The Role Of Education- Functionalist Theories

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  • Created by: Lilly
  • Created on: 10-04-13 19:03

Functionalist Theories

Follows 'Organic Analogy'- suggests society is made up of vital institues, all of these institues work 'interdependently' to ensure society functions and survives.

Society has basic needs, that these institutions ensures are met, basic needs are known as 'Functional Prerequisites'

Ensures that social solidarity is maintained, use words such as 'social solidarity,' 'value consensus' and 'collective consciousness' when looking at social order.

Consensus theory- society is harmonious. Argues that :

  • Society needs social order, to survive society need social solidarity through everyone sharing the same norms and values, otherwise it would fall apart and would lead to the fragmentation of socirty
  • Social institues such as the education system perform positive functions for both society and the individual, it socialises the new member of society and by helping create and maintain social solidarity
  • Functionalism is a conservative view of society, tends to focus on the positive contributions education makes to society.


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Functional prerequisite 1: society's culture

  • Passes on society's key/core values, norms and culture to each new generation, this is done through both the 'formal cirriculum' and the 'hidden ciriculum'
  • Everyone is pulling in the same direction- social order, social solidarity, value consensus and collective consciousness is achieved
  • Discussed further in Durkheim
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Durkheim- Education and Solidarity

He identifies two main functions of the education system:

           1) Creating social solidarity

            2) Teaching specialist skills

Social Solidarity

  • Transmission of society's norms and values from one generation to the next
  • Necessary to produce social solidarity, where individual members of society fell they belong to a community that is much bigger than they are
  • School is a society in minature, child learns to interact with other members of the school community and to follow a fixed set of rules- the experience prepares the child for interacting with members of society as an adult and accepting social rules

Teaching specialist skills

  • Must be taught specialist skills so that they can take their place within a highly complex division of labour in which people have to cooperate to produce items
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Criticisms of Durkheim

  • Marxists argue that educational institutes tend to transmit a dominant culture which serves the interests of the ruling clas (bouregoise) rather than those of society as a whole
  • Studies by Willis (The 'Lads') (Willis was a Marxist) and Hargreaves for example show that the transmission of norms and values is not always sucesful. Some students openly reject the vlaues of the school and form anti-school subcultures.

Willis's 'Lads' openly embraced values which were the opposite to those of teh school and conformist students, they were more interested in 'having a laff'

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PR 2:Parsons(1961)- Education, Universalistic

PR 2: Bridging the gap

Argues there are two major functions for scoeity:

1) Through the process of socialization, education bridges the gap between the family and the wider society

  • Family- children judged according to particularistic standars that apply only to them, their status is ascribed
  • Meritocratic wider society- individual is judged against standards which apply equally to all members of society, for example, laws apply equally, through universal values- Status is achieved through merit rather than ascribed. Everyone is treated equally, no longer get special privalages nor are they treated differently ro anyone. In society everyone is treated equally, known as an Egalitarian Society- Wider society is more concerned with 'WHAT you know rather than who you know.
  • In society, members start off from a level plaing field unlike the familt where everyone is treated uniquely.  There is a large difference in values between family and society, could cause problems, individuals might find it hard to adapt from family life to wider society- education crucial in order to bridge the gap
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Criticims of Parsons (1961)

  • Dennis Wrong- Argues funcrtionalists have 'over-socialised view' of people as mere puppets of society. Functionalists wrongly imply that pupils passively accept that they are taught and never reject the schools values

-Parsons assumes that the Western education systems are meritocratic i.e. they reward pupils primarily on the basis of objective criteria such as achievement, ability and intelligence. The existance of private education and inequalities tied to social class, gender and ethnicity challenge this view

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FP4: Providing a trained & qualified workforce

  • Education provides individuals with necessary skills, qualifications and talents to fill the 'Division of Labour'- most able students get best jobs, highest pay, status and power. Others, less able fill jobs that are less well paid with lower status.
  • This is functional as all the jobs in the divison of labour get filled and thus the society runs smoothly- it functions
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FP4: Role allocation& Legitimising inequality

David and Moore (1945)- Ed system acts as a sieve- students measured against each other in terms of ability, attitude, motivation, ambition, merit and qualification

  • See education as a means of role allocation- the system shifts and sorts people according to their abilities- most talented, gain high qualifications- lead to functioning important jobs with high rewards- known as 'Role Allocation'
  • This will lead to inequalities in society, but is quite natural and even desirable by capitalists socities because there is a limited amount of talent- these talented ones need to make a sacrifice to stay in education rather than earning a wage, society therefore offers incentives through the promise of greater rewards- such as higher salaries
  • Education legitimises (justifies/makes things seem fair) this because education is based on meritocracy- idea that everybody has the same chances in the first place.
  • Those wo ahve high positions in society are the ones that have tried hardest abd proven themselves to be able whilst others simply haven't tried hard enough and/or are not as able
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Criticisms of Davis and Moore (1945)

  • Intelligence and ability have limited influence on educational achievement. Research indicated that achievement is closely tied to issues of social class, gender and ethnicity. For example- Bourdieu (Marxistargues that M/C students possess more cultural and social capital and therefore are able to gain more qualifications than W/C students.
  •  Bowles and Gintis (Marxists) reject functionalist view that capitalist socities are meriotcratic, the children of the wealthy and powerful obtain high qualifications and well-rewarded jobs irrespective of their abilities- Ed system disguises this with the Myth of Meriotcracy, those denied success blame themselves rather than the system. Inequality in society is thus legitimised: made to appear fair.
  • The range of class differences in educational achievement suggests that not everyone acctually has the same chance in education.
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