Asses the Contribution of Functionalism to Our Understanding of the Role of Education


Functionalist views are based on that society is a system of interdependent parts held together by a shared culture or consensus. They believe that every part of society performs functions that help keep society running effectively. They use the example of a body to explain the way society runs as each part of our body has to work together in order for us to stay alive this is the same as society according to a functionalist. Education according to Emilie Durkheim (1903) consists of two main functions, creating social solidarity and teaching specialist skills.

Social solidarity is the sense of being part of a group or society. Functionalists believe this is key to making education run accordingly as without social solidarity people would only self indulge in their own desires. Education helps to create social solidarity as it helps transmit societies culture, beliefs and values from ‘generation to generation‘keeping society running correspondingly. Schools also act in preparing children for society in real life by teaching the concepts of working together with people you do not always no. his links with working as in work you have to work coherently with people who you will not know. Specialist skills are having the necessary skills to perform their role in education to the ‘bride way’ towards working life. Education helps children prepare for this through teaching children in different a range of subjects which they will then come to specialise in the subjects they are good in which will in turn help them earn money in society in later life.

Education also according to functionalists gives all children an equal opportunity to develop on their own individual talents also known as meritocracy which is achieving through your own effort. Davis and Moore (1945) argue that education sorts children into their future educational roles by sorting their ‘aptitudes’ and ‘abilities’ which also links to social solidarity as to do certain jobs you need the necessary qualification and experience. However there are criticisms of functionalists and education.

Melvin Tumin (1953) put forward a circular argument and criticises David and Moore by putting forward such questions as ‘how do we know what job is more important? ’ answer ‘because it’s highly Rewarded’ and why are some jobs higher rewarded than others? ’ answer ‘because they are more important’. Marxists believe that society only transmits the ideology of the ruling class therefore it disadvantages the working classes in education. One example is that Marxists prepare the working class for there jobs through education therefore it is only transmitting values of the ruling class.

Also Marxists believe that the state is controlled by the ruling classes who transmit the ideology state apparatus which is that it maintains control through controlling people’s ideas, values and beliefs through religion, mass media and the education system. This criticises the functionalist view as social solidarity is meant to transmit these values and beliefs which according to Marxists are only means to control the working class. Meritocracy according to Marxists is a myth as we are controlled by the higher classes and we cannot achieve our status we ascribe our status.

Another big criticism of functionalism in education is that functionalists believe that everybody at school behaves and accepts all that is taught when this is not the true case. It does not explain why some people come to fail examinations if everybody works in a general ‘consensus’. Dennis Wrong (1961) refers to this as ‘puppets in society’. The new right believe that the state fails to prepare the young for work as the state discourages choice and competition.

Another disadvantage is that functionalists cannot explain under-achievement and inequality of opportunity in education. In conclusion Functionalism has a good general understanding of Education but it has quite obvious flaws as not everybody is going to get on in society so it is impossible to have a general consensus. Also the disadvantages of Functionalism in education seem to out weigh the positives therefore functionalism does not give a real positive understanding of education.