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Critically Evaluate the Functionalist Perspective on Education

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Critically Evaluate the Functionalist Perspective on Education For the Functionalists, education performs a positive function for all individuals in society and has a powerful influence over it. The education system serves the needs of an industrial society by providing a more advanced division of labour; socialising new generations into societies shared norms and values and, according to meritocratic criteria, allocates roles in. Education supposedly meets societies through three related economic roles; socialisation; allocation and vocational training. Firstly, Durkheim and Parsons (1956-9) stated that the education system involves the transmission of socially agreed norms and values, known as the 'Value Consensus', to future generations. This was done through both the 'formal' curriculum and the 'hidden' curriculum, and its economic role is referred to as socialisation or social control. The formal curriculum is more commonly known as the National Curriculum and so is thus the timetabled lessons the state lays out for students to undertake. However, the hidden curriculum teaches such moral lessons as the reward and punishment system, by which students must conform to and obey more authoritative persons (teachers), and installs a sense of work ethic, like punctuality and co-operation. Functionalist theorists believe that this internalisation of norms and values results in social cohesion and stability, as well as ensuring a continuity and order in society. ...read more.


The main ides of Classical Marxism are that education benefits the ruling-class and not society as a whole, and that as part of a super-structure education reproduces and legitimises social inequality. Also they believe strongly in the 'Myth of Meritocracy', which they believe does not provide real equality of opportunity as the functionalists claim, as via selection, such as setting in to ability groups, the working-class are separated from the middle-class. In 1972 Althusser argued that the socialisation role does not transmit shared values, instead it is part of an ideological state apparatus set up to create a sense of false consciousness. This is the institution of the belief that capitalism is fair, natural and inevitable, and that alternatives are impractical, and leads to that acknowledgement of this inequality in the working-class. Through this education serves the needs of capitalism, not society as the functionalists believe, by socialising children into the dominant ideology - the ruling-class norms and values - leading to an obedient workforce and the stability of capitalism. Althusser claims that, like the Functionalists, social norms and values are endorsed through both the formal and hidden curriculum. Marxists feel the exclusion of subjects like sociology and peace studies from the national curriculum leads to narrow-minded views of society set by the ruling-classes, of what they believe too be the 'shared' norms and values. ...read more.


Hargreaves study in 1967 found that pupils labelled troublemakers reacted by developing an 'anti-school subculture' in which they achieved status by reversing mainstream school values, so that 'bad becomes good'. In doing this they go against the Functionalist view that the hidden curriculum teaches students to accept hierarchy. However, like the Functionalists these views can be too deterministic by assuming negative labelling always leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy, as it can have an opposite effect like in the case of Afro-Caribbean schoolgirls. Also, it ignores the impact of material and cultural factors outside school and other factors inside school that are beyond the teachers' control, such as class sizes and resources. Therefore the theory helps to draw attention to some factors inside school, which explain working-class under achievement although a full explanation would also look at structural explanations as the Functionalists have. Finally, in evaluation I feel that although the Functionalist approach to education appears slightly patchy in areas and may no fully put evidence to explanations, the Marxist, Interactionist and other criticising theories also fail to cover all areas of the matter. Therefore, although quite deterministic in it's failure to recognise the formation of the students identity and the effects of education that are not functional to society, it is similar to other theories in its lack of scope and failure to see things from another dimension. ...read more.

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This is a really strong essay because of the language and terms used throughout but also because of the structure. There is a good balance between the Functionalist view and criticisms. The essay also applies the key studies throughout. Overall grade: *****

Marked by teacher Matthew Wilkin 07/05/2013

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