The Role of Education - Marxism

What do Marxists think the role of education is?

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The Role of Marxism

Louis Althusser: the state consists of 2 'apparatuses' which serve to keep the bourgeoisie in power:

- Repressive State Apparatus (RSAs) - maintain the rule of the bourgeoisie by force or the threat of it. E.g. the police, courts and the army.

- Ideological State Apparatus (ISAs) - maintain the rule of the bourgeoisie by controlling people's ideas, values and beliefs. E.g. religion, the mass media & the education system.

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Education system = important ISA because it performs 2 functions:

- repoducing class inequality by transmitting it from generation to generation, by failing each successive generation of working-class pupils in turn.

- legitimates class inequality by producing ideologies that disguise its true cause.

function of ideology = to persuade workers to accept that inequality is inevitable and that they deserve their subordinate position in society. If they accept these ideas, they are less likely to challenge capitalism.

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Bowles and Gintis:

Capitalism requires a workforce with the kind of attitudes, behaviour and personality-type suited to their role as exploited worker.

They should be willing to accept hard work, low pay and orders from above.

In their view:

Role of education = to produce an obedient workforce that will accept inequality as inevitable.

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Bowles and Gintis' study:

Hypothesis: existence of the correspondence principle.

Measured students' personality traits using a questionnaire similar to those used to reveal traits valued by employers.

237 New York high school students.

They compared questionnaire results with students' school grade averages and exam scores & found a correlation between personality traits valued by employers, such as: docility (willing to be taught), passivity, obedience, and high scores at school.

They concluded that schools reward precisely the kind of personality traits that make for submissive workers. Students who were independent and showed creativity tended to gain low grades. The obedient and disciplined got high grades.

SO school reproduces obedient workers capitalism needs.

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Evaluation of the study

Questionnaires allowed Bowles and Gintis to study a large sample and to establish a correlation that supported their hypothesis. =)

However, questionnaires about attitudes and personality traits may lack depth and students who complete them may misunderstand the questions or not take them seriously. =(

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Correspondence Principle

Bowles and Gintis found close parallels between school and work.

EG ->

- Both have hierarchies - headteachers/bosses at top giving orders and making decisions.

students/workers at bottom obeying.

- School takes place in 'long shadow of work'.

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Hidden Curriculum

The correspondence principle operates through the hidden curriculum.

Hidden curriculum = the lessons learnt at school without being directly taught.

For example: hierarchy and competition.

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Myth of Meritocracy

Capitalist society = inequality.

SO there is danger that the poor will feel that this inequality is undeserved and unfair, and they will rebel against the system responsible for it.

Bowles and Gintis: education system prevents this by legitimating class inequalities.

It does this by producing ideologies that explain and justify why inequality is fair, natural and inevitable.

Education syetem = 'a giant myth-making machine'.

The key myth being the myth of meritocracy.

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Meritocracy means: everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve. Rewards are based on ability and effort - those who gain the highest rewards deserve them because they are the most able and hardworking.


Evidence shows - the main factor that determines whether someone has high income is family and class background, NOT ability and educational achievement.

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Myth of meritocracy serves to justify privileges of the higher classes, making it seem that they gained them through open and fair competition at school.

This helps persuade the working class to accept inequality as legitimate, and makes it less likely that they will seek to overthrow capitalism.

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Education system justifies poverty:

Bowles and Gintis: 'poor-are-dumb' theory of failure.

Blaming poverty on individual 'I'm poor because I didn't work hard at school' rather than blaming capitalism.

Plays an important part in reconciling workers to their exploited position, making them less likely to rebel against the system.

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Paul Willis: Learning to Labour

used qualitative methods: participant observation and unstructured group interviews.

Willis studies counter-school culture of 'the lads'.

Group of 12 working class boys as they made transaction from school to work.

The boys are opposed to school and scornful of the conformist boys. Call them 'ear'oles' because they listen to the teacher.

The boys have their own brand of intimidatory humour - 'taking the ****' out of the ear'oles and girls.

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The lads find school boring and meaningless, and flout its rules and values. They smoke, drink, disrupt classes and play truant.

This is their way of resisting school. They reject as a 'con' the school's meritocracy ideology that working class pupils achieve middle class jobs through hard work.

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Willis found a similarity between anti-school counter-culture and the shopfloor culture of male manual workers:

- Both cultures see:

manual work = superior.

intellectual work = inferior and effeminate.

Lads strongly identify with male manual work & this explains why they see themselves as superior both to girls and to the 'effeminate' ear'oles. These two groups aspire to non-manual jobs.

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