Theories about Education
In the study of Sociology, the three main perspectives on education are functionalist theory , conflict theory and symbolic interaction theory .
The theory functionalist discusses the functions that education exercises to meet the various needs of society. This theory states that education performs several functions for society: socialization, social integration, social placement, professional training and social and cultural innovation. Education is also responsible for childcare and the establishment of bonds of friendship between young people.
According to functionalist theory, the most important function of society is socialization . Education is the primary means for children to learn society’s norms and values and the necessary skills. According to Émile Durkheim, the founder of functionalist theory, the role of education is to encourage socialization. For him, “education is a socialization of the young generation by the adult generation”. Durkheim taught that sharing a range of beliefs and values helps to form a more cohesive social structure by bringing together people from different backgrounds. Education therefore prepares children for life in society and helps them to play a positive role in society after they graduate from school.
According to Durkheim, schools are one of the most important agents of socialization. At school, colleagues and teachers exert a lot of influence on the socialization of children and make them act according to their values and norms.
Education also provides professional training. Centuries ago, before industrialization, most professions were passed from father to son. Today, we live in an industrialized and globalized world. Most jobs require the student to complete both elementary and high school. Many jobs require a college degree.
Another important function of education is social control : trying to prevent deviant behavior. Forcing young people to go to school means preventing them from being on the street, causing problems.
Conflict Theory – Education Inequality
The Conflict Theory states that the aim of education is to maintain social inequality and preserve the power of those who control society.
Conflict Theory claims that the education system is unevenly distributed across society. That is, it is used to segregate certain groups. The great differences between schools and colleges, in terms of the resources they have and the level of education they can offer, are reflected in the degree of preparation of their students. Schools whose students belong to the upper class tend to have more financial resources and, consequently, offer high level education. This perpetuates social inequality, as students from the best schools tend to study at the best colleges and have professional and financial success.
In fact, the level of schools varies widely. This is not only true for private schools. Public schools located in wealthier cities tend to be better than those in poor cities and neighborhoods. This is reflected in the level of education.
Private schools are usually better than public schools, as they have more financial resources. They pay teachers better and, therefore, manage to attract the best. Classrooms have relatively few students and modern facilities, including laboratories, libraries, computer rooms, etc.
This means that a family’s financial situation has a major impact on their children’s education. And since a good education usually means a more promising economic future – as students from the best schools usually attend college and subsequently get jobs and job opportunities – a virtuous cycle is created for the rich and a vicious cycle for the poor. These, for lack of financial resources, are forced to send their children to schools whose level is not so good and who do not prepare their children to be able to enter a good college. This limits the professional opportunities of these young people. The educational system is, therefore, a mechanism that produces and reproduces inequality in society.
In addition to the difference in level between schools, it has been shown that students whose parents are in the upper and middle classes generally perform better at school than students whose parents belong to the lower classes. There are several reasons for this. Children of parents from the upper and middle classes have better living conditions, private teachers, new and updated textbooks, etc.
Proponents of conflict theory claim that education includes a “hidden curriculum” – a series of values and beliefs that support the status quo , including the existing social hierarchy.
Symbolic Interaction Theory
The symbolic interaction theory emphasizes the social interaction that takes place at school – in the classroom, in the playground and elsewhere – and its results. Research indicates that the social interaction that takes place at school helps to strengthen gender roles and stereotypes.
There are huge differences between the educational performance of the different groups that make up society. For example, girls perform better than boys at school. One reason for this is that girls, in general, are proud of their academic success. Boys, on the other hand, may behave badly or not study because they seek the admiration not of their teachers, but of their colleagues, many of whom despise their studies.
There is also, undeniably, a cultural factor. Most Asian families demand exceptional academic performance from their children. Asian culture values effort. Many Brazilian families, on the other hand, do not expect their children to study hard: they just expect them to pass the year.
Studies show that teachers ‘expectations regarding their students’ intellectual potential influence how much they learn. It is interesting to note that students usually confirm the expectations of their teachers. Many students behave the way their teachers expect them to behave. If the teacher expects his students to behave well, they will likely behave well. On the other hand, if a young person is labeled a “bad student”, he may give up trying to change his teacher’s perception of him. The label alone can make a student give up trying to be a good student: he can revolt against his teachers, give up studying and behave badly in the classroom.