Just Sociology

Examining Marxist Theory on Education: Challenging Meritocracy and Social Inequality

The Marxist perspective on education argues that education is not meritocratic, and that class background and family wealth play a larger role in determining educational achievement and occupational reward than individual talent or intelligence. This article will explore this Marxist theory through four subtopics, as well as critique the theory through two other subtopics.

Education is not meritocratic

The concept of meritocracy, where people are rewarded based on their abilities, is central to many political and economic systems. However, Marxist theorists argue that education in capitalist societies is not meritocratic, as it is structured to maintain existing power structures and advantages for the wealthy.

Students from less privileged backgrounds are less likely to achieve high levels of education due to lack of resources or opportunities to gain knowledge, increasing the inequality gap between the rich and poor.

IQ does not determine educational attainment

The Marxist theory further challenges the idea that intelligence is the primary factor in determining educational attainment. Researchers have found that IQ scores, while important, may not be predictive of future educational achievement.

It is possible for students with lower IQs to achieve high education levels when they have access to more resources and opportunities.

Family background is more important in determining educational achievement and occupational reward

Marxist theorists see family background as crucial in determining educational success and future occupational achievement. Children from wealthy families are more likely to have access to quality education, as well as social networks that can help them secure high-paying jobs.

In contrast, students from less affluent families may not have the same advantages, placing them at a disadvantage from the start.

Education system disguises inequality and justifies privilege

Marxist scholars observe that the hidden curriculum of the education system reinforces social norms and values. The curriculum is not neutral: it emphasizes the values and attitudes of the ruling class, promoting obedience, discipline, and conformity to the existing social order.

This shapes the way students view the world, normalizing existing inequalities and reinforcing the social order, while justifying the privileges of the ruling class. Critique of determinism in Bowles and Gintis’ analysis

While Marxist theorists present valid arguments regarding the education system, there have been critiques of their perspectives.

Some argue that Marxist analysis is deterministic, as it overlooks the role of individual initiative and assumes that social structures dictate agency. Bowles and Gintis analysis in Learning to Labour (1976) was criticized for suggesting that working-class students lack of motivation for education was a direct result of their social background, without leaving room for individual agency and free will.

Other perspectives on education (not mentioned in detail in article)

There are other sociological perspectives that shed light on education not discussed in detail in this article. Functionalism, for example, explores how education serves the social function of preparing individuals for the labor market and providing social stability.

Conflict theory argues that education reproduces social inequality and perpetuates power imbalances between different social groups. These perspectives offer different insights into the education system and provide a complement to Marxist theory.


This article has examined Marxist theories on education, including critiques of meritocracy, IQ-based determinism, the importance of family background, and the hidden curriculum as perpetuating privilege. It also acknowledged critiques of Marxism and alternative perspectives on education.

Still, Marxist scholars recognize the need for transforming education to create a more equitable and just society. Education must become a tool for social change, helping to break down class barriers and promote equality.

In conclusion, this article has pointed out the Marxist view on education, challenging the notion of meritocracy and emphasizing the role of family background, hidden curriculum, and social inequality. Despite criticisms, Marxist scholars offer valuable insights to transform education as a tool to promote social change and achieve greater equality.

By understanding the importance of addressing inequality in education, we can work towards a more just society that values education for everyone.



Why does Marxist theory challenge the concept of meritocracy? Answer: Marxist theory challenges meritocracy, as it argues that resources and opportunities are not evenly distributed, and wealth and social status give a significant advantage to certain individuals.

2. Can a person’s IQ predict their success in education and career?

Answer: While IQ is important, it is not the sole factor determining a person’s success in education or career. 3.

What is the hidden curriculum, and why is it significant? Answer: The hidden curriculum refers to the indirect messages perpetuated in education that reflect and reinforce the values, beliefs, and ideologies of the ruling class.

4. Is Marxist analysis deterministic?

Answer: Some critics argue that Marxist analysis is deterministic, as it overlooks the role of individual agency and free will. 5.

What are the other perspectives on education besides the Marxist view? Answer: Other sociological perspectives include functionalism, which emphasizes the role of education in social stability, and conflict theory, which views education as perpetuating social inequality.

Popular Posts