George Murdock, Talcott Parsons and Émile Durkheim are all sociologists. But, what’s more, common in them is that they are all functionalists.
Tell Me More About the Functionalist Perspective
In general, the functionalist perspective is more about a bright perspective on the society. It believes that different social institutions such as family, school, religion and mass media work together to make the society alive and all these social structures are interdependent on each other.
What Do Functionalists Think About Education?
Functionalists always stress the importance of educational institutions in the society.
The first and the most vital function that education serves is socialization.
Socialization can be defined as the life-long-learning process, which starts with life and ends with death (or starts in the womb and ends in the tomb), where an individual learns knowledge, art and crafts. It is an essential process that shapes the personality and identity of people. In the nature-nurture debate, some sociologists even claimed that human behavior is learned through the process of socialization (and this is another topic that will be further discussed in another blog article).
Education (or school) is one of the secondary agencies responsible for this important process. After parents, schools are the ones that continue that process of socialization. At school, students learn the norms, values, and skills they need to function in mainstream society.
The means used to maintain social order and stability in the society is called social control. And, it’s not when you are a grown-up adult that you are taught how to obey and abide by the rules and regulations of the society. No, the work starts at school.
Tell me, can you go to school at, say, 1 o’clock in the afternoon? Or, if you are feeling hungry, can you just take out your lunch and eat at whatever time you want in the class? Educational institutions have specific rules and regulations that all students have to abide by. And, of course, there is also that reward-and-punishment concept, where good students are rewarded with prizes and good comments while students who misbehave are given detentions and negative remarks. This is where law-abiding and tax-paying citizens are born.
Social integration is a process during which different members of the society are combined in a unified group and engage in social activities. It also creates a sense of belonging in individuals and such feeling is created among students at schools. For example, thousands and thousands of immigrant children are studying with other pupils in the United States to integrate into American life.
Meritocracy and social placement:
I’m sure you have heard of meritocracy before. But, do you know what it means?
Meritocracy is that concept which says that people in the society are rewarded based on their merits and abilities. And, functionalists claim that education plays a big role in this theory.
At schools, there are two different types of students: bright and motivated students and educationally challenged ones (forget the weird ones). As per functionalists, schools are able to turn these “bright” students into successful ones and place them in correct positions as adults in the society.
Moreover, the school acts as a mechanism that ensure that individuals with the “merits”, such as good performance, intelligence and credentials, get highly paid jobs. And thus, as per Davis and Moore, education ensures that “the right man is placed in the right place.”
Social and cultural innovation
The general theory of relativity was discovered by the great Albert Einstein. Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity (that same electricity that we are all dependent on today). And William Shakespeare gave birth to wonderful artworks based on life, love, death, revenge, grief, jealousy, murder, magic and mystery.
But, if you think about it, scientists could not have made these incredible discoveries and artists could not have come up with such outstanding pieces of work if they had not been educated in these subjects.
The functionalist perspective ends here. Now, it is good to know that structural functionalism is always criticized for over-emphasizing on the “bright” side of education and overlooking all the problems that may arise at school. And, that’s why in the second part, we will come up with the conflict perspective.