The Theories of Education
This essay is going to look at the Functionalist, Marxist and
Interactionist theories of education and outline the key points; it
will also provide some criticism in relation to each of the theories.
Although the theories are mainly very different, they all have the
similarity of suggesting that a person’s social class will contribute
greatly to how well they will do at school and also on how this will
affect the type and importance of a career they may take up.
Functionalism investigates institutions to consider the functions that
they perform in society. The functionalist premise is that if an
institution exists then there has got to be a reason for its
existence. Functionalists assume that educational institutions serve
some societal need; schools are examined for the positive contribution
that they make towards maintaining society.
Talcott Parsons suggested that educational institutions provide the
function of general socialisation of the whole of the population into
the dominant culture, values and beliefs of a society. Parsons also
suggested that schools select people for different types and levels of
education. He believed that education meets the needs of the system
by making sure that all children have a basic commitment to their
society’s values and beliefs and also by preparing individuals for
their specific roles within the social hierarchy.
Both of the functions achieve different but overlapping goal.
Transmitting norms and values promotes social solidarity.
Differentiation matches skills to societal needs and supports
society’s economic needs.
Another theory of the functionalists is that the school serves a
function which the child’s family and peer group cannot provide. This
is because being part of a family is based on kinship relationships
and therefore doesn’t really involve the child making a choice, the
child gains automatic membership to the family when it is born. In
contrast, membership of the peer group involves the child making a
personal choice. In other words, you can choose your friends but not
your family. Membership of society as a whole is based on neither
personal choice nor automatic membership by relationship. As an
individual, we must learn how to interact and co-operate with others
who are not related to us and not part of a group of our chosen
friends. Because the child must obey school rules and interact with
other members of the school community, school gives children a context
where the skills they need to obtain to become a member of society are
gained, such as respect and following rules that are in place.
Emile Durkheim suggested the idea of differentiation. He said that as
societies develop and become more complex, they need to enhance the
division of labour and provide specialist...