New Right and Functionalist View on Education

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Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the contribution of functionalism to our understanding of the role of education (20)

Functionalists claim that the education system is a meritocracy and that the education system exists to allow the most talented students through to fill the most important jobs in society. Testing of ability through examinations is one of the most fundamental elements of the British education system.

Emile Durkheim believed that education had a number of purposes (or functions) for society. The first of these is to reinforce our sense of belonging and community (social solidarity). This is done is schools in a number of ways, but it can be seen best in those things which unite people and make them feel part of a group. The next role of education is to maintain social roles and social rules (social order). Schools are like a wider society in miniature, so pupils learn that some people have more power than others, manners are important. They learn the patterns of behaviour that will help them to survive in society when they leave school. On the other hand, Bowles and Gintis, considered that the main function of education in capitalist countries is to regenerate the labour market. They proposed correspondence theory; this suggests that educational inequality mirrors the inequality of wider society. Whereas Functionalists see education as a process that instils the shared values of society, Marxists argue that education in capitalist society only transmits the ideology of the ruling class.

Parsons developed Durkheim's ideas. For Parsons, the most important agency of secondary socialisation is education. Schools pass on the norms and values of wider society and we learn the rules that apply outside the home. The values that we learn in school apply to all of society, not just our own homes. However, schools have a more serious function than that. They also prepare us for future life. To do that, they act as a form of social...
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