Education is the process for learning basic life skills, to get children to socially interact with others and to enable people to get good qualifications so they can gain better careers. Functionalists offer an optimistic analysis of the role of education and they maintain that education and training performs a positive function. However Marxist theorists offer a pessimistic analysis of the role of education. They argue that schools do not serve the interests of everyone in society, but a ruling class minority. There are some similarities between the Functionalist and Marxist views of education.
Firstly, neither of them focus on the day-to-day interaction in classrooms, although they both devote much of their attention on the relationship between education, the economy and social stratification. However their views produce very different conclusions. A second similarity between the Functionalist and Marxist view is that, although they are for very different reasons, both of them see education as transmitting ‘core values’ and aiding the stability of society. Although there are a few similarities between the two views on education there is also a number of differences between the two.
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Firstly, ‘value consensus’, for Marxists value consensus is largely a tool of the middle-class to ensure the acceptance and legitimation of capitalism. However for Functionalists, they believe that if society is going to operate effectively there needs to be shared norms and values- ‘value consensus’. Secondly another difference between the two views is that, for sociologists they believe that schools socialise people into the basic values of society, in terms of academic qualifications and competition which both result in a motivated and achievement orientated workforce, these values ensure a smooth running of society.
However Marxists argue that there are a number of similarities between education and the workforce, which is socialised into accepting different rewards, competition, boredom, lack of control and hierarchical division of labour in the workplace, and they also argue that socialisation only works in the interests of the minority, and not in the interests of all. Finally, the last difference between the two views is the role allocation. For Functionalists such as Parsons, they believe that education is an important element for the role allocation.
The believe that those with ability are allocated to those positions which are functionally more important. The education systems sorts and grades those in the group of a higher ability. However, although Marxists share the beliefs of role allocation with Functionalists they argue that equality of educational opportunity is not offered and role allocation is not conducted within a meritocratic framework, they believe that educational and occupational success is based on social class, not merit.