Sociology of Education
A functionalist view is that education prepares children for their role in society. The view suggests that the education system is meritocratic with each pupil having an equal opportunity to succeed, and students who are the most hardworking will achieve the best grades. Functionalists suggest there are three main objectives of the education system. One function is to provide secondary socialisation in addition to the family’s role of primary socialisation. Through a formal and hidden curriculum pupils are taught societies norms and values. A second objective of the education system is to teach skills which are necessary for success in the workplace in modern society. These skills range from basic requirements such as reading and writing to skills which are needed to be able to perform specific jobs. The third role is to offer qualifications through assessments and examinations which enable a student to get a job in line with their individual talents. There are criticisms of the functionalist perspective. This approach could be classed as too deterministic. It makes an assumption that the values taught in school will automatically be embraced by students. In reality some students will and some won’t. Also the values taught are ethnocentric and pupils from different cultures often reject and rebel against this. A functionalist view could also be criticised by suggesting all pupils are not offered an equal chance to succeed, and therefore education is not meritocratic. There is evidence which highlights working class pupils have a disadvantage and black pupils are labelled and discriminated against. Functionalism is too simplistic in its approach. It suggests the higher a pupil’s level of achievement academically, there will follow a greater reward in the workplace with a better paid job. However there are other factors involved in determining a person’s level of reward, especially gender and ethnicity as many people are discriminated on those grounds irrespective of level of qualification. One role of education as stated by functionalists is to provide the skills and attitudes which are required in the workplace. This could be criticised as schools are often accused of not promoting a strong enough work ethic. Punctuality is also poor amongst pupils, along with a high level of truancy. In addition to this many pupils are guilty of poor attendance. Credentialism is another criticism which could be attributed to a functionalists view. A qualification is a measure of a pupil’s ability to learn a subject. However there is nothing to indicate whether that person has other qualities needed to perform the job to a required standard. A Marxist perspective identifies two classes in society. The ruling class and the working class. Marxists suggest the hidden curriculum taught in schools is to prepare pupils to accept conformity to a capitalist society, wheras functionalists view the hidden curriculum to socialise pupils to societies shared values. Bowles and Gintis (1976) suggest the education system is no different to the workplace. In schools there is a hierarchy of teachers, who have authority over the pupils. The pupils work for the teachers and the reward for this work comes in the form of qualifications. Pupils are rewarded in school at a young age. In primary schools children are given rewards and treats for conforming to the rules. This is likened to the workplace, as there is a hierarchy of bosses and the rewards for work comes in the form of wages. Althusser (1972) claims the education system is not to transmit common values, but to encourage pupils to accept failure and the inequalities that exist in society. He believes that the hidden curriculum tries to justify these inequalities. Bowles and Gintis (1976) argue that the education system does not offer meritocracy, and a pupil’s success is not always in line with their ability. They suggest pupils who conform are more likely to rise to...
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