The role of education in society is perceived in a variety of different ways. This is because different sociologists hold different and conflicting views. Functionalists believe that society is based on a shared culture consisting of similar values and norms; therefore as Item A says ‘Schools play a vital role by socialising young people into these basic values.’ Whereas, Marxists who believe that education simply ‘transports values that benefit the ruling class not society as a whole. Therefore it is difficult to see what the main function of education really is.
As functionalists would argue the main function of education is to maintain a value consensus in society. Durkheim recognised that education performs the function of creating social solidarity; this is where individual members in society feel that they are part of a community. The education system has an ethnocentric curriculum which is an attitude or policy that gives priority to the culture and viewpoint of one particular ethnic group while disregarding others.
This prepares us for wider society as we are held together by a shared culture by having the same values. However, even though the ethnocentric curriculum brings social solidarity, it ignores multiculturalism in modern society which can result in some ethnic minorities becoming disadvantaged and therefore underachieving in school. This could mean that individuals in society are not agreeing to the same values but are forced to commit to helping maintain a value consensus in society.
Marxists would disagree with this view of social solidarity and say that the role of education is to prevent revolution and maintain capitalism by mistreating pupils in class and capitalist exploitation. the education system acts as an ideological state. It does this by reproducing class inequality by failing working class pupils one after the other and it justifies why class inequality is acceptable by producing ideologies that hide where it comes from.
According to Bowles and Gintis the education system produces a set of ideas and beliefs that inequality is inevitable, workers will begin to accept that they deserve the lower ranking position and they are not likely to challenge or rebel against capitalism as they have been socialised at school not to. The school and the workplace operate in along side each other. For example, at school the relationship between teachers and pupils prepares them for wider society to accept superior figures and conform to rules as the workforce also has a hierarchy of authority. However Bowles and Gintis assume all pupils do not make their own decisions and that they unknowingly accept brainwashing
Functionalists believe that the education system ‘Operates on meritocratic principles’. Parsons sees school as an important place to socialise young people as it is a bridge between the family and wider society. School is grounded on equal opportunities therefore individuals gain their status by achieving it rather than having it assigned to them based on their social class. This can be done through hard work and own effort to receive rewards. School gives all students the same opportunity, for example all students sit the same exam and are judged against the same ideals. However some would argue this gives a bleak picture of what the education system is really like. Opportunities are not equal; meritocracy is a social system in which people get opportunities and succeed based primarily on their talent and effort. It is a myth as the pupils in higher classes have more opportunities than pupils in lower classes. For example, students who are middle class are likely to be placed in higher ability learning, compared to working class students who are likely to be placed in lower ability learning hence limiting their education.
To conclude, the argument remains complicated but there is no way to simply accept the claim that ‘the main function of education is to maintain value consensus’ because it is not. The main flaw to the functionalist approach which is criticised by the Marxists is that school does not transmit society’s norms and values but the norms and values of the ruling class. But looking at the bigger picture, other factors are also ignored such as gender and ethnicity which can affect a pupil’s academic achievement.