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The Functions of Education According to Functionalists and Marxists

Ever since the education system was invented, there have been a lot of ideas and criticisms of how it should work. The most famous sociological groups, functionalists and Marxists, were part of this and still are today. They both think that their views are best for society.

Functionalists believe that the education system has three main functions. Firstly it socialises young people into key cultural values such as equality of opportunity, competition and religious morality. Education is said by functionalists (especially Durkheim) to emphasise moral responsibilities in society that people should have towards each other. If these norms were not passed down through generations then there would be a tendency for individualism (where people believe that they are more important than social groups). Citizenship and religious education were introduced as compulsory subjects in schools to see that young people did things with thought for the society. The second function is to do with the skills that education teaches children, from literacy and numeracy to more job-specific skills. Occupational jobs are becoming more specialised and this in turn will lead to more years in education. The final function of education, according to functionalists is the allocating of roles of young people in society. Examinations and qualifications are said to allocate people for their most suited job. The equality of opportunity took place and so higher talented people are given the most functionally important jobs for the society.

For Marxists the education system is seen as an important part of the superstructure in society. This is along with other institutions such as the media, religion and the family. They also argue that education does not give everybody a fair chance and that it uses the “alienation of schoolwork”, (the idea that children will do the work if they are rewarding for doing so), to socially control people until they are ready for “exploitation” in the world of work. Schools are considered to be unfair on working-class children because they are generally middle-class institutions and so middle-class children will generally do better. Marxists also strongly believe that “the hidden curriculum” is being used too strongly by schools. By teaching pupils to follow instructions (e.g. “sir” and “miss” and folding their arms) they are preparing them for the “exploitation” during work of when being asked to do something and then automatically doing it. This means that workers could be “used” in the process and then find out about the capitalist system that we live in the hard way.

While Marxists do share many ideas of functionalists e.g. the fact that education prepares us for out acceptance of the values of society they also see how the education system is alienating children. Functionalists, on the other hand, seem unable to see this and believe that the education system can only do good to children by teaching them norms and values.

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