Marxist perspectives on the role of education

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  • Created by: Lilly
  • Created on: 11-04-13 09:54

Marxist Theories

A conflict theory, that sees society as being on class divisions and exploitation.

Institues in society are 'instruments of the ruling class' which pass on 'dominant ideology' to W/C- means that the R/C (dominant social group) pass on their ideas (ideology) about how society should be structured to everyone.

Role of ed system- create 'obedeint, efficient, passive workers'- means that working class children become W/C workers, termed as 'the reproducton of Class Inequalities' = W/C forced to underachieve

 They argue that:

  • In capitalist society there are two classes- the Ruling class (capitalist or bourgeoise) and the subject class (working class or proletariat)
  • The capitalist class own the means of production (land, factories, money, etc.) and make their profits from exploiting the labour of the W/C
  • This creates class conflict that could threaten the stability of capitalism or even result in a revolution to otherthrow it
  • Social institutions- education- reproduce class inequalities and play an ideological role by persuading exploited workers that inequality is justified and acceptable.
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Louis Althusser- The Role of Ideology

  • W/C unconsciously learn to become passive and obedient, argues that the state exercises power over the W/C achieved by 2 means: 1) 'Repressive state apparatus (R.S.A)   2)Ideological State Apparatus (I.S.A)

1)Repressive state apparatus

Physical control of the W/C throuh police, military, Judicial system

2)Ideological state apparatus

  • Control W/C through manipulation of though and behaviout- thought of as a form of 'Brain washing through socialisation'- control over mind rather than physical means
  • R/C dominant ideology gets filtered through ISA- media, education, religion- institutions change the way that W/C think make them believe their position in society is normal, natural & fair, do not question their inequality- creates 'false class consciousness' amongst W/C
  • Sees ed system as part of Ideological state apparatus- claims education, along with other I.S.A (family, mass media) reproduce class-based inequalities by creating the belief that capitalism is somehow 'natural' 'normal' and 'just.'
  • Effect of all this is that is the reproduction of the class system in that the sons and daughters of the working class tend to remain W/C
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Althusser- Research method

  • Armchair theorising- didn't acctually carry out empirical research, he was simply expressing his opinion based on his Maexist belief


-His work lacks empirical support

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Bourdieu- Cultural Capital

  • Main function of education is to reproduce and legitimize ruling class and power.
  • Another function is to socialise the working class into a 'culture of failure' so that they take up, without question, routine and dull work
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Bowles&Gintis(1976) Schooling& long shadow of work

  • Build on Althusser's arguement that purpose of ed is to 'Reproduce Class Inequalities,' although they do not talk about ISA they believe that the school creates workers through two main ways:

1)Hidden Curriculum     2) 'Legitimisation of inequality via the myth of meritocracy'

  • Believe thar there is a close relationship between social relationships in the workplace and in education
  • This correspondence principal operates through the Hidden Cirriculum and it shapes the workforce in the following ways:

-Helps produce a subservient workforce    -The Hidden Curriculum encourages an acceptance of hierarchy (important to the ruling class)   -Pupils learn to be motivated by external rewards rather than the love of education itself      -Schools subjects are fragmented in the same way that routine work is.

The end product of this is the production of hard-working, docile, obedient workforce whih is too divided to challenge the authority of management

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Evaluation of Bowles and Gintis (1976)

  • Giroux- that W/C students do not accept the legitimacy of school. Many resist the influence of the hidden curriculum and the history of trade unionism and industrial action in the UK does not support the idea of worker conforminty
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Bowles and Gintis- Research method

  • Conducted a study based on 237 members of the senior year in a New York high school


  • Truancy rates and behavioural issues show children are not docile or unquestioning
  • Can we apply findings of the American education system to the British one?
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Paul Willis (1977)- Learning to Labour

Looks at why and how W/C children end up in the working class jobs. Uses a micro appraoch to examine experiences of school

He challenges Bowles and Ginitis's work, which sees schools producing docile and complaient workers

He argues that W/C 'Lads' see through the smokescreen of meritocracy that tries to legitimise inequality. They create a counter-school subculture that challenges the schools dominant values.

The 'Lads' focused on 'having a laff' to cope with the boredom they felt at school and in work, but clearly they just try to cope with the tedium and oppression instead of actively challenging it

However, Willis accepts that the outcome is similiar to that by Bowles and Gintis, as their anti-school behaviour guarantees that they will end up in dead end jobs.

Research method-interactionism and micro-theory, ethnographic method used observation in class, recorded discussions, informal interviews and diaries- an example of triangulation- focused on 12 W/C boys in ther last 18 months in education and first few months at work- Weaknesses, only focuses on male population, unrepresentative sample size

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Evaluation of Paul Willis (1977)

Blackledge and Hunt (1985) put forward some criticisms of Willis

  • His sample is inadequate for generalising about the role of education in society. His sample contained 12 pupils, all of them male, who were by no means typical of the children at the school
  • Willis largely ignores the full range of subcultures within schools. Many pupils fall somewhere in between total conformity and total rejection
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