The view that the role of education is to justify and reproduce social inequalities is a very critical argument, as, on the one hand, functionalists have a harmonious view of the education system as it benefits everyone within it. On the other hand, parson’s study suggests that education is the most important agency of secondary socialization as they pass on norms and values of the wider society. However, this rosy picture is depicted differently in the Marxist’s perspective as they see education directly linked to reproducing and legitimizing inequality. In this essay, I will further expand on these points, which I have made more depth.
Marxists agree that the education system justifies and reproduces social inequalities, as their approach to education emphasizes how it serves the interests of the ruling class. Marxists deem that the ruling class leave behind their wealth and privilege by justifying the vast inequalities that develop underneath capitalism. Bowles and Gintis have identified that education is closely related to work; in particular, the education system must produce a subservient workforce that will work long hours for little pay. The parental background is also a significant aspect in the reproduction and legitimation of inequality, as students from less fortunate backgrounds face several barriers when trying to become successful.
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Bowles and Gintis also learnt that IQ did not shape earnings and occupation; in fact, it was an individual’s class background that had determined their position in the labour market. It also meant that education did not produce a meritocratic system. Instead, it maintained inequality and privilege in society. Marxists also believe that there is a reproduction of inequality as the upper-class have the ability to pass their wealth onto their children. Hence the working-class (poor) remain how they are. This further explains how the education system maintains the inequality present in society; it also is justified as it constructs an illusion that everyone has an equal chance in society, the same given opportunity.
The ideological illusion is how everybody has the same teachers, the same syllabus as well as the opportunity to take the same exam; if they don’t gain from this opportunity and fail, they (the poor) will be the one’s to blame for their own failure, however it isn’t the same case for the rich they have earnt their wealth, having worked harder to get where they are as well as being generally smarter. So these beliefs show how the education system justifies as well as maintains social inequalities as if you look at the bigger picture, it would mean that workers would have to acknowledge and accept their poor pay whilst the capitalists of society get to enjoy their greater amount of wealth, in this sense the education system individualizes failure. It makes the inequalities appear normal and present.
Parsons argues how the school was a vital institution in modern societies because modern societies are organized on meteoritic principles. Individuals are treated equally by the education system, regardless of their background, and what they achieve is a result of their own efforts rather than a parental privilege. Students from different backgrounds receive the same teaching and materials, and the role of education is to help foster equality of opportunity. In addition to this, the school helps to transmit the values of achievement and equality of opportunity. This is important because everyone needs to feel that the system is just and legitimate to prevent disorder. Thus the education system has a key role in creating a value consensus in society.
However, the meritocratic order isn’t always present in the education system as they are huge differences in achievement between the classes, the gender as well as the ethnic group. Criticism can be made on how the education system chooses and assigns roles based on the background instead of ability. There is also the aspect of what role meritocratic order plays in the education system; it is questioned based on popularity, as those who are constantly at the bottom are always trying to fight their way up to the top against those who are always at the top. As well as those who are at the top fight to stay at the top from the competition below them, this would, in fact, perceive the education system as a constant battle and hostility amongst one another, which could lead to psychological trauma.
The New Right also agree with the functionalist view on how social inequalities are produced and justified in education; they believe that education has moved too far in the direction of trying to create a sense of equality, mainly because of the education act in 1988, this enabled parents to have the right to choose which school their child would be going to and forces schools to raise their standards. To conclude, I agree with the idea that the education system does justify and reproduce social inequalities; the media depicts it well and shows it in the form of employment statistics and tuition fee statistics. Marxists’ views are that the education system doesn’t reproduce and legitimize inequality; studies by sociologist Bourdieu and Bowles and Gintis support this view.
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