The Shipley Magazine

Bonnie Rogers Siegler '09: How Can Schools Shape a Better World?

About Bonnie Rogers Siegler ’09
Bonnie Rogers Siegler '09 is a PhD student in sociology at Columbia University. Her research examines education and inequality, particularly focusing on the cultural dynamics that undergird socioeconomic and racial inequality in U.S. schools.

How can schools shape a better world?
Research on the influence of schools and education on inequality in the U.S. deals with a key tension: even though equality of opportunity underlies the ethos of U.S. schools, schools also contribute significantly to reinforcing socioeconomic and ethnoracial inequality by distributing resources and credentials, constructing social networks, and teaching mindsets such as belief in meritocracy that justify such unequal outcomes. Nevertheless, schools can overcome existing inequality and promote socially just outcomes without the need for massive structural or political change. 

One crucial step schools can take to promote social mobility and social impact is hiring teachers and mentors that enable students from marginalized backgrounds to navigate systems not designed with them in mind (and strongly supporting these teachers and mentors). Research suggests many schools have successfully evaluated the faults in their own culture and curriculum to adapt, for example, to growing understanding and desire to be inclusive of trans and non-binary students' needs. 

The same kind of accountability within schools—to change what they can, to be bold in the face of injustice both outside and within their walls—could radically improve how we support students of all backgrounds while equipping them to be leaders and changemakers in all kinds of fields. Private schools have an opportunity to lead many of these charges, given their flexibility and resources. This opportunity is itself a responsibility.

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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.