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Is the Education System Based on Merit?

According to Durkheim (Functionalist), the school provides a positive function; he states that education is important to create social solidarity, in socializing individuals, and it trains people for their future occupation. David Hargreaves on the other hand was influenced by Durkheim and argued that modern schools focus too much on developing the individual and less on the duties the student should have towards the school and the group. He argues children who do not perform well in their exams lose dignity, feel disintegrated and form anti-school subcultures.

He recommends allowing students to study those fields in which they have an interest, the existence of some compulsory subjects and extracurricular activities. Talcott Parsons (functionalist) states that family teaches a child particularistic values (child will be treated differently) whereas school teaches universalistic values(equally treated). He states that school and the rest of the society are based on ‘Merit’, because the rest of society is also based on merit the society prepares the child to enter the adult world for example exams.

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He also goes on to argue that schools are important in creating value consensus, schools teach students two important values; values of achievement- this is achieved as students are encouraged to do well, those who do well get rewarded. The value of the equal opportunity is given when all students are made to sit in one class and give the same exam. Talent varies from person to person. All students strive to work hard and do well. Those who succeed are rewarded, and those who do not succeed realize that it is still just an alright as they had an equal opportunity. This is how they explain differences in achievement.

This does not apply solely to schools. This applies in society at large as well(for example you are talented and hard-working, you will get a high-status job). Schools are essential in role allocation as they help to select people for their future role in society, and therefore depending on the person’s talent that individual will be designated a particular job. Davis and Moore state that education determines your class. If you are talented and hard-working then you will be given the most important positions in society. Your incentive is that you will be rewarded for the work which you do.

However, they have been criticized over the fact that not all intelligent perform well in school and those who perform well in school may not find good jobs. So, according to the Functionalists education is based on merit, as everyone in the school is given an equal opportunity to show their ability by appearing for exams, each person is given a chance to show their talent, skill and hard work, those who succeed are rewarded those who do not know well realize that its just

Marx on the other hand states school socializes students for the interest of the upper class. It teaches the children those norms and values that benefit the upper class (they have ideological control), such as the importance of being punctual, respectful to authority, disciple, and expect rewards. Schools produce leaders and managers as well as workers; most people fall into this category because of their academic performances. Private schools produce students who in future control the most powerful economic and political positions.

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Althusser states that working-class students are taught the upper-class ideology and are not allowed to question. In this way, the upper class can control them when they become workers. He talks about repressive state apparatus where people are told to do what has been stated and ideological state apparatus where they are taught upper class’s viewpoint, for example, Economics and History taught in school. Bowles and Gintis state that the education system is created so that it serves the interest of the upper class. What happens in school the same happens at work.

They examine the Hidden Curriculum; students learn and accept hierarchies, follow what their teachers tell them, and so do the workers; there is no choice. Students have no control over what they are taught. Workers have no say over what to produce. Both the workers and the students are motivated by external rewards- being rewarded on punctuality, bonuses etc., plus there is also fragmentation. It is said all the working-class children drop out of school soon. They create the reserve army- that is surplus of workers. This way the bourgeoisie can pay low wages to the workers and the workers fear being fired as there are many that can replace them. Usually, the lower class blames itself for not doing well (society being based on merit). However, it is the Capitalist system’s fault.

So according to Marx and conflict theorists, education is not based on merit it is based on class.IQ or talent does not count, all the dominant position goes to the student from upper class and workers are from the lower class. The interactionists say that all the theories emphasize society and the education system and not on the student themselves, therefore they argue that failure is due to the student. The integrationists talk about typing; when their teachers classify students, labelling is when the student is made aware of the teacher’s view about him, and a self-fulfilling prophecy is when the child believes in the label and behaves accordingly; therefore, fulfilling the label the teacher attached.

Hargreaves, Hester and Mellor examined how typing occurs. First, there is speculation, where the teacher makes guesses on how the student is based on appearance, behavior, and enthusiasm about work. Next, elaboration takes place where the hypothesis is tested, confirmed or contradicted. Finally, stabilization occurs when teachers now believe they ‘Know’ the student. R.C.Rist talks about typing and social class, whereby children had been assigned seating on the eighth day of school. There were three tables, one for smart kids and two and three for the less able. He argues that it was notability that determined the table.

Instead, it was on their social class. The children that conformed to the teacher’s middle-class standards were put on the first table. There are specific effects that typing and labelling have. Cicourel and Kitsune found that it was primarily based on class. Counsellors in Us high schools said they impact what courses are to be taken that influence the ability to get into college. They claim their decisions are based on merit/IQ tests and grades. Then regarding the self-fulfilling prophecy theory, the predictions that teachers make come out to be accurate and don’t. Margret Fuller stated that black girls were discouraged and underestimated. They were expected to fail, but they didn’t.

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Now comes banding and streaming; banding is when you classify a group of students who are aware that a label has been attached to them. For example, band 1being classified as able children, and Stream A, students with high ability, usually middle-class children. Teachers allowed the Stream C students to make more noise, withhold higher grade knowledge. Students in Stream A are not critical of the teacher’s knowledge and trusted the teachers in comparison to Stream C. So, according to the interactionists, education is not based on merit; it is the individual himself and what the society thinks of him.

Moving on further, the class has a significant impact on education. According to the Labour Force Survey, Upper-class children are five times more likely to gain higher education than lower-class children. Eyesneck states that IQ is inherited, performance in school is based on it. Therefore those who fail have a lower IQ. Arthur agrees with him. Otto Kleinberg states the culture of the student impacts IQ scores. Yakima Indians scored lower in IQ tests than western children. IQ results are based on the culture a student comes from. They gave the same answer as western children. However, their speed when responding was much lower. This is because they have been socialized to take time when answering.

Sugarman talks about working-class subcultures( values and norms) affect their higher education attainment and performance in school. Working-class children are socialized to immediate gratification versus middle-class children who are future-oriented, working class kids, therefore, leave school early. They talk about Fatalism- that is, they will be part of the working class, and they do not need to improve their chances by gaining better education. J.W.B Douglas states that the most important factor explaining education differences is parenting; middle-class children perform well and stay longer in schools than the working class.

He argues that middle-class parents are more active and pay more attention to their children. Basil talks about language codes, restricted- shorthand speech, simple unfinished sentences, not very descriptive used by the working class and then elaborated code being detailed and explanatory used by the middle class. It is argued since the lower class performs poorly, it is because they are culturally deprived. Therefore, lower-class children do not do well because of their subculture, family, neighbourhood (socialization), etc. They were not socialized to adopting the values, attitudes and skills that will allow them to do well(their culture is deprived). Because members of the lower class have a culture that is deprived, some have suggested compensatory education.

On the other hand, cultural Capital describes that the education system is biased towards the upper class. The values that the school teaches are the values of the upper class. It is for this reason that Middle and upper-class children have cultural capital while lower-class children do not. Upper-class culture is the dominant culture, and the upper-class students perform well because they have cultural capital. The teacher’s way of speaking is even Bourgeois- unfamiliar to the working-class and familiar to the lower class. When working-class students fail exams or realize there is no point because they will remain in the lower class and thus elimination occurs.

Therefore the education system is not based on merit. Schools reproduce the inequalities. There is a difference in class, and education is based on class. The upper-class benefits, yet the lower class does not. Mentioning gender now, biologically, boys and girls are different; boys do well while girls don’t. Trowler says that there are few differences in boys’ and girls’ IQ scores. Differences in ability are more likely to be based on social rather than biological differences.

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Norman states parents give sex-differentiated toys which develop their interests in different subjects. The toys that boys receive build their interest in math and science. This leads to stereotyping and following specific careers. Douglas states when parents have few resources, they tend to educate their sons. There is also differentiation inside the school; teachers are essential. They interact with male and female teachers differently. According to spender, education is controlled by men. Since they have power, they further their interest. Books only highlight men’s achievements, and women’s achievements are ignored. Therefore the books and the curriculum are sexist. So schools reinforce the position of men in society.

Stanworth studied girls in A level and concluded that teachers are less likely to remember girls’ names. They had stereotypical views of what girls will be doing in the future. Students felt the teachers gave more time and attention to boys and were more likely to ask boys questions. Sharpe has shown that in the 1970s, girls saw marriage and family life as inevitable. Therefore there was less focus on education. It is said that media, especially magazines, newspapers and TV. Show women in stereotypical roles. Women, through socialization have been encouraged to be caring.

Sharpe states that the socialization of girls occurs when they learn the difference between masculine and feminine occupations.Electricians/mechanics vs nurse/secretary. Kelly claims that science is portrayed as a subject for boys by teachers and textbooks. Ex. Eclipse is shown using football. Mitsose and Brown say one of the reasons why girls have done better is because of the change in the economy, growth of service sector jobs, flexible and part-time work. So it is the gender that influences education. Education is not based on merit, boys are superior to girls, girls have underestimated themselves and are dominated.

Racism is a major source of inequality, according to the Swann Report Racism occurs. It is usually unintentionally done by teachers, and the books used can project racist views. Mirza states the educational achievements of black girls are underestimated; she found that black girls did better than black boys and white students. Challenging the labelling theory; although the girls felt that they were discriminated against, and there was racism it did not affect their self-confidence. They wanted academic success and worked hard towards it. Although teachers tried to help the girls-there are different types of teachers being overt-racist where the girls stayed away from them. So education does not solely depend on merit.

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Is the Education System Based on Merit?. (2021, Sep 24). Retrieved January 20, 2022, from