Just Sociology

Exploring Education: Functionalist vs Marxist Perspectives and Beyond

Education is a vital part of modern society, and it has been studied extensively from different perspectives. Two of these perspectives are functionalism and Marxism.

While both perspectives share a view of education as being an institution that plays an important role in society, their interpretations differ significantly. Functionalism emphasizes how education creates social solidarity, teaches necessary skills, and acts as a bridge between home and society.

On the other hand, Marxism argues that education works in the interests of ruling elites and is designed to maintain class stratification. In this article, we will explore the key ideas behind these two perspectives, provide supporting evidence, and consider criticisms and limitations that have been leveled against each.

1) Functionalist Perspective on Education:

Key Ideas:

The functionalist perspective emphasizes the role of education in creating social stability, promoting cooperation, and teaching essential skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. According to functionalists, teaching the same subjects to all students helps them develop a shared sense of social identity and allegiance.

They argue that education provides the needed skills for students to be successful in the workforce while acting as a bridge between home and society. By internalizing the norms, values, and culture of society, students are socialized and equipped to participate effectively in society.

Supporting Evidence:

Functionalists point to low exclusion and truancy rates as evidence of successful socialization. In addition, statistics show that individuals with university degrees earn on average 85% more than those without degrees, highlighting the importance of a good education.

Also, extended tutorials, often used in schools, create a sense of community and promote social cohesion. Criticisms/Limitations:

Marxism has been a significant critic of functionalism, arguing that education systems are not meritocratic.

They argue that education is geared towards the interests of the ruling class and that it fails to address social inequality. Critics of functionalism also argue that negative aspects of schools, including bullying, are ignored.

Additionally, postmodernists argue that teaching to the test kills creativity, and standardized testing does not measure broad skills, such as critical thinking and creative problem-solving. 2) Marxist Perspective on Education:

Key Ideas:

Marxism sees education as a means of reproducing the existing class structure and a tool that is used to control the working class.

According to Marxists, the education system works in the interests of the ruling class by creating compliance, loyalty, and accepting the status quo. Education, in this view, is a form of ideological control, with those who control the system using it to reinforce their position and maintain the status quo.

The education system, in this view, performs three functions for ruling elites: it legitimizes their position, it reproduces the workforce, and it teaches them to accept their place in society as a given. Supporting Evidence:

Statistics show that the richer the parents of the student, the more likely they are to do well in education.

Marxists also argue that education teaches pupils that their failures are due to their lack of effort, rather than economic and social structures. Additionally, surveillance has increased schools’ ability to control students, thus increasing their compliance with the system.


Marxism is often criticized for relying too heavily on economic analyses of society and reducing education to a crude economic class analysis. Paul Willis’ study of 12 lads who formed a counter school culture challenges the correspondence theory, which suggests that school curriculums reflect the interests of powerful groups within society.

Critics have also argued that Marxists view of education sources from historical analysis and may not apply to the current system of education. Conclusion:

In conclusion, both functionalist and Marxist perspectives provide compelling views of education that, when taken together, offer a comprehensive picture of the complex role education plays in society.

While the functionalist view emphasizes education’s role in promoting cooperation and social cohesion, the Marxist perspective sees education as a tool for reproduction of the labor force and reinforcing social hierarchy. These perspectives allow us to debate and scrutinize the education system, identify problems and criticism, and improve education by understanding it better.

3) New Right Perspective on Education:

Key Ideas:

The New Right perspective on education argues that schooling should focus on preparing pupils for work, with an emphasis on vocational courses. New Right policies also introduced an ‘education market’ that works by having schools compete with each other for students.

The parents are given the choice to decide which school their child should attend, thus ensuring competition between institutions. There is also greater oversight provided through the national curriculum, which provides teachers with the framework for what should be taught.

Supporting Evidence:

The introduction of New Right policies correlated with an improvement in educational results, particularly in the United Kingdom. The policies have also been applied extensively across the globe with a high degree of success.

Competitive education systems in countries, such as Korea, lead to top performance and efficiency. Criticisms/Limitations:

Critics of the New Right perspective argue that competition between schools benefited only the middle classes, thus exacerbating social inequalities.

In addition, critics have also noted that vocational education was often neglected, resulting in many students lacking essential skills. Some also argue that imposing a national framework restricts schools’ ability to adapt to their learners significantly.

4) Late Modern Perspective on Education:

Key Ideas:

The Late Modern perspective on education argues that governments need to spend more on education to respond to the rapid pace of change brought about by globalization. Rapid social and technological change necessitate that people re-skill more often to maintain their position in the workforce.

Schools are also critical in keeping ‘at-risk’ students under surveillance to minimize future problems. Supporting Evidence:

Developed economies worldwide place a great deal of emphasis on providing high-quality education to their citizens.

Schools are necessary to teach students about diversity in a multicultural society. Under the New Labour government, there has been a considerable increase in equality of opportunity in education.


Postmodernists argue that government attempts to ‘engineer’ students lead to decreased creativity and uniformity in student behavior. There is also a critique that adaptation to global capitalism will not reduce class inequalities but instead exacerbate them.

Neoliberalism suggests that countries can no longer afford to spend large sums of money on education, rendering calls for greater education funding implausible. Conclusion:

Education is a dynamic and everchanging system, and the perspectives that various theorists bring to the table continue to evolve over time.

As outlined above, functionalist perspectives emphasize social cohesion, while Marxist perspectives emphasize power and control. The New Right’s perspective emphasizes competing for resources, while the Late Modern perspective is concerned with reskilling and surveillance.

As a result, it is crucial to recognize that education serves more than just one purpose, and there is scope for debate and discussion to find the right balance. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of these perspectives is a necessary step in shaping the education sector’s approach to meet the challenges and requirements of the future.

Finally, to ensure that education remains responsive to the changing landscape and diverse populations, a multifaceted approach is required that takes into account various perspectives. Addressing issues such as social inequality, skill acquisition, encouraging creativity, and equipping students to thrive in a changing economy requires a balanced and informed approach.

Moving forward, the creation of holistic policies that take into account the range of factors that shape education remains critical to providing a high-quality education system for all. 5) Postmodern View of Education:

Key Ideas:

The postmodern perspective on education stands against the universalizing education system.

The modernist approach to education is considered to be oppressive to minority groups and individuals. According to postmodernists, the ‘factory production-line mentality of education kills creativity.’ The emphasis on uniformity found in many education systems is a significant obstacle to progress in these situations.

Supporting Evidence:

Many people argue that schools suppress creativity and prevent children from questioning authority. Teaching to the test and excess regulation create a stressful and miserable environment for pupils.

Critics of the National Curriculum argue that it is ethnocentric, imparting biased and incorrect information to learners. Criticisms/Limitations:

Late-Modernists argue that schools need to promote tolerance of diversity, which is not the same thing as focusing on individual needs at the expense of broader social cohesion.

Neoliberalism argues that a competitive system encourages innovation and productivity, although critics suggest that the most impoverished students are the least likely to benefit from increased competition. Marxists argue that home education could lead to greater inequality, as many parents lack the resources to provide an adequate education for their children.


The postmodern perspective on education argues that traditional education systems are too focused on standardization and homogenization. The pursuit of conformity, according to this view, suppresses critical thinking and creativity, resulting in individuals incapable of questioning authority.

Instead, the postmodern approach seeks to promote diversity, embrace individuality and encourage learners to engage with the world in unique ways. However, critics argue that a fundamental focus on individualism comes at the expense of broader social cohesion.

Despite the limitations and criticisms of these perspectives, every perspective carries a certain level of legitimacy. As such, it is vital to recognize the essential contribution of multiple perspectives in developing a comprehensive understanding of education, although the path forward is often challenging or even contradictory.

The ultimate goal should be to create educational systems that balance individual needs with broader social objectives, one that seeks to eliminate educational inequality and fosters long term success for all. From functionalism to postmodernism, these perspectives should ultimately work simultaneously to create a more inclusive, meaningful educational experience for all.

In conclusion, the various perspectives on education discussed in this article provide a multifaceted understanding of the role of education in society. Functionalism, Marxism, the New Right, and Late Modernism perspectives all highlight different aspects of education and learning, and each carries its strengths and criticisms.

The postmodern perspective brings essential insights highlighting the need for diversity and individuality in education. By combining these perspectives, policymakers, educators, and other stakeholders can develop effective strategies and policies to shape education in line with the ever-evolving needs of society to create an inclusive, meaningful educational experience for all.


Q: What is functionalism’s view of education? A: Functionalism posits that education creates social solidarity through teaching the same subjects, prepares students for work, and acts as an intermediary in the relationship between home and society.

Q: What is Marxism’s view of education? A: Marxism argues that education serves to reinforce the existing class hierarchy in society and works in the interests of the ruling class elites.

Q: What is the New Right view of education? A: The New Right perspective on education emphasizes preparing students for work, increasing vocational courses, and creating an ‘education market’ through schools competing with each other.

Q: What is Late Modernism’s view of education? A: Late Modernism argues that education needs to keep pace with globalization, with people needing to re-skill more often, and schools’ surveillance of students at risk of deviance.

Q: What is the postmodern view of education? A: The postmodern view of education criticizes the universalizing education system and argues that modernist education systems are oppressive to minority groups, and the ‘factory production-line mentality of education kills creativity.’

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