The contribution of functionalism to our understanding

6 June 2017

Functionalists take a positive view on education. They see Is as a process that Instils the shared values of society as a whole. Functionalists believe education performs three main functions: social solidarity, specialist skills and role allocation. Durkheim indentified two main functions of education: creating social solidarity and teaching specialist skills. Social solidarity is an individual feeling and being part of a single community. Without social solidarity members would follow their own selfish desires.

Education helps create social solidarity by transmitting shared beliefs, norms and values to the next generation and/or culture. He says education also acts as a society in miniature, preparing students for life in a wider society, teaching them universalistic standards, rules that apply to everyone. Durkheim also says that another main function of education is the teaching of specialist skills. Specialist skills are the specflc skills required to carry out their future roles. They are required by society to…

Parsons views education as being part of a meritocracy. He believes education is the ‘focal socialising agency, acting as a bridge between the family and the wider society. It Is needed because family and society act on dfferent principles, so children need to learn a new way of living to help cope in the wider society. School is where a large bulk of secondary socialisation takes place. The two main meritocratic values passed on by secondary socialisation include individual achievement and equality of opportunity.

Individual achievement encourages young people to achieve as individuals. In a meritocracy everyone Is given equality of opportunity: a system In which everyone has an equal chance to succeed in school and life, individual achievements and rewards are based on effort and ability- ascribed status. Davis and Moore believe education Is a device for selection and role allocation. They believe inequality is necessary within education as it ensures that the most important roles are filled by the most talented.

Higher rewards are offered for the most important jobs to encourage the most talented people to compete for them. Selection and role llocation is where individuals show what they can do and are sifted and sorted according to ability. The most able gain the highest qualifications to access the best jobs. Critics of Functionalism state that as a theory, it assumes education Is fair and that it rewards the best and Ignores social inequalities that may restrict attainment.

The New Right are similar to functionalist’s way of thinking in terms of education. The believe that some people are naturally more talented than others, broadly accept the desirability of an education system run on meritocratic principles of open OF2 competltlon ana serving tne needs 0T tne economy Dy preparlng young people Tor future work roles and they also believe that education should socialise pupils into shared values, such as completion, and instil a sense of nation identity.

However a key difference with functionalism is the new right do not believe that the current education system is achieving these goals. In their view the reason for its failure is that it is run by the state. Marxists criticise them for their over-socialised view of pupils that sees them as assively accepting all they are taught and never rejecting the schools values. Paul Willis has been critical of parsons’ view of meritocracy and equality of opportunity.

Willis believes we do not have this and that knowledge and skills are not the only factors that determine achievement. Students are active participants that easily can resist attempts of indoctrination. For example, achievement is greatly influenced by class background, as put forward by Willis’ study of 12 working class, counter-school cultured boys throughout their transition from school to work. They didn’t expect satisfaction from work and were happy to find diversions to cope with the tedium of unskilled labour.

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