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Functionalists believe that everything in a society contributes to the wellbeing and running of society, e.g. the government, the family, education etc. functionalists are concerned with the role of education within society, Durkheim and Parsons have identified 4 basic functions of education; passing on societies culture – this creates a consensus of shared norms and values. Education also provides a bridge between particularistic values (judging particular individuals values) and ascribed status of the family (fixed by birth) and the universalistic values (judging according to abstract set of standards). Education provides society with a well-trained and qualified workforce. Finally Education selects and allocates people to roles in a meritocratic society and legitimizes social inequality. Functionalists believe that education benefits society as a whole, however Marxists argue that education benefits the ruling class, while feminists see it as benefiting men. The idea that education passes on society’s culture is criticised by Marxists, seeing education as promoting the values of power groups/ruling class.
Hargreaves believes that education promotes competition and individualism rather than shared values. If education does provide a bridge between particularistic and universalistic values that education should promote social solidarity – however education can be divisive because the hierarchy of schools and universities can separate class. Education is meant to select the most appropriate people to do particular jobs, however other factors apart from qualifications influence the labour markets (e.g. social contracts), therefore promoting social inequality as a great deal of research shows that class, gender and ethnicity influence achievement, making the labour market unequal. Parsons also argues that schools provide a secondary socialisation. It teaches that relationships in society are based on what people can do for us and what we can do for them; it provides a form of social control and social solidarity, children learn deferred gratification whereby we can’t always get what we want when we want it.
Education also provides a transmission of culture values. Davis and Moore argue education ‘sifts and sorts’ students out – some in different sets and leaving school at different times decides which jobs they end up doing and what class they are in. sifting and sorting can be done through banding and streaming students in to sets, and also through examination. Both Marxists and feminists see that schools play a major role in an excuse of social inequality; the both show an interest in structural relationships of education and different parts of society e.g. the economy. Both prospective see the education system contributing a powerful influence on social solidarity. Marxists believe that the education system serves capitalism and keeps classes divided through banding and streaming.
Education serves the needs of society according to functionalists, however Marxists believe that it teachers children to be submissive, through social control and the hidden curriculum. According to functionalists education explains social inequality, whereas it is argued by Marxists that education serves to justify a person’s class position and say that is can be blamed on the individual rather than the unequal structure of society. Marxists view meritocracy as an illusion. Hasley believes that education fails to offer the same opportunity to lower social classes, as to the higher classes. Furthermore Functionalism provides some good points into the ways in which we understand education; however it fails to see the ‘realism’ of meritocracy and social class inequality. Functionalism relies on the assumption that everyone agrees to the norms and values of society, and that the system is meritocratic and equal to all within it.