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AS Unit 2 - Education

5) Assessing Functionalist and Marxist Perspectives

Similarities between Marxist and Functionalist Perspectives:

  • Both think schools help legitimize social inequality
  • Both are “macro” theories, so they look at the effect of education in the context of the rest of society, it can determine the rest of society with beliefs, values and skills.
  • Both see education serving the needs of the workplace
  • Both see education as being a powerful way to influence students, i.e social values and norms

Differences between Marxist and Functionalist Perspectives:

Functionalism Marxism
Education serves the needs of industrial society, by an advanced division of labour. Education serves capitalist society by dividing people into social classes.
Education serves the needs of the social system by socializing pupils to shared values, norms and beliefs. This leads to great social solidarity. Education serves the needs of capitalism by socializing children into the dominant ideology (those of the ruling class), this means a more obedient workforce, thus helping capitalism.
Education means those who have ability can move up the social classes – meritocracy Apart from a few students, education ensures that the class you are born into (class of origin) is the one you will end up in (class of destination). This means education helps lower class mobility and therefore  increases social inequality
Education explains social inequality, those in the best roles are there because they deserve to be due to their hard-work and ability – meritocracy. Education legitimizes social class inequality by persuading working class pupils to accept their social role, and even believe they deserve purely due to the amount (or lack) of work or ability at school, when actually things like unequal opportunities as the rich have a great effect (ascribed status).

Criticisms of both perspectives

They put too much emphasis on the role of education in forming students identity, and don’t give enough credit to other things such as the family, work, media etc.

They oversimplify schools, for example some students will be disruptive, others may truant and this is different to the way both perspectives describe schools.

They both place too much emphasis on the effect school has on industry, in fact the recent NVQs etc have been brought in because education wasn’t provided a skilled enough workforce.


About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


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