Just Sociology

Understanding the Functionalist View of Society and Education: Principles and Criticisms

The Functionalist view of society is a theoretical perspective that emerged within the discipline of sociology during the early 20th century. Functionalism, also known as structural-functionalism, aims to explain how society is formed and how it functions.

It assumes that society is a complex system made up of interdependent parts that work together to maintain social equilibrium. This article discusses the key principles of the Functionalist view of society, with specific focus on the Structural-consensus theory and Society as an organism.

Additionally, it delves into the application of Functionalism in the field of education, including Socialization and Social Solidarity, the Division of Labor, Development of Human Capital, Role Allocation, and the Bridge between Family and Society.

1) The Functionalist View of Society

Functionalism is based on the belief that society is a complex system made up of various interconnected parts or institutions. According to this perspective, each part, whether it is an institution, social group, or individual, has a particular function that contributes to the smooth operation of the whole system.

Functionalists view society as a stable, well-ordered entity that operates on the basis of consensus and shared values. 1.1 Structural-consensus theory

The Structural-consensus theory views society as a collection of interrelated parts that function together to maintain social order.

It assumes that social order is based on a social structure that determines individual behavior. Therefore, socialization plays a critical role in shaping individual behavior and producing a strong sense of shared values in society.

Socialization relies on various social institutions such as the family, school system, legal system, and political system, which are guided by a set of norms and values that shape individual behavior. 1.2 Society as an organism

The Functionalist view of society also sees society as an organism that is capable of adapting and changing over time.

Like organisms, societies have needs that must be satisfied to ensure their survival. Those needs range from basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing to social needs such as protection, education, and healthcare.

Society has institutions such as the economy, government, and education system that work together to satisfy these needs. The economy provides the necessary resources, the government creates laws and regulations, while the education system ensures that individuals acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for their roles in society.

2) Functionalism Theory in Education

Functionalism has been influential in the field of education, as it views education as one of the critical institutions that play a vital role in shaping individual behavior and society’s stability. The Functionalist view of education has provided significant contributions to understanding the relationship between education and the larger society.

2.1 Socialization and Social Solidarity (Durkheim)

Emile Durkheim’s theory of socialization and social solidarity suggests that education plays an essential role in producing a society that is united by shared values and norms. Durkheim believed that schools serve as agents of socialization that teach individuals the core values of society, including respect for authority, individualism, and the importance of the collective good.

He argued that schools also reinforce the hidden curriculum, which teaches students the norms and values of society that are not explicitly stated in the syllabus. Through the hidden curriculum, students learn the importance of punctuality, obedience, and discipline.

2.2 The Division of Labor (Durkheim)

Durkheim also believed that education plays a vital role in maintaining a complex division of labor in society. The Division of Labor is essential to the survival and development of society.

According to Durkheim, as societies become more complex, they require specialized skills and expertise, which is acquired through education. Schools provide specialized knowledge and skills necessary for future professions that are critical for a functioning society.

2.3 Developing Human Capital (Schultz)

Gary Becker’s theory of Human Capital focuses on the relationship between education and the economy. According to this theory, education is an investment in human capital that results in higher productivity, improved earnings, and greater economic growth.

Education improves the skills and knowledge necessary for the workforce, which benefits both individuals and society. The development of human capital leads to the creation of a highly trained and skilled workforce, which ultimately leads to economic growth and prosperity.

2.4 Role Allocation (Davis and Moore)

The Davis-Moore thesis suggests that social inequality is necessary for the efficient functioning of society. Davis and Moore argue that some roles are more important than others, and therefore, society must offer greater rewards and status to those who occupy these critical roles.

Education serves as a means of stratification that rewards individuals who have acquired specialized skills and acquired the necessary knowledge to fill those important roles. 2.5 Bridge between Family and Society (Parsons)

The Functionalist view of education also suggests that schools play a critical role in bridging the gap between the family and society.

Talcott Parsons believed that schools provide meritocracy and equal opportunity for individuals to achieve success based on their abilities, rather than their social background. Schools offer a level playing field that enables individuals to break away from the constraints of their background and succeed based on their merit.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Functionalist view of society and education has provided significant contributions to the field of sociology. The perspective offers essential insights into how societies function and how institutions such as education contribute to social cohesion.

The theories highlight the importance of socialization, the division of labor, role allocation, and the development of human capital in maintaining social order and stability. The Functionalist view of education highlights the critical role of schools in shaping individuals’ behavior and preparing them for their roles in society.

However, criticisms of Functionalism suggest that it oversimplifies social reality, ignores power struggles, and reinforces existing inequalities.

3) Criticisms of Functionalist Perspective on Education

While the Functionalist perspective provides a crucial understanding of society and education, it has also faced criticism from various quarters. The criticisms argue that Functionalism is overly simplistic and fails to account for negative conflict, multicultural societies, and the experiences of nonconforming pupils within educational institutions.

This section will discuss some of the significant criticisms of the Functionalist perspective on education, highlighting criticisms of Durkheim and Parsons. 3.1 General Criticism

The Functionalist perspective on education has faced significant criticisms that suggest that the model is overly simplistic and ignores some of the complexities of education.

The criticisms argue that the model does not account for potential conflicts that may arise between different groups, particularly in multicultural societies where different cultural identities may clash. The sociologist Stephen J.

Ball argues that the Functionalist view does not recognise the potential for conflict within schools, particularly where conflicts arise between teachers and nonconforming pupils (Acker, 1987). The criticisms also suggest that the Functionalist view ignores the negative impact of power struggles within educational institutions, where teachers or administrators may exert their authority at the expense of the students’ well-being.

3.2 Criticisms of Durkheim

Durkheim’s Functionalist view of education has also faced significant criticisms, particularly from Marxist scholars. Marxists argue that Durkheim’s emphasis on shared values and norms overlooks social inequality and the exploitation of the proletariat.

According to Bowles and Gintis (1976), Durkheim’s focus on shared values and norms masks the realities of social inequality in impoverished communities. They argue that education perpetuates inequality by teaching students the values and behaviours necessary to maintain the bourgeoisie’s position in society.

Marxists also suggest that Durkheim’s Functionalist view minimizes the importance of power relationships between schools and their students, resulting in students’ oppression and mistreatment. 3.3 Criticisms of Parsons

The Functionalist view of education is also criticized for perpetuating class inequality and unequal opportunities.

Parsons stresses meritocracy and equal opportunities for individuals to achieve success based on their abilities, rather than their social background. However, critics argue that his view ignores the role of intergenerational wealth and social class in shaping educational and career opportunities.

According to Wahrenburg and Weldi (2007), Parsons’ Functionalist theory of education reinforces the existing class inequalities that allow the wealthy to maintain their position at the top of the social hierarchy. The rich can invest in their children’s education, which gives them a head start in life, while those from less privileged backgrounds encounter more restrictions and barriers to education and career opportunities.

Additionally, critics claim that Parsons’ meritocratic approach ignores the increased levels of standardisation in education, which seeks to reduce opportunities for creativity, diversity and individuality. This standardization can create significant problems for learners who do not fit within such a rigid model.

Moreover, there is a growing body of research showing that the school-to-work transition can have negative effects on young workers, further exacerbating inequality and division.

Conclusion

In conclusion, although Functionalism offers a valuable perspective on education and society, it has faced significant criticisms from various quarters. The criticisms argue that the Functionalist perspective lacks the complexity to fully account for negative conflict in education, the impact of social inequality on education, and the experiences of non-conforming pupils within educational institutions.

While these criticisms may weaken the Functionalist perspective, it remains an essential conceptual framework for understanding education and society’s structures, processes and challenges. As society becomes progressively diverse, it is imperative that we continue to challenge the assumptions of the Functionalist perspective and examine the role of education and other social institutions in creating a just and equitable society.

In conclusion, this article has provided an overview of the Functionalist view of society and education, focusing on its key principles and criticisms. The Functionalist perspective highlights the importance of socialization, the division of labor, role allocation, and the development of human capital in maintaining social order and stability.

However, criticisms suggest that the perspective is overly simplistic and ignores the complexities of education, including potential conflicts and social inequalities. Despite the criticisms, the Functionalist perspective remains a valuable conceptual framework for understanding society’s structures, processes, and challenges.

Through a critical examination of Functionalist theory, we can expand our understanding of the role of education in shaping society, particularly in creating equitable and just systems. FAQs:

Q: What is the Functionalist view of society?

A: The Functionalist view of society is a theoretical perspective that aims to explain how society’s various institutions work together to maintain social equilibrium. Q: What are some criticisms of the Functionalist perspective on education?

A: Criticisms of the Functionalist perspective on education suggest that it does not account for negative conflict, multicultural societies, and nonconforming pupils’ experiences within educational institutions. Q: Who are some notable theorists associated with the Functionalist perspective on education?

A: Some of the notable theorists associated with the Functionalist perspective on education include Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, Gary Becker, and Davis and Moore. Q: What is the Division of Labor, and how does it relate to education?

A: The Division of Labor is the specialization of work that is essential to the survival and development of society. Education plays a critical role in maintaining a complex division of labor by providing the specialized knowledge and skills necessary for future professions.

Q: How does education contribute to social inequality according to critics of the Functionalist perspective? A: Critics of the Functionalist perspective suggest that education perpetuates social inequality by teaching students the values and behaviours necessary to maintain the bourgeoisie’s position in society.

They also argue that it reinforces existing class inequalities and reduces opportunities for creativity, diversity, and individuality.

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