as a Social System: Some of Its Functions in American Society. Harvard Educational Review, 29(4), 297–318.
Portes, A. (2002). English-only Triumphs, but the Costs are High. Contexts, 1(1), 10–15. https://doi.org/10.1525/ctx.2002.1.1.10
Roska, J., & Arum, R. (2011). The State of Undergraduate Learning. Change Magazine, 43(2), 756–762.
Stevens, M. (2007). Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites. Harvard University Press.
About the author
Hello! I am one semester away from graduating with my English BA. I work as an informal STEM Educator and Writing Tutor. I like to write and get my thoughts out in my essays and short stories. Stay tuned :)