Traditional Marxists see the education system as working in the interests of ruling class elites. According to the Marxist perspective on education, the system performs three functions for these elites:
- Reproduces class inequality.
- Legitimates class inequality.
- It works in the interests of capitalist employers
1. The reproduction of class inequality
In school, the middle classes use their material and cultural capital to ensure that their children get into the best schools and the top sets. This means that the wealthier pupils tend to get the best education and then go onto to get middle class jobs. Meanwhile working class children are more likely to get a poorer standard of education and end up in working class jobs. In this way class inequality is reproduced
2. The Legitimation of class inequality
Marxists argue that in reality money determines how good an education you get, but people do not realize this because schools spread the ‘myth of meritocracy’ – in school we learn that we all have an equal chance to succeed and that our grades depend on our effort and ability. Thus if we fail, we believe it is our own fault. This legitimates or justifies the system because we think it is fair when in reality it is not.
3. Teaching the skills future capitalist employers need
In ‘Schooling in Capitalist America’ (1976) Bowles and Gintis suggest that there is a correspondence between values learnt at school and the way in which the workplace operates. The values, they suggested, are taught through the ‘Hidden Curriculum’. The Hidden Curriculum consists of those things that pupils learn through the experience of attending school rather than the main curriculum subjects taught at the school. So pupils learn those values that are necessary for them to tow the line in menial manual jobs, as outlined below
SCHOOL VALUES Corresponds to EXPLOITATIVE LOGIC OF THE WORKPLACE
Passive subservience (of pupils to teachers) corresponds to Passive subservience of workers to managers
Acceptance of hierarchy (authority of teachers) corresponds to Authority of managers
Motivation by external rewards (grades not learning) corresponds to being Motivated by wages not the joy of the job
Evaluations of the Traditional Marxist Perspective on Education
- There is an overwhelming wealth of evidence that schools do reproduce class inequality because the middle classes do much better in education because they have more cultural capital (Reay) and because the 1988 Education Act benefited them (Ball Bowe and Gewirtz)
- Conversely, WWC children less likely to go to university because of fear of debt (Connor et al)
- Henry Giroux, says the theory is too deterministic. He argues that working class pupils are not entirely molded by the capitalist system, and do not accept everything that they are taught – Paul Willis’ study of the ‘Lads’ also suggests this.
- Education can actually harm the Bourgeois – many left wing, Marxist activists are university educated
Neo- Marxism: Paul Willis: – Learning to Labour (1977)
Willis’ research involved visiting one school and observing and interviewing 12 working class rebellious boys about their attitude to school during their last 18 months at school and during their first few months at work.
Willis argues pupils rebelling are evidence that not all pupils are brainwashed into being passive, subordinate people as a result of the hidden curriculum.
Willis therefore criticizes Traditional Marxism. He says that pupils are not directly injected with the values and norms that benefit the ruling class, some actively reject these. These pupils also realise that they have no real opportunity to succeed in this system.
BUT, Willis still believes that this counter-school culture still produces workers who are easily exploited by their future employers:
The Counter School Culture
Willis described the friendship between these 12 boys (or the lads) as a counter-school culture. Their value system was opposed to that of the school. This value system was characterised as follows:
1. The lads felt superior to the teachers and other pupils
2. They attached no value to academic work, more to ‘having a laff’
3. The objective of school was to miss as many lessons as possible, the reward for this was status within the group
4. The time they were at school was spent trying to win control over their time and make it their own.
Attitudes to future work
- They looked forward to paid manual work after leaving school and identified all non-school activities (smoking, going out) with this adult world, and valued such activities far more than school work.
- The lads believed that manual work was proper work, and the type of jobs that hard working pupils would get were all the same and generally pointless.
- Their counter school culture was also strongly sexist.
Evaluations of Willis
- Very small sample of only working class white boys
- Overly sympathetic with the boys – going native?