Althusser: the ideological state apparatus
The education system is used by the ruling class to maintain their power in a capitalist society. Education is part of the ideological state apparatus which the ruling class use to control people’s values, beliefs and ideas. This creates a false class consciousness for the subject class which distorts their views of reality making them unaware of their oppression and exploitation.
Education has two roles:
- Reproducing class inequality by transmitting ruling class values from one generation to the next
- Legitimises class inequality by persuading workers that capitalism is acceptable and inevitable, meaning they do not challenge the ruling class
Bowles and Gintis
They argue the main role of education in a capitalist society is to create and obedient and passive worker. Education does this by rewarding the same behaviour and personality characteristics that are valued by capitalism.
For example: obedience to authority, hard work, punctuality and gaining satisfaction through external rewards (wages/qualifications) rather than from the activity itself. On the other hand, pupils who are creative and independent tend to do less well at school because the ruling class does not want people who can think for themselves. Children learn all this through the hidden curriculum: the values, knowledge and skills learned at school without being formally taught.
B&G argue that meritocracy is a myth: education appears to be fair and equal but, in reality, it is based on social class. This myth justifies inequality if the lower class had worked harder at school, they would have got a higher status, better paid job.
Criticism - Willis
Willis is a Marxist who criticises B&G’s theory as too deterministic because it ignores the ability of pupils to think and act for themselves. The lads in his study chose to reject education and chose to form an anti-school subculture. However, Willis agrees with B&G in that education prepares individuals for work because the lads coped with boredom at school by messing around and so coped with the boredom of their low-skilled, low status jobs by messing around
- Marxists focus on class inequality so ignore inequality based on gender (feminists) and ethnicity
- Postmodernists argue education has become more diverse and responsive to the needs of individuals, reproducing diversity rather than inequality