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Sociology of Education

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Theories of Education
Historically, American education served both political and economic needs, which dictated the function of education. Today, sociologists and educators debate the function of education. Three main theories represent their views: the functionalist theory, the conflict theory, and the symbolic interactionist theory.
The functionalist theory

The functionalist theory focuses on the ways that universal education serves the needs of society. Functionalists first see education in its manifest role: conveying basic knowledge and skills to the next generation. Durkheim (the founder of functionalist theory) identified the latent role of education as one of socializing people into society's mainstream. This “moral education,” as he called it, helped form a more‐cohesive social structure by bringing together people from diverse backgrounds, which echoes the historical concern of “Americanizing” immigrants.

Functionalists point to other latent roles of education such as transmission of core values and social control. The core values in American education reflect those characteristics that support the political and economic systems that originally fueled education. Therefore, children in America receive rewards for following schedules, following directions, meeting deadlines, and obeying authority.

The most important value permeating the American classroom is individualism—the ideology that advocates the liberty rights, or independent action, of the individual. American students learn early, unlike their Japanese or Chinese counterparts, that society seeks out and reveres the best individual, whether that person achieves the best score on a test or the most points on the basketball court. Even collaborative activities focus on the leader, and team sports single out the one most valuable player of the year. The carefully constructed curriculum helps...

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