Functionalists, the consensus theory believe that education continues the socialisation started at home by the family. They believe that school teaches children skills needed for later life in work and it also teaches norms and values, what is right and wrong. Education is therefore seen as important to functionalists because it means the passing on of the culture of society from one generation to the next. Another purpose of the education system is to teach children how to take their place as adults. Functionalists believe that the system is based on mertiocratic society, where everyone has equal opportunities.
They believe that schools select and grade individuals so that the most able and the most talented are able to take up the most important positions in society, where they are rewarded with higher status and pay. They do not believe that your class, who you know or who your parents are, effects your opportunities or type of education. Marxists, the conflict view of education think that society is the way it is because some individuals and groups have more power than the others and they use this power to look after their own interests.
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Education is seen as a way of passing on the inequalities that exists in society from one generation to the next. Marxists think that those who start at the top of scale are likely to have powerful positions when older and those who start at bottom of scale are taught to accept their place and are likely to take up lower positions. Formal learning happens in lessons when children are taught subjects like maths and English. It is part of the curriculum and is what we are meant to learn in school. This is how we learn the knowledge and skills needed for work.
Informal education is the hidden curriculum, which is what we learn in other ways while we’re at school. We learn a lot from our peers, but it’s how we learn from our peers and teachers, that isn’t on the curriculum such as norms, values and stereotypical roles. For those sociologist that believe that the education system passes down inequalities that exist in society (Marxists) the hidden curriculum is particularly important because it helps the continuation of class, gender and race inequalities.
At school we are taught how to behave, we learn to mix with other children from a variety of backgrounds. We learn about history and geography of the country we live in, we learn about its cultural heritage in literature and art. In some classrooms we learn to work as individuals, in organised games we learn to work as part of the team. From the consensus point of view we are being socialised into the norms and values of our culture. There are formal rules that we have to obey like school uniform, no fighting or bullying, doing homework.
Then there are the informal rules we are taught by our peer groups such as how to wear our uniform, how much homework to admit to doing and the acceptable behaviour from boys and girls. If we break the formal rules we may be punished with a detention or by being expelled or suspended, if we conform to these rules we are rewarded with house points and merits. If we break informal rules we are laughed at or teased but when we conform to informal rules we are rewarded with friendship, acceptance or status within the group.
Schools can encourage boys and girls in different ways so that they live up to their stereotypical gender roles. They do this by encouraging them to take different careers and criticising them for different things. Some sociologists also point out the ethnocentric nature of the curriculum, meaning it is based on one culture and doesn’t take adequate account of the variations in culture there is in Britain today. This can lead to some ethnic minorities feeling their culture as not valued leading to low self-esteem.
This is said to have a big effect on Afro Caribbean children. According to conflict theorists one of the requirements of capitalist society is that there is a workforce that is subservient, that’s to say it what its told and it will not challenge authority. According to these sociologists the hidden curriculum an obedient workforce. Schools do this by encouraging children to accept the idea of a hierarchy where some individuals have more power than others do. Pupils are also told that they have to obey the teacher, in the same way they would obey a boss.
They also have very little choice about what they learn and when preparing you for dull, repetitive low status jobs. Schooling is said to prepare us for this kind of work in two ways. First of all at school we work towards external rewards like GCSE’s, rather than for the intrinsic satisfaction of studying for the sake of it. The real reward of study is not the joy of learning but the certificate that lets you get the job you want. Also at school we study in fragmented fashion with different lessons throughout the day.
This fragmentation of subjects is said to prepare us for work were most of us will work on a little part or detail of the system in a factory or office with no overview of the whole system. The work is dull so we will do it for external rewards (pay) instead of satisfaction. For conflict theorists the hidden curriculum can be seen as a form of social control because he teaches us to accept the inequalities that exist in the wider society.