FUNCTIONALISM

One of the core perspectives of sociology is functionalism, consensus or equilibrium theory. A sociologist using this approach assumes that in society everything (even crime), no matter how seemingly strange, out of place, or harmful, serves a purpose.
Functionalism views society as a self regulating system of interrelated elements with structured social relationships and observed regularities.

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), is considered to be the first person to recommend that a sociological approach be used in the study of education. He said that society can survive only if there exists among its members a sufficient degree of homogeneity. Education perpetuates and reinforces this homogeneity by fixing in the child, from the beginning, the essential similarities that collective life demands.

Functionalism In Sociology, Drawback of Durkheim’s Functionalism,   STRUCTURAL FUNCTIONALISTS

  • Durkheim attempted to understand why education took the forms it did, rather than judge those forms.
  •  He points out that, “Education is the influence exercised by adult generations on those that are not yet ready for social life. Its object is to arouse and to develop in the child a certain number of physical, intellectual and moral states which are demanded of him by both the political society as a whole and the special milieu for which he is specifically destined----.”
  • Durkheim observed that education takes different forms  at different times and places showing that we cannot separate the educational system from the society for they reflect each other.
  • He  stressed  that  in  every  time  and  place  education  is  closely related to other institutions and to current values and beliefs.
  • Durkheim outlined his beliefs about the functions of schools  and their relationship to society.
  • Durkheim argued that education has many functions:
1.      To reinforce social solidarity
--- History: Learning about individuals who have done good things for the  many makes an individual feel insignificant.

--- Pledging allegiance: Makes individuals feel part of a group and therefore less  likely to break rules.

2.      To maintain social role
--- School is a society in miniature. It has a similar hierarchy, rules, expectations to the "outside world." It trains young people to fulfill roles.

3.      To maintain division of labour.
--- School sorts students into skill groups, encouraging students to take up employment in fields best suited to their abilities.
  • According to him, moral values are the foundations of the social order and society is perpetuated through its educational institutions.
  • Any  change  in  society  reflects  a  change  in  education  and  vice versa.  In  fact  education  plays  an  active  role  in  the  process  of change.
  • Durkheim was interested in the way that education could be used to provide French citizens the sort of shared, secular background that would be necessary to prevent anomie in modern societies. He equated classrooms to  ‘small societies‘ or agents of socialization.
  • The school acts as an intermediary between the affective morality of the family and the rigorous morality of the life in society.
  • Durkheim spoke about issues which are real even today- the needs of different segments of society with respect to education, discipline in schools, the role of schools in preparing young people for society, the relationship of education to social change, cross cultural research and the social system of school and classroom.

Drawback of Durkheim’s Functionalism
Durkheim did not deal with some aspects of education such as the function of selection and allocation
 of adult roles, the gap between societal expectations of schools and actual school performance.

  STRUCTURAL FUNCTIONALISTS

Structural       functionalists believe       that       society        leans towards equilibrium and social order. They see society like a human body, in which each part plays a role and all are dependent on each other for survival. Institutions such as education are like important organs that keep the society/body healthy and well. Social health means the same as social order, and is guaranteed when nearly everyone accepts the  general moral values of their society.


  • Structural functionalists believe the aim of key institutions, such as education, is to socialize children and teenagers.
  •  Socialization is the process by which the new generation learns the knowledge, attitudes and values that they will need as productive citizens.
  • Although this aim is stated in the formal curriculum, it is mainly achieved through "the hidden curriculum", a subtler, but nonetheless powerful, indoctrination of the norms and values of the wider society.
  •  Students learn these values because their behaviour at school is regulated until they gradually internalize and accept them.
  • Education must, however perform another function. As various jobs become vacant, they must be filled with the appropriate people. Therefore the other purpose of education is to sort and rank individuals for placement in the labour market
  • Those with high achievement will be trained for the most important jobs and in reward, be given the highest incomes. Those who achieve the least, will be given the least demanding (intellectually at any rate, if not physically) jobs, and hence the least income.

Drawback of structural Functionalism

  • According to Sennet and Cobb, “to believe that ability alone decides who is rewarded is to be deceived”. 
  • Meighan agrees, stating that large numbers of capable students from working class backgrounds fail to achieve satisfactory standards in school and therefore fail to obtain the status they deserve.
  • Jacob believes this is because the middle class cultural experiences that are provided at school may be contrary to the experiences working-class children receive at home.
  • In other words, working class children are not adequately prepared to cope at school. They are therefore “cooled out” from school with the least qualifications, hence they get the least desirable jobs, and so remain working class. 
  • Sargent confirms this cycle, arguing that schooling supports continuity, which in turn supports social order.

CRITICISM OF FUNCTIONALISM
  • Functionalism fails to recognize the number of divergent interests, ideologies and conflicting inter st groups in society. In heterogeneous societies each sub-group may have its own agenda to further its own interests.
  • It is difficult to analyze individual interactions such as classroom dynamics of teacher student or student-student interactions from this perspective.
  • It does not deal with the  ‘content‘ of the educational process- what is taught and how it is taught.
  • Individuals do not merely carry out roles within the structure, they create and modify them.

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