Social Class and Education
According to Marx, the ruling class has the power of control over the working class not with force, but using ideas. Through these ideas, it justifies its dominant position while concealing the true source of its power together with its exploitation of the subject of class. In a capitalist society, education plays the role of enhancing obedient and reproductive workforce through schools. Functionalists posit that just like other elements of the society, education plays a contributory role in maintain the common good. Education does not create or propel the creation of social classes, but helps in creating social solidarity, teaching skills necessary for the work environment, socializing individual on core values, and allocating roles based on meritocracy. This essay assesses the relationship between social class and education through an evaluation of the contribution of Marxism and functionalism in the development of an understanding of education and social class.
Marxist View on Education and Social Class
Marxism is an ideology founded on the capitalist belief that the ruling class, who are also owners of capital, have the power to exploit the working class and this creates a social-class conflict. The effectiveness of the ruling class in controlling the subject of class is attributable to its ability to hide the source of its power from the consciousness of the subject of class (Feinberg & Soltis 2004). For Marxists, this is the false consciousness such as the role of meritocracy in education, which is used as a tool for controlling the working class. Through meritocracy, the ruling class controls the working class by developing a culture through which they accept rewards for being good and doing as they are instructed.
According to Marxists, such as Louis Althusser, in a capitalist society, the main role of education was to enhance the reproduction of an obedient and reproductive workforce through learning institutions. The school curriculum, in the view of Althusser, is used in the transmission of the ideology that capitalism is reasonable and just (Feinberg & Soltis 2004). This is because it established the development of a competitive society in which the teachers, through examination expect students to compete with others by trying to be better. Furthermore, the education system in a capitalist society trains potential workers to become submissive to authority. Other than the segregation of society into social classes, Althusser argues that in a capitalist society education is used as a tool of transmitting the ideology of capitalism with the objective of establishing social control (Feinberg & Soltis 2004). For Althusser, education is an apparatus that the state uses in passing on the ideology of the ruling class as a technique of justifying the capitalistic system.
While supporting the assertions of Althusser, Marxists such as Bowles and Gintis assert the presence of a correspondence principle in understanding the associating between the social relationships established in the classroom setting and those in workplaces. While arguing from the concept of the hidden curriculum, Bowles and Gintis assert that education is an instrument that prepares students for workplace experience (Tierney 2015). Other than the transmission of skills in mathematics and science, education also teaches students certain norms and values such as respect for authority and punctuality. This facilitates the creation of a hardworking and disciplined workforce capable of propelling the objectives of a capitalist society (Tierney 2015). From a capitalist perspective, the education process is fundamental in social reproduction because it ensures the availability of a new generation of workers, who through the system have been disciplined into accepting their role in the society.
According to Bowles and Gintis, this occurs through the school and workplace. The hierarchical structures that characterize learning institutions mirror workplaces. In these institutions, teachers have the authority of issuing orders, which students are expected to obey. Students exercise limited control in workplaces when operating according to the authority and existing school rules. This is a common occurrence in workplaces where the owners of organizations make the rules and regulation that guide the operationalization of their organizations. The workers in these organizations are expected to follow the existing guidelines, and failure to act as required may attract negative reinforcement in the form of punishments (Tierney 2015). Learning institutions reward desirable attributes such as punctuality and obedience to authority while dismissing attributes such as independent thinking, creativity, and critical awareness. For Bowles and Gintis the hidden curriculum plays an instrumental role in facilitating this process.
Social inequality through the education system is also a technique used by the ruling class to not only establish their authority but also enhance social reproduction. The establishment of a competitive environment in schools implies that those who put much more effort than others in their work deserve better rewards and top jobs in the future (Bray et al. 2007). For Bowles and Gintis, this is the myth of meritocracy in which learners are taught the belief that it is only through hard work that success in life can be realized. Additionally, in learning institutions and workplaces, individuals who demonstrate resilience and hard work in their work are provided with superior rewards. Education in a capitalist society is, therefore, a tool used for the justification of inequality (Feinberg & Soltis 2004). Furthermore, Bowles and Gintis argue that the rewards of the education and workplaces also propel inequality because they are sometimes given based on the social background of an individual. They argue that the higher the social class of an individual, the more likely that they will attain higher academic credentials and higher positions in workplaces.
For Marxist, the social class conflict created by the extension between the ruling and the working class in a capitalist society can be attributed to the divide that exists between these classes. Within the education sector, individuals originating from different social classes will be subjected to different education systems regarding quality of education. Children from the ruling class often access the best schools characterized by the availability of learning resources and highly qualified personnel. The success of these children is not based on their abilities, but on their social backgrounds (Tierney 2015). Accessing such education platforms provides them with opportunities for interacting with individuals with equal social status, and as they progress through the ladder of academic success, they secure job opportunities in highly functional and successful workplaces. Learning institutions motivate these students to embrace and secure their position in the society.
For children emanating from the ruling class, the deplorable conditions of their social life imply that they will attend low-quality learning institutions with limited academic resources and less qualified staff. The environment provides limited motivation for the students to succeed in their future lives (Bray et al. 2007). Their failure to access highly functioning institutions explaind=s why there is limited progress from the working class to the ruling class. The unavailability of resources for the working class to realize reputable academic success can be used in explaining the strategies that the ruling class uses in maintaining the status quo. The inequalities propelled by the existence of social class, especially in education, can also be understood as founded on social stratification. According to Marxists, social stratification is a major contributor to the existence of social class because it is a technique developed by the ruling class to place people into different categories based on a hierarchal system (Bray et al. 2007). For Marxists, in a capitalist society, individual born in a wealthy family have better chances of receiving a high quality education because they have the resources required for the acquisition of such services. Capitalists consider social stratification as an element of meritocracy whereby those who receive the greatest awards demonstrate hard work in their activities (Tierney 2015). However, this capitalist approach affects the ability for every member of the society to access equal opportunities in education. It impairs the ability for everyone in society because of the social stratification, which facilitates the creation of social classes, differentiates individuals according to their backgrounds hence demarcating the boundaries that limit social progress.
Functionalist Approach to Education and Social Class
Functionalists adopt the consensus approach in understanding the role of education in the society. Unlike Marxists, functionalist believed that just like other elements of the society, education plays a contributory role in maintaining the common good. According to them education does not create or propel the creation of social classes but helps in creating social solidarity, teaching skills necessary for the work environment, a socializing individual on core values, and allocating roles based on meritocracy (Feinberg & Soltis 2004). For functionalists, education is, therefore, a tool through which the society realizes unity in its operationalization.
According to Emile Durkheim, education plays the role of creating social solidarity rather than social conflict because it provides members of society with the opportunity of participating in the societal process. Durkheim views learning institutions as generating a sense of belonging and shared a sense of identity through subjects such as history. Education for Durkheim is, therefore, a tool for transmitting shared beliefs and values. Schools can be considered as miniature societies that teach students the essence of desirable attributes such cooperation, the division of labor, and specialist skills necessary for societal progress (Tierney 2015). For Durkheim, learning institutions provide students with skills that are essential in the development of a future society.
Durkheim affirms the dynamic purpose of education in equipping students with specialist skills for work. From his perspective, the role of education is to align its curriculum with advancements in the industrial economy, which requires a massive and relatively complex approach to division of labor. Through such alignments, education ensures that students specialize in different areas of work to meet the growing demand for specialized skills. At an early stage, schools introduce students to basic elements of language, arithmetic, and history. However, as they advance the curriculum is integrated for the accommodation of diverse interest of the students and the demands of the economy. Through such disintegration, it becomes possible for the education system to satisfy the demand of the society and those of individual members (Bray et al. 2007). This is critical in the realization an operational society regarding allocation and division of labor.
According to Talcott Parsons, regardless of an individual’s social class, education is a focal socialization agency in the society because they teach students on core values as secondary socialization agents. Unlike the role played by the family as the primary social agent, Parsons asserts the essence of education by arguing that schools are representative of the wider society that operates in accordance with different principles from those of the family (Tierney 2015). Through education, children learn essential values that they must adapt if they are to cope in the wider society. While in their families, parents judge their children according to particularistic standards that provide roles appliance to a specific child. Through these standards, children are allocated responsibilities according to their unique attributes and parents adopt rules that suit these attributes. However, in learning institutions, Parsons acknowledges that the same universalistic standards are used in judging children and adults (Bray et al. 2007). Education, therefore, teaches children on values that are applied equally to all members do the society irrespective of their social call and unique attributes. Education in the view of Parsons prepares children for life outside their immediate families.
Parsons further argues that education enhances meritocracy in the society considering that very member of the society is given an equal opportunity for success. The society recognizes achieved status by rewarding achievements based on ability and effort. Parson’s view is based on the understanding that the prosperity of the modern economy is dependent on human capital. Allocation of responsibilities and tasks in the society is only possible through meritocracy. Functionalists such as David and Moore support the role of meritocracy through the belief that education selects and allocates responsibilities to highly talented individuals (Tierney 2015). Through education, it is possible to sift and sort individuals according to their abilities.
The social class background in which they argue that education is a tool for the transmission of the ruling class ideology influences Marxist perception of education. This implies that in learning institutions students are puppets who are engaged d in passive acceptance of their school values. Unlike functionalists, Marxist asserts that the idea of meritocracy is a myth used by the ruling class to establish their authority over the working class.
Social Class and Education in the Contemporary American Society
The concept of social class in the contemporary American society can be recognized through the three tier structure, which delineates the upper, middle, and lower classes. Education plays a critical part in the determination of an individual’s social class. This explains why the upper class possesses substantial education backgrounds, they have high-status occupations and maintain powerful social networks. The hierarchical nature of the American social class structure classifies the upper class as constituting 3% of the American population, the middle class at 40% and the lower class at 57% (Tierney 2015). In this culture, there are individuals born and raised in their social classes, and they maintained dominant positions within these classes. For instance, the majority of the individuals in control of major family businesses, political institutions, and corporate entities have inherited these positions because of their social backgrounds. There are also individuals within the working class who emphasize on professionalism and are positioned in mid-level managerial positions. Low class is characterized by living below the poverty line (Bray et al. 2007). The social class status in the American society is not only dependent on the income level of individuals but also educational attainment and occupational prestige.
Despite the existence of social classes that characterize the American society, there are opportunities of moving from one social class to another through the education system. America is a highly individualistic society that emphasizes on elements such as meritocracy. Meritocracy achievements are rewarded based on abilities and educational attainment. An individual in the lower class can progress to the upper class by attaining higher education standards (Tierney 2015). Highly qualified individuals have the ability to navigate the social ladder through the education system especially if they specialize in disciples that are considered attractive in the American economy.
The American dream considers the class as achievement based because it is founded on meritocracy. This implies that membership to a social class is determined by career and educational accomplishments. There are critics who argue that class mobility in America is an illusion since social class is an inherited attribute. For these critics being born in a particular social class may infer certain benefits and disadvantages which increase the likelihood that an individual will remain in that specific social class. These critics are in agreement with the Marxist who asserts the role of education in maintaining the status quo that is defined by class conflicts between the ruling class and the upper class (Tierney 2015).
Despite the perceived existence of social class in the American society, critics of this attribution argue that America is characterized by stratification along a continuous gradation. This implies that America is characterized by social inequalities whereby there is member of the society who attains higher social status than others do. However, these critics acknowledge the role of education in the continuous gradation that stratifies the American society. The successful individual in the American society who progress through the continuum often attribute their success to education because, through learning institutions, they access opportunities of developing skills that make them competitive in the American market (Bray et al. 2007). A highly competitive individual attains higher stands and higher social status compared to less competitive individuals in the American society.
According to Marxists, the ruling class uses education as a tool for establishing control over the working class using ideas to justify their dominant position while concealing the true source of their power together with their exploitation of the subject class. For Marxists, this is the false consciousness such as the role of meritocracy in education, which is used as a tool for controlling the working class. Functionalists consider education as a tool that enhances the society irrespective of the social class. Through education, it is possible to establish highly competitive society characterized by specialization and division of labor.
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