Science in Christian Perspective



R. Heddendorf, M.A.
Problem Areas of Sociology:
Sociology of Education and Sociology of Science
Part III

Sociology of Education

There are probably fewer areas in our present society which could profit more from the findings of sociology than the field of education. The problems of teaching remain the problem of the educator. This condition seems most unfortunate, since close cooperation between educator and sociologist would undoubtedly reap great benefits for both.

It is true that sociologists have been loath to enter the field until recently. There seem to have been two main reasons for this trend of the past. First, educators, being quite ubiquitous in their research, have tended to deal with problems of social relationships by themselves. Resulting studies have been largely framed in educational terms. The lack of mutual communication and respect which prevailed discouraged sociologists from entering the field.

Secondly, the field has been considered by the sociologist to be relatively sterile for research purposes. It has been only recently that the problems of academic groups have been seen as not being unique. Hence, the school and classroom are now viewed as typical social systems with the inherent characteristics of such a system. It is significant to note that although Waller presented such a view in his pioneering work Sociology of Teacbing in 1932, there has been very little building upon his foundation. This is most unfortunate in view of the great increase in conceptual tools which has been made since then.

Perhaps the fact that an educational system has not been viewed as a producing unit requiring efficiency of performance has been a factor in the slow growth of the sociology of education. It was precisely this view of the industrial system as a producing unit which provided the major breakthrough of interest in industrial sociology. The recent stress on superior educational performance has brought into more clear focus the potentially motivating framework of an educational system.

Studies in industrial sociology have shown the precarious equilibrium which is inherent in a social system. It is quite likely that the stresses and strains existing in industrial systems would also be found in educational systems, since there exist in both, similar organizational structures based on size and complexity. The balance of structural elements is particularly difficult to maintain in the dynamic conditions in which our schools find themselves. Unlike industrial systems, top echelons are comprised of laymen who meet in local boards. The fact that these local board members are neither professional nor full-time personnel often makes more difficult the necessary adjustment.

A number of other basic problems present themselves within the structure of the school. How does the nonvoluntary nature of the student's role affect the social system? What are the bases for a well balanced student-teacher relationship? Since change is such a dynamic factor in present systems, what are its effects on such structural aspects as classroom size? What are the norms governing the school, particularly in consideration of the increasing importance of the power influence of education? Stress on such questions concerning the internal structure of schools is needed to balance the earlier emphasis on school-community relations.

At present, our philosophies of education have been dominated by two basic views. One is the traditionalist, relying upon an authoritarian structure. The other is the modern pragmatist, depending on what is considered to be a democratic structure. It could be legitimately asked whether either view is consistent with what our educational system is or should be. It is believed that educational sociology would illuminate a middle of the road approach.

Sociology of Science

This is a field which is unique in the respect that although it had an early beginning, it has had little growth since. Even when conceptualized as part of the broader field of the sociology of knowledge, there seem to have been few significant developments within the last 30 years, though interest has increased.

There have been three primary frames of reference for work in this area. First, there has been an attempt to develop a history of science and knowledge in general. However, such studies have proceeded with the historical point of view principally as a means and not as an end. Hence, historical analysis has become the means of research for the sociology of science. The second conceptual view of science has tried to discover relationships between science and other cultural views of that society.

Weber and Marx were early proponents of such studies, indicating the relationships w h i c h existed among science, economy, and religion. Merton later developed these ideas and showed how science was molded by the religious and economic milieu of seventeenthcentury England.1 Perhaps the man who provided the most theoretical insight into the problems of the field was Karl Mannheiin. He showed that many kinds of ideas are related to the structure and goals of the groups in which they were created and maintained .2 Hence, the image of the world which is held by a society will depend upon its cultural background.

The cycle is completed in the third main conceptual view of science. Two leading proponents of this view are Ogburn 3 and Sorokin,4 who stress the effect that the social environment has on the development of technology in a society. In these modern statements, the individual scientist's part in molding the future of his discipline is minimized and a cultural determinism of science is developed. More recent developments, however, would seem to indicate that this strong cultural and technological determinism is being tempered by a clearer understanding of the scientist's role. Perhaps the convergence of extreme v i e w s into a more harmonious synthesis is a clear indication of developing maturity.

Nevertheless, further g r o w t h is limited by several factors. Despite solid foundations, modem sociological theory does not lend itself as well to studies in science as it does in other areas. The natural consequence is the lack of developing modern research methods to deal with these problems. Although methods of research other than historical analysis are developing, they are not in the mainstream of methodology. Another great lack is the necessary personnel sufficiently sophisticated in natural science and sociology to deal with more complex problems. Undoubtedly this problem will be adequately solved only when that scientific utopia is achieved-a convergence of social and natural science.


1Robert K. Merton, "Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth-Century England," Osiris, 4:2, Bruges Belgium 1938

2Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia; An Introduction to The Sociology of Knowledge, Harcourt, Brace, 1936

3W. F. Ogburn, The Social Effects of Aviation, Houghton Mifflin, 1946

4P. A. Sorokin, Social and Cultural Dynamics, 4 vols., American Book- 1937, 1941