Functionalism, Marxism, Socialisation and the Schools: An Assignment

See also The Functions of Formal Education Systems: Marxist Perspective ...and I hope to add a similar document on the Functionalist perspective soon!

The socialisation process which has begun in the family continues in the education system and the following exercise centres on  important differences in the Functionalist and Marxist accounts of the socialisation process as it operates in schools.

Before analysing the role of schools within the socialisation process it is necessary to distinguish between informal and formal education. Individuals receive education both informally from parents, peers, the Church, the mass media and the work place and formally in educational institutions such as schools , colleges and universities. The transition from pre- industrial to industrial society  increases the relative importance of formal education because industrial societies rely on the availability of specialist work skills which cannot be taught informally.

Within the formal education system it is important to distinguish between the academic subject curriculum and the hidden curriculum which refers to the transmission of cultural values and attitudes embodied in gender roles and attitudes to authority.

To complete the following assignment successfully you will need to be familiar with Functionalist and Marxist perspectives on formal education systems as illustrated, for example,  in the work of Talcott Parsons , Louis Althusser and Samuel Bowles and Herb Gintis

Assignment: Complete the Following Table

In the following table 5 sets of School Norms and Values are stated and their possible implications for students in later life are stated . However these norms and values and their future implications may be analysed differently from Functionalist and Marxist perspectives and students are invited to complete the following table by stating the Functionalist of the Marxist view as appropriate and then by explaining , with reasons, whether their own view is closer to the Functionalist Perspective or closer to the Marxist Perspective on school socialisation.


School Norms and Values [1]

Respect for the authority of teachers; Organisation of schools in hierarchies of authority involving heads, senior teachers, other teachers, ancillary staff and pupils; privileges and responsibilities for sixth formers and/or prefects; pupils, lack of control over the curriculum and teaching methods.;
Implications of School Norms and Values[1] for later life Pupils come to believe recognise that power is distributed hierarchically and used fairly in schools and are therefore prepared to accept the hierarchical distribution of power in employment and in society generally.
Functionalist Perspective The existing structures of authority in modern capitalist societies contribute to the economic efficiency of the capitalist system and so the schools fulfil   a positive function in socialising  pupils to accept authority.
Marxist Perspective  The existing structures of authority in modern capitalist societies resulted in the unjust subordination of working class people and so the above school norms and values encourage disadvantaged workers to accept their own subordination with little questioning or opposition
Student view  

School Norms and Values [2]

School rules with sanctions for infringement and praise for conformity; school assemblies and form periods emphasising the importance of dominant moral values and   , to some extent , religious beliefs; emphasis on the importance of regular attendance and good time keeping
Implications of School Norms and  Values [2] for later life Pupils come to believe that the laws, values, and norms of the wider society should be accepted. They may also be encouraged to accept dominant religious beliefs and that regular attendance and punctuality will be desirable in their future working environment.
Functionalist Perspective  
Marxist Perspective Existing values, norms , beliefs and laws operate not in the interests of capitalist societies as a whole  but in the interests of the Bourgeoisie or Ruling Class and against the interests of the Proletariat or Working Class. Ideally schools should challenge existing many existing values, norms , beliefs, norms and laws but this will not happen because the organisation of schools reflects the interests  of the Bourgeoisie or Ruling Class.
Student view  

School Norms and Values [3]

Emphasis on the importance of individual effort as a means of educational and subsequent career success; emphasis on individual  academic competition via assignments , tests and examinations; emphasis on competitive sport.
Implications of School Norms and Values [3] for later life Pupils come to believe that  individual effort and competitiveness will be necessary in later life if they are  to be successful in employment
Functionalist Perspective Individual effort and competitiveness are essential factors affecting economic efficiency and hence our living standards. Again schools play a beneficial socialisation role.
Marxist Perspective  
Student view  

School Norms and Values [4]

Teachers are able to evaluate pupils' abilities accurately and fairly and do so via assignments , tests, and examinations. Successful pupils are considered to be more intelligent and diligent; students are allocated to higher or lower sets, streams or bands on the basis of their intelligence/diligence as shown in assignments , tests and examinations. That is: schools operate on meritocratic principles.
Implications of  School Norms and Values [4] for later life Pupils come to believe that all pupils have had an equal chance to succeed in the meritocratic and hence fair educational system and educational success or failure is the main determinant of success or failure in employment. Therefore if there are significant differences in income and wealth these are fair because there has been a fair competition to achieve well paid employment and therefore significant income and wealth inequalities can be seen as morally acceptable..
Functionalist Perspective  
Marxist Perspective It is quite simply a myth that schools are organised on a meritocratic basis and if schools are not organised meritocratically neither can huge differences in incomes and wealth be justified because they derive from a meritocratic competition. The meritocratic myth is used to legitimate income and wealth inequalities and hence to reduce criticisms of economic inequality.
Student view  

School Norms and Values [5]

Pupils should concentrate on their school work whether or not they find it interesting ; pupils stop and start lessons according to a pre-determined timetable, not according to whether they would like to spend more or less time on a particular task; schools aim to motivate pupils via positive sanctions such as praise and good grades but also via negative sanctions involving criticism and punishment. [In practice it may be that pupils in lower streams have especially limited autonomy in relation to the school work which they are given.]
Implications of School norms and values [5 ]for later life Pupils are being prepared to accept that they will have limited control over working lives especially in routine occupations but increasingly even in some well paid occupations. 
Functionalist Perspective  
Marxist Perspective  
Student view  


 Concluding Question

Write two paragraphs explaining the differences between the Functionalist and Marxist Perspectives on the analysis of the socialisation process as it operates inside schools.


For Discussion

  • Click here for 3 year olds and the Hidden Curriculum


Functionalism, Marxism and Other Agencies of Socialisation [Some "optional" Extension Work}

Having analysed the roles of the family and the education system in some detail let us briefly consider the Structural Functionalist and Marxist accounts of the other agencies of socialisation.


Agency of Socialisation

Brief Comparison of  Functionalist and Marxist Analyses of Socialisation Process in each Agency of Socialisation.

The Peer Group
The Mass Media
The Working Environment
The Political System
The Legal System
The Church


Click here for The Guardian's Polly Toynbee on the current state of the UK mass media


    1. Sociology is often subdivided into several differing sociological perspectives.

    2. The Structural Functionalist and Marxist theories are similar in that they are structural theories but they are dissimilar in all other respects.

    3. It should be noted that Structural Functionalists and Marxists adopt differing attitudes to modern capitalism.

    4. Functionalists argue that capitalist societies are democratic, meritocratic, economically efficient and that they therefore operate in the interests of their members. Therefore the socialisation process which supports the capitalist system is also beneficial to all participants in the capitalist system. Individuals accept the norms and values of capitalist societies because they recognise the benefits of capitalism. A consensus exists that the continuation of capitalism is beneficial to all of  its participants.

    5. Marxists argue that although capitalist societies have generated technological progress, they are undemocratic, unequal and unmeritocratic as a result of which there is great potential for class conflict in capitalist societies. However the capitalist socialisation process results in the transmission of a ruling class ideology which prevents the Proletariat from recognising how the capitalist system exploits them. Therefore the socialisation process benefits the Bourgeoisie at the expense of the Proletariat. 

    6. We see therefore that the socialisation process is analysed differently in each case but we should note that Feminists, Social Action theorists and even Postmodernists have additional important insights into the socialisation process. You will also be studying these perspectives on the socialisation process.