The Functionalist Perspective on Education

The Functionalist Perspective on Education

Today, sociologists, educators and other such experts still debate about the main functions of education. However, historically there was a group in the society that believed and emphasized on the positive functions performed by educational institutes.

That’s right, I’m talking about functionalists and now we will be looking at their perspective on the role of education in the society.

Promote Social Solidarity

Promote Social SolidarityAccording to Durkheim, social solidarity can be defined as, “the cohesion between individuals in a society that ensures social order and stability.” But, if I had to define it in my own terms, I’d say social solidarity is when all the individuals of a society are independent of each other. It is the notion of a well-integrated functioning community where all members have been socialized into their appropriate gender roles and are living together in unity.

Think about the time you lost your job and you were in need. Maybe, during that harsh phase of life, the people in your neighborhood helped and supported you. It is that beautiful cohesion between you and the other individuals of the society that underlines the main concept of “social solidarity.”

Social solidarity is one of the main functions of the educational system,” said most conventional functionalists. They believe that the school is not just an institution that can impart knowledge, skills and craft, but it forms part of something bigger. Emile Durkheim, the theorist of functionalism, claimed that the school is “a society in miniature.”

An example that functionalists brought forward to support their argument were how learning through different subjects creates a sense of identity and belonging for each student. By learning the same subjects such as History, Science and English, they become members of the same group. And, this somehow prepares them for their future roles in the workplace where they will have to work and cooperate with people who are neither friends nor families.

Social Control

Social ControlSomeone asked me once, “Can you hate someone to the extent of killing them?”

Honestly, I don’t know how to answer that question, but I guess the law is the one thing that would stop you from doing so, right?

Well, that was a kind of intro to what’s social control –like in slang terms!

Officially, social control refers to the means and ways used to make people conform to the rules and regulations set in the society. So, it’s a kind of mechanism with a lot of patterns and sub-systems that can regulate human behavior, make people conform to rules and establish an equilibrium in the society.

But, what’s the link between social control and education? Let me pass on the mike to functionalists.

Education provided by all educational institutions is classified into two: the official curriculum and the hidden curriculum. The official curriculum consists of students learning everything they need to know about their syllabus, revising and taking exams while the hidden curriculum is about conforming to the rules and regulations of a particular school – it also includes abiding by school values like punctuality.

Using academics or school values, educational institutions try to control students and make them produce socially expected and accepted patterns of attitudes and behavior. This reinforces the claim that the school is an important agent of social control.

However, this functionalist perspective on education as a means of social control has received much criticism, especially from Karl Marx and all the theorists of Marxism.

Traditional Marxists’ take on education is that it is an instrument used by the elite of the society to dominate the poor and promote their capitalist propaganda. Social control is viewed and termed as a means to “silence” the mass and make them conform to the rules of the high and upper class of the society. Thus, educational institutions are said to form part of the superstructure that supports the capitalist values.