Monday, 22 September 2008

Functionalist Theories of Education

Theorists Discussed Below:
Parsons, Davies and Moore, Durkheim, Michael Young, Ronald Fletcher,

Meritocracy, manifest and latent functions, instrumental and expressive functions, equality of opportunity, roll allocation (sifting and sorting), individual achievement, ‘core’ curriculum, ‘fit’ between education and economy, hidden curriculum, ‘myth’ of meritocracy, links with educational policy.

Education - Functionalist perspectives:

Functionalists ask….
What are the functions of education for society as a whole? Think back to the biological analogy of Society - how would functionalists see the role of education in society today and the contribution that it makes to social life.

What are the other institutions of society?
As the functionalist analysis in general, the functionalist view of education tends to focus on the positive contributions education makes to the maintenance of the social system.

Durkheim - Education and social solidarity

Writing at the turn of the last century, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim saw the major function of education as the transmission of society's norms and values. He maintained:

"Society can survive only if there exists amongst its members a sufficient degree of homogeneity; education perpetuates and reinforces this homogeneity by fixing in the child from the beginning the essential similarities which collective life demands. "

(Homogeneity comes from the word homogeneous meaning: Of the same or similar nature or kind: "a tight-knit, homogeneous society” ; Uniform in structure or composition throughout.) So Durkheim was saying that society is only able to survive if we agree to be ‘similar or the same…i.e agree to the same basic principles in life) Without these ‘essential similarities’, corporation, social solidarity, and therefore social life itself would be impossible.

Thinking Point:
What do YOU think about this statement? Do you agree with what Durkheim is saying about the role of education?

A vital task of all societies is the welding of a mass of individuals into a united whole, in other words, the creation of social solidarity. This involves a commitment to society, a sense of belonging, and a feeling that the social unit is more important than the individual.

Durkheim argued: "to become attached to society, the child must feel in it something that is real, alive and powerful, which dominates the person and to which he also owns the best part of himself.’ education, and in particular the teaching of history, provides this link between the individual and society. If the history of their society is brought to life to children, they will come to see that they are part of something larger than themselves: they will develop a sense of commitment to the social group."

Education and social rules

Durkheim argued that, in complex industrial societies, the school serves a function which cannot be provided by either the family or by the peer group. Membership of the family is based on kinship relationships; membership of the peer group on personal choice. The ownership of society as a whole is based on neither of these principles.

Individuals must learn to co-operate with those who are neither their kin nor their friends. The school provides a context where these skills can be learned. As such, it is society in miniature, and model of the social system. In school, the child must interact with other members of the school community in terms of a fixed set of rules. The experience prepares him or her for interacting with members of society as a whole in terms of society's rules.

Durkheim believes a school rule should be strictly enforced. Punishments should reflect the seriousness of the damaged onto the social group by the offence, and it should be made clear to transgressors why they were being punished. In this way pupils would come to learn that it was wrong to act against the interests of the social group as a whole. They would learn to exercise self-discipline, not just because they wanted to avoid punishment, but they also would come to see that misbehaviour damaged society as a whole.

Criticisms of Durkheim:
1) Durkheim assumed societies have a shared culture which can be transmitted through the education system. Countries such as Britain are now multicultural and it is therefore debatable whether there is a single culture of which schools could base their curriculum. It is not just the fact that the United Kingdom is a multicultural society: think about subcultures that seem to reject mainstream cultures.

2) Marxists argue that educational institutions tend to transmit a dominant culture which serves the interests of the ruling class, (another word for ruling class is Bourgeoisie- this will really impress the examiners!) rather than those of society as a whole.

3) In recent decades both New Right and New Labour (right and left wing) perspectives on education have tended to emphasise the economic importance of education and have downplayed the significance of transmitting a shared culture.

4) Some researchers questioned whether in practice schools to act in the way Durkheim describes. On the basis of a study of comprehensive schools, David Hargreaves (1982) argues that education in modern Britain often fails to transmit shared values, promote self-discipline, or cement social solidarity. Hargreaves believes that in reality British education emphasises individual competition through the exam system, rather than encouraging social solidarity.

Talcott Parsons: Education and Universalistic values

The American sociologist Talcott Parsons (1961) outlined what has become the accepted functionalist view of education. Parsons argued that, after primary socialisation within the family the school takes over as the focal socialising agency; school acts as a bridge between the family and society as a whole, preparing children for their adult role.

Within the family, the child is judged and treated largely in terms of particularistic standards. Parents treat the child as their particular child rather than judging her or him in terms of the standards that can be applied to every individual. Your parents are generally going to think that the sun shines from your rear and perfume is emitted from your ear …blah blah. They understand you and your rather weird ways. They know what you been through in your life. Shall I go on –or do you get it? So you are judged by Particularistic standards.

However, in wider society the individual is treated and charged in terms of universalistic standards, which are applied to all members, regardless of kinship ties. In College – I don’t care about your ‘particular’ situation in life…and your strange ways – I will judge you in the same way I judge everyone else- by your dress, how you behave, the quality of your work and attitude (bringing me lots of chocolates over the course of the year may result in exceptional marks awarded in your homework- hint hint!). So school/ college is the same as society. Your boss won’t care if your goldfish died the night before if you lose him business or turn up really late for a meeting – thus in society and in education you are judged by Universalistic standards.

Within the family, the child's status is ascribed: it is fixed by birth. However, in advanced industrial society, status in adult life is largely achieved: example, individuals achieve their occupational status. So you can go from living in a shabby home (like in EastEnders) to having a better crib than Missy Elliot (have you seen her house?)!

So the child must move from particularistic standards and ascribed status of the family to the universalistic standards and achieved status of adult society.

The school prepares young people for this transition. It establishes universalistic standards, in terms of which all pupils achieve their status. Their conduct is assessed against the yardstick of school rules; their achievement is measured by performance in examinations. The same standards are applied to all students regardless of ascribed characteristics such as race, sex, family background or class of origin. Schools operate on meritocratic principles: statuses achieved on the basis of merit or worth

Thinking Point:
Do we REALLY believe this? What do you think?

also believes that school values have an important functions and society as a whole. Advanced industrial society requires a highly motivated, achievement orientated workforce. This necessitates differential reward for differential achievement, a principle which has been established in schools. Both the winners (high achievers) and the losers (low achievers) will see the education system as just and fair, since statuses achieved in a situation where all have an equal chance. Again the principles that operate in wider society on mirrored by those of the school.

Role allocation

Roll allocation?!!!! Ha ha!

Parsons saw the educational system as an important mechanism for the selection of individuals for their future role in society. In his words, it functions to allocate these human resources within the role structure of adult society. Thus schools, by testing and evaluating students, match their talents, skills and capacity to the jobs for which they are best suited. The school is therefore seen as the major mechanism for role allocation.

Kingsley Davis and Wilbert E..Moore - Education and role allocation

Like Parsons, Davis and Moore 1967 saw education as a means of role allocation, but they linked the education system more directly with the system of social stratification. Davis and Moore saw social stratification as a mechanism for ensuring that the most talented and able members of society are allocated to those positions that are functionally more important in society. High rewards, which act as incentives, attached to those positions. This means, in theory, that all will compete with them and the most talented will win through.

Thus the education system sifts, sorts and grades individuals in terms of their talents and abilities. It rewards the most talented with high qualifications, which in turn provide entry to those occupations that are functionally most important to society.

1) The relationship between academic credentials and occupational reward is not particularly close. In particular, income is only weakly linked to educational attainment.

2) There is considerable doubt about the proposition that the educational system greats people in terms of ability. In particular, it has been argued that intelligence has little effect upon educational attainment.

Can you think of other factors that may have a considerable bearing on educational achievement? List them here.

3) There is considerable evidence to suggest that the influence of social stratification largely prevents the educational system from efficiency grading individuals in terms of ability.

4) Some researchers argued that the traditional functions of education are becoming increasingly inappropriate and / or impractical as globalisation progresses. They claimed that the transmission of a common national culture is no longer possible in the multicultural societies of a globalised world. The cultures of today's societies are too fragmented and diverse to weld into a national identity based on shared norms and values. So this is basically saying that the Internet and communications and the media mean that we have access to lots of information and cultures and ways of living therefore we can no longer really 'share' the same 'culture' and values any more...


What is the manifest function?
The manifest function (an obvious function) of a pattern of behavior is the effect or result that is apparent to the members of the society. We can ask people why they do a certain thing; they will give the reason the manifest function of that behavior – the agreed upon value of action, the ideal as opposed to the real. So in the Education system, an obvious function of education is to teach children the curriculum; e.g maths, English etc to prepare them for the world of work.

What is the latent function?
The latent function of the behavior is the effect or result that is not apparent to the members of the society who engage in it. So a latent function of education is the Hidden Curriculum. This is the curriculum that is not formally taught but is expected of you; e.g Punctuality, homework, politeness –listening to the teacher (I like that one!).


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Anonymous said...

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