Marxist Functions on Education

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Assess the Marxist view that the function of the education system is to pass on ideology and reproduce the existing class structure.

Claire Jones

Education is a vital system in most societies, and is compulsory for all children up to the age of 16 in Britain. There are many different ideas as to why education is so important and the functions it fulfills within society, some more positive than others. Although some people say that education is only intended to teach the individual enough knowledge to pass exams and start a career, most sociologists believe it has functions which go beyond this surface view and in some way affect or serve society as a whole as well as the individual. An ideology is false view of society which is presented to the members of that society in order to maintain stability within it. Beyond the formal curriculum which students learn in education, Marxists believe an ideology is also taught, in order to maintain a class stratified society. The Marxist view of society is built on the theory that the ruling class holds power over the subject class through the capitalist system. Without this domination, capitalism cannot survive, and so every institution within society serves to support it. The most effective way to uphold the power of the ruling class is not through physical force, which provokes resistance and risks overthrow and revolution. Instead, it is through the ruling class ideology, which causes people to accept the injustice in their hearts and minds, and therefore prevents any challenge to the capitalist system. Louis Althusser, a French Marxist, believed that the ruling class ideology is vital to capitalist society, because it causes people to accept their place in society. He said that in the past, the church was the main institution for ideological control, but with the decline of religious influence, it is now the main function of the education system to transmit it to the next generation. However, in order to succeed, the concepts essential to the ideology must be taught without people knowing they are learning them. Therefore, the most essential learning that take place in an educational institution is nor the formal curriculum, but what is known as the hidden curriculum. This is learnt from the experience of attending school, and according to Bowles and Gintis, who wrote ‘Schooling in Capitalist America’, shapes the future workforce to be accepting of the capitalist system, and function well within it. It teaches children to be creating subservient workers, to accept an unjust hierarchy, and to be motivated by external rewards. However, they have been criticised for overestimating the influence of the hidden curriculum on pupils. They have simply assumed that it shapes and influences personalities and beliefs of young people to accept the capitalist system without researching life within a school. Studies show that the opposite often happens; rather than accept the hidden curriculum of hierarchy and submissive behaviour, working class boys particularly tend to show little respect to teachers and have little regard for the rules. Therefore the hidden curriculum alone cannot be strong enough to transmit the ruling class ideology. Reynolds also criticised Bowles and Gintis for underestimating the influence of the formal curriculum on shaping beliefs. He claims that it does not exclusively promote capitalism, and encourages creativity and independent thought. The popularity of Sociology as an A level subject and the coverage of Bowles and Gintis on the formal curriculum undermines their claims. According to Bowles and Gintis, education transmits the ideology by presenting a myth to both the students within it and the wider society, while actually reproducing the existing class system. The education system teaches young people that capitalism is just and reasonable and that everyone has an equal chance to succeed. Pupils are taught to believe that there is no...
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