McGuffey’s Justification of Inequality

Starting with the 19th century, American education had to deal with the conflict of interest between poor and wealthy children. As representatives of both social classes were taught together, the tension was inevitable. William McGuffey offered a solution to this dilemma by teaching appropriate behavior through stories with moral lessons. McGuffey’s references to morality imply that ideology is needed to assure the peaceful coexistence of unequal groups.

American society always had a positive attitude to the accumulation of wealth. Spring (2018) points to Calvinism as the source of the equation between riches and inner salvation. Subsequently, the rich have God’s blessing for their economic state, while poverty is a stimulus for hard work. The implication is that higher classes should use their wealth for charity and helping the poor. As a result, the rich were incentivized to engage in charity to remedy the distrust of the poor.

The modern economic system is based on the unequal distribution of resources and wealth. Capitalism presupposes the discrepancies in income, but it also puts personal responsibility as the primary factor for an individual financial state. Jost et al. (2015) argue that “a strong majority of Americans consistently accept the economic system as basically fair and legitimate, even in times of social and economic strife” (p. 318). Consequently, the societal consensus is that poverty is a choice, and it can be overcome.

Human nature determines the feelings of inequality and unfair treatment, thus creating the need for an ideological explanation of the status quo. According to Jost (2018), “religious people and those who justify the socio-economic system generally report feeling more positive effect and less negative affect and profess more satisfaction with their own life situations” (p.11). The implication is that the objective economic conditions are irrelevant as long as the mind views difficulties as justified and acceptable.

Altogether, the world is socially and economically unfair at its core. Representatives of different social classes coexist, thus setting the stage for tension. If no justification is provided, feelings of misery will prevail, causing strife. It can be prevented with religion and ideology, which explain the subtleties in a motivating manner. Therefore, current education teaches that inequality is part of the capitalist system, and individuals are responsible for their wealth themselves.


Jost, J. T. (2018). British Journal of Social Psychology, 58(2), 263-314. Web.

Jost, J. T., Gaucher, D., & Stern, C. (2015). “The world isn’t fair”: A system justification perspective on social stratification and inequality. In M. Mikulincer, P. R. Shaver, J. F. Dovidio, & J. A. Simpson (Eds.), APA handbook of personality and social psychology, Vol. 2: Group processes (pp. 317–340). American Psychological Association.

Spring, J. (2018). The American school: From the puritans to the Trump era. Taylor & Francis.

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