In viewpoints of the functions of education within

In this essay, I will explore the different viewpoints of
the functions of education within society. Consensus theories such as
Functionalism put forward the idea that society is meritocratic therefore
educational achievement and a good job is based on the effort you put it and
how hard you work in order to help achieve that. On the other hand, conflict
theories such as Marxism argue that education is a form of exploitation which
helps to keep the powerless (proletariat) silenced and convinces them to cause
an uprising or revolution against the unjust system through the teachings of
the ruling class ideology.


Education plays a key role in today’s society because it
is a part of the organic analogy. This means all the institutions such as
education work together in order to help society function. If the institution
of education was to break down, so would the whole of society. Functionalists
look at how education contributes to the maintenance of society, and the
relationship between education and other parts of the social system. Emile
Durkheim believes that the main function of education is to develop social
solidarity and social unity. Without being taught the same norms and values, the
individual would be a threat to the society (Durkheim, 1893). He also believed
that education helped in the division of labour as it helped to provide the
skills and knowledge required for future workforces. Durkheim stated that
schools were miniatures of wider society reflecting their values, school
therefore helps by preparing young people for their adult roles in society.


Functionalists such as Talcott Parsons believe that
school takes over as the focal socialising agency after the family. He believed
within the family that children were treated in terms of particularistic
standards which the family ascribed to the child, and that school helped to
reflect society by judging and treating students in terms of universalistic
standards which are mainly achieved. According to Parsons “achievements are
concretely of high importance and where universalistic criteria apply to them”
(Parsons, 1951) thus meaning that school teaches students the same principles
and standards that the workforce requires. In addition, a student is able to
achieve well in education which will then lead them to having a good job. This
is if they choose to oblige to these norms and values that the education
attempts to teach them.


According to Functionalists Davis and Moore, the working
class fail because inequality is a natural feature of society, since people are
born with different talents. This leads to role allocation, which means that “education selects talented
individuals and allocates them to the most important roles in society.” (History
Learning Site, 2015). Therefore, they have specialist skills to
carry out those specific jobs in this meritocratic society. This means that
depending on your effort and hard work, this will determine which jobs you get



Smith and Noble would argue that “there are barriers to
learning”. These barriers result from low income and material deprivation. For
example; poor quality housing, lack of uniform which can lead to bullying and
isolation and a part time job, making it difficult to revise and complete
homework. The bullying and isolation within schools will lead students to miss
lessons increasing the rate of truancy and affecting their results and
achievement. In 2010, the government created the pupil premium for those
schools with poorer students. However, a New Right would argue that the
government becomes a nanny state where the working class rely on benefits and
are unable to be independent therefore criticise the material deprivation


However, Marxists would argue that the education system
is fused with inequalities in order to benefit those in power. Marxists believe
that the ruling class control the education system through economic
determinism; in other words, by owning the means of production and the
infrastructure, they are able to control the superstructure including
education. Ruling class ideology is used to dominate society, by creating a
false consciousness that helps in maintaining the status quo. Marxists would
argue that the working class are made to believe that failure is their fault
leading them to live in a false class consciousness which “is defined as the
holding of false beliefs that are contrary to one’s social interest and which
thereby contribute to the disadvantaged position of the self or the group”
(Jost, John T, 1995).

Bowles and Gintis also argue that there is a
correspondence principle where school prepares students for the work place of
the ruling class which transmits the ruling class ideology. It is thought that
educational institutions are not just producers of dominant class conceptions”
but also “reflect the public demands” (Cole, 1998).  One way in which schools transmit this
ideology, is through the hidden curriculum. Students are taught that they must
be punctual, have a good attendance, wearing the same uniform and obeying those
in authority. This mirrors the workplace in that workers are told to be on time
and could risk being fired if they are constantly late and they must obey those
in a higher position than them such as their managers and bosses. Teachers are
part of this ideological state apparatus that help to teach the ruling class
ideology as they act as a tool of oppression and are used to ensure that
students conform to the ideas of the ruling class.


Louis Althusser argues that ideology is a powerful means
of control used by the ruling class; he believes the education system to have
replaced the church as being the main agency for ideological control. It is
argued that the ruling class “holds the state power”. Schools help to
legitimise capitalism as being reasonable and prepare pupils for their role
within the capitalist system, some pupils are taught to accept exploitation,
whereas others are taught how to rule and exploit. Qualifications legitimise
people’s positions because in order to receive good qualifications, there must
be a lot of hard work and effort put in which is a method of control through
ideology rather than physical force, in other words hegemony.


Bourdieu believes that students are taught to accept
their own failure and are made to believe that it is their own fault which is a
method of symbolic violence. Bourdieu has also developed the concept of
cultural capital whereby the middle class culture is the one most valued at
school. He argues that ‘there are relationships between groups maintaining
different, and even antagonistic, relations to culture, depending on the
conditions in which they acquired their cultural capital and the markets in
which they can derive most pro t from it’ (Bourdieu, 1979). Parents can help
contribute to this by taking their children to educational visits such as
museums. In addition, discussions and help with homework also put them at an
advantage. Thus, lacking this at home will always put a working class individual
at a disadvantage because culture
can never quite duplicate the ease and depth of the cultural capital acquired
by constant exposure at home



There are also out of school factors affecting the
working class as a part of the cultural capital theory. Bourdieu argues that
Education acts as a reproduction of the middle class dominant culture. The
middle class habitus helps children at school because there is a cultural
framework and they possess a high level of this e.g. watching the news or going
to educational trips such as the museum. Alice Sullivan found a link between
extra-curricular activities such as drama and music and educational
achievement. She put forward the idea that “public cultural consumption
communicates status more effectively than private cultural consumption. So, a
trip to the theatre denotes status more strongly than reading a book.” (Sullivan, 2007).
Therefore, by having the time and knowledge to take their children to
educational visits such as Museums, they are expanding their knowledge and
their cultural capital. This in turn will allow them to achieve better in
school as they have the knowledge needed given to them by their parents. As a
result, the only people who are able to provide their children with this middle
class habitus are the middle class and upper class. A working class family will
not have the time nor money to invest in their child and will therefore lack cultural
capital and this will then lead to educational underachievement for the working
class. This cycle will keep repeating itself because the education favours a
middle class culture which the working class will never be able to have unless
the system changes.


The education system is one which favours the middle
class habitus and values. Thus, teachers can immediately put a label on a student
simply by the way in which they look or the way in which they speak. Basil Bernstein
established two different language codes; the restricted and elaborated code.
He believes that “failure is not random but follows certain known and sadly
predictable patterns” which mainly negatively affect the working class and
their educational achievement. The working class use the restricted code of
limited vocabulary, simple sentences and slang which is a main factor of which
is preventing their achievement. Whereas the middle class use the elaborated
code which is a sophisticated way of speaking in order to give the teachers a
better view of them so that they are put into higher sets and given better
chances to succeed.


Interactionists also agree with the view that there are
inequalities within the education system. Becker argued that teacher’s ‘ideal
pupil’ is one whose behaviour resembles the middle class. In Becker’s theory of
labelling, students are labelled positively if they ‘conform to that stereotype’.
This according to Rosenthal and Jacobson will result in a self-fulfilling
prophecy where students begin to act up to their label. Their study shows that “when
teachers expected that certain children would show greater intellectual development;
those children did show greater intellectual development”. As a result, a
teachers’ view and opinion of a student has large impact on the way in which
they then decide to act and how well they achieve. However, teachers did not
favour those of the working class as they saw them as less capable. They were
put into lower sets meaning they were immediately told that they were not good
enough, this caused them to then act upon this label and actually under
achieve. Those of the middle class were put into higher sets and streams and
were told they were going to do well, there was therefore a ‘halo effect’ on
these students as being the best students.

In conclusion, Marxists view the education system as
infused with unjust ruling class ideology which helps to sustain order within
society because the working class are too powerless to see their real position
in society and believe that they are being treated fairly. However,
Functionalists do not believe that it is up to the education system to help a
student achieve, but rather the individual themselves in this meritocratic
society whereby knowledge is power. 

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