Applying material from item A and your knowledge, evaluate the view that ‘education reproduces and legitimates social class inequality.’ (20)
Item A: Some sociologists claim that education reproduces and legitimates social class inequality. They argue that it operates in the interests of the ruling class, preparing working-class pupils for working-class jobs and justifying this outcome as fair.
Functionalists believe the education system is essential for young people to learn the values of a meritocratic society. In comparison, Marxists disagree by arguing that the education system does reproduce inequalities through a ruling class ideology. This essay will argue why education does reproduce and legitimate social class inequalities.
Marxist thinker, Althusser, argues the education system is an ideological state apparatus which maintains the power of the bourgeoise over the proletariat by acting as a form of control. Item A states ‘the education system prepares working-class pupils for working-class jobs and justifying this outcome as fair.’ Althusser would agree with this statement, as he believes the beliefs and values transmitted from generation to generation is a disguise proposed by the ruling class, which ensures working-class pupils accept their subordinate position in society. Therefore, false class consciousness takes place as the working class are not aware of these inequalities, they are faced with through the education system, due to the justification of inequality as natural. This means it persists on to the wider capitalist society where they end up in low paying jobs, which ensures they do not revolt against their higher counterparts. However, this is criticised by postmodernist thinker Pakulski et al. Pakulski et al argued class is not of importance anymore due to the changes in society, and inequalities are defined by other factors. Although this claim of exaggeration may be true to an extent, recent statistics show social class is a significant factor. The state of nation report (UK) in 2018-19, found 52% of disadvantaged pupils leave school without basic qualifications, which means they are in low paid work in contrast to middle class pupils who are 80% more likely to be in a professional job. This key evidence emphasises how the education system does consistently reproduce and justify inequalities for the working class.
On the other hand, Functionalist theorist Parsons sees school as a focal socialising agency, where it introduces universalistic values to pupils in comparison to particularistic values based in the family home. Universalistic values are a shadow of the workplace’s values, where everyone is treated equally. Parsons also states the education system is meritocratic, where everyone is given equal opportunities to succeed through individual effort and ability. This means if an individual fails in contrast to peers, Parsons believes this is due to their own efforts. However, radical feminists would argue the education system is not meritocratic as girls are not given the same opportunities as boys through school, for example by subject choice, which carries on until their careers, where the gender pay gap still exists. Functionalists Davis and Moore also suggest the education system ensures the most talented and qualified individuals can reach the top jobs, by allocating pupils to their future work roles. An example of this is streaming pupils into set ability classes. From a functionalist perspective, this does not reproduce social inequalities as they are inevitable, and only the most talented should be able to have higher positions.
Item A states that ‘the education system operates in the interests of the ruling class.’ This is demonstrated in Marxist theorists Bowles and Gintis study. They conducted a study of 237 students in America alongside other case studies, to assess how schools mirror the workplace. Bowles and Gintis found that students who showed independence and creativity, achieved lower grades than obedient and disciplined students, who achieved higher grades. These findings highlight how the education system creates the complaint; submissive workers needed in a capitalist workforce, as those with higher grades will be in more professional careers. This correspondence principle is transmitted by the hidden curriculum, which is the unintended values and norms students are expected to follow. For instance, when students gain higher grades, they will be seen as deserving of a status by the school rather than those with lower grades. This hierarchy is also shown at work, where managers tend to have more power and status than skilled workers, therefore they are paid more. This highlights further how the education system does operate with a ruling class ideology, as pupils become accustomed to accepting competition and a hierarchy. On the contrary, postmodernists would argue that the Marxist viewpoint is too simplistic. Postmodernists see individuals as no longer constrained by social inequalities due to the increase in individuality, therefore students can make their own choices. For example, Bowles and Gintis assume pupils accept the school’s values indefinitely. Giroux argues Bowles and Gintis ignore anti-school subcultures and pupils who hold counter values to the school’s structure, which means they do not become a ‘passive, obedient’ worker. Interactionist theorists may also see Bowles and Gintis’ study as a ‘class first’ approach, where other factors such as ethnicity and gender are ignored. However, Marxist thinker, Anyon, found in a series of observations that pupils from a low-income family were not treated with respect, and teachers would only make sure they would get the answer right in exams instead of understanding the concept. This is evident of the statement in item A, ‘preparing the working-class pupils for working class jobs.’ Anyon argued this was a form of preparation, as the teacher taught working class pupils the skills needed to be prepared in a capitalist workforce. This supporting research highlights how education does in fact reproduce and justify social class inequalities.
In conclusion, Functionalist’s theorists argue inequalities are natural so it cannot be avoided, whereas Marxist theorists argue inequalities are reinforced by hegemonic control. The arguments put forward, from a Marxist perspective, believe that education does reproduce and justify social class inequalities, although it does carry limitations.