Assess the Marxist view that the function of the education system is to pass on ideology and reproduce the existing class structure.

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Assess the Marxist view that the function of the education system is to pass on
ideology and reproduce the existing class structure.
Claire Jones
Education is a vital system in most societies, and is compulsory for all children up to
the age of 16 in Britain. There are many different ideas as to why education is so important
and the functions it fulfills within society, some more positive than others. Although some
people say that education is only intended to teach the individual enough knowledge to pass
exams and start a career, most sociologists believe it has functions which go beyond this
surface view and in some way affect or serve society as a whole as well as the individual. An
ideology is false view of society which is presented to the members of that society in order
to maintain stability within it. Beyond the formal curriculum which students learn in
education, Marxists believe an ideology is also taught, in order to maintain a class stratified
The Marxist view of society is built on the theory that the ruling class holds power over
the subject class through the capitalist system. Without this domination, capitalism cannot
survive, and so every institution within society serves to support it. The most effective way
to uphold the power of the ruling class is not through physical force, which provokes
resistance and risks overthrow and revolution. Instead, it is through the ruling class ideology,
which causes people to accept the injustice in their hearts and minds, and therefore
prevents any challenge to the capitalist system. Louis Althusser, a French Marxist, believed
that the ruling class ideology is vital to capitalist society, because it causes people to accept
their place in society. He said that in the past, the church was the main institution for
ideological control, but with the decline of religious influence, it is now the main function of
the education system to transmit it to the next generation. However, in order to succeed,
the concepts essential to the ideology must be taught without people knowing they are
learning them. Therefore, the most essential learning that take place in an educational
institution is nor the formal curriculum, but what is known as the hidden curriculum. This is
learnt from the experience of attending school, and according to Bowles and Gintis, who
wrote `Schooling in Capitalist America', shapes the future workforce to be accepting of the
capitalist system, and function well within it. It teaches children to be creating subservient
workers, to accept an unjust hierarchy, and to be motivated by external rewards. However,
they have been criticised for overestimating the influence of the hidden curriculum on pupils.
They have simply assumed that it shapes and influences personalities and beliefs of young
people to accept the capitalist system without researching life within a school. Studies show
that the opposite often happens; rather than accept the hidden curriculum of hierarchy and
submissive behaviour, working class boys particularly tend to show little respect to teachers
and have little regard for the rules. Therefore the hidden curriculum alone cannot be strong
enough to transmit the ruling class ideology. Reynolds also criticised Bowles and Gintis for
underestimating the influence of the formal curriculum on shaping beliefs. He claims that it
does not exclusively promote capitalism, and encourages creativity and independent
thought. The popularity of Sociology as an A level subject and the coverage of Bowles and
Gintis on the formal curriculum undermines their claims.
According to Bowles and Gintis, education transmits the ideology by presenting a myth
to both the students within it and the wider society, while actually reproducing the existing
class system. The education system teaches young people that capitalism is just and
reasonable and that everyone has an equal chance to succeed. Pupils are taught to believe
that there is no inequality or oppression ingrained within society. It broadcasts the message
that everyone enters the educational system on an equal level. It displays itself as
meritocratic, based on the idea that everyone is rewarded according to their personal
attainment. The result of this is that people who achieve a high qualification have done so

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As these qualifications
lead to a privileged lifestyle, top jobs and positions of power, the implication is that all those
in high positions within society deserve to be there, and society is just. Similarly, as
everyone begins with an equal chance to succeed in education, those who end up with poor
qualifications do so through their own fault, and deserve the life of poverty and oppression
which often results.…read more

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In this way, Willis argued, the education
system had unintentionally reproduced the working class lifestyle to this new generation.
Although Willis' study has been useful in prompting other Marxist sociologists to look
more closely at the details of education rather than just making assumptions, it has also
been criticised, and his conclusions therefore doubted. Blackledge and Hunt claim that his
sample was unrepresentative of the pupils within the school, and even more so of the whole
population of schoolchildren.…read more

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Studies on which their views are based are often
criticised for having a narrow view and using unrepresentative samples, yet even so provide
good evidence for the important of the education outside the formal curriculum, which
many other sociological views also accept. It seems clear that the education system
influences the values and beliefs of individuals who pass through it which therefore shapes
the rest of society as young people grow up.…read more


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