Just Sociology

Perspectives on Education: Marxist Bowes and Gintis Althusser and Bordieu’s Critiques

Education has been a critical component of all societies throughout history. It has been instrumental in shaping individuals’ minds and preparing them for their future roles in society.

However, different philosophical and social perspectives shape educational theories and practices. Marxists, for instance, have a unique perspective on education.

Their view is that education is an ideological instrument that reproduces and reinforces social inequality. According to Marxists, education serves the interests of the ruling class by preparing youth for their future roles in maintaining the existing social and economic order.

This article explores Marxist views on education and further delves into the ideas of Bowes and Gintis on this matter. Marx and Engels’ Beliefs

Marxism is rooted in the idea that social change is propelled by class struggle.

Marx and Engels believed that the political and economic order of all societies throughout history was based on class struggle, where the ruling classes use their power and resources to keep the lower classes oppressed. Their perspective on education was that it should be combined with labor to enable the masses to understand the significance of overthrowing capitalism.

As such, their belief was that education was vital in creating social change and challenging power structures. Education’s Role in Reproducing and Undermining Capitalism

Marxists argue that education has the potential to undermine capitalism, but mainly it works towards reproducing social inequality by serving the interests of the ruling class.

Education is used as a tool by the ruling class to spread capitalist ideology and transmit cultural capital. The dominant class uses education to shape the values and attitudes of the working-class population.

Hence, education has been instrumental in maintaining the status quo and reinforcing social inequality. The spread of capitalist ideology through education is facilitated through the curriculum and the values taught in educational institutions.

This allows the ruling class to maintain its power and continue to dominate society. Moreover, the education system serves the ruling class by recognizing and reproducing the cultural capital of the elite.

There is a sense of continuity in the cultural capital, which allows the next generation to maintain their status and sustain the class divide.


Despite Marxist views on education, its critics argue that working-class individuals are aware of their status and do not blindly accept educational values. In their view, Marxist views do not take into account that individuals’ agency is not restricted, and some individuals do reject the values taught in educational institutions.

Although individuals’ agency is not entirely autonomous, the criticism of Marxist views highlights the possibility that education does not always have the impact that the ruling class desires. Bowes and Gintis’ Ideas on Education

Bowes and Gintis build on Marxist views and argue that the education system is central to reinforcing social inequality.

They focus on the ways that schools reproduce and legitimize class inequality and how the education system functions in the interest of capitalist employers.

Reproduction of Class Inequality

Bowes and Gintis contend that the proliferation of social inequality stems from the way that the education system is structured. Middle-class parents use their cultural and material capital to secure admission for their children in the best schools.

These schools tend to produce better-educated and wealthier students who are more likely to access jobs within the middle class. On the other hand, working-class children receive an inferior education that reduces their chances of academic achievement, leading to limited prospects of upward mobility.

The result of this disparity is a representation of how the education system reproduces class inequality. Wealthy parents continue to have significant advantages over their working-class counterparts.

They can use their social and economic resources to acquire quality education that enhances their chances of upward mobility.

Legitimization of Class Inequality

Bowes and Gintis introduce the idea of the myth of meritocracy, where schools perpetrate the myth that merit is the primary criterion for success. The myth of meritocracy convinces students that everyone has an equal chance of success.

In contrast, the reality is that academic success is largely determined by one’s social class. Thus, the myth of meritocracy legitimates class inequality by assuring working-class individuals that the system is fair, and one’s status is determined by their merit.

The myth of meritocracy is problematic in that it becomes more challenging for the proletariat to mobilize through Marxist revolutionary movements. The working-class individual is led to believe that education is the key to success and upward mobility.

This gives the ruling class the freedom to maintain social and economic control.

Functioning in the Interest of Capitalist Employers

Bowes and Gintis argue that the values taught in schools parallel those used to exploit workers in the workplace. The hidden curriculum teaches students to stay motivated through external rewards, accept hierarchical systems, and respect passive subservience.

Additionally, social relations of education replicate hierarchical systems of labor division, leading to a hierarchical society with limited prospects for the upward mobility of the proletariat.

Correspondence Principle

The education system serves to create proper subordination and confusion in reproducing the social relations of production. Similarly, the education system is critical in developing social-class identifications crucial to getting jobs in the future.

The correspondence principle is crucial in understanding the significance of education in creating a society where one’s social class identification is central to getting a job.


In conclusion, Marxist views on education and Bowes and Gintis’ ideas on education present a perspective that critiques the education system from a class-based view. Although Marxism’s critique can be criticized for disregarding the autonomy of individuals, their perspective points to the problem of the education system’s reproduction of social inequality.

Bowes and Gintis take Marx’s critique further, focusing more on the ways in which schools maintain class inequality and serve the interests of capitalism. Their perspective sheds light on how the education system legitimizes class inequality through a myth of meritocracy and serves the interests of capitalist employers.

Therefore, Marxist views and Bowes and Gintis’ ideas are crucial for understanding the problem of the education system and the role it plays in reproducing social inequality.The education system is a vital component of society that greatly influences individual perspectives, values, and beliefs. Althusser and Bordieu, two influential theorists in the field of education, provide critical perspectives and critiques of the education system.

Althusser regards the education system as part of the state’s ideological apparatus that perpetuates the existing economic system. In contrast, Bordieu emphasizes the indirect transfer of cultural capital from the education system to the bourgeoisie.

This article will delve into Althusser’s and Bordieu’s perspectives on education and further explore their critiques of the education system. Althusser’s Views

Louis Althusser, a prominent French Marxist philosopher, regarded education as a critical element in the state’s ideological apparatus for maintaining the economic system.

He believed that the economic and political order was not only enforced through physical coercion but also through ideology. According to him, education plays a vital role in perpetuating the existing economic system through the injection of specific ideas into students’ minds.

Althusser called this process ideological indoctrination, where education transmits values and beliefs that are in line with the interests of the ruling class. Althusser emphasized the need for the ruling class to produce compliant and unquestioning workers who are unaware of their exploitation.

Education serves this purpose by teaching students to accept their role in society and the dominant ideology. Ultimately, Althusser viewed the education system as part of the ideological state apparatus designed to maintain the existing social and economic order.

Bordieu’s Views

Pierre Bordieu, another influential French sociologist, has contributed significantly to the understanding of the indirect transfer of cultural capital through the education system. According to Bordieu, cultural capital is the accumulation of knowledge, habits, and symbols of taste that determine an individual’s social status and sense of identity.

The education system plays a pivotal role in passing down cultural capital to the bourgeoisie. Bordieu argues that the schooling system is organized in a way that privileges the middle and upper classes.

According to him, the education system gives preference to students with middle-class values, skills, and knowledge. The schooling system tests skills such as problem-solving logic, memory recall & retrieval, and logical reasoning in standardized tests which aligns to middle-class values, resulting in children from poorer backgrounds facing greater barriers to achieving academic success.

Thus, the education system indirectly benefits the bourgeoisie by reproducing and reinforcing the existing class structure.


Critiques of Althusser’s perspective argue that it is too deterministic, undermining individuals’ autonomy and their resistance to dominant ideology. According to critics, the working classes’ rejection of the dominant ideology is not always an expression of their class consciousness, but could be influenced by several other factors such as individual autonomy and agency.

Similarly, critics of Bordieu’s perspective argue that it overemphasizes the role of cultural capital and fails to acknowledge other factors influencing school achievement. According to critics, cultural capital is one of many contributing factors to school achievement, and student academic success is determined by various interrelated socio-economic factors.

Additionally, critiquers suggest that a lack of cultural capital amongst students may lead them to impair the chance of social mobility, as they may not fit into the educational system’s values. Furthermore, critics of these perspectives note that while the education system undeniably has its flaws, educational institutions can play a significant role in improving the lives of pupils.

Schools can provide students with an environment that fosters learning, social development, and personal growth, and a means to create social change.


In conclusion, the perspectives of Althusser and Bordieu offer valuable critiques of the education system. Althusser’s views focus on the ideological indoctrination of students, emphasizing the education system’s function in maintaining the existing economic status quo.

In contrast, Bordieu’s perspectives emphasize the indirect transfer of cultural capital and how the education system reinforces the existing class structure. While the critiques of these perspectives highlight limitations to their analyses, their perspectives offer insight for educators, parents, and policymakers.

Ultimately, these perspectives alert people to the importance of education as a tool for effectuating social change and provide a means for educators to improve the education system educating future generations successfully. In conclusion, this article has explored Marxist, Bowes and Gintis, Althusser, and Bordieu’s perspectives on education.

These critical perspectives challenge conventional beliefs on the education system and highlight a range of issues that can impact individual perspectives and beliefs. Their critiques illustrate that the education system is more than an institution that promotes learning and argues that it is complicit in maintaining and reproducing social inequality.

Therefore, for policymakers and educators, these perspectives provide insights that compel significant modifications to the education system, ensuring that the system works towards social justice and equity.


Q: What is Marxist view on education?

A: Marxists believe that education is an ideological tool used by the ruling class to perpetuate social inequality. Q: What is the correspondence principle in education?

A: The correspondence principle highlights the importance of education in creating social-class identifications essential to being seen as competent and hirable by future employers. Q: What is the myth of meritocracy?

A: The myth of meritocracy is the belief that merit is the primary criterion for success, which legitimates class inequality by convincing individuals that everyone has an equal chance of success. Q: What is cultural capital?

A: Cultural capital is the accumulation of knowledge, habits, and symbols of taste that determine an individual’s social status and sense of identity. Q: Does the education system benefit the bourgeoisie?

A: According to Bowes and Gintis and Bordieu’s perspectives, the education system benefits the bourgeoisie indirectly by reproducing and reinforcing the existing class structure. Q: Does the traditional Marxist view on education take into account individuals’ autonomy?

A: Critics assert that Marxist view on education is too deterministic and does not consider individuals’ autonomy and their resistance to dominant ideology. Q: What is the significance of these critical perspectives on the education system?

A: These perspectives can stimulate changes to education systems to ensure that they prioritize social justice, equity and provide individuals with better opportunities to succeed.

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