The Role of Education in Society

AS sociology aqa

Functionalist Approach (DURKHEIM)

Education has three broad functions:

1. Socialization - forms a bridge between the family and the wider society - meritocracy instilled and key cultural values.

2. Skills Provision - skills for modern society e.g. literacy, numeracy, time management

3. Role Allocation - education allocates people to their most appropriate job - everyone has the chance to achieve what they want if they work hard MERITOCRACY.

Criticisms - fail to recognize diversity of values, and how beliefs of the upper classes are transmitted through the educational system. Myth of meritocracy - does talent = occupation?


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Every Child Matters (2004)

The department of education set out a national framework, where schools are required to work towards child having the support they need to:

  • be healthy
  • stay safe
  • enjoy and achieve
  • make a positive contribution
  • achieve economic wellbeing(

How would each of the sociological perspectives view this?

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Marxist Approach

Education is an important part of the superstructure of society.

Education performs two main functions

  • Reproduces the inequalities and social relations of production of capatalist society
  • Serves to justify these inequalities through myth of meritocracy

Althusser believes

  • education is an ideological state apparatus, along with the media and legal system - used to maintain capitalism and pass capitalist ideas on to the next generation
  • ideology happens using the hidden curriculum - informal learning of particular attitudes and values in school.

Bourdieu calls the means by which the w/c accept failure and lack of social mobility as "symbolic violence". W/C cultural attributes are ignored - society is created to benefit the M/C as they have a greater cultural capital.

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Correspondence Theory

Bowles and Gintis - education serves to reproduce capitalist relations of production - the hierarchy of workers.

Education ensures workers will not question their place in society.

What goes on in school corresponds directly with the world of work.

Success does not always = intellectual ability. M/C children do better because they are more able to stick to the system, whereas W/C are more likely to rebel.

People who don't succeed are taught to blame themselves for not working hard enough by the hidden curriculum - believe in the myth of meritocracy.

Criticisms -

  • Reynolds - curriculum does not teach skills employers want or passive behaviour that makes employees easy to exploit.
  • Willis - some children show little respect for rules or values - BUT they do accept failure still as Bowles and Gintis suggest!!
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Key Terms

Capitalist relations of production

Correspondence Theory

Cultural Capital

Hidden Curriculum



Myth of/Meritocracy

Particularistic Standards

Universalistic Standards

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Check Your Understanding

1. According to functionalists, what are the main functions of schools?

2. What does Althusser consider to be the main purpose of education and how it is achieved?

3. Why is the theory of Bowles and Gintis called the Correspondence theory? Give examples.

4. How does Willis' work appear to support the views of Bowles and Gintis?

5. Give three reasons why what goes on in schools would appear to contradict the correspondence with the world of work that Bowles and Gintis claim?

6. In what way might it be said that Bowles and Gintis's theory now has more relevance?

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