Compare and Contrast the Marxist and Functionalist Interpretations of Education in Society

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Carrie-Anne Hall 05007672 Sociology Essay

Compare and contrast the Marxist and functionalist interpretations of education in society.

The role of education is to educate individuals within society and to prepare them for working life in the economy, also to integrate individuals and teach them the norms, values and roles within society. There are many different sociological theories that differ within the role of education within society that attempt to try and explain how society or aspects of society work together. Different theories try and attempt to understand social behaviour at different levels of investigation. There are several perspectives on the sociology of education that are important. The two perspectives which are going to be looked at are Functionalism and Marxism.

Functionalism sees society as a whole. It is often referred to as the consensus theory as it doesn't address the issue of conflict in society. It looks at all the major aspects in society for example the family, the economy, the educational and political system and how they all function together as a whole to form a complete system. Functionalism can be summarised to a human body. For the human body to function properly each part needs to operate together for example the heart and lungs. If a biologist was to examine each part in isolation he would not be able to determine how life is maintained. Functionalism works similar to this. Too understand how any part of society, for example education, the functionalist would look at how education in terms of its contribution to the maintenance of the social system as a whole. All the key institutions in society need to be well integrated for society to survive and operate efficiently.

Functionalism works in the same kind of way. Each part of society can be seen to be interrelated and each part taken together to form a complete system. Functionalism also suggests that certain basic needs must me met in order for society to survive and operate efficiently. These are known as functional prerequisites. For example food and water may be seen as basic needs as without these people would not survive. A system of socializing new members may be regarded as a functional prerequisite as without culture social life would not exist. If an institution exists in society functionalists believe there must be some reason for its existence. As regards to education functionalists assume educational institutions serve some societal needs. Education is seen as vital in regards to socialisation. Educational institutions select different types and levels of education and provide general socialisation of the whole population into the dominant culture, values and beliefs of society. If members have the same values they will tend to share a common identity which provides a basis of unity and cooperation in society. By obtaining shared values this will help to keep order and stability in society.

Emile Durkheim, French sociologist saw education as being a positive thing in society as it helps the maintenance of the social system and helps to transmit society's norms and values which help promote social solidarity, to keep society running smoothly. He believed that in order for society to exist there must be a sufficient degree of homogeneity. Societal members must share common beliefs and values. He believed that these are only partially taught at home by the family however the education system continues this process as children get older. Durkheim also saw the teaching of history as being very important. By learning about history the child will feel that they are apart of something bigger than themselves. By learning key values of society in school this would encourage a feeling of commitment, togetherness among young people and help them to see themselves as part of a wider society. He argued that schools provide a function that could not be provided from the friends of their kin....
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