Sociology - Education


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Education and solidarity (Dirkhiem)

Durkhiem identified two main functions of the education system: 

  • Creating social soildarity
  • Teaching specialist skills

Durkhiem saw the major function of education as the transmission of societies norm's and values to the next generation.

School is society in miniature. In school children learn to interact with each other and to follow a fixed set of rules. This experiance prepares them for interacting with members of society as an adult and accepting social rules and laws.

He argues that individuals must be taught specialist skills so they can take their place within a highly complex division of labour in which people have to co-operate to produce items.

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Criticisms of Durkhiem  

Marxists argue that educational institutions tend to transmit a dominant culture which serves the interest of the ruling class rather than those of society as a whole.  

Willis & Hargreaves show that the transmission of norms & values is not always successful.

Some students openly reject the values of the school and form anti-school sub-cultures.

Willis's lads openly embraced values which were the opposite to those of the school and conformist students.

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Education and Universalistic values (Parsons)

Parsons argues that school performs two major functions for society:

1.Through the process of socialization, education acts as a bridge between the family and wider society.

  • In the family children are judged according to particularistic standards that apply only to them. Their status within the family is also ascribed.
  • In wider society, individuals are judged against standards which apply equally to all members of society e.g. laws apply to everyone. Also status is achieved through merit rather than ascribed.
  • Education helps to ease this transition. The exam system judges pupils on merit, and school rules e.g. uniform are applied to all
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Education and Universalistic values (Parsons) Cont

2. Education helps to socialise young people into the basic values of society.

Schools transmit two major values:

  • The value of achievement - everyone achieves their own status through their own effort


  • The value of equality of opportunity for every student to achieve their full potential 


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Education and Universalistic values (Parsons) Cont

Criticisms of Parsons -

Dennis wrong argues that functionalists such as Parsons have an 'over-socialised view' of people as mere puppets of society. They wrongly imply that pupils passively accept all that they're taught and never reject the schools values.

He assumes western education systems are meriticratic, i.e. they reward students primarialy on the basis of objective criteria such as achievement, ability and intelligence. The existence of private education and inequalities tied to social class, gender and ethnicity challenges this view.

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Davis and Moore - Education and role allocation

Davis and Moore see education as a means of role allocation. The education system sifts and saorts people according to their abilities.

The most talented gain high qualifications which lead to functionally important jobs with high rewards.

This will lead to inequalities in society, but this is quiet natural and even desirable in capitalist socities because there is only a limited amount of talent. These talented few need to be persuaded to make a sacrifice (by staying on in education rather than earning a wage) and society therefore offers incentives through the promise of greater rewards, such as higher salaries.

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Criticisms of David and Moore

Intelligence and ability have only a limited influence on educational achievement. Research indicates the achievement is closely tied to issues of social class, gender and ethnicity. For example, Bourdieu argues that middle class students possess more cultural and social capital and therefore are able to gain more qualifications than working class students.

Similarly, Bowles and Gintis reject the functionalist view that capitalist societies are meritocratic. The children of the wealthy and powerful obtain high qualifications and well-rewarded jobs irrespective of their abilities. The education system disguises this with its myth of meritocracy. Those denied success blame themselves rather than the system. Inequality in society is thus legitimated: it is made to appear fair.

Furthermore, the range of class differences in educational achievement suggests that not everyone actually has the same chance in education.

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