DC: We have many different perspectives on education and I would like to start off the functionalist view.
F: Durkheim believed that there were two main function of education; to create social solidarity and to teach specialist skills. Without social solidarity, social life and cooperation would be impossible because each individual would want to pursue their own selfish desires. The education system helps to transmit society’s culture through both the formal and hidden curriculum because education acts as a ‘society in miniature’ which prepares us for life in wider society.
DC: What is the difference between these two curriculums?
F: The formal curriculum is what you learn on a day to day basis. For example, History or English. The hidden curriculum is all of the things that aren’t officially taught. For example, uniform and behaviour.
DC: How does the education system teach specialist skills?
F: The education system helps to teach specialist skills so that each individual knows their part in the social division of labour.
DC: Thank you.
M: Can I just say that education in a capitalist society only transmits the ideology of a minority, which is the ruling class.
DC: That may be true and feminists have argued that education passes on patriarchal values.
F: That is not correct, because Parsons has demonstrated that school and wider society are based on meritocratic principles so everyone is given an equal opportunity. Parsons also said that school acts as a ‘focal socialising agency’ and that it is a bridge between the family and wider society. This is demonstrated because in a family your status is ascribed and you are judged on particularistic standards but in school you are judged on universalistic standards.
DC: That may be true but an equal opportunity in education may not exist because other factors like social class and the ‘old school tie network’ have a bigger impact on achievement. Also, interpretivists like Wrong have argued that functionalists have an ‘over – socialised view’ of people because you view them as if they are just puppets in society.
F: I disagree because Davis and Moore have argued that education helps to select and allocate pupils to their future work roles. For example, grading helps to give information about each individual, which helps schools to match up the individual to the best suited job. Not everyone is equally talented so society has to have high rewards for the most important jobs and we must make sure that these jobs are filled by the most talented people. This social inequality is necessary to are society so that jobs roles are filled correctly.
DC: People like Tumin have questioned; how do we know that a job is more important?
F: Because it is highly rewarded.
DC: So why are some jobs more highly rewarded than others?
F: Because they are more important!
DC: So what you are saying is that if a job is highly rewarded then it is important and if a job is highly important then it should be highly rewarded.
DC: Any other objections to this? (pause) The New Right.
NR: The state education system is inefficient because it fails to prepare young people for work because it discourages efficiency, competition and choice.
DC: Okay. Thank you for that discussion. We will now move to the Marxists perspective.
M: The education system creates ‘docile’ workers who accept exploitation of the ruling class because it passes on capitalist values and it legitimises income and wealth inequalities.
DC: Do you have any evidence of this?
M: Yes. Bowles and Gintis demonstrated that the hierarchical structure of school prepares pupils to accept the orders of their capitalist bosses when they move into employment. Education operations within the long shadows of the workplace. For example, alienation in the education system is mirrored in the workplace through alienation of the amount of pay an individual receives. Also, competition is supported in schools through having the top grades and it is mirrored in the work place through competition in pay and status.
DC: Okay but critics have argues that your perspective is too far-fetched, simplistic and extreme and it ignores the influences of the formal curriculum.
M: Yes but Willis did a study on a group of 12 working class boys and he couldn’t find a simple correspondence between school and the workplace. He argued that there was a correspondence between school and work but it was not produced by the school. The ‘lads’ that he studied formed their own anti-school subculture and that school was for a laugh and nothing else. Willis suggests that they prepared themselves for dead-end jobs and they prepared to accept them as their behaviour was mirrored in the work place.
DC: Are there any other functions of the education system?
M: Yes. Althusser believes that the functions of education are social control and to prepare individuals for the work place. The education system has replaced the church as the main agency for ideological control. Schools transmits an ideology which states that capitalism is just and reasonable but Marxists believe is just an illusion. Schools prepare pupils for their roles in the work force because pupils are taught to accept future exploitation from their bosses and qualifications help to legitimise high positions of power which help to make people become the ‘agents of exploitation and repression’. This allows the ruling class to claim cultural legitimacy through the cultural capital because education is part of the Ideological State Apparatus.
F: Functionalists disagree because education benefits society as a whole, not just the ruling class.
DC: True and some subjects, like Sociology, develop critical thinking as Reynolds has suggested. These subjects give people the knowledge to challenge the capitalist system.
We will now move onto the Social Democrat view of education.
SD: We believe that the functions of education are: to promote greater equality, to reduce social class divisions, to promote economic growth and to provide the equality of opportunity. We support the policies of: comprehensive schools, growing the welfare state and having a higher income tax for the rich. Our ideology is to redistribute the wealth.
NR: We completely disagree.
DC: Okay the New Right. What do you support?
NR: We believe that the main functions of education are to raise standards, to train the workforce that is needed by businesses and to promote economic growth. However, unlike the Social Democrats we plan will do this by reducing state expenditure. We also support competition and parental choice to ensure that schools are at the highest quality. Our ideology is private enterprises reducing tax.
DC: Thank you. We will now hear from our final perspective; the postmodernists.
PM: We believe that the economy has moved away from assembly line mass production factories and instead, production is now based on ‘flexible specialisation’ where products are customised for small, unique markets. Baudrillard and Lyotard have contributed to this by demonstrating that the functions of education should be to create an adaptable, self-motivated workforce that is responsive to individual needs.
DC: How is this possible?
PM: The education system should produce a skilled, adaptable and a self-motived workforce that is able to use advanced technology and self-supervise. Schools should encourage the idea that people should only be trained when needed because in a globalised world technology and skills become absolute quickly. In order to achieve this, education has to become more diverse and responsive to individual needs.
DC: That is understandable, but there are still many people who do low skilled jobs.
M: Also, to add your point you seem to fail to see how education tries to control the way people think and you underplay the importance of class.