Topic 5, The Role of Education in Society


Sociologists have conflicting views on the role education has in society. This is often because they have different sociological perspectives that see society differently. This essay will focus on the theories of education from functionalism, neoliberalism and Marxism and their views on the role of education

What is the functionalist perspective on education?

  1. Social solidarity
  2. Durkheim identifies two main functions of education; creating social solidarity and teaching specialist skills. Where, social solidarity refers to societies shared culture and values and teaching specialist skills promotes the idea of social solidarity through everyone developing their own specialist skills for work
  3. This is because education binds people together and enables cooperation through the teaching of a common history and shared rituals to promote a shared common purpose. As well as this, education teaches children universalistic rules to follow which are essential for solidarity in society
  4. An example of this in education is the way in which subjects like history teach a shared background which show the positive impact of having a shared past. It also provides a ‘society in miniature’ preparing students for life in wider society
  5. This perspective shows how education is a step in preparing for work and a value consensus is needed for a functioning society
  6. However, the education system does not properly prepare pupils for all roles of work such as some opportunities are blocked for different social classes
  • Meritocracy
  • Parsons claims that school acts as a focal socialising agency in modern society acting a bridge between family and society.
  • This is because the system teaches children the knowledge and skills they need to flourish outside family and in society for work
  • For example, within the family your status is ascribed where you are born into your position within that group. However, for society, your status is achieved where in order to achieve hard work is needed in individual achievement
  • This shows education as promoting meritocracy where everyone achieves their status through own efforts and abilities that enable higher positions in wider society.
  • Although, a person’s gender, ethnicity or class can affect this idea of equal opportunity to succeed due to the labels placed on them
  • Role allocation
  • Davis and Moore argue the purpose of the education system is to identify the subjects you are best at, which leads to the process of role allocation
  • This is because the people who are more talented than others are needed for the more complex roles due to the requirement of greater skills. For society to function efficiently, the most talented individuals need to be allocated to the most important jobs and are often offered with higher rewards to motivate individuals
  • For example, jobs such as doctors and politicians require more complex intellectual skills compared to manual labour jobs so therefore will have greater requirements and rewards to sift and sort the individuals best suited for the roles
  • As a result, this shows how society is more productive due to this process within education
  • However, it can be argued that footballers are paid a great deal and lack many academic qualifications which questions the view that the jobs which lack complex skills are often fitted with fewer rewards

What is the neoliberalism and new right perspective on education?

  1. Marketisation
  2. The new right and neoliberalism view that the education system should operate in a free market
  3. This is because they believe the education system is not encouraging competition to compete in a global economy where in order to be successful it must train people to do the jobs that society requires
  4. An example of education not working is that it tries to implement a one size fits all approach, imposing a uniformity that disregards local needs
  5. This demonstrates the idea of the need of marketisation in education to increase competition between schools to bring more efficiently and choice to schools and increase the availability to meet the country’s needs in work
  6. However, this competition only would benefit the middle classes due to the only ones able to afford better standards of schooling and opportunities for high positions in work

Marxist perspective on education

  1. ISA and RSA
  2. For Marxists, school is an ideological state apparatus which enables class division and exploitation in wider society
  3. Althusser states that an ISA is a way to maintain the rule of the bourgeoisie through control of people’s ideas, values and beliefs
  4. This is seen through education in the way a school creates false class consciousness, controlling a pupil’s ideas encouraging them to passively accept their future work roles
  5. This shows how education serves the interest of the ruling class, by presenting capitalism as inevitable
  6. However, even with a communist regime there are inequalities in education present
  • Reproducing inequality
  • Bowles and Gintis claims that the education system does not foster personal growth and development, instead it works to procedure obedient works that capitalist class needs.
  • This is because they suggest there is a correspondence between values learnt at school and the way in which the workplace operates. The values, they suggested, are taught through the ‘Hidden Curriculum’, which consists of those things that pupils learn through the experience of attending school rather than the main curriculum subjects taught at the school.
  • For example, passive subservience of pupils to teachers corresponds to the passive subservience of workers to managers; acceptance of hierarchy (authority of teachers) corresponds to the authority of managers.
  • These values help reproduce inequality in society by persuading w/c pupils to accept values in the hidden curriculum so they willingly become next generation of proletariat. So, the transmission of values of the correspondence principle through the hidden curriculum helps reproduce class inequality
  • Giroux, says the theory is too deterministic. He argues that working class pupils are not entirely moulded by the capitalist system
  • Learning to labour
  • Willis argues pupils rebelling are evidence that not all pupils are brainwashed into being passive, subordinate people as a result of the hidden curriculum.
  • This is because he says that pupils are not directly injected with the values and norms that benefit the ruling class, some actively reject these. These pupils also realise that they have no real opportunity to succeed in this system but that there is counter-school culture produced by workers
  • For example, the group studied by Willis in 1977 were actively resisting school’s authority with acts of defiance. By resisting this, they would ultimately fail ensuring they end up in manual labour
  • This shows
  • However, this criticises traditional Marxism. The contradictory affects validity.