Public education, it can be argued, shapes society, instils social mores and indoctrinates the impressionable with those philosophies the elites value. This essay will focus upon three main areas intrinsic to the education system. These are the social reproduction of ideas, the life chances created and instilled through education, and the socialisation of the individuals undergoing the educational process. Two main sociological perspectives that are useful when studying the education system are Functionalism and Critical Theory, because they focus on macro issues and social structures more than the interactionist perspective.
Functionalists believe that the school system is an agent of social reproduction, which operates to reproduce well integrated, fully functioning members of society (Webb, Schirato and Danaher, 2002: 114). Critical theorists, conversely, hold that education is the most effective mechanism for promoting social change and for giving opportunities to less privileged groups so that they can advance their social standing. However, education usually reproduces existing social divisions, maintaining the relative disadvantage of certain groups (Webb, Schirato and Danaher, 2002: 106). Munro (1994: 108) describes the different approaches by stating that, "functionalists tend to see education as synonymous with socialisation, while a conflict theorist is inclined to view education as ideological- that is, reflecting the interests of particular groups."
Functionalists hold that the major institution for social reproduction is the education system, whereas, from a critical perspective, teachers, who oversee this reproduction, have been made into administrators of programs that provide "manpower capitalisation" through planned and directed behavioural changes (Illich, 1973: 327). Illich (1973: 327) comments, from a critical perspective, that teaching and learning remain sacred activities separate and estranged from a fulfilling life. This is because the things being taught do not line up with the necessary knowledge needed for life outside of education, and that "learning from programmed information always hides reality behind a screen" (Illich, 1973: 324). This means that the knowledge provided is set to a secret agenda. The learning process, which supposedly passes on the values and mores necessary in society to students, is not, however, meeting these needs effectively. Relevant information, that is, knowledge, which will add skills to the labour market, is becoming less practical and more theoretical, expanding the gap between study and work. Regardless of this, employers and social elites have attempted to use the schools for the reproduction of compliant workers (Davis, 1999: 65). This double standard has been discussed in a best selling song, 'The Wall' by Pink Floyd (1978) in which they stated that the reproduction received through the school system was set to a hidden agenda, and that society would be better off without it.
Drucker (1973: 236) equates the influx of educated people to the potential for producing wealth in any given country. By stating this, educational socialisation and the development of educated people is the most important function education can have. He goes on to state that while this may be the case today, throughout history, being uneducated provided the wealth of a given nation, due to the class differences, and that education was for the rich and idle while the work was performed by the illiterate. This all changed with the Industrial Revolution, and the invention of moveable type in the 17th Century (Drucker, 1973: 232). The moveable type meant that education could be performed at a reduced rate, and words became a commodity that was necessary for improving the quality of the labour force.
Education is purported to provide the best possible life chances for its graduates, yet in reality, in many ways education diminishes these chances. Heinz (1987: 132) points out that...
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