Just Sociology

Exploring Theoretical Perspectives on Education: Feminist Functionalist Marxist and Postmodernist

Education is often considered the backbone of societal development and progress, enabling individuals to acquire knowledge, skills, and experience that contribute towards their personal growth and career advancement. However, perspectives on education are diverse, and various theoretical frameworks propose different perspectives and critiques, emphasizing different aspects of education.

Two prominent theoretical perspectives on education are the feminist perspective and the functionalist perspective. The feminist perspective focuses on the impact of gender and patriarchal ideology on education, while the functionalist perspective posits that education transmits shared values and promotes meritocracy.

This paper will explore each of these perspectives’ subtopics, outlining their key principles and arguments while illuminating how they differ from one another.

Feminist Perspective on Education

The feminist perspective on education highlights how gender and patriarchal ideology influence education’s structure and processes. Radical feminists believe that education reinforces hegemonic masculinity, whereby male dominance is perpetuated through a social system that privileges male power and subordinates females.

Male teachers, as a result, may play a part in rescuing female teachers from discipline issues, as they have more authority within the system (Weiner, 1995). Patriarchal ideology is ingrained in society, causing women to experience unequal treatment, exclusion, and discrimination within the education system.

Feminists argue that male teachers do not acknowledge or address this unequal treatment, perpetuating the issue further. On the other hand, post-modernists argue that feminist perspectives are too narrow, failing to account for the complexities of diversity and equality that can exist in different contexts.

They suggest the need to recognise a range of aspects and factors, including race, ethnicity, social class, and culture (Arnot et al., 1999). The post-modernists argue that the feminist perspective is overly simplistic and fails to account for diverse socio-cultural contexts and nuances, which are vital to promoting true equality and diversity.

Functionalist Perspective on Education

The functionalist perspective views education as a provider of societal stability and socialisation. The education system transmits shared values, such as social solidarity, value consensus, and common history, to young people.

The central premise is that a shared set of values is critical in promoting collective identity and social cohesion (Parsons, 1959). Educational institutions are viewed as societies within themselves, tasked with preparing individuals for their roles in society.

According to functionalists, the education system is meritocratic, meaning individuals can achieve success based on hard work and ability. Middle-class values are key drivers in education, and meritocracy enables individuals from any background to succeed as long as they put the effort into it (Ball, 1981).

However, this theory can often come under scrutiny as it is evident that those from poorer backgrounds with less access to educational resources, such as tutoring or private schools, may not have an equal opportunity and can struggle to gain better career prospects, perpetuating inequality. Marxism argues that the education system benefits the capitalist class, as it serves to reinforce the ruling ideology and maintain the status quo.

Marxists believe that the education system’s purpose is to indoctrinate the working class and that the curriculum serves to create a hidden curriculum that legitimises inequality (Althusser, 1971). Bowles and Gintis (1976) argue that the education system serves to maintain capitalist power and domination by reproducing labour power.


In conclusion, the feminist and functionalist perspectives on education provide critical insights into how education works as both a socially constructed system and a tool for socialisation. While the feminist perspective highlights the impact of gender on education, the functionalist perspective focuses on the provision of social stability displayed through shared values and meritocracy.

These perspectives provide insights into the power dynamic and hidden ideologies at play in the education system. By understanding these perspectives, it becomes possible to posit informed interventions to address deficiencies and ensure education is a more equitable and just system.

Marxist Perspective on Education

The Marxist perspective on education is a critical approach that views education as a tool for transmitting ruling class ideology, maintaining capitalist dominance and inequality. Marxists suggest that the education system serves as a tool designed to brainwash the working class, making them conform to and accept the capitalist ideology (Althusser, 1971).

This capitalist ideology indoctrinates the working class to believe that there is inherent value in capitalist society, while subjecting them to conditions of exploitation and oppression. Bowles and Gintis (1976) developed the concept of the correspondence principle, highlighting how the education system predisposes students to function in their expected roles in society.

The extrinsic satisfaction that is given to the working class students, such as grades and rewards, functions as a way to sustain the current economic system of oppression. The Marxist critique suggests that the education system is a site of conflict, where students are mobilized to meet the interests of the ruling class.

Critics of the Marxist perspective on education argue that it ignores the importance of social consensus and cultural diversity. Functionalists argue that the education system transmits shared values and promotes social solidarity, suggesting there can be a natural alignment between the interests of the working and middle classes (Parsons, 1959).

The New Right, a conservative political movement from the 1980s, agrees with the importance of shared values but shifts the emphasis to the market forces and individualism.

Postmodernist Perspective on Education

The postmodernist perspective on education suggests that the education system is diverse and dynamic, and no longer solely based on inequality. Postmodernists argue that the traditional means of understanding social phenomena cannot fully explain the complexities of modern-day societal issues.

Therefore, pluralist, multicultural and diverse interpretations need to be brought to the forefront of understanding (Arnot et al., 1999). The postmodernist perspective suggests that education is not only about academic knowledge but about personal growth and development.

This view of education emphasises that learning is not just a cognitive process, but also involves emotions and attitudes, encouraging self-awareness, empathy, and communication skills. According to this perspective, knowledge is never neutral; it is always shaped by political interests, cultural biases, and ideological values, which are critical for understanding power differentials in society (Giroux, 1992).

Critics of the postmodernist perspective on education argue that it glorifies the ethos of middle-class individuals, suggesting that they are most suited to succeed in the existing education system. They argue that other groups, who often remain underrepresented or disadvantaged, such as minorities or those from poorer backgrounds, may not have equal opportunities to succeed.

Furthermore, functionalists argue that the transmission of shared values and meritocracy is an essential function of education (Davis and Moore, 1945).


In conclusion, the Marxist and postmodernist perspectives on education offer different critical angles on the education system. While Marxist theorists suggest that the education system serves to maintain social and economic inequality, postmodernists emphasise the diversity among learners and how it affects the curriculum.

Both of these critical perspectives are essential as they expose the limitations of traditional views of education, which fail to account for the power dynamics and inequalities within education. The Marxist perspective critiques the education system’s ideology and the ways in which it exacerbates inequality while the postmodernist perspective emphasises the importance of cultural diversity, personal growth and development.

Social consensus and collective identity are necessary to promote social solidarity, while the individual’s personal development is necessary to promote empathy and self-awareness. Together, these perspectives offer valuable insights into the role of education systems in modern societies and provide important critiques that may help shape more equitable educational policies that benefit all students.

In conclusion, education is a complex and multifaceted system that serves a vital role in shaping individual growth, societal development, and progress. Therefore, understanding education’s theoretical perspectives is crucial for critically evaluating the system’s functioning and potential to achieve equitable outcomes.

This article has discussed three prominent theoretical perspectives on education, including the feminist, functionalist, and Marxist, and the postmodernist perspective on education, highlighting their strengths and limitations. Ultimately, a nuanced approach to understanding education is necessary to promote social justice, inclusivity, and equal access to opportunities.


1. What is the feminist perspective on education?

The feminist perspective on education emphasizes how patriarchal ideology and gender influence the education system, resulting in unequal treatment of women. 2.

What is the functionalist perspective on education? The functionalist perspective views education as a system that transmits shared values and promotes meritocracy, making it essential in maintaining social stability and preparing individuals for their roles in society.

3. What is the Marxist perspective on education?

The Marxist perspective highlights how education transmits ruling class ideology and functions to maintain capitalist oppression and social inequality. 4.

What is the postmodernist perspective on education? The postmodernist perspective suggests that education is diverse and dynamic, and emphasizes the importance of cultural diversity, personal growth, and development.

5. What is the correspondence principle?

The correspondence principle is a concept developed by Bowles and Gintis that highlights how the education system predisposes students to their expected roles in society through the provision of extrinsic satisfaction. 6.

What is the criticism of the Marxist perspective on education? Critics suggest that the Marxist perspective ignores the importance of social consensus and cultural diversity, which are necessary for creating a well-functioning education system.

7. What is the criticism of the postmodernist perspective on education?

Critics argue that the postmodernist perspective glorifies the ethos of middle-class individuals and fails to address the inequalities that exist within the education system.

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