Sociology - The Role of Education (Marxism)

The role of education (Marxism)

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  • Created on: 19-05-11 09:35

Karl Marx

He described capitalism as a two class system;

The Capitalist Class; or bourgeosie, are the minority class. They are employers who own the means of production. They make their profits by exploiting the labour of the majority; (the proletariat or working class)
The Working Class; These people are forced to sell their labour power to the capitalists, as they own no means of production of thier own and so have no other source of income. Therefore work under capitalism is poorly paid.

This then creates for potential class conflict.

A key component of the state is the education system, and Marxists see education as functioning to prevent revolution and maintain capitalism.

*Bourgeosie - a Marxists term.

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The Ideological State Apparatus

Marxists see the state as the means by which the capitalist ruling class maintain their dominant position.

According to Louis Althusser (1971), the state consists of two 'apparatuses'. Both of which serve to keep the bourgeosie in power;

The Repressive State Apparatus; This maintains the rule of the bourgeosie by force or the threat of it. The RSAs include the police, courts and army. When necessary, they use physical coercion to repress the working class.
The Ideological State Apparatus; This maintains the rule of the bourgeosie by controlling people's ideas, values and beliefs. The ISAs include religion, the mass media and the education system.

*Coercion - force

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Althusser cont.

Althusser says that the education system is an important ISA. Arguing that it performs two functions;

Education reproduces class inequality by transmitting it from generation to generation, by failing each successive generation of working-class pupils in turn.
Education legitimates class equality by producing ideologies that disguise its true cause. The function of ideology is to persuade workers to accept that inequality is inevitable and that they deserve their subordinate position in society. If these ideas are accpeted then they are less likely to challenge or threaten capitalism

*Ideologies - sets of ideas and beliefs

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Bowles and Gintis

Schooling in capitalist America

American Marxists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis (1976) develop the previous ideas that we have looked at further.

Arguing that capitalism requires a workforce. With attitudes and behaviour and personality-type suited to their roles as exploited workers willing to accept hard work, low pay and orders from above.

In Bowles and Gintis view, this is the role of the education system in capitalist society - to reproduce an obedient workforce that will accept inequality as inevitable.

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Bowles and Gintis study

Thier study consisted of 237 New York High school students and the findings of other studies. They concluded that schools reward precisely the kind of personality traits that make for a submissive, compliant worker.

Finding that students who showed independance and creativity tended to gain low grades, whilst those who showed characteristics linked to obedience and discipline (such as punctuality) tended to gain high grades.

From this, Bowles and Gintis conclude that schooling helps to produce the obedient workers that capitalism needs. They do not believe that education fosters personal development. Rather that it stunts and distorts student's development

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The correspondence principle and the hidden curric

Correspondence Principle; Bowles and Gintis' concept that describes the way in which the organisation and control of schools mirrors the workplace in capitalist society. As both schooling and the workplace are hierachies, with the head teachers/bosses at the top making the decisions.

Hidden curriculum; includes all things learnt without being formally taught and often acciqured simply through the everday workings of the school, such as attitudes of obedience, conformity and competitiveness.

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The myth of meritocracy.

As capitalist society is based on inequality, there is always a danger that the poor will feel this inequality is undeserved and unfair, resulting in rebel against the system responsible for it.

Myth of meritocracy; Functionalists argue that the education system is meritocratic. However Bowles and Gintis claim that meritocracy is an ideology legitimating inequality by falsely claiming that everyone has equal opportunity and that unequal rewards are the 'natural' result of unequal ability.

Unlike funtionalists such as Parsons, Bowles and Gintis argue that meritocracy does not exist.

*Meritocracy - an educational or social system where everyone has an equal opportunity to suceed and where individuals' rewards and status are achieved by their own efforts rather than ascribed by their; gender, class (background) or ethnic group.

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Willis: Learning to Labour

All Marxists agree that capitalism cannot function without a workforce that is willing to accpet exploitation. Likewise, all Marxists see education as reproducing and legitimating class inequality. It ensures that working-class pupils are slotted into and learn to accept jobs that are poorly paid and alienating.

Whereas Bowles and Gintis see education as a fairly straight forward process of indocrination into the myth of meritocracy, Paul Willis' (1977) study shows that working-class pupils can resist such attempts to indocrinate them.

*Indoctrination - The cause to believe something. To teach someone a belief, doctrine or ideology throughly and systematically.


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Willis' Study

As a Marxist, Willis is interested in the way in which schooling serves capitalism. However he combines this with an interactionist approach that focuses on the meanings pupils give to their situation and how these enable them to restrict indoctrination.

Using qualitative methods including participant observation and unstructured interviews, Willis studied the counter-school culture of the 'lads' - a group of 12 working-class boys - as they make the transition from school to work.
The lads form a distinct counter-culture opposed to the school. They find school boring and meaningless and they flout its rules and values. They reject as a 'con' the school's meritocratic ideology that working-class pupils can achieve middle-class jobs through hard work.
It explains why the lads' counter-culture of resistance to school helps them to slot into the very jobs-inferior in terms of skill pay and conditions - that capitalism needs someone to perform. For example; The lads' acts of rebelion guarantee that they will end up in unskilled jobs, by ensuring their failure to gain worthless qualifications.

For Willis, the irony is that by helping them to resist the school's ideology, the lads' counter-culture ensures that they are destined for the unskilled work that capitalism needs someone to perform.

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Marxists take a class conflict approach. They see education as serving the needs of capitalism.
Althusser sees education as an ideological state apparatus that reproduces and legitimates class inequality, ensuring working-class pupils end up in working-class jobs and that they accept their exploited role.
According to Bowles and Gintis, this^ is achieved through the correspondence principle and the myth of meritocracy.
Willis combines Marxist and interactionist approaches to argue that, although pupils may resist indoctrination, their counter-school culture actually prepares themfor unskilled labour.

Postmodernists take a diversity approach. They argue class is no longer important - society has become more diverse and fragmented and the economy has become post-Fordist.
Education relects these changes and is becoming more diverse and flexible.

*Post-Fordism - a type of industrial production. A highly skilled, adaptable workforce, combined with computerised technology, means that production takes the form of 'flexible specialisation'.

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