Social Democratic Perspectives on Education

Social democrats believe that governments should invest heavily in education and use education as a means to improve equality of opportunity, which in turn is the best way to ensure that education also contributes to economic growth.

Social Democratic perspectives exercised a strong influence on British educational policies in the 1960s and 70s. Their views are mainly associated with the Labour Party during these decades.

Social Democrats criticized the Functionalist idea that that the British education system (the Tripartite system) of the 1950s and 60s provided equality of opportunity and promoted economic growth. They argued that the tripartite system needed to change to a comprehensive system in order to do both of these things more effectively.

You might like to review the material on the Tripartite and Comprehensive systems of education before reading any further…

Equality of Opportunity

Writing in the 1960s Halsey et al argued that the Tripartite system of education failed to deliver genuine equality of opportunity to all students: the majority of children who attended secondary modern schools failed to develop their potentials and thus did not have the same opportunities as those who attended either grammar or technical schools. Halsey et al also noted that opportunities were broadly divided along class lines, with mainly the working classes attending secondary moderns while the middle class attended grammar schools.

From the social democratic point of view, the tripartite system was not only failing to provide equality of opportunity, it was also failing to develop the potential of individuals, with working class talent being wasted in secondary modern schools which offered only a very poor standard ofeducation.

For this reason, the Labour government abolished the Tripartite system in the 1960s, closing down grammar and secondary modern schools and replacing them with comprehensive schools, or one type of school for all pupils – in theory this provided greater equality of opportunity and outcome because working and middle class children were now being educated in the same school and every child now received the same type of education and had the same amount of money spent on them. In theory, at least, this was more likely to increase inter-generational social mobility and reduce class divisions.

Other measures introduced to combat working class disadvantage were compensatory education and Education Priority Areas – both of which involved providing more resources for children in deprived areas.

The Social Democratic ideal of the government spending proportiately more money on the education of socially disadvantaged children continued on under the New Labour government in the form of Education Action Zones and Sure Start.

Economic Growth

Social democrats also argued that a truly meritocratic education system would contribute to economic growth, because it would enable each individual to maximise their potential and thus contribute maximally to the economic development of the country.

Theodore W. Schultz was a proponent of this idea, arguing that skills and knowledge were forms of capital – increasing spending on education represented an investment in people and the more governments spent on education, the more skilled the workforce would become, and the more productive they should be.

British government policy from WW2 to the early 1980s broadly followed social democratic lines – expenditure on education was gradually increased throughout these decades, the school leaving age was increased, and further and higher education expanded enormously.

Sources: Haralambos and Holborn (2004) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, Sixth Edition.

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Evaluate the Functionalist View of the Role of Education in Society (30) #LONG VERSION

An A-level sociology essay written for the AQA’s 7192 (1) specification, exam paper 1. This is the long, ‘overkill’ version of the essay, written using the PEAC system (Point – Explain – Analyse – Criticise)

NB – At time of posting, it’s half an essay, more to follow!

Introduction

Functionalism is a somewhat dated structural theory popular in 19th century France (Durkheim) and mid-20th century America (Parsons). Functionalist theorists adopted a ‘top-down’ approach to analysing the role which institutions, such as schools play in relation to other institutions, such as work, and generally believe that schools form an important part of a society’s structure. Functionalism is also a consensus theory: functionalists generally emphasise the positive functions which schools perform for individuals and society, arguing that schools tend to promote social harmony and social order, which they see as a good thing.

Below I will analyse and evaluate four specific ‘functions’ or roles which schools perform according to Functionalist theory, ultimately arguing that it obscures more than it enlightens our understanding of the role of education in society.

POINT 1: According to Emile Durkheim (1890s), the founder of modern Functionalism, the first role of education was to create a sense of social solidarity which in turn promoted value consensus.

EXPLANATION: Social Solidarity is where the individual members of society feel themselves to be a part of a single ‘body’ or community and work together towards shared goals. According to Durkhiem schools achieved social solidarity through children learning subjects such as history and English which gave them a shared sense of national identity, which in turn promoted value consensus, or agreement on shared values at the societal level.

Analysis: Durkheim thought schools were one of the few institutions which could promote solidarity at a national level – he may have a point. It is difficult to imagine any other institution which governments could use to socialise individuals in to a sense of national identity.

Evaluation: To evaluate this point, there do seem to be examples of where schools attempt to promote a sense of social solidarity. Writing in the 1950s, Talcott Parsons pointed to how, in American schools, children pledge allegiance to the flag; while today British schools and colleges are obliged to promote ‘British Values’ (woohoo!)

However, it is debatable whether schools are successful in instilling a genuine sense of social solidarity into most, let alone all students. A minority of students are excluded from schools, and around 5% are persistent absentees – if students are not in mainstream education, then schools cannot promote a sense of belonging; while for those students who are at school, many are there ‘in body, but not necessarily in spirit. Finally there is the fact there is such a huge diversity of schools (faith schools, private schools, home education) that surely education is too fragmented and divided for it to promote true solidarity at the national level – to the extent that postmodernists suggested there is no such thing as a unified culture anymore.

POINT 2: A second function of education, again according to Durkhiem, is that schools teach individuals the specialist skills for work, which is crucial in a complex, modern industrial economy. (Schools thus have an important economic function).

Durkhiem argued that school was an efficient way of teaching individuals these diverse skills while at the same time teaching them to co-operate with each-other – schools thus instilled a sense of organic solidarity, or solidarity based on difference and interdependency, with school being one of the only institutions which could do both of these functions simultaneously within the context of a national economy.

The idea that schools have an economic function certainly seems to be true – basic literacy and numeracy are certainly important for any job today, and ever since the New Right, Vocational education has expanded, right up to the present day in the form of Modern Apprenticeships, and today. There is also a relationship between government expenditure on education and economic growth – more developed countries tend to have stronger economies.

However, it is debatable whether schools prepare children adequately for work – for example, there is a shortage of STEM graduates, and many doctors come to Britain from abroad, so maybe the education system today focuses on the wrong subjects, not the subjects the economy actually needs to grow effectively? There is also a Postmodern critique from Ken Robinson that suggests that ‘schools kill creativity’ – a system obsessed with standardised testing hardly prepares people to go into the creative industries or become entrepreneurs, both of which are growth areas in the current UK economy.

More to follow…!

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AS Sociology Education Short Answer Question and Answers

Some examples of possible short answer question and answers for the education section of AS Sociology Paper 7191 (1)

Examples of ‘define’ questions (2 marks)

Question: Define the Term ‘meritocracy’ (2)

Answer: where an individual is rewarded on the basis of ability and effort – a fair system of reward

Question: Define the ‘the reproduction of class inequality’ (2)

Where social class based differences in income, education and wealth are carried on from one generation to the next

E.g. – Where working class children fail in education and go on to get working class jobs, and vice versa for middle class children.

Question: Define the term ‘neoliberalism’ (2)

Answer: A theory that believes in societies being run according to market principles. The idea that the government should be as small as possible and keep out of the affairs of private enterprise (businesses)

Examples of ‘using one example, explain what is meant by’

Question: Using one example identify and briefly explain what is meant by the term ‘Role Allocation’ (2)

Where individuals are sifted and sorted into appropriate jobs based on the qualifications they achieve – E.G. someone passes a law degree to get a job as a lawyer.

Question: Using one example identify and briefly explain what is meant by the term ‘correspondence principle’ (2)

Where what pupils learn at school prepares them for future exploitation at work – E.G.  accepting authority of teachers at school then accepting the authority of managers at work,.

Question: Using one example identify and briefly explain one way in which neoliberal ideas have influenced education policy (2)

Answer: The idea that businesses should play more of a role in running the education system – E.G. The setting up of academies

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Harvey Weinstein Scandal – A sign of ‘raised consciousness’ or just a decline in his personal power?

Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment has been headline news for over a week now, but what should we make of it?

Weinstein sex pest.jpg

Some very famous actresses, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Joli have come forward and accused Weinstein of sexual harassment (which he hasn’t denied, he’s only denied accusations of rape), and it seems that he’s been a prolific offender over the last three decades: The New York Times reported last week that the media mogul was a serial sex pest who had, before recent allegations came to light, reached at least eight legal settlements with women over the past three decades.

Rebecca Traister noted in the New York magazine that she witnessed Weinstein’s abusive behaviour first-hand in 2000, when she got into a row with him, and he proceeded to punch her boyfriend when he intervened, and yet, despite dozens of camera shots, the event never made the news, showing his enormous influence to shut down bad news at that time.

Writing in The Times, Hugo Rifkind, suggested that the eruption of the Harvey Weinstein scanadal is a symptom of a changing world and evolving attitudes.

However, maybe a more realistic interpretation of events comes from Lee Smith, writing in the Weekly Standard – he argues that this has nothing to do with ‘raised consciousness’. The reason this story has come out now is because Weinstein’s power is on the wane. Both his political support (he was a major democratic fundraiser) and the media model that protected him previously is collapsing: there was a time when his company, Miramax, used to buy the movie rights to every big story published in New York’s magazines. But the collapse of print advertising means few magazines can now pay for the kind of journalism that translates into screenplays, so they have no reason to keep him onside.

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Explaining the Increase in Sex Crime Prosecutions

A fifth of Crown Prosecution cases are alleged sex crimes or domestic abuse. In fact, the proportion compared to all prosecutions has nearly trebled in the last decade.

Alleged sex crimes and domestic abuse offences now account for nearly 20% of cases pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service compared to just under 8% a decade ago.

Prosecutions for sexual offences excluding rape reached a new peak of 13,490 in the latest financial year, while the number of rape prosecutions completed rose from 4,643 in 2015-16 to a record 5,190 in 2016-17.

It’s also worth noting that the successful prosecution rate has increased to around 75%

Why the proportionate rise in prosecutions?

There seems to be at least three main reasons:

Firstly, there’s more reporting of sexual and domestic violence – the rise of prosecutions are in line with a sharp jump in reports of sexual abuse to police seen in recent years in the wake of high-profile investigations launched after the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Secondly, authorities are also mounting increasing numbers of investigations involving the internet, including child sexual abuse, harassment and revenge pornography cases. For example the number of prosecutions sparked by alleged revenge porn – the disclosure of private sexual photographs or films without consent – more than doubled from 206 to 465 in the last year.

Thirdly, new laws have been introduced, criminalising a broader range of offences – for example a new law introduced to clamp down on domestic abusers whose conduct stops short of physical violence, such as those who control their victims through the internet and social media: there have been 309 alleged offences of controlling or coercive behaviour charged since the legislation was introduced at the end of 2015.

HOWEVER, there are some areas where prosecutors could do better:

There were year-on-year falls in prosecutions for “honour-based” violence and forced marriage, the report shows, while there were no prosecutions for female genital mutilation – it’s unlikely that there were no cases of the later in the last year in the UK.

Sources 

The Guardian 

The data above is taken from the CPS’s 10th report on violence against women and girls (Vawg). Cases where victims are men or boys are also covered by the analysis.

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Problems with Educational Technology

 

Neil Selwyn is critical of the technologically driven de-schooling agenda advanced by the likes of Sugata Mitra (who did the hole in the wall experiment).

His criticisms are based partly on his research into MOOCs, or Massive Open-ended Online Courses put courses online, have discussion on line and online tests….. the most attractive feature is that it is flexible, you learn at your own pace and when and it’s not place based.

started in in Canada in 2008 to 9, and have since taken Higher Education by storm – today massive companies. It took Higher Education by storm – massive companies, MIT Harvard, making profit. Of course the Open University, their Future Learn PLatform..

Sceptical about the idea that MOOCs and Holes in the Wall will lead to a de-schooling of society, or possibly a re-schooling, where we keep the four walls of the school but change everything within – from pedagogy to curricula.

He argues that this is a dangerous road to be going down because there are people who are not in a position to be able. They tend to favour the ‘already learners’ and the well-resourced. For example, HE MOOC courses, tend to attract those who already have degrees, and the drop out rate for such courses is huge.

We are also importing an silicon valley libertarian hyper-individualised agenda to all of this – that anyone can do anything and open ended technologies can help us to learn and do whatever we want.

However, a problem with this individualistic ideology is that it undermines that capacity for the school to ‘force’ people to learn empowering knowledge -the traditional schools is a great place to say to children ‘you need to learn maths’ or ‘you need to learn physics’, for example.

Selywn cites the educational philosopher Gert desta to add a layer of analysis to his argument: schools are sites where subjectification, socialisation and qualification take place – sites where we learn who we are (subjectification), how we should get along with people (socialisation) and what we can do in terms of not just knowledge but also skills (qualification) – these are all fundamental to our very identities and our capacity to achieve our goals in life, and Selwyn wants to chime a note of caution over increasing the role of globalised ed-tech companies in shaping these three self-forming processes – we need to think about the values and interests of these tech companies.

There is no such thing as non ideological education or non ideological technology – technology has politics and values

Liberia is an example of a country which has outsourced its elementary and primary education to Bridge International Academies.

One potential problem with this kind of outsourcing is that it replaces the power of the state to frame their education curricula and gives more power to globalised technology companies to do so

Neil Selwyn is a Professor in the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia.

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Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall Experiment

In 1999 Sugata Mitra put a computer connected to the internet in a hole in the wall in a slum in Delhi and just left it there, to see what would happen.

The computer attracted a number of illiterate, slum children, who, by the end of the first day had taught themselves to surf the internet, despite not knowing what a computer or the internet were, or being able to read.

Over the next five years Mitra progressed his hole in the wall experiment to focus on delivering more specific knowledge – by posing questions via the computer in the hole in the wall. One question he asked, for example, was ‘why does hair grow’? After a few days, non-English speaking Tamil students were able to answer this question with reference to cell-biology.

Mitra then advanced his experiment even further in the UK – bringing his methods to Schools of Gateshead – where, without the English language barrier, students as young as nine were able to teach themselves about Quantum Entanglement, just from the internet.

The absence of a teacher was acting as a pedagogical  tool – with students as young as young as nine.

Mitra’s basic theory of learning is that children simply need two things to learn effectively:

  • Firstly, they need to be allowed to crowd around computers which are connected to the internet.
  • Secondly, they need the absence of a teacher.

This is the absolute opposite of our current model of education, which Mitra argues was built to meet the needs of the British Empire, when people had to do the work of machines, and the system needed identical people who needed to be taught to not ask questions, and under no circumstances be creative.

We still have this model today – which is also a ‘just in case’ model of education – we teach people to be able to do things (e.g. solve quadratic equations) just in case they need to be able to do so.

According to Mitra, this model is completely out of date and out of touch with (post?) modern times – now that all knowledge is available online, the idea of individual knowledge is simply redundant: we don’t need to know until we need to know – and we need to move to a ‘just in time’ model of education, in which kids are allowed to learn quickly from the internet what they need when they need it.

Interestingly Mitra says he finds the idea of the redundancy of individual knowledge distasteful, but he has to report what the data from his Hole in the Wall Experiment reveals.

Mitra isn’t saying that we don’t need teachers, just that don’t need the type of teacher who gives uni-directional instructions, rather you need a teacher to be a friend, for moral support and a role model, to guide you through learning.

What children need is a a self-organised learning environment – and it does help if you have an adult who isn’t necessarily knowledgeable but is admiring who spurs children on (like his own Grandmother did).

All of this raises the question of whether we actually need schools? The general consensus of the programme seems to be that we do, but primarily because they are social environments, and children benefit from the social aspect of schooling, and that we don’t necessarily need traditional teachers.

Mitra also suggests that we need to re-think about what socialising actually is, and how technology might be changing this – when you’re floating around on Facebook, for example, is that socialising, or is it something completely different?

Sugata Mitra is Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University.

Sources

Summarised from Radio Four’s ‘Start the Week: Technology in Education’

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Postmodern Methods in Louis Theroux Documentaries

Louis Theroux documentaries are a great example of ‘postmodern’ research methods.

I say this for the following reasons:

  • Firstly, these documentaries select unusual, deviant case studies to focus on, which is especially true of the latest series – ‘Dark States’ which consists of three episodes about heroin users, sex trafficking and murder.
  • Secondly, they tend to have a narrative style, focusing on people’s stories.
  • Thirdly, there’s a lack of structure about the documentaries… Theroux makes a connection with people and sees where that leads.
  • Fourthly – there’s no real attempt to be critical, or provide any analyses of the role of economic and political structures which lie behind these stories. In short, they are not properly sociological!
  • Finally, these documentaries seem to be produced for entertainment purposes only – they simply invite us to marvel or gawp at the ‘fantastically fucked up’ individuals before us, without offering any real solutions as to how they might sort their lives out, or how society should deal with them.

A brief analysis of two episodes of ‘Dark States’ demonstrates the postmodern nature of these documentaries:

In the first episode in the series, Heroin Town, Theroux looks at how the over-prescription of painkillers has unleashed a heroin epidemic. Theroux says that he largely steered clear of the pharmaceutical companies, regulators and politicians who permitted the disaster…. Instead, he hung out on streets where heroin and opioid addiction is “off the scale, unlike anything I’d ever seen before” and made addicts the stars, giving them space to express themselves and showing how many are beguiled by the romance of being outlaws.

The third episode, on Sex Trafficking in Houston, focuses on the relationships between sex workers and pimps, also shows the ‘postmodern documentary method – in which Theroux deliberately avoided making any value judgments:

Theroux says that he avoided the term “sex slave”: “If you overdo the abusive dimension, you strip the women of agency – it’s oddly disempowering and kind of neo-Victorian. The women are getting a kind of emotional fulfilment in their relationship with the pimps, even though it is poisonous and often damaging.” The pimps tended to be stylish, eloquent and intelligent. “These guys are, in their own way, deeply damaged, often the children of prostitutes, who may have had dads or family friends who were pimps. The closest analogy I have is that they are living in semi-apocalyptic conditions where the police are just not an option.”

Of course there are both strengths and limitations of these postmodern methods… I guess the biggest strength is that they allow the respondents to speak for themselves, and it’s down to the viewer to interpret the information as they will, and analyse deeper if they feel the need!

Sources:

The Guardian

 

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Evaluate the Functionalist Perspective on the Role of Education in Society (30)

An Essay Plan for A Level Sociology paper 7192 (1) using the PEEC method – Point, Explain, Elaborate, Criticise repeat. You should also include an introduction and an evaluative conclusion

  • Point – Simply state something Functionalists say about education
  • Explain – Explain what is meant by the ‘Function’ of education mentioned previously
  • Expand – this could mean giving examples, evidence, or explaining in more depth
  • Criticise – criticise with evidence against or limitations

(P1) Secondary Socialisation and Value consensus       

  • The teaching of norms and values after the family – leading to agreement around these norms and values
  • Formal Curriculum – Shared history/ Shared language/ Shared religion
  • Team sports – working together shared aim
  • Ethnocentric Curriculum
  • Sub cultures
  • More school types – more diversity, surely = less value consensus?

(P2) Teaching skills for work – economic function          

  • Diverse subjects,
  • Punctuality
  • Vocationalism and apprenticeships have expanded
  • Are apprenticeships useful?
  • Tea servers

(P3) Bridge between home and school  

  • School prepares us for the world outside the family – it acts like a society in miniature
  • Particularistic/ Universalistic Standards
  • Doesn’t apply to everyone – Home schooling

R(P4) Role Allocation  

  • Different qualifications sift people into appropriate jobs
  • Does this through exams – sifting and sorting
  • Meritocracy (since 1944)
  • Marxism – not meritocratic – myth of meritocracy,
  • Private schools
  • Feminism – gender stereotyping and subject choice

Evaluate using other perspectives –

  • Marxism – Agrees with Functionalists that school socialises us into shared values, but these values are the values benefit the ruling class (we get taught that inequality is natural and inevitable, we believe in the myth of meritocracy and so end up passively accepting society as it is.
  • Feminism – Functionalism ignores the gender divide in school
  • Interactionism – Argues Functionalism is too deterministic – it sees individuals as passive, but there is a lot more evidence that pupils are active and aren’t just moulded by the school system

Conclusion – You must point out that this perspective is too optimistic and overgeneralises!

 

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Functionalist and Marxist Perspectives on Education: What’s the Difference?

Functionalists have a very general analysis of the role of education in society, simply looking at how it contributes to the maintenance of social order, whereas Marxists analyse the role of education by focusing on how it performs different functions for different social classes.

As I see it, Marxists offer a ‘deeper layer’ of analysis compared to Functionalists, although critics of Marxism may say they seeing class divisions where there are none.

Below is a basic comparison of Functionalist and Marxist perspectives on the role of education in society:

Functionalism: Education serves the needs of an industrial society by providing it with an advanced, specialised division of labour

Marxism: Education part of the ideological state apparatus, and works for the Bourgeois

Functionalism: Education serves the needs of the social system by socialising new generations into shared norms and values which provide harmony and stability

Marxism: Teaches us the ‘myth of meritocracy’ – we believe we fail because it’s our own fault, thus put up with inequality

Functionalism: The formal and hidden curriculums helpsprepare children for service to society

Marxism: Correspondence Theory – Hidden Curriculum makes us accept authority without question

Functionalism: Education provides the means for upward mobility for those prepared to work hard

Marxism: Education reproduces class inequality – middle class kids more likely to succeed and get good jobs

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