The Role of Education - Functionalist and New Right

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Functionalist Theories of Education

Functionalism is a consensus theory which sees society as being essentially harmonious. It argues that:

  • Society has basic needs, including the need for social order. To survive, society needs social solidarity by everyone having the same norms and values, otherwise it would fall apart.
  • Social institutions such as the education system perform positive functions for both society and the individual, by socialising new members of society and helping to sustain social solidarity.
  • Functionalism is a conservative view of society. They tend to focus on the positive contribution education makes to society. 

Two key questions of Functionalists:

1. What are the functions of education for society as a whole?

2. What are the functional relationships between education and other parts of the social system?

Durkheim - Social Solidarity and Specialist Skills

Two main functions of the education system:

1. Creating social solidarity: Durkheim saw the major function of education as the transmission of society's norms and values from one generation to the next. This is necessary in order to produce social solidarity, (when an individual feels that they belong to a community bigger than they are). The school is a society in miniature; in school the children learn to interact with other members of the community and follow a set of fixed rules. This prepares the child for interacting with members of society as an adult and accepting social rules. 

2. Teaching specialist skills: Durkheim argues that individuals must be taught specialist skills so that they can take their place within a highly complex division of labour in which people have to co-operate to produce outcomes. 

Criticisms of Durkheim:

  • Marxists argue that the educational system transmits a dominant culture which serves the interest of the ruling class as a posed to society as a whole
  • Studies such as that of Willis and Hargreaves show that the transmission of norms and values is not always successful. Some students openly reject the values of the school and form anti-school subcultures. 

Parsons - Bridge and Socialization

1. Education acts as bridge between the family and wider society: In the family, children are judged according to particularistic standards that apply only to them. Their status within the family is also ascribed. In wider society the individual is judged against standards which apply equally to all members of society, e.g. laws apply to all equally. Also, status is achieved through merit rather than ascribed. Education helps ease this transition; the exam system judges all pupils equally and school rules such as uniform apply to all pupils equally. 

2. Education helps to socialize young people into the basic…

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