How Does Marxism Explain the Role of Education in Society?

Topics: Sociology, Marxism, Social class Pages: 7 (2335 words) Published: November 19, 2012
How does Marxism explain the role of education in society?

The sociology of education is the study of how public institutions and individual experiences affect education and its outcomes. It is most concerned with the public schooling systems of modern industrial societies, including the expansion of higher, further, adult, and continuing education. Education has always been seen as a fundamentally optimistic human endeavour characterised by aspirations for progress and betterment. It is understood by many to be a means of overcoming handicaps, achieving greater equality and acquiring wealth and social status (Education and Sociology 1992). Education is perceived as a place where children can develop according to their unique needs and potential. It is also perceived as one of the best means of achieving greater social equality. Many would say that the purpose of education should be to develop every individual to their full potential and give them a chance to achieve as much in life as their natural abilities allow (meritocracy). However some take a particularly negative view, arguing that the education system is designed with the intention of causing the social reproduction of inequality and creating a workforce for society. One of the main sociological approaches that use theory to explain the role of education is Marxism. The Marxist perspective is critical of the educational system, arguing that it is unfair, and serves to coerce people into accepting their “roles” in an unequal society. The concept of the ‘hidden curriculum’ is key in the understanding of the Marxist perspective. The aim of the hidden curriculum is to socialise young people into accepting the role assigned to them by the capitalist class. It is argued the teachers subconsciously deliver this ‘hidden curriculum’ making pupils aware of the respect and obedience that should be given towards the established organisation [Karl Marx, 1983]. As well as this, subtle skills such as time keeping and organisation are taught. In introducing these skills from a young age, society will accept them as norms and not question there status in society. The correspondence principle is a theory used by Marxists to explain how much of what we learn in school is preparation for our future roles as workers is in capitalist society. Many sociologists who support this principle argue that education is just a means of maintaining social class boundaries. Many argue that schools in capitalistic societies are geared toward giving children different types of education based solely on their social standing rather than by their inherent skills. Under this principle schools are believed to give lower class children a different type of education compared to their upper class counterparts. Typically, it is said that lower class children are put on an educational track that will prepare them for ‘blue collar’ jobs. It is thought that the education of lower class children is different because it prepares them to enter the work force directly after secondary school. Schooling teaches working class children to sit quietly at their desk, obey the teacher’s authority, and also acquaints them with becoming familiar with repetitive tasks. Similarly, the education of upper class children is thought to be geared toward upper class or ‘white collar’ professions. With upper class children, instead of focusing on preparing them to enter the workforce, there is added emphasis is on preparing them to move on to four year colleges and universities after secondary school. Here they are trained to be professionals and capitalists by teaching them how to think critically and instilling in them a sense of responsibility and authority [Frank M Howell 1982]

Louis Althusser was a structural Marxist who, through the influences of Karl Marx, introduced the concept of an ‘ideological state apparatus’. He argued that economic relations structure education so as to reproduce these same economic values...
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