Social Institution – Educatuion

Education Andre Meade SOC 101 Professor Rachael Horn August 1, 2011 Education Throughout the world, education has become a vast and complex social institution that prepares citizens for their roles demanded by other social institutions, such as family, government, and the economy. The functionalist, conflict and interactionism perspectives offer distinctive views of education as a social institution. Besides being a major industry in the United States, education is the social institution that formally socializes members of our society.

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In the last few decades, increasing proportions of people have obtained high school diploma, college degrees, and advance professional degrees. In the United States, from the age of five through sixteen, we are required to attend school full time. Some people further their education by attending a college or university after high school. Many people do well in education, but unfortunately others do not. When a person furthers their education by going on to a college or university, this confirms that they have Functionalism is what is known as a structural theory.

Functionalists see society as being structured like a human body with many interrelated parts that function together to maintain a healthy whole. Functionalists argue that for a healthy society, individuals must obey society’s norms and values. We are socialized into these ‘normative behaviors’ that are the core of the social structure. Society needs to transmit social solidarity and value consensus, and education plays a vital role in this for instance: What contributions does the education system make to the keeping of the value consensus? And, what are the functional relationships between education and its assistance to society as a whole?

To understand the education system we must consider how it contributes to the healthy maintenance of the whole social system. French sociologist Emile Durkheim, who expressed a functionalist view in his theories, argued that the main function of education is the diffusion of society’s norms and values in certain areas (Durkheim, 1895). One of these areas focuses on social rules. In school, children must learn to interact with others with a fixed set of rules that include learning promptness, respect for authority, cooperation and sharing, and other requirements.

School is a miniature society since it stresses that individuals follow rules of conduct so that the organization or school can continue to function and to carry out its responsibilities. For example, in a kindergarten setting, children have playtime; they learn to share toys and take turns. Functionalists argue that education prepares children for their future role in the economy. It does this through their qualifications. This is the function of selection. Education selects the most talented children (Davis and Moore). It operates on a meritocratic basis.

Children are then allocated to their future work roles on the basis of these qualifications. Moreover, Durkheim portrayed the division of labor in his functionalist theory. Education teaches individual skills necessary for future occupations. People take this education and it in turn gives them roles in society that they are to perform. Education conveys general values necessary for homogeneity, the quality of being uniform throughout society in an individual’s role. Furthermore, specific skills provide necessary diversity for social cooperation, as people need to work together to be the source of goods in society.

With functionalism, society works together as a system. Our next view of society is characterized by conflict rather than consensus. This is called the conflict theory, where norms and values are not equally distributed or accepted among members of society. Karl Marx is one of the sociologists who have adopted this theory of social conflict or also known as Marxism. Marx believes that there is a tenuous relationship within groups and that society has structures of domination. These structures form hierarchy of groups.

An example of hierarchy in the education system would be the different groups of workers that are within a public high school. First there is the board of education on the hierarchy. They have control over the entire school district and determine what the students should be learning. Next, there is the superintendent who supervises the principal administration. Following is the principal. He has an influence and an authority over the students and even the teachers. The conflict theory sees the purpose of education as maintaining social inequality and preserving the power of those who dominate society.

Conflict theorists examine the same functions of education as functionalists. Functionalists see education as a beneficial contribution to an ordered society; however, conflict theorists see the educational system as perpetuating the status quo by dulling the lower classes into being obedient workers. In contrast, the conflict perspective views education as an instrument of elite domination. Conflict theorist point out the sharp inequalities that exist in the educational opportunities available to different racial and ethnic groups.

Both functionalists and conflict theorists agree that the educational system practices sorting, but they disagree about how it enacts that sorting. Functionalists claim that schools sort based upon merit; conflict theorists argue that schools sort along distinct class and ethnic lines. According to conflict theorists, schools train those in the working classes to accept their position as a lower-class member of society. Conflict theorists call this role of education the “hidden curriculum. ” Conflict theorists point to several key factors in defending their position.

First, property taxes fund most schools; therefore, schools in affluent districts have more money. Such areas are predominantly white. They can afford to pay higher salaries, attract better teachers, and purchase newer texts and more technology. Students who attend these schools gain substantial advantages in getting into the best colleges and being tracked into higher-paying professions. Students in less affluent neighborhoods that do not enjoy these advantages are less likely to go to college and are more likely to be tracked into vocational or technical training. They also represent far higher numbers of minority students. The interactionism theory, symbolizes the interactions of the students and the teachers, and limit their analysis of education to what they directly observe happening in the classroom. They focus on how teacher expectations influence student performance, perceptions, and attitudes. Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson conducted the landmark study for this approach in 1968. First, they examined a group of students with standard IQ tests. The researchers then identified a number of students who they said would likely show a sharp increase in abilities over the coming year.

They informed the teachers of the results, and asked them to watch and see if this increase did occur. When the researchers repeated the IQ tests at the end of the year, the students identified by the researchers did indeed show higher IQ scores. The significance of this study lies in the fact that the researchers had randomly selected a number of average students. The researchers found that when the teachers expected a particular performance or growth, it occurred. This phenomenon, where a false assumption actually occurs because someone predicted it, is called a self-fulfilling prophesy.

For example, the stock market may be stable with rising values. If investors become afraid that the market will crash, however, they may suddenly sell their stocks, which cause the market to crash. The crash occurred simply because investors feared it would do so. Ray Rist conducted research similar to the Rosenthal-Jacobson study in 1970. In a kindergarten classroom where both students and teacher were African American, the teacher assigned students to tables based on ability; the “better” students sat at a table closer to her, the “average” students sat at the next table, and the “weakest” students sat at the farthest table.

Rist discovered that the teacher assigned the students to a table based on the teacher’s perception of the students’ skill levels on the eighth day of class, without any form of testing to verify the placement. Rist also found that the students the teacher perceived as “better” learners came from higher social classes, while the “weak” students were from lower social classes. Monitoring the students through the year, Rist found that the students closer to the teacher received the most attention and performed better.

The farther from the teacher a student sat, the weaker that student performed. Rist continued the study through the next several years and found that the labels assigned to the students on the eighth day of kindergarten followed them throughout their schooling. Sociologists can document this process; they have yet to define the exact process of how teachers form their expectations or how students may communicate subtle messages to teachers about intelligence, skill, and so forth. The educational system depends solely on the teachers.

Whether they serve as instructors of preschoolers or graduate students, teachers are the employees of formal organizations with bureaucratic structures and are considered the life line to the educational system. A teacher undergoes many stresses every day, while their academic assignments have become more specialized, the demands on their time remain diverse and contradictory. Conflicts arise from serving as an instructor, a disciplinarian, and an employee of a school district at the same time and sometimes have to deal with violence.

It has been known that about a quarter and a third of new teachers quit within the first three years, and as many as half leave poor urban schools in their first five years. (Wallis 2008). Given these difficulties, does teaching remain an attractive profession in the United States? How stable is our educational system? Many teachers have become disappointed and frustrated and have left the educational world for careers in other professions.

This is because of the level of formal schooling required for teaching remains high, and the public has begun to call for new competency examinations, and the fact that teachers’ salaries are significantly lower than those of many professionals and skilled workers. Reference Ashford online library: (Proquest) Miller, Seumas, “Social Institutions”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed. ), Schaefer, R. T. (2009) Sociology: A brief introduction (8th ed. ) New York, NY: McGraw Hill W. W. Norton and Company: Everyday Sociology, (since 1923)


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