Assess the claim that the role of education is to transmit the ruling class ideology

6 June 2016

Sociologists would agree that there are many roles in education but one of the main roles is to transmit a ruling class ideology, one perspective would be Marxism that see’s education based on class division and capitalist exploitation. However, functionalists would argue that education is seen as performing a beneficial role for both society and individuals.

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Marxism is a class conflict perspective based on class division and capitalist exploitation. Marxists argue that education functions to reproduce a labour force for the capitalist. The bourgeoisie minority class exploit the proletariat- majority class to make profit. Marxists argues that education prevents the working class from succeeding and therefore the role of education is to transmit the ruling class ideology.

Sociologists like Althusser states that there are two main elements by which the capitalists maintain their dominant positions. These are ‘the repressive state apparatus’ and ‘the ideological state’, he argues that education reproduces class inequality and also justifies inequality by producing ideologies that this function is to pursed workers to accept their lower positions in society.

According to Bowles and Gintis this is achieved through the ‘correspondent principle’ capitalism requires a work force with the right attitude and personality by workers willing to accept inequality and hard work to produce an obedient work force. There are important similarities between school and work, education is seen as a barrier to controlling and legitimating people, for example at work, where workers have no control over what they do just resulting in alienation. The hidden curriculum also plays an important role in teaching pupils to accept the capitalist ideology. Bowles and Gintis see the education system as a myth making machine promoting the myth of meritocracy-that everyone is equal and can achieve. Thus the role of education is to transmit the ruling class ideology.

However, Willis rejects this idea of the ‘correspondence principle’, his study into ladism shows the working class lads try to challenge inequalities by going against the schools ideology for example wearing the school uniform, as a result they limit their opportunity’s and end up in dead end working class jobs like a factory, however the capitalists need ‘lads’ to perform these jobs. Whereby, they rebel against the ruling class ideology as they believe education is unfulfilling and its only purpose is to transmit the ruling class ideology. Although critics like functionalist say Willis accounts of the ‘lads’ is unlikely to be representative to all people.

Functionalism is based on value consensus approach that sees society as based on shared values into which members are socialised. It views society like a machine where one component cannot function without another. For example, education, work and religion are all separate but all have the same value of respect. This enables them to agree on goals and cooperate harmoniously.

Sociologist such as: Durkheim, Parsons also Davis and Moore hold different and conflicting views on these perspectives and identify the main functions of education; to maintain a value consensus in society. Durkheim mentions that there are two main functions of education which are: ‘creating social solidarity’ and ‘teaching specialist skills’. Education system helps to create social solidarity by transmitting society’s culture. He also says that school is a miniature society which prepares us for wider society and that education teaches the individuals the specialist skills and knowledge needed to play their part in social division of labour. However Marxists argue that education in a capitalist society also transmits the ideology of a minority- ruling class.

Functionalist Talcott Parsons disagrees with many of Durkheim’s ideas such as schools preparing us for wider society. He sees school as a focal socialisation agency where as in modern society it is like a bridge between family and wider society as both family and society operate on different principles. He believe education prepares us to move from the family to wider society based on meritocracy where individuals achieve rewards through own hard work and effort. However, Bowles and Gintis describe this structure as a ‘giant myth-making machine ‘and argue that meritocracy doesn’t exists.

Parson argues that school have a second function which is selecting and allocating pupils to their future work roles by assessing individuals’ aptitudes and abilities, schools help to match them to the jobs they are best suited to. Like Parsons, Davis and Moore focus on relationship between education and social inequality, as this is important to ensure the most talented students are allocated the higher paid jobs. Therefore society needs to offer higher rewards which distinguish between the selections for work roles based on meritocracy principles. Marxists disagree with this claim as there is clear division between what the meritocratic ideology offers and it displays that the role of education is not transmit a ruling class ideology.

In conclusion; both Marxist and Functionalist summarise the role of education. However the Marxist perspective ignores many aspects such as feminist critics which say that Marxists over emphasise the class inequality in schools and ignore the inequality faced by women. Functionalist perspective has been criticised for idealising education but in reality the system is not equal instead it influences by class, gender and ethnicity. In addition, Marxists argue that schools only transmit the ideology of ruling class and further suppress the working class. For that reason sociologists would agree the ruling class ideology are needed to keep the state in control and to inspire the working class.

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