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The first view on education we will be discussing is the functionalist perspective. The focus of the functionalist perspective is on how one part can contribute to society as a whole. Functionalist would look at how a society needs education in order to survive. Functionalists see education in having both manifest (open) and latent (hidden) functions (Schaefer, 2009). They first see education in its manifest role: transmitting basic knowledge and skills onto future generations. We all know that schools teach all the fundamental education skills such as: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Another important manifest function is the bestowal of status (Schaefer, 2009). There are many latent functions of education that many of us I am sure have never thought about. Schools perform a number of latent functions: transmitting culture, promoting social and political integration, maintain social control, and serving as an agent of change (Schaefer, 2009).
Schooling exposes each generation of young people to the existing beliefs, norms, and values of their culture (Schafer, 2009). Emile Durkheim identified the latent role of education as a way of socializing people into the mainstream of society. This is the way we learn core values and social control. I have never thought about the ways schools have these hidden agendas. We as student are taught what is acceptable and unacceptable and are rewarded for our good behavior. Our school rather we realize it or not are teaching us primarily about our own culture. In school we will learn mostly about our leaders and wars we have fought in, like other countries will teach their students the same. The things we learn in school become a part of our social norms. Do we ever question what is written in our textbooks or what our teachers are teaching? We are taught what they feel is crucial in helping give back to our society. Our book talks of how in Great Britain, the government's chief curriculum adviser felt that British schools should socialize their students into a set of core values including: honesty, respect for others, politeness, as sense of fair play, forgiveness, punctuality, nonviolent behavior, patience, faithfulness, and self discipline (cited in Schaefer, 2009). Schools have the control to use these latent functions in teaching us what is to be expected from us and becomes a part of our everyday functions.
I found it quite disturbing how some countries will change history to fit their cultures needs. It seems as if this might cause more conflict later on in life. What if they found out everything they learned was a bunch of nonsense? This would make a person feel betrayed by their government's educational system. I don't quite understand why they feel this would be necessary to manipulate their own people; it seems they could work a better angle than making up lies.
Another functionalist perspective of education would be the teaching of individualism. In our society it is o.k. to be the center of attention brought on by our talents. This helps us explore and find our own identities. This is taught to us from a young age, we are taught that our individuality is what makes us special. Other societies are not like this, they are taught that by being the center of attention brings shame, and they focus more on their groups as a whole than just the individual person.
Education is a large part of our society. Education is how we are prepared to get jobs and make a good living. As a social institution, education reflects the interest of both the family and another social institution , the economy (Schaefer, 2009).School is there to teach us and prepare us for the future. Schools help maintain social control, bridging the gap between our parents and employers in the life cycle of most individuals (cited in Schafer, 2009). It would seem education is the hub to molding the minds of children; to teach them what is acceptable in their society.
The conflict perspective is a little different than that of the functionalist view. The conflict perspective views education as an instrument of elite domination (Schaefer, 2009). They point out how there are an abundance of inequalities for people of different racial and ethnic groups. Conflict theorists study the same functions of education as functionalists but have very different views. For the functionalist, education is an institution that functions to fulfill the needs of society (Todd, 2010). Conflict theorist believes that the institution of education is a tool used by those in power to perpetuate the current social status quo (Todd, 2010). . They feel the social elite establish private schools to educate their children and pass down their own values and expectations. Those in power control the public school system and use it to instill respect for the current social structure in the lower classes (Collins, 1971). Conflict theorists have suitable information to support their ideas on education. Think of it this way, property taxes help fund many schools in the United States, therefore, schools in richer areas of course have more money. These areas are mostly white neighborhoods. These areas can afford to pay higher teacher salaries, and be choosier of who they hire. This also means these students will receive new textbooks along with having better opportunities to take advanced classes. Conflict theorists point out that these students will have a better chance in getting accepted in more predominant colleges. Other kids who come from poorer neighborhoods do not have these opportunities, and some won't even graduate high school much less go to college. For those who do make it to college will most likely take the technical route. This is true as I was faced with this growing up as a child. When I was in school, we did not have advanced classes or computers, and our books had definitely seen better days. Our teachers made us believe that in order to attend college we had to take certain classes; of course now me being older found this to be untrue. Growing up in such a small town that didn't really have that much money is very different from the schools you see with computers in every classroom and a McDonald's in their lunchrooms. This seems to be so over the top when schools are struggling to stay open and teachers have to teach large classes so your child might not receive the individual help they may need.
Interactionist view education on what they observe. In school we all know the kids who got free lunches because their parents didn't make that much money compared to the ones who had to pay. Our book talks about how kids will go without food in order to avoid the embarrassment of receiving free lunches. Many schools have changed this to where everyone pays with a card so there is not distinction between who pays and who doesn't. This is what it was like in my little sister's school; she just carried around a badge with her photo and barcode. Parents would just add money to their child's cards as needed. This is also the reason many schools have implemented school uniforms. The type of pressure it put on children to wear the right clothes and shoes are ridiculous and if you don't, you will be picked on. The labeling approach suggests that if we treat people in particular ways, they may fulfill our expectations (Schafer, 2009). In other words, if you label a child as a trouble maker they will probably fulfill your expectations of them. If our teachers label us and believe we can be no better, why should we! This relates to the teacher-expectancy effect or the impact that a teacher's expectations about a student's performance may have on the student's actual achievements (Schaefer, 2009).
In 1970, Ray Rist published Social Class and Teacher Expectations: The Self-fulfilling Prophecy in Ghetto Education. He observed and all black school along with a black teacher and learned that the teacher had assigned all the students to three different tables. The teacher then proceeded to place the student she thought were more promising in the front of the class and the less promising students in the back. The odd thing about this is she did not do this based on their academic ability but on the color of their skin, the way they dressed, down to the way a student smelled. The students she put in the front of the classroom of course received more attention and praises when they did something correct. The students in the back of the classroom did not receive the same opportunities as those who sat in the front. Rist compared what was going on in this classroom to that of the caste system. In sum, Rist showed that students in the same classroom received differential treatment that teacher expectations of student performance were largely shaped by class-related features, and hence that school reinforced existing socio-economic inequalities (Rist, 1970). If this type of behavior from our teachers is unacceptable, they are allowing children to feel like they aren't good enough or rich enough even in kindergarten. I have found all of this to be appalling and wonder what we can do to make some changes.
I have found the different views on education to be surprising. Functionalists just feel it is the way of life and we should just let it run its course in a sense. Conflict theorists open your eyes to what kinds of things go on at school that you may not be aware of. They show how unfair different school districts can be depending on where a person lives. Interactionists base their finding on observing what they see in classrooms. The United States needs to find a way to make good education available for everyone. Why should one school receive new textbooks every couple of years while others are still using ones from the seventies. I was very surprised by the findings between all three theorists. I hope this clarified how these perspectives related to education.
Rist, Ray (1970). "Student Social Class and Teacher Expectations: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy in Ghetto Education. Harvard Educational Review 40, 3, 411-451.
CliffsNotes.com. Theories of Education. 24 Feb 2010