Theories of Education

Topics: Sociology, Marxism, Social class Pages: 7 (2581 words) Published: December 28, 2012
Compare and contrast Functionalist and Marxist theories of Education in Society.

The role of education in society has an important effect on society by way of transmitting cultural values and contributing to the social stratification or class system. Functionalists also referred to as consensus theorists believe education helps stability and functioning of society, whereas conflict theorists namely the Marxists see education as justifying and promoting inequality.

Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist and founder of the functionalist theory believed that schools transmit the culture of a society from one generation to the next and schools are there to continue the process of socialisation that begins in the family. Children therefore are socialised into sharing sets of values and culture, creating a sense of identity within a community or society, learning to have respect for authority, a sense of fair play and feelings of unity make children feel part of a wider group for example the study of history at school gives us a sense continuity of our culture. However Louis Althusser a Marxist had opposing views arguing the ruling class use education to transmit its ideology of capitalism to the rest of the population, as it is just and reasonable and a far more effective means of domination and control. This ideology persuades the working class to accept its position, enabling the minority ruling class to maintain its power and privilege to encourage the class structure.

Talcott Parson, an American sociologist developed Durkheim’s ideas further arguing that education carries on the important function of socialisation by ensuring the continuity of norms and values and therefore schools were the bridge between family and the wider society. Parson came up with the idea of “role allocation” where young people or students are sorted and sifted in terms of their abilities or talents and are given appropriate roles in the wider society. Schools are simply there to offer all pupils an equal chance of success, reflecting the values of the wider society. He saw the education system as the main agency of secondary education, building on the primary education provided by the family. Like Parsons, Davis and Moore 1967 saw education as a means of role allocation but they linked the education system more directly with the system of social stratification. Furthermore Davis and Moore saw social stratification as a mechanism for ensuring that the most talented and able members of society are allocated to those positions that are functionally more important in society. High rewards, which act as incentives, attached to those positions. This means in theory that all will compete with them and the most talented will win through.

However Althusser argued that the role of education in capitalist society was fundamental to social control and the lower class are told what to believe and how to achieve this, which is reinforced by education provided in schools. Marxists also argue that functionalists only focus on the positives of education ignoring the negative factors where education causes division in society rather than bringing them together.

Marxists, Bowles and Gintis research “In schooling in Capitalist America (1976)” claim that there is a close link between the social relationships in the classroom and those in the workplace, as schools pass on the norms and values of the ruling class known as the correspondence theory where new generations of workers are appropriately schooled to accept their roles in capitalist society and further argued that education operates in the interests of those who control the workforce. Bowles and Gintis further argued that without the correspondence, capitalism would not function smoothly and there would be rebellion within the workplace.

Parson further suggested that education provided a level playing field for all students to apply themselves...

References: used:
Duric S. Class handouts Functionalist/Marxist theories on Education 10/2012
A.S Sociology: EDUCATION UNIT 2: SCLY2. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 4 November 2012].
Ballantine J H, Spade J Z, (2008). 'WHAT IS SOCIOLOGY OF EDUCATION? THEORIES AND METHODS '. In: Ballantine J and Spade J (ed), Schools and Society A Sociological Approach To Education. 3rd ed. United States of America: Sage Publications, Inc. pp.9-16.
Browne K, (2008). 'Education '. In: Ken Browne (ed), SOCIOLOGY FOR AS AQA. 3rd ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. pp.344-355.
Kirby M, Kidd W, Koubel F, Barter J, Hope T, Kirton A, Madry N, Manning P & Triggs K, (1997). '8. Education and Training '. In: Mark Kirby , Mr Warren Kidd , Francine Koubel , John Barter, Tanya Hope, Alison Kirton, Nick Madry , Paul Manning , Karen Triggs (ed), Sociology in Perspective. 1st ed. Oxford: Heinemann Educational. pp.282-285.
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