Below is an essay I wrote for sociology. Please have a read, and comment, I will be writing a follow up within the next week as to my thoughts on what education is like now. After listening to people like Sir Ken Robinson, I have some definite views on education.
You might have read my earlier posts when I mentioned this, but in the next post I want to try and expand on my thoughts. Perhaps it is a good time as I have now returned to education and in September, I will be entering University as an undergrad. Exciting times.
In the mean time, please let me know what you think of the ideas in my essay.
The Functionalist approach whose view on society as a whole is one that society does not change, should not change and does not need to change. It is fine the way it was, bearing in mind that functionalists idea of a perfect society is the 1950’s model of society, with the nuclear family consisting of the father going out to work and the mother ‘keeping house’ and looking after the children. Along these lines, functionalists think of education as a means to teaching boundaries, preparing children for the move into working in a society. The belief is that education should be there to teach children values in terms of respect, loyalty and individual attainment. Meritocracy is the idea that you advance in education on merit. Everyone is subject to the same rules, uniform and exams, and everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. Failure or success being a measure of ones own merit or intelligence. Therefore, what you get when you leave school is what you deserve. Which leads onto the functionalist view that society is also based on a meritocracy approach. People are in the jobs they are in because that is where they are meant to be. Power for example is not a problem in functionalist society as everyone is where they should be, for example, a banker, having progressed though education and having attained his position through a meritocracy based system, deserves his position and society needs him in this position.
Marx would argue that education is set up to provide the bourgeoisie with workers and to keep the proletariat or working class in their place. Promoting a false class conciseness which is the Marxist thesis that society is constructed to ‘brainwash‘ the proletariat into believing that it is a fair system and what they have is what they deserve. The middle to upper classes generally receive a better standard of education, for many reasons. The teaching tends to be superior, there are more extra curricular activities, which are geared towards higher achievement, the parents of middle to upper class students have much cultural capital and usually more material capital, they know how the system works, they know how to use it and generally being more articulate, they know how to get what they think their children need. Whereas the parents of a working class student generally are not in this position. Assuming they too have come through the education system their children are now entering, they have themselves been subjected to an inferior education system and lack the confidence and knowledge of the system, neither are they as articulate as their middle to upper class counterparts.
Durkheim said about education “It is by respecting the school rules that the child learns to respect rules in general, that he (sic) develops the habit of self control and restraint simple(simply) because he should control and restrain himself. It is the first initiation into the austerity of duty. Serious life has now begun.” Briefly, education is set up to prepare children to enter society. To learn hierarchy and their place within it. For the middle to upper class, it prepares them to enter society as the leaders in both business and public life and for the working classes, it prepares them for entering the general workforce. The functionalists’ view of education perpetuates a system that they think works and does not need change. It promotes and works to continue a system that, according to Marx (1818-1883), keeps the idea of class alive and keeping the middle to upper class powerful and rich.
Marx’ view on society is that it is exploitative, oppressed and its’ sole purpose is to keep the bourgeoisie in power and the proletariat having to sell the only thing they have, their labour, in order to make a living. Marx believed there is a false class consciousness, a misbelief that your fate is the correct one. What you have is what you deserve. He thought that the functionalists idea of society was preventing change for the better. Marx believed that society needs to change and evolve, and that the static condition of society that functionalists want to keep is about ensuring the rich were kept rich and the poor poor. Dialectic Logic is a concept that Marx promoted which says “Truth is often sought in discussion – in dialogue, or dialectic… Discussion originates in disagreement, the conflict of oppositions, which encourages debate. The argument proceeds by the putting of one position and the countering of it by another, opposed position. The search for truth is not about standing firm with one position, but in trying to reach agreement with one’s opponent, to arrive at a conclusion that both can accept.” He believed that in a functionalist society people were raised to accept their role in society without asking questions and to accept the idea that society was perfect as it is and doesn’t need to change. In dialectic logic Marx offered an alternative to blindly following a set ‘doctrine’ by a system of being able to ask questions, argue about the solutions and both sides being able to come up with an alternative that both sides could live with and in turn society could change for the better of all with all having the opportunity to be involved. He believed this should start in education in the form of schools based on dialectic logic rather than the current system that discourages questioning of standardised norms. Marx talks of alienation about which he says, “If we work for money rather than satisfaction and relevance work should bring to our lives, alienation occurs. Alienation from product of labour, and alienation from self and others.” He believed that capitalist work is hostile to the worker and dominates the workers’ life, the worker is alienated from himself by the very act of production as he does not view his work a part of real life and does not feel at home with it. This idea could be translated into education as well, with a standardised system of education that is applied to all students and a curriculum not individually tailored for groups of students by ability, interest and goals, the students feel alienated. Which may be an explanation for todays issues, with working class students at least, not graduating and leaving school without having the basic knowledge such as being able to read or write as well as the ‘anti-social’ behaviour displayed everyday on the news and in public. Evidence would suggest that perhaps there is more alienation within group of working class students than within groups of middle to upper class students, perhaps because of how the middle to upper class parents, with more cultural capital, have more influence on how their children’s education progresses and indeed how their children perceive their education helping to make them feel less alienated. Should education be focused on groups of individuals with the same interests or goals, the student may not feel alienated, but rather engaged in what he/she is learning, that being, what they want to learn and not what the school system or society say they should be learning.
Functionalists construct society on consensus wherein everyone in society has “agreed” to how society was to develop. Everything based on merit (meritocracy), in education and in work. Everyone gets the same chances to acquire the same knowledge and therefore it is up to them on how they progress, passing all the tests and getting a good education and then a good job or failing and having to get employment in something more menial. Whether they pass or fail, it is up to the individual. However, society consists of people, people do not make a society. Individuals are part of society because society lets them be a part of it but they have to work for the good of society and thus the rules need to be followed.
Marx said that functionalist society is repressive and promotes conflict. The bourgeoisie are repressive to the proletariat, trying to keep them in their place so they can make more money. He said that power is repressive, the bourgeoisie use the power they have in controlling the means of production to repress the workers. He believed there should be a change as individuals are produced by society and if that society is repressive, it produces repressed individuals. He wanted free will for individuals, they should be able to do what they want to do, when they want to do it and a capitalist society was causing suffering due to alienation and it further promotes the false class consciousness. Marx wanted education to be critical, based on dialectic logic to encourage students to question society norms and to start the process of change to a point where the individual is important and to help in changing society.
To summarise, functionalists see education as a precursor to life. Believing that education should prepare students for entry into society as a productive, loyal, respectful member of that society. It exists for a child to learn hierarchy, social norms, interactions as well as the do’s and don’ts of society. Where everything you do is to promote the continuation of the society and for the good of society as a whole. It works on a basis of meritocracy where each individual progresses on his or her own merit. If they succeed or if they fail it is what they deserve as it is a measure of their own merit or intelligence. Functionalists do not think that society needs to change as the system is perfect the way it is. People get what they deserve, the right people end up in the right positions, whether that be Prime Minister or strawberry picker, therefore, functionalists are not concerned with power as a subject for discussion. With the view that the sociological system is perfect, the education system is as it should be to keep society continuing as it is. Although reward is based on merit, I believe that class does play a major role in the education a child receives. “All mothers are actively involved in their children’s education. The working-class mothers worked just as hard as the middle-class mothers. But it was not hard work that counted. Instead, it was the amount of cultural capital available. And the middle-class mothers had most.”[ Reay, D., Class Work: Mothers’ involvement in their children’s primary schooling.1998.] Middle-class schools attract middle-class pupils and have higher achievements overall. Schools want middle-class pupils as they are seen as easier to teach and overall are likely to perform better and will maintain or increase a schools position in the league tables and status. Reay concludes that middle-class mothers work very hard to ensure their children get into the most successful schools, but what they gain may be at the expense of working-class children. Where the working-class mothers do not have the same cultural capital as the middle-class mothers do of which to take advantage.
Marxists oppose the functionalist view, thinking that the education system as it is now, only serves to promote and prolong the bourgeoisies’ repression of the proletariat. A way to keep a system of false class consciousness alive and ensuring that the middle to upper class continue to make money while keeping the working classes in a position where all they can do is sell their own labour to earn money to live. Marxists feel that a repressive society can only produce repressed individuals who suffer alienation from their work as they have to work for money rather than satisfaction and relevance and believe that the education system serves to instil this repressive system into people from a very young age, ensure its continuity. Marxists want critical education, based on dialectic logic. They want a classless society where people are not repressed and are individual, able to do what they want, when they want.