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Synopsis of the Sonneborn Lecture
 delivered on April 8, 2004 at the
Whittenberger Auditorium, Indiana Memorial Union.

Mechanisms for Maintaining Educational Inequality

Pamela Barnhouse Walters

Education is the chief way in which we Americans try to make good on our commitment to social equality. In recent decades we�ve mounted attempt after attempt to make schools more equal, only to discover that the goal eludes us. This is commonly understood as a failure, both by policy makers and by scholars. Durable inequality in education should, instead, be understood as a success on the part of those who resist and/or thwart political efforts to equalize education, and that underneath the overall appearance of stability in educational inequality lays a constantly-shifting set of mechanisms through which inequality is maintained. Any reform intended to make education more equal will close the distance between the most and least privileged � that is, cause a loss of relative advantage on the part of the most privileged � and social scientists have long established that people with privilege generally exercise any political resources they can to hold on to it. The key to understanding durable inequality in education, then, is to understand the political strategies the privileged use to resist equalization and, failing that, to create new mechanisms for maintaining privilege when the old ones are eliminated, and to understand the (more limited) political resources available to challenger groups to try to close or eliminate the educational gap between themselves and the privileged. These points will be illustrated with examples from Professor Walters� research on historical continuity and change in racial inequality in American education and on the current school voucher and funding equalization movements.  

[The audio stream of Professor Pamela Barnhouse Walters' Sonneborn Lecture Mechanisms for Maintaining Educational Inequality is available online at]