It is argued by Marxist that the educational system in capitalist society is an effective tool used by the ruling class to justify their position, conceal the true source of their power and disguise their exploitation of the subject class.
The Sociologist Louis Althuser claims that education is an ideological state apparatus which largely runs in order to socialise children into acceptance of their subordinate class position – Education functions to ensure that the minority capitalist class continues unchallenged to dominate the disproportionately and unfairly elite positions, and to make sure the working class continue to take on manual jobs in which the value of their labour far outstrips the wage they are paid.
The American economists and Sociologist Bowles and Gintis argue hat the major role of education in Capitalist societies is the reproduction of labour power. According to Bowles and Gintis the correspondence theory provides the key t understanding the working of the educational system: “Education is subservient to the needs of those who control the workforce, the owners of the means of production” (Haralambos and Halborn)
The first way in which education functions is to provide Capitalists with a workforce who has the personality, attitudes and values which are most useful to them. If Capitalism is to succeed it requires a hard-working, docile, obedient and lightly motivated workforce, which is too divided and fragmented to challenge the authority of management. Bowles and Gintis argues that the education system helps to achieve these objectives largely through the hidden curriculum – It isn’t the content of lessons and the examinations which pupils take which are important, but the form that teaching and learning take and the way the schools are organised. The hidden curriculum consists of these things that pupils learn through the experience of attending school, rather than the things they learn from the formal National curriculum.
According to Bowels and Gintis the hidden curriculum shapes the future workforce in the following ways: Makes them subservient and accept authority as there is a higherarchy in school, pupils do what there told and don’t question authority also pupils must wear school uniforms preparing them for work overalls etc. Capitalism requires a workforce that is motivated by external rewards – wages and school shape them for this by encouraging them to work for credentials e.g. exams and qualifications – equivalent to wages as work.
Finn (1987) argues that there is a hidden political agenda to Vocational educational training. It provides cheap labour for employers, keeps the pay rates of young workers low, undermines he bargaining power of unions (because only permanent workers can be members) and reduces politically embarrassing unemployment statistics. This study argues that the policies assumed that school leavers were unemployable – when the problem was structural unemployment. It may also be intended to reduce crime by removing young people form the streets.
The Marxist, Bordieu, points out that schools are middle-class institutions, run by the middle-class which primarily benefit middles-class children. Working class children may lack cultural capitol required (i.e. middle-class values and ways of looking at the world~) for academic success in these institutions.
Bourdieu blames the organisation of schools for working-class failure because the hidden curriculum defines the knowledge, skills and behaviour of middle-class pupils (i.e. their cultural capital) as appropriate to success, whilst working-class knowledge and experience are devalued. Schools fail to compensate working-class pupils for their lack of cultural capitol because the function of education, according to Bourdieu, is to ensure that the working class fail in order that they continue to enter manual work.
Marxists and other critical thinkers reject the view that the UK educational system is meritocratic for three broad reasons. They argue that as long as private education continues to exist than the UK can never be meritocratic. Public schools symbolise class inequality and injustice because their products are vastly over-represented in top jobs. However supporters of private education believe it to be an essential part of a free market and argue that parents should have the right to choose what type of education they want for their children and how to spend their money.
Some have argues that the focus on choice and diversity has created a hierarchy of educational institutions based on forms of selection rather than equal opportunities. In the secondary school sector, grammar schools practice overt selection whilst selection my mortgage is becoming a norm in comprehensive schools as middle-class parent buy houses in middle-class areas with good comprehensives. The focus on parental choice and league tables has created an incentive for schools to be more selective in their intake and to exclude children likely to perform badly.
The disproportionate inequalities in achievement experienced by groups such as the working-class and in particular ethnic minorities in the British education system also undermine the concept of meritocracy.
The cultural-deprivation of achievement theory blames working-class culture for lack of achievement. It suggests that the reason working-class children fail is because their home culture is inadequate, especially in terms of parental attitudes, child-rearing practices and language development. Key studies, mainly conducted in the 1960’s, argues that working-class parents are less interested in their children’s education. JWB Douglas’ classic study of achievement measured parental interest by counting the number of times parents visited the children’s schools for parents’ evenings etc. Other studies have suggested that middle-class parents are more child centred than working-class parents.
The work of Bowles and Gintis has been highly controversial. It has been criticised by Marxists and non-Marxists alike. The critics tend to agree that Bowles and Gintis have exaggerated the correspondence between work and education, and have failed to provide adequate evidence to support their case.
Hickox questions the view that there is a close correspondence between education and economic developments. He points out that in Britain compulsory education was introduced long after the onset of industrialisation.
Bowles and Gintis see teachers as the agent of capital, pupils as the victims, their situations shaped by factors beyond their control. But many teachers are radicals who chose teaching to express their ideals, and not all pupils are passive recipients of dominant ideology.
In a study entitled, Learning to Labour: how working class kids get working class jobs, Paul Willis studied a group of 12 working class boys (the ‘lads’) during their last year and a half at school and their first few months at work. He observed the lads in a number of different situations. He then related this small-scale interaction to the wider social structure.
Willis found that the ‘lads’ rejected school and created their own counter school culture. However this very rejection of school prepared them for the low skilled, low status jobs they wee to take. The lads rejected educational success as defined by the school. They swathe conformist behaviour of hardworking pupils – the ‘ear ols’, as a means for amusement and mockery. School was good for a laugh but not much else. Boredom was relieved by mucking around and breaking rules. In some way this behaviour made sense. They were destined for low skilled jobs so why bother to work hard.
Like Bowles and Gintis, Willis argues for a correspondence between school and work, but this isn’t produced by the school – the lads are not the docile, obedient pupils of Bowles and Gintis’ study. They have produced the correspondence by their rejection of the school and in doing so they have prepared them selves for their place in the workforce.
But the lads’ culture is not entirely adapted to the requirements of the capitalist workforce. There is an implicit recognition that individual effort does not necessarily bring success that the meritocratic society does not exist and that collective action is needed to improve the position of the working class. However this is a huge way from recognising the true nature of capitalist exploitation and oppression. Bowles and Gintis have also been criticised for ignoring the influence of the formal curriculum. David Reynolds claims that much of the curriculum in British schools des not promote the development of an ideal employer under capitalism It does not seem designed to teach either the skills needed by employers, nor the uncritical passive behaviour which makes workers easy to exploit. It might be added that the popularity of sociology as a subject in Britain could hardly be seen as unthinking workers.
It can also be argued that the education system is more meritocratic than Marxists would acknowledge. Working-class pupils are doing well within the education system, improving examination results – also the increasing numbers of working class pupils entering university – class is less of a barrier than ever.
In conclusion I believe that the Marxist view is less influential than the Functionalist view of education. In my opinion I do not think that the education system only exists in Capitalist society as an effective tool used by the ruling class to justify their position. I think that the Functionalist perspective is more persuasive and that education does offer the opportunity to move outside of the class structure and expectations, allowing comprehensive pupils to achieve position on wealth and power.