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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