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Assess the Functionalist explanation of the role of education in modern society.

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Assess the Functionalist explanation of the role of education in modern society The functionalist approach is one of several sociological viewpoints on education. Functionalism is largely derived from the work of sociologists such as Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons. Broadly speaking, functionalism is an approach which explains social institutions primarily in terms of the functions they perform. Functionalists treat societies as systems of interacting and discuss the functions of something relating to its effects on a particular institution or on society as a whole. For Durkheim (french sociologist), the process of education was to be understood in terms of its contribution to the maintenance of the social order. He saw the major function as the transmission of society's norms and values. He was one of the major contributing sociologists putting forward new ideas and establishing many themes which continue to be immensely important in influencing modern sociology. Durkheim believes that social solidarity is vital - a unitation of individuals creating an all round feeling of commitment and a sense of belonging to society as a whole.


due to the requirements of any society to motivate individual to fill important social positions and that education is an important part of this process by 'proving one's ground for ability to be placed into the relevant status according to their capacity'. The education sorts individuals into categories in terms of talents and abilities in order to reward the appropriate people with high qualifications allowing easy access to those occupations which serve great importance and many functions in society. So, functionalists have focused on two general questions: 'What are the functions of education for society as a whole?' and also 'What are the functional relationships between education and the other parts of the social system?' These questions then lead onto their assessment of contribution of education to social solidarity and relationship between education and the economic system contributing to society as a whole. These viewpoints differ in many ways from those of the liberal or marxist viewpoints. Liberal views are more generally a view held by many educationalists and are largely focused on the contribution of education on the individual rather than the contribution to society.


However the work of Bowles and Gintis has been generally criticized by many for having exaggerated the correspondance between work and education failing to provide adequate evidence to prove their case. Hargreaves criticizes Giroux for failing to indicate under what circumstances education can develop independantly.Basically Giroux' work has been said to be too unspecific. I agree with Durkheims' theory of school being a 'miniature society' and also in the fact that schools can provide children with the basic necessities that families are unable to in terms of developing interaction and cooperation with new people outside the kinship/peer group in order to create early socialization within the child. I believe there is a sense of conflict within the education system although I think that the conflict perspective (Giroux) is more practical - that there is no simple alternative in terms of straight-forward improvements. I disagree with Davis & Moores' theory that the most talented students are likely to achieve more. This is a generally unspecific presumption. In terms of qualifications, this is perhaps true but in terms of achievements throughout life, there is no way of proving as a persons family background could also have a major contribution to their future and successes. Beth Slater

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