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What Is The Achievement Ideology?

The Confinement of the Achievement Ideology Why do we pursue higher education? Is it to gain a deeper understanding of the world around us? To participate more within our communities? Or to improve one’s socio-economic standing? The latter serves as enough reason for many, especially those living in poverty, as “education is viewed as remedy for the problem of social inequality” (MacLeod, 2009, 99). In Jay MacLeod’s book, Ain’t No Makin’ It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood, the reader can follow the Brothers’, specifically Derek and Juan’s, quest on pursuing their hopes of improving their socio-economic standing. While motivated by the achievement ideology, Derek and Juan still encountered several challenges that hindered…show more content…
Wallace’s comment exemplifies the statements relating to the achievement ideology that teachers pass on to students for motivation. In his book, MacLeod defines the achievement ideology as “the reigning social perspective that sees American society as open and fair and full of opportunity. In this view, success is based on merit, and economic inequality is due to differences in ambition and ability” (MacLeod, 2009, 3). MacLeod’s definition strongly resembles that of the American dream: “[the] dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” (The Library of Congress, The American Dream, n.d.). The similarity between definitions leads many to believe they have the same opportunities of ‘making it,’ disregarding any background factor, such as class, race, or gender. Thus, by working hard, many suppose they can attain the American Dream, reaching success in the eyes of American…show more content…
Derek and Juan firmly believe in the achievement ideology, believing their education will help them attain better paying and stable jobs, thanks to their parents escaping worse conditions, such as racism in the US and extreme poverty in the Dominican Republic. Affirming the achievement ideology, Derek mentions that in order to get a good job, he has to “work hard in school” (MacLeod, 2009, 91). Juan, and several of the other Brothers, also mentions he aspires to have “a regular house…the easy life” (MacLeod, 2009, 7), things that within his current socio-economic standing are luxuries many take for granted. The Brothers’ expectations for their futures define success through materialistic wealth, not necessarily through personal satisfaction. The achievement ideology has created a new vision of the American Dream in which many view personal success as a competition; they attempt to surpass their current position with the understanding that their current social standing has little.

The achievement ideology is a perceived notion or belief that success is attained through hard work and education. The level of success achieved is based on the societal definition of success rather than an individual’s definition and understanding of success. An individual could be successful in the workplace and have a wonderful career, support a family, and be praised for his or her hard work. This then would be the encapsulation of the achievement ideology.

The achievement ideology also expresses the idea that external factors do not have as much influence on the level of success as hard work and education. In this case, gender, race, ethnicity, race, social networks, location and economic background are secondary and almost irrelevant in the pursuit of success.

Today’s Understanding Of Achievement Ideology

The achievement ideology defines success based on an individual’s hard work and level of education. The higher the level of education, the more successful the person becomes. Sandra L. Barnes, in 2002, argued that the level of success achieved is best attained when a person has an achievement-oriented attitude and the actual ability to achieve certain goals.

The achievement ideology is interpreted differently by different groups of people but all agree that hard work and education are the main catalysts for success. For example, a group of African American respondents believed that race has a major influence on how successful one becomes. Sandra Barnes established in her study that the achievement ideology is well espoused by white males in higher class neighborhoods. Conversely, Barnes found that whites are less likely to ascribe success to race or having a well-established social network.

The cross-cutting belief that success is attained through education and hard work proves that the achievement ideology is very much active. This is despite the perceived differences of gender, race, ethnicity and social networks which are secondary to hard work and education. In discovering the differences of opinion for the achievement ideology, Donna Y. Ford came up with four theories related to the understanding of what drives success.

Theories Of Achievement Ideology

Social Learning Theory

The social learning theory explains that individuals are socialized at an early age to hold beliefs and values that resonate with the familiar social situation they are brought up in. If a student is brought up in a social environment of underachievement and often see other people not succeed, they are more likely to internalize the values of underachievement. This will then mean that they see themselves as less likely to succeed.

Need Achievement

Social scientists believe that the need achievement theory is a result of an individual’s motivation for success and their ability to avoid failure. It is also explained by the level of expectation that a person has of success and how well they think of themselves able to succeed.

Test Anxiety

A student who fears failure and is preoccupied with the pressures of success will most likely not succeed. The test anxiety theory elaborates that fear and anxiety have a detrimental effect on performance and will stifle success.

Attribution Theory

Attribution theory explains that students can only fail to succeed due to lack of effort on their part or lack of motivation if they fully believe in the achievement ideology. A student’s belief in their ability is crucial to their success.


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