Topic 1 - Education



The role and functions of the education system, including its relationship to the economy and to class structure

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The functionalist perspective

This is a macro (large-scale) structural approach.

Four mains functions:

1. Passing on society's culture (secondary socialisation) and building social solidarity and social cohesion through a value consensus 

2. Parsons saw education as providing a bridge between the particularistic values and ascribed status of the family and the universalistic values and achieved status of society. Durkheim saw the school as a society in a miniature, preparing young people for life in a wider society based on meritocratic values where everyone achieves their position through skills and qualifications

3. Schultz sees education as developing human capital - a trained and qualified labour force, benefiting the economy

4. Davis and Moore see education as selecting and allocating people for roles in a meritocratic society in which everyone has equality of opportunity - fitting the most able and qualified people into the hierarchy of unequal positions in society

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Criticisms of the functionalist view

1. Marxists argue schooling passes on not shared values but those of the dominant class

2. Feminists argue schooling passes on patriarchal values, disadvantaging girls and women

3. Society is not based on universalistic values - inherited wealth and social characteristics like social class background, gender and ethnicity still affect access to the highest positions

4. Schooling and education qualifications have a weak relationship with the jobs people eventually get. Employers often complain schools do not provide a well-disciplined and qualified labour force

5. Education is not meritocratic - social class, gender and ethnicity are still major barriers to success in education and the development of talents, even for those with the same ability 

6. Marxists argue education simply reproduces the inequalities that exist outside school. 

7. Functionalists exaggerate the role of education and ignore wider influences on socialising young people, like the family and the media

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The new right perspective of the education system

The New Right shares the functionalist perspective

  • Education should be concerned with training the workforce (Chubb and Moe)
  • Education should be run on meritocratic lines, with fair and open competition ensuring the most talented are recruited into the most important jobs
  • Education should socialise young people into collective values and responsible citizenship

The New Right has had important influences on education policy

  • Limiting the role of the state - schools run more independently, like academic and free schools
  • Wider parental choice of schools
  • Higher standards
  • More connection between schools 
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The marxist perspective of the education system

  • Education is a form of social control, encouraging young people to be conformists, to accept their social position and current patterns of inequality in power, wealth and income
  • Althusser argues the education system is an ideological state apparatus passing on ruling-class and ensuring they have the right conformist attitudes.
  • Education reproduces and legitimises the existing ruling class structure, and confirms pupils' class of origin as their destination. Those who fail in education are blamed for their own lack of ability and effort, rather than considering the material and cultural barriers they face in schooling.
  • Bourdieu argues the culture of education is the culture of the dominant class. The middle class and upper class have access to cultural capital helping them to succeed. School devalues working-class culture making it harder for those from working-class backgrounds without cultural capital to succeed in education.
  • Illich and Freire see school as repressive, promoting conformity and passivity, discouraging criticism and encouraging acceptance of existing inequalities and the interests of the powerful. Illich suggests abolishing schools - deschooling society.
    Bowles and Gintis argue schooling prepares young people for work by the hidden curriculum which operates in ‘the long shadow of work’. Pupil experiences and the hidden curriculum at school correspond with the culture, values and organisations of the adult workplace
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Criticisms of the Marxist view

1. Much of the Marxist work has little research to back up its conclusions
2. Pupils often rebel against the school and aren’t always passive conformists Marxists suggest - e.g. Willis’s research into the counter-school subculture among working-class ‘lads’.
3. Marxists place too much emphasis on the role of education, and ignore wider influence on young people, like the family and the media

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Comparing functionalism and Marxism

What they share
Both are macro structuralist theories of education
Both see schools playing a role in justifying inequality
Both see schools as powerful socialising influences

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Comparing functionalism and Marxism

How they differ
1. Socialisation into a value consensus
2. Education builds social cohesion based on consensus
3. Role allocation on a meritocratic basis in societies with equality of opportunity for all
4. Education provides a means of upward social mobility for the mot able
1. Socialisation into the dominant ideology
2. Education is a means of social control in societies based on inequality and class conflict
3. Education is not based on meritocracy and there is no equality of opportunity
4. Education confirms class of origin as class of destination

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To gain marks for knowledge and understanding, make some references to functionalist and Marxist writers, like Parsons, Durkheim, Chubb and Moe, Althusser, Bourdieu, Bowles and Gintis, and Willis
Use the key terms of sociology - like meritocracy, ideological state apparatus, hidden curriculum, counter-school subculture
To gain marks for analysis and evaluation, comparisons, strengths and weaknesses, and limitations are crucial
Use Marxist views to criticise functionalist/New Right theories, and use functionalist/New Right theories to criticise Marxist views

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Vocational education and the development of human

Vocational education involves work experience, expansion of training courses, and greater emphasis on basic numeracy, literary and communication skills to prepare a more flexible and suitably qualified workforce - what Schultz called ‘human capital’ - to meet the needs of the economy. This is most commonly associated with a functionalist view of education.

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Criticism of vocational education

Often low-quality
Seen as boring and repetitive
Poor skills development
Qualifications often fun to be of little practical value in getting jobs
Used as cheap labour by employers
Regarded as inferior status and leading to lower-level jobs than academic courses
Often fail in objective of preparing young people for work

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