Asses the Functionalist Role of Education in Society

Asses the functionalist role of education in society The role of education is to educate individuals within society and to prepare them for working life in the economy, also to integrate individuals and teach them the norms, values and roles within society. There are many different sociological theories that differ within the role of education within society that attempt to try and explain how society or aspects of society work together. There are several perspectives on the sociology of education that are important.

The perspective in which we are going to be looking at and testing is Functionalism. We will also be examining arguments and evidence against the functionalist perspective such as Marxism and the New Right perspective. The French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1903), the founder of functionalist sociology, identified two main functions of education; creating social solidarity and teaching specialist skills to children. By social solidarity, Durkheim means that he thinks society needs some sense of solidarity where members can feel themselves to be part of a single body or community.

Durkheim argues that without social solidarity, social life and co-operation would be impossible because each individual would pursue their own desires and not work together. Durkheim believes that the education system helps to create social solidarity by transmitting society’s culture, shared beliefs and values, and passes them on from one generation to the next. He also believes that school acts as a ‘society in miniature’, preparing children for life in wider society. For example, in school and in work, we must cooperate with people around us that are neither family nor friends, such as teachers and fellow pupils.

Therefore children learn how to interact with others according to a set of impersonal rules that apply to everyone. The other function believes education plays for society is teaching children specialist skills. He argues that education teaches individuals the specialist knowledge and skills that they need to play their part in the social division of labour. Not only does this prepare children for the work place and working environment, this also promotes social solidarity, in teaching everyone that we all have our own roles in society that must be taken up in order for society to work.

Like Durkheim, Talcott Parsons (1961) believes that education acts as a bridge between the family and wider society. He sees education as the ‘focal socialising agency’ in modern society and believes that the ‘bridge’ is necessary or family and society to operate. Parsons view is that both school and wider society judge us by universalistic and impersonal standards. For example, in education, the same laws apply to everyone, each pupil is judged against the same standards. Whereas in the family, different members may be judged for different things.

Rules may only apply to a particular child. Also, in the family, a child’s status is ascribed, this means that it is fixed at birth, for example, a younger daughter may be penalized for having sex at a young age, whereas a son of the same age may not. On the other hand, in school and wider society, a person status is achieved. So one has to work in order to go higher. For example, at work we gain promotion or get the sack on the strength of how good we are at our job, while at school we pass or fail through our own individual efforts.

Parsons sees school as preparing us to move from the family to wider society because they are both based on meritocratic principles, thus everyone is given equal opportunity, and individuals achieve rewards through their own effort and ability. Parsons argues that schools also select and allocate pupils to their best suited future work roles by assessing their aptitudes and abilities. Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore agree with this theory but instead, they focus on the relationship between education and social inequality.

Davis and Moore argue that inequality is necessary to ensure that the most important roles in society re filled by the most talented people. They believe that not everyone is naturally talented; therefore it is unfair to have less able people performing important roles in society. Davis and Moore see education as a proving ground for ability, they believe it is where individuals show what they can do and gain the highest qualifications to have important and highly rewarded positions. The New Right perspective is very similar to that of functionalists.

They too favour an education system run on meritocratic principles of open competition, and one that serves the needs of the economy by preparing young people for work. They don’t however, believe that the current education system is achieving these goals. The New Right argue that in all state education systems, positions and educational bureaucrats use the power of the state to impose their view of what kind of schools we should have. New Rights believe that to solve this, we should create an ‘education market’.

They think that this healthy competition between schools will empower the consumers, bringing greater diversity, choice and efficiency to schools and will increase their ability to meet the needs of pupils, parents and employers. John Chubb and Terry Moe (1990) argue that American state education has failed and they believe that a market in state education should be introduced. Chubb and Moe propose and end to the system where school automatically receive guaranteed funding, regardless of how good or bad the are.

They believe that a system in which each family would be given a voucher to spend on buying education from a school of their choice would be much more appropriate because it would then force schools to become more competitive and more responsive to pupils and parents wishes. Marxists however, have a totally different outlook on the functions education plays in society. They see the state as means by which the capitalist ruling class maintain their dominant position.

Louis Althusser (1971) come up with the theory that the education system performs two functions; reproducing class inequality by transmitting it from generation to generation and legitimating it by producing ideologies to disguise its true cause. The American Marxists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis (1976) further these ideas and claim that capitalism requires a workforce with the kind of people that accept their role as alienated and exploited workers, willing to accept hard work, low pay and orders from above.

Bowles and Gintis believe this is followed into the education system. They carried out a study of 237 New York high school students and found that the school reward the people with personality traits that make for a submissive, compliant worker. They therefore believe that schooling helps to produce the obedient workers that capitalism needs. All Marxists agree that capitalism cannot function without a workforce that is willing to accept exploitation, however, Paul Willis’s (1977) study of working class pupils shows that some can resist attempts to indoctrinate them.

Willis combines his Marxist beliefs with that of an interactionist and focuses on the meanings pupils give to their situation and how these enable them to resist. Willis studies the counter school culture of ‘the lads’- a group of 12 working class boys, as they make the transaction from school to work. He notes that the boys form a rebellious side to them and do not conform to all school rules. The boys reject the schools meritocratic ideology that working-class pupils can achieve middle-class jobs through hard work. Kelly-may SheehanMs Shah

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