Explore and evaluate competing explanations on the role and function of education.

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Explore and evaluate competing explanations on the role and function of ‘education’.

This essay will attempt to explore the educational system and it’s role and functions in society, using sources which reflect the psychological and philosophical concepts, along with social and learning theories. State education will be explored in relation to the opinions of conflict and consensus structuralist sociological theorists. Finally, the concept of humanism in education will be defined and evaluated.

For the majority of people the term ‘education’ is inextricably linked to the state-controlled learning that is compulsory in this country from the age of five to the age of sixteen. ‘Education’ is derived from the Latin terms ‘educare’ and ‘educere’. ‘Educare’ means to rear, to bring up, to cultivate; Shankman and Durrant (2002) suggest that this gives a sense of education as a logical, rationally ordered concept, the imparting of knowledge in order to produce ‘educated’ people. ‘Educere’ means to evoke, to draw out, to lead forth; this meaning would explain education as a creative process, encouraging the student to tap into his or her own potential.

The state places great emphasis on ensuring that everyone receives an education, and there are legal structures in place to compel parents to ensure that their children attend school. An ‘education’ is therefore something that everyone experiences, although there can arguably be huge differences in the quality of education received. Society accepts and agrees to the legal constraints placed upon it’s members and school becomes an important societal structure, not only in its function as provider of knowledge, but also in the process of socialization. However, Durkheim states that education is ‘only the image and reflection of society. It imitates and reproduces the latter in abbreviated forms: it does not create it’ (Durkheim, 1951).

 Although most people would accept the idea that life chances are not distributed equally within a capitalist society, people generally choose to believe that education is a meritocratic system, whereby everyone has an equal chance of success if they work hard. At school certain norms and values are instilled into the students, such as co-operation, punctuality and discipline. Jorgenson et al (1997) suggest that school is the first organisation people attend, become members of in effect, and therefore school becomes a model for all the subsequent organisations that people join.  

One of the criticisms of the functionalist view of education may be that it does not address the conflict that occurs within educational systems and, furthermore, the meritocratic ideal does not account for peoples varying experiences of education. Another criticism may be that a rigidly structured system may place more importance on the structure itself, rather than the processes of teaching and learning that take place within it.  

Conflict theory also views society as a system of structures. However, it holds an opposing view as to the function of those structures and it regards education as another tool used by the dominant group of society to protect the status quo. Although outwardly democratic, society is an authoritative structure; hierarchy filters down to every level, and those who hold the power do not wish to share it. Bowles and Gintis (1976) are of the opinion that the social relationships in educational institutions reflect the social relationships of the workplace, saying, ‘Social relations in education are a replica of the hierarchical division of work. Hierarchical relations are reflected in the vertical lines of authority which go from administrators to teachers and from teachers to students’ (Bowles & Gintis, 1976, pp175-176).

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In addition, just as in the workforce individuals who challenge their bosses and fight for better working conditions are often labelled as ‘rabble-rousers’, students who challenge the school system are labelled as troublemakers. Rogers and Freiberg (1994) state that ‘while behaviourism has diminished in its importance for most psychologists it continues to rule the educational system…….from the way students are disciplines to the way teachers are evaluated, the method is one of control, reward and punishment (Rogers & Freiberg, 1994, p296).

Bowles and Gintis (1976) go on to suggest that schools serve a function not so much ...

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