Shawda Aziz Sunday, 24 November 2013
Assess the view that the main function of education is to reproduce and legitimise social inequality. (20 marks)
This is a classic debate in sociology between gender, class and ethnicity. In this essay, I will analyse the theories relating to this issue. The social class structure is reproduced in several ways, in society. An example of this is through education. Many theorists believe that the pivotal function of education is not to educate the younger generation, but to replicate the social class structure from one generation after the other, in order to legitimise social hierarchy. Marxists and feminists assume such an idea. On the contrary, functionalists believe that educational institutions provide societal needs and are needed for the maintenance of society. Certainly, many contrasting opinions have been expressed by different sociologists and explanations are made to justify their point of view.
Marxists adopt the idea that education serves the needs of the economic foundation of society, along with other principles such as family, mass media, religion and politics. Without education and the listed ideals as a superstructure, society would collapse when only the means of production existing as the economic base. In Marxism, education only serves two purposes: to reproduce inequalities and social relations of productions and to justify these inequalities through meritocracy. The main function of education, according to Marxists, is using in the form of an ideological state apparatus. This passes on the common values in order to maintain and reproduce class discrimination in wealth and authority, generation after generation. This then continues to produce capitalism without the need to enforce it into the society, in the same way ideology is spread subconsciously, creating a false consciousness. Bowles Gintis argued that a hidden curriculum exists to achieve this consequence; the way educational institutions are organised and how knowledge is taught encourages the working class to abide by the rules and regulations of the capitalist society and accept the prejudice and failure without any sign of protest. This induces the distinction between conformist pupils and rebellious pupils, who are sanctioned accordingly to either continue their attitudes (conformist children) or change their behaviour (rebellious children). Notably, this Marxist approach on education has its advantages and disadvantages. Most evidently, it explores the ways in which social class reproduction occurs; this is right from the very foundation of society with young students at the early part of their life being taught ideological views. A flaw of this particular viewpoint on education is that the main emphasis is on a view of the students being irresponsive and ‘passive puppets’ which suggests that it is very deterministic. A further flaw, similar to the previous point, is that the model ignores how the students themselves can reject education and directly discard the attempts of ideology through the creation of anti-school subcultures.