Key Functions of Education from a Functionalist Perspective
Ever since the education system was invented, there have been a lot of ideas and criticisms of how it should work. The most famous sociological groups, functionalists and Marxists, were part of this and still are today. They both think that their views are best for society.
Talcott Parsons believes that the education system has three main functions. Firstly it socializes young people into key cultural values such as equality of opportunity, competition and religious morality. Education is said by functionalists (especially Durkheim) to emphasize moral responsibilities in society that people should have towards each other. If these norms were not passed down through generations then there would be a tendency for individualism (where people believe that they are more important than social groups). Citizenship and religious education were introduced as compulsory subjects in schools to see that young people did things with thought for the society.
The second function is to do with the skills that education teaches children, from literacy and numeracy to more job-specific skills. Occupational jobs are becoming more specialized and this in turn will lead to more years in education. The final function of education, according to functionalists is the allocating of roles of young people in society. Examinations and qualifications are said to allocate people for their most suited job. The equality of opportunity took place and so higher talented people are given the most functionally important jobs for the society. Parsons was criticized as he failed to consider that the values transmitted by the educational system may be those of a ruling minority rather than society as a whole.
Like parsons, functionalists Davis and Moore saw education as a means of selecting or shifting people for different levels of the jobs market and ensuring that the most talented and qualified individuals are allocated to the most important jobs with high rewards. Society is therefore meritocracy in which people are rewarded for intelligence, ability and effort. They where criticized because the relationship between academic credentials and occupational reward is not close. Income is only weakly linked to educational attainment. There is doubt about the proposition that the educational system grades people in terms of ability. It has been argued that intelligence is so difficult to pin down that school achievement can never equal ‘intelligence’.
While Marxists do share many ideas of functionalists e.g. the fact that education prepares us for out acceptance of the values of society they also see how the education system is alienating children. Functionalists, on the other hand, seem unable to see this and believe that the education system can only do well to children by teaching them norms and values. Functionalists where criticized because as Marxists say, education system is not meritocratic as there are the influence of class, ethnicity and gender.