Education Revision


 Role of education in society

Functionalist approach

Argue education has three main functions:

  1. Socialisation – Education socialises children into norms and values of society.

  2. Skills Provision – Education teaches children the basic skills required for a modern industrial society and as the division of labour increases, these skills become more specialised e.g. skills needed to become a doctor.

  3. Role allocation – Education allocates children to the most appropriate job for their talents. Everyone has the ability to achieve success e.g. getting a job as a doctor, but if they don’t then it is their own fault. (Davis and Moore, 1945)

Durkheim believed the main purpose of education was not to teach academic subjects, but to educate them about societies value consensus; schools are ‘society in miniature’. Not everyone can be a high achiever, but by cooperating with others it would create social solidarity.

Parsons said that education is meritocratic e.g. success and failure is based on merit, which is a mixture of ability and effort at work. This means that everyone has a fair and equal chance at succeeding in education. He also believed that education, through secondary socialisation, ‘provided a bridge to wider society’, by shifting away from the particularistic values of the family towards the universalistic values of society.

Evaluation Points (Functionalists):

  • Marxists believe functionalists are too positive an approach, ignoring aspects of education that are dysfunctional to society e.g. inequalities of power.

  • Feminists argue that functionalists fail to recognise how schools pass on patriarchal values that put girls at a disadvantage to boys.

  • Functionalists assume that education normally succeeds in socialising individuals into the system, whereas Paul Willis’ (1977) study of ‘The Lads’ proved otherwise.

  • Education is not a natural sieve; class, ethnicity and gender all play a role in educational success or failure.

  • The approach is most applicable in societies with a single dominant and shared culture, which the UK is not because of how multicultural it is.

  • Functionalists findings can be considered outdated due to how long ago the findings and theories were made, therefore we cannot generalise it to a modern society.

  • Globalisation means we now compete with schools globally and in terms of results, we are failing so are technically not functioning properly.

  • Hargreaves agreed with Durkheim that social cohesion was a desirable aim, but felt it was neglected by schools who encouraged individualism and competition for qualifications, so there was little time for cooperative activities.

Marxist approach

Argues education performs two main functions in a capitalist society:

  1. Reproduces inequalities and social relations in a capitalists society e.g. trains pupils from WC backgrounds to do WC jobs and vis versa for the MC.

  2. Legitimates these inequalities through the ‘myth of meritocracy’.

Althusser (1971) said education is an ideological state apparatus, with the aim off reproducing inequalities from one generation to the next. It provides much greater benefit to the MC than other members of society.

Bourdieu (1977) WC are duped into accepting their failure and limited social mobility are




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