Christopher Jencks

Christopher Jencks is a widely respected and influential social scientist in the United States. He entered the social policy world in the early 1960s. He is still a Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government since 1998. His career interests are in the economic opportunity and the welfare of individuals at the bottom of the income distribution range. He focuses on many topics as a social politician working for the welfare state and study of social services to help Americans live a better quality of life. However, he tries to shed light on weaknesses in American higher education through his many books, articles, and interviews. He argues that American higher education institutions should be available for all that are eligible and that they should persuade minority students to stay in school so that they will not live complicated lives.

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Christopher Sandy Jencks is the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard University’s Kenndey School of Government.

 

 

In 1988, Jencks wrote an essay titled “Whom Must We Treat Equally for Educational Opportunity to Be Equal.” The piece is about how people have different meanings for the word “equal.” In the essay, he associates all the different meanings of “equal” to equal educational opportunity. One example he uses in the essay is when a teacher, Ms. Higgins, implies that she should give all her third-grade students equal attention and opportunity but she does not do as she indicates. This example of Mrs. Higgins is important because Jencks implies that Mrs. Higgins teaching methods are everywhere, middle school, high school, and college. He also makes it clear to his readers why he focuses on young children in the essay because children tend to dramatize certain ambiguities in adults thinking about equal opportunity, but it may obscure others (Jencks 2). Jencks is clearly stating that equal opportunity applies to everyone. He is only focusing on children because adults tend to be more concerned for children than concerning for other adults. Also, he applies what he found to adolescents and individuals pursuing higher education when he mentions, “As students get older, the case for paternalism grows weaker. As a result, both the principled and practical arguments for certain courses of action grow weaker too” (Jencks 2). The authors seem to apply the case for weak paternalism to higher education especially when elite colleges look down on other colleges. These elite institutions also restrict students who are pursuing higher education. Elite colleges restricting students and looking down on other colleges make moral and empirical arguments weak.

Additionally, in the late 1960s, Jencks joined the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s newly formed Center for Educational Policy Research where he and his colleagues wrote Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and School in America. It took them three years of research to write this book. In Chapter 2, titled “Inequality in the Schools” Jencks and his colleagues make their strongest argument about higher education when they state, “Access to education is far more equal for children between age 6-16 than for older and younger children” (Jencks 17). The authors want their readers to know that school is free for children between that ages of 6-16. However, education if not free for children below age 6 and above age 16. Preschool is not free, and college is not free. The authors continue as they mention, “American colleges have always been selective institutions” (Jencks 19). The authors are clearing stating that colleges in America choose students they admit into their institution. The authors make their readers assume that colleges also admit students that they know will eventually drop out and also admit students that they know will move on to do graduate work. The authors go on to point out that student who does not get money from home have to borrow money, work, or make all kinds of sacrifices to compete with students who get money from home (Jencks 19). The authors are trying to clarify to their readers that students who get money from home easier access to attend colleges while students who do not get money from home do not have easier access to attend college. The authors are clearing stating that students who get money from home have an easier access to attend college. The authors also imply in quote that students who do not have money from home might not attend college since it involves many sacrifices. They also mention, “Money aside, America has provided higher education only for students with certain talents and interests” (Jencks 20). They authors are trying to make it clear to their readers that most institutions only permit gifted students into their institution. The authors also make it clear to their readers that colleges admit students who are gifted over students who have money to access institutions. The authors make their readers assume that students who are not gifted should not even attempt to apply to colleges. The authors came up with three conclusions for a better educational opportunity in higher education. First, they mention that “different individuals and groups should not get unequal shares of the nation’s educational resources” (Jencks 22). The authors make it clear to their readers that some people do not have access to educational resources. They also imply to their readers that college should be available to everyone. The authors make their readers assume that the nation allows college institutions to target certain groups of people to attend their institution. Secondly, they state that “access to low-cost educational services is more equal than access to high-cost service” (Jencks 22). The authors clearly state to their readers that the more they have to pay for their education, the less equal it is. The less they have to pay for their education, the more equal it is. They also imply to their readers that some colleges are not equal since they cost more. Finally, they say “that making all education free would not suffice to equalize people’s actual use of either schools or colleges” (Jencks 23). The authors clearly state to their readers that making college free would not make it equal to people. The authors say making college free for everyone would not make it fair to people because people would attend colleges for the wrong reasons. The authors imply to their readers that colleges high cost convinces people to want to participate in colleges for the correct reason.  

In chapter five of Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and School in America, titled “Inequality in Educational Attainment,” Jencks and his colleagues argue that American schools and colleges “serve primarily as selection and certification agencies, whose job is to measure and label people, and only secondarily as socialization agencies, whose job is to change people” (Jencks 135). The authors are clearly stating to their readers that colleges’ main existence is to give certificates to students. The authors make their readers assume that colleges distinguish people into a hierarchical class. The authors also state to their readers that colleges care about certifying people more than changing people. The authors continue, since schools or colleges certify students based on how many years they attend the institution, then an extra year of college should increase a man’s earning power more than an extra year of high school (Jencks 136). The authors clearly state to their readers that colleges and high schools certify based on how long a student attends the college and not by what the student has learned. They also state to their reader that colleges should pay more to students who stay for more years since they certify based on how long a student remains in the college. They also state that high schools should pay more to students who stay for more year, but the pay should be less than the salary for staying more years in college. The authors add, “Yet the very fact that admissions guarantees graduation had made colleges and professional schools more careful about whom they admit” (Jencks 144). The authors are saying that higher education institutions are concerned about who they admit into their institutions. The authors imply to their readers that colleges accept students who are more promising while rejecting students who are not. Higher education institutions only admit students who they know will graduate.

Continually, in 2009, Jencks wrote an article titled The Graduation Gap where he argues that “America needs to do a better job increasing its college enrollment and graduation rates, especially for less advantaged students” (Jencks). Jencks is clearly stating that American students who do not have money and are not gifted do not have as much access to colleges as students who are rich and talented. Even if untalented and poor students get access to colleges, their graduation rate is lower than that of the students who have money and are talented. He continues by comparing the college costs of different nations. He concludes that other nations do not have a large share of college cost compared to the United States. The students in other nations are also more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than are students in the United States. He says the problem with college enrollment and the graduation rate in America is because “the proportion of high school graduates entering college has gone up while the percentage of college students earning a four-year degree has fallen. College cost is going up, and financial aid is not keeping up” (Jencks). Jencks is mentioning to his readers that people pursuing higher education get admitted into institutions, but they eventually drop out without earning a bachelor’s degree. The author tries to scare his readers who are eligible for financial aid by implying that financial aid is paying for a lot of students’ college fees and its limit of funding for student fees is close. The author also makes it clear to his reader that more high school students are graduating and entering colleges. Jencks continues to stress to his readers that High school grades predict college grades, and college grades are significant determinants of whether students remain enrolled. The author is trying to make his readers think that performance matters in staying in college. He clearly states to his reader that students who get lousy grades in high school will have a difficult time understanding the material in college. He also implies to his reader that students who get bad grades in high school are the ones that eventually drop out due to getting bad grades.

Then, in 1967, Marybeth Gasman wrote an article titled Salvaging “Academic Disaster Areas”: The Black College Response to Christopher Jencks and David Riesman’s 1967 Harvard Educational Review Article wherein she compares and contrasts Jencks and Riesman’s article titled “The American Negro College.” She mentions many others who also criticized Black colleges, but she focuses mainly on Jencks and Riesman’s article. Gasman mentions “Because of the prestige of the journal and the institutional affiliation of the author (Harvard). The article has received much attention-both in the academic community and in the popular press (Times, Newsweek, and The New York Times)” (Gasman 1). Gasman shows in the quote that Jencks and Riesman are respected and influential. She makes it very clear that many people read Jencks and Riesman’s article. She also states to her readers that Jencks and Riesman received the attention they received due to the connection they have with Harvard. Jencks and Riesman’s goal for writing the article was to inform the 97% of the American population who knew nothing about Black colleges by describing Black colleges challenges, and evaluating how they fit with other higher educational institutions (Gasman 5). Jencks and Riesman make their reader understand that many people in the American population did not know anything about Black colleges. Jencks and Riesman make their readers assume that there was something wrong with black colleges since they tried to evaluate how they fit with other institutions.  They make it seem like they are trying to fix Black colleges’ challenges in attempting to announce them to the public.

Inclusively, the Carnegie Commission analyzes what Jencks stated in his books Inequality in a journal article of higher education title Jencks and the Carnegie Commission: Not So Different Answers to Perhaps the Wrong Question by Wendell V. Harris. Harris states that the commission mentions an argument Jencks noted in his book; however, he does not specify what needs to be done to achieve equality in the book and that he tries to convince his readers without supporting his arguments with data. (Jencks 4). Harris makes it clear to his readers that the Carnegie Commission wanted Jencks to include data to support his arguments. Harris makes his readers assume the Carnegie Commission wants people to question Jencks’s book Inequality. People should not believe everything written in the book because both the Carnegie Commission and Jencks agree that “higher education should move in a direction which forces us to confront the question of whether we wish academic degrees to certify levels of competence” (Harris 1). Harris clearly says that Jencks and the Carnegie Commission are skeptical about if degrees should measure levels of competence. He also wants his reader to be skeptical about degrees being used to test the level of expertise. He makes their readers assume that there is another way to measure the level of competence.

Conclusively, Christopher Jencks is the go-to person when it comes to equal educational opportunity for all Americans. He has been fighting against inequality in all sort of topics as a social scientist since he joined the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s newly formed Center for Educational Policy Research where he and his team found arguments for a better educational opportunity for all. In Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and Schooling in America, the authors believed “it was unconstitutional for a state to finance elementary and secondary education in a way that some children receive substantially higher benefits than others, this same reason theory should apply to higher education” (Jencks 22). The authors previously noted that elementary school, middle school, and high school were free for young students while preschool and college were not free. They imply to their readers that all education should be free and all students should receive the same amount of educational resources. They also make it very clear to their readers that is illegal for a state not to finance all educational institutions.  

 

Bibliography

Jencks, Christopher. “Whom Must We Treat Equally for Educational Opportunity to Be Equal?” Ethics, vol. 98, no. 3, 1988, pp. 518–533. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2380965.

Jencks, Christopher et al. Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and School in America. New York, Basic Books, Inc., 1972. 16-20. Book Chapter.

Harris, Wendell V. “Jencks and the Carnegie Commission: Not So Different Answers to Perhaps the Wrong Question.” The Journal of Higher Education, vol. 46, no. 2, 1975, pp. 213–225. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1980881.

Gasman, Marybeth. “Salvaging ‘Academic Disaster Areas’: The Black College Response to Christopher Jencks and David Riesman’s 1967 Harvard Educational Review Article.” Journal of Higher Education, vol. 77, no. 2, Mar. 2006, pp. 317–352. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=slh&AN=19988339&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Jencks, Christopher. “The Graduation Gap.” The American Prospect, 22 Oct. 2009, prospect.org/article/graduation-gap-0.

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Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality

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