Topic 10: Functionalism and meritocracy

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  • Created by: zoolouise
  • Created on: 20-05-16 16:42

Education as a form of socialisation

Role allocation isn't the only function of the education system. Durkheim offered the view that education is essential to society as it helps build social cohesion. It links people to their culture. For Durkheim, the role of education was socialisation.

One criticism of this viewpoint is, as Stephen Gorard and others pointed out, that modern schools are too concerend with indiviudal examination results and competition to be concerned with social solidarity. The emphasis on league tables reflects an individualistic, competitive approach.

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Education as a bridge

Talcott Parsons believed the education system acted as a bridge between a child's experience of life in a family and his/her experiences of the wider world. He claims families socialise us into their own familial values (particularistic values) and schools operate according to the values of the wider society (universalistic values). He pointed out that these values can clash, parents may offer advice that goes against that of school. One of the values taught in school is achievement, children acheive status in school through their hard work and talent. They're encouraged to work hard.

One criticism of this view is the evidence that many children don't conform to the expectations of school. Recent research by Mac an Ghaill, Jackson, Connolly and Francis suggested that anti-learning laddish attitudes are adopted by boys and girls as a reaction to the presure of exams. Social success in schools isn't always associated with academic success: the geek or nerd is a social stereotype that links academic talent with social ineptitude, you can either be clever or popular, but not both.

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Education is meritocratic

David and Moore (1967) argued that the education system helps allocate people to appropriate job and career roles. Some jobs require more training and commitment, and have greater responsibilites, they are rewarded by high pay and good working conditions. The education system sifts and sorts children to take on those roles, identifying the most talented people. Role allocation requires inequalities in educational outcome for children. Children with the best exam results and highest qualifications are able to enter the highest paid and most presitiguous occupations.

The link between academic qualifications and earnings isn't consistent. Girls can gain better grades in schools than boys, but they tend to be lower earners. Ability itself isn't an easily measurable characteristic, proving a link between intelligence and earning levels is difficult. It's far from clear that all children have the same chance of developing their talents.

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Evaluating functionalism

Two main areas of weakness in functionalist views of education and meritocracy:

  • Functionalism is too accepting of the ienqualities that are apparent in the education system. It doesn't explain why whole social groups involving large numbers of childrens from some ethnic minorities and the working class appear to underachieve. They appear to suggest that these children lack talent/and wilingness to work hard.
  • If education exists to pass on norms and values, Marxists and feminists ask, whose norms and values are being passed on? Functionalists assume there's a set of shared values to be transmitted.

Education transmits culture to children through socialisation, Marxists say that it passes on ruling class values which make inequality acceptable. Functionalists say education bridges the gap between the values of the home and school, however, critics say most of the powerful people in society come from wealthy and priviledged backgrounds. Functionalists say education provides a good and highly trained workforce, however, most people learn on the job as schools teach obedience and not skills. Davis and Moore said education is meritocratic and sorts the most able for the best jobs, however, given the power of the middle-class white men in society, are we set to assume that ethnic minoritise the poor and also women lack talent?

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