Functionalism Education Essays

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There are three main theoretical perspectives (or theories) that represent the views of sociologist and educators, these views are the conflict perspective, symbolic interactions, and functionalism. Although all of these theories are important to education and society, I have chosen to focus my research or theoretical perspective on functionalism also including the effects functionalism and education.
The Functionalist perspective is one of the most dominant core perspectives in sociology and is an analysis of social and cultural phenomena in terms of the functions they perform in a social system. In functionalism, societies are conceived of as a system of interrelated parts in which no part can be understood in isolation from the whole.…show more content…

Education is important in society; the structure and processes of education systems are related to the general process of socialization (Van Krieken 2000, p.191). Many sociologists may agree with this statement, but different sociologists have many views about how societies are structured, and they have different views about the role of education in society. In all perspectives, schools are seen as social institutions, but these perspectives all have different ideas on how they socialize people and for what reasons. At first glance Marxist and Functionalist views seem very similar. This is because they are both social structuralism views, but Marxism is a conflict theory, and functionalism bases itself upon consensus, paying particular attention to the positive contribution that education makes to the overall maintenance of functioning of the social system. These very crucial differences mean that the two perspectives take on two different branches of the same tree.
Functionalists see education as a miniature society, a society that develops a sense of commitment to a social group. Functionalism is an aspect of society which is interdependent and contributes to society functioning and creating mechanical and organic solidarity. It is also based on the relationship between a school and a society. Functionalism

Functionalists focus on the positive functions performed by the education system. There are four positive functions that education performs

1. Creating social solidarity
2. Teaching skills necessary for work
3. Teaching us core values
4. Role Allocation and meritocracy

1. Creating Social Solidarity

We have social solidarity when we feel as if we are part of something bigger. Emile Durkheim argued that school makes us feel like we are part of something bigger. This is done through the learning of subjects such as history and English which give us a shared sense of identity. Also in American schools, children pledge allegiance to the flag.

Durkheim argued that ‘school is a society in miniature.’ preparing us for life in wider society. For example, both in school and at work we have to cooperate with people who are neither friends or family – which gets us ready for dealing with people at work in later life.

2. Learning specialist skills for work

Durkheim noted that an advanced industrial economy required a massive and complex Division of Labour. At school, individuals learn the diverse skills necessary for this to take place. For example, we may all start off learning the same subjects, but later on we specialize when we do GCSEs.

3. Teaching us core values

Talcott Parsons argued that education acts as the ‘focal socializing agency’ in modern society. School plays the central role in the process of secondary socialisation, taking over from primary socialisation. He argued this was necessary because the family and the wider society work in different principles and children need to adapt if they re to cope In the wider world.

In the family, children are judged according to what he calls particularistic standards by their parents – that is they are judged by rules that only apply to that particular child. Individual children are given tasks based on their different abilities and judged according to their unique characteristics. Parents often adapt rules to suit the unique abilities of the child.

In contrast in school and in wider society, children and adults are judged according to the same universalistic standards (i.e they are judged by the same exams and the same laws). These rules and laws are applied equally to all people irrespective of the unique character of the individual. School gets us ready for this.

The above ties in quite nicely with the modernisation theory view of development – achieved status is seen as a superior system to the ascribed status found in traditional societies. 

4. Role Allocation and meritocracy

Education allocates people to the most appropriate job for their talents using examinations and qualifications. This ensures that the most talented are allocated to the occupations that are most important for society. This is seen to be fair because there is equality of opportunity – everyone has a chance of success and it is the most able who succeed through their own efforts – this is known as meritocracy

Positive evaluations of the Functionalist view on education

  1. School performs positive functions for most pupils – exclusion and truancy rates are very low
  2. Role Allocation – Those with degrees earn 85% more than those without degrees
  3. Schools do try to foster ‘solidarity’ – PSHE
  4. Education is more ‘work focused’ today – increasing amounts of vocational courses
  5. Schooling is more meritocratic than in the 19th century (fairer)

Negative Evaluations of Functionalism (Criticisms)

  1. Marxists argue the education system is not meritocratic – e.g. private schools benefit the wealthy.
  2. Functionalism ignores the negative sides of school – e.g. bullying/
  3. Postmodernists argue that ‘teaching to the test’ kills creativity.
  4. Functionalism reflects the views of the powerful – the education system tends to work for them and they suggests there is nothing to criticise.

FIN 

If you like this sort of thing then you might also like to follow me for regular updates on twitter – @realsociology, or through my Facebook Page. 

Sociology of Education Revision Bundle

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

You might also like my brief vodcast on the same topic…

Test Yourself:

The Functionalist Perspective on Education Key Terms Quiz (Quizlet)

Related Posts

Sociological Perspectives on Education – Summary Grid

Evaluating the Functionalist Perspective on Education

The Marxist Perspective on Education

The New Right View of Education

The Functionalist, Marxist and New Right Views of Education – A Comparison

Related Online Sources

Twynham’s Sociology Pages offer an OK round up of The Functionalist Perspective on Education (written by an ex-student)

This post from Podology (also by a student) is also OK – written as an essay (no title given), but it does tend to just juxtapose criticisms from other perspectives

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This entry was posted in education, Functionalism and tagged Durkhiem, education, Functionalism, meritocracy, Parsons, role allocation, Sociology. Bookmark the permalink.

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