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Functionalism

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Functionalist’s accounts of education
Functionalism is based on the view that society is a system of interdependent parts held together by a shared culture or value consensus. Each part of society, such as family, economy or the education system in this case, performs functions that help to maintain society as a whole.
For some sociologists/functionalists, such as Durkheim or Parson for example, the real function of education is to act as a means of promoting consensus, by socialising people into the norms that are seen to be important in a particular society. An example is to instruct on authority relationships, on the ‘correct’ behaviour in public spaces and values, for example hard work, honesty and ambition. To other sociologists, education can be seen as a source of conflict or social division, particularly when issues of gender, class and ethnicity are put under the sociological microscope.
The founder of functionalist sociology and French sociologist, Emile Durkheim (1903) identified two main functions of education; these are creating social solidarity and teaching specialist skills. Durkheim argues that society needs a sense of solidarity, meaning that its individual members must feel themselves to be part of a single body or community. The education system helps to create social solidarity by transmitting society’s culture, its shared beliefs and values, from one generation to the next. An example of this is that Durkheim argues that the teaching of a country’s history instils in children a sense of shared heritage and a commitment to the wider social group. Durkheim also argues that schools act as a ‘society in miniature’ or a ‘mini society’, meaning that the institution prepares us for life in the wider society. Not only in school but also at work, we have to cooperate with people who are neither family nor friends, but instead colleagues and...

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