Criticisms of the functionalist view of education


Criticisms of the functionalist view of education


  • Functionalist View;
  • Education passes on society's culture from one generation to the next, including shared norms and values underpinning value consensus. These provide the 'social glue' which creates social solidarity and social cohesion.
  • Education provides a bridge between the particularistic values and ascribed status of the family and the universalistic values and achieved status of wider society.
  • Education provides a trained and qualified labour force.
  • Effective role selection and allocation. Education selects the most suitable and qualified people and matches them with the right jobs in a meritocratic society.
  • Education legitimises social inequality.


  • Criticisms;
  • Marxists: they would argue that this view ignores the inequalities in power in society. There is no value consensus; the culture and values passed on by the chaos are those of the dominant or ruling class. Feminists: they might argue that the school passes on patricarchal values, and disadvantages girls and women.
  • There is some doubt about how far contemporary society is really based on universalistic values and achieved status. Many in the upper class inherit wealth, and there are many edit jobs where ascribed status characteristics such as social class, gender and ethnic background still have a very important influence.
  • The link between educational qualifications and pay and job status is a weak one; certainly much weaker than functionalists assume. The content of what people learn in schools often had very little to do directly with that they actually do in their jobs. Most occupational skills are learnt 'on the job' or through firms' own training schemes. The demand fir educational qualifications for many occupations is simply an attempt to raise the status of the occupation, rather than providing the knowledge and skill requirements necessary for performing the job.
  • The education system doesn't act as a natural 'sieve', simply grading and selecting students according to their ability. Social class particularly, but also ethnicity and gender seen to be  the major factors influencing success or failure in education. There is no equality of opportunity in education - everyone doesn't start at the same point, and not everyone had the same chance of success in education, even when they have the same ability.
  • Bowles and Gintis (2011 [1976]) are that the education system simply disguises the fact that there is no equality of opportunity in education, and that it is social class particularly, but also ethnicity and gender that are the main influences on educational success

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