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December 20, 2008 / C H Thompson

What’s the point of education? A Marxist perspective

Marxist perspective by Sam Cook a former student

Marx’s position about the ruling class was they have the power to control the working classes not with force but withidea1 ideas. These ideas justify their dominant position and conceal the true source of their power along with their exploitation of the subject class. Remember: Marxism is a belief that capitalism allows the owners of capital (the ruling-class or bosses) to exploit the workers (employees) and this causes conflict between the two classes (known as social-class conflict).

In Marx’s view this ruling class ideology is far more effective in controlling the subject classes than physical force, as it is hidden from the consciousness of the subject class – this is known as ‘false consciousness’. One example Marxists might use is the role of meritocracy in education to control the working classes by getting the working classes used to being rewarded for being good and doing as you’re told.

Education and Ideology

Louis Althusser (a Marxist) (1971) argued that the main role of education in a capitalist society was the reproduction of an efficient and obedient work force. This is achieved through schools:

  1. transmitting the ideology that capitalism is just and reasonable (school teaches you to compete with your fellow pupils by trying to do better than them)
  2. train future workers to become submissive to authority (schools teachers you to accept as normal to do as you’re told, this way when your boss orders you what to do, it seems perfectly normal)

Althusser argues that ideology in capitalist society is fundamental to social control and education is instrumental in transmitting this ideology. He argues education is an ideological state apparatus which helps pass on ruling class ideology (for example ideology) in order to justify the capitalist system.

Bowles and Gintis’s (Marxists) research ‘Schooling in Capitalist America’ (1976) supported Althusser’s ideas that there is a close correspondence (known as the correspondence principle) between the social relationships in the classroom and those in the workplace. Through the hidden curriculum (it is vital you follow the hidden curriculum link). Bowles and Ginitis argue schools introduce the ‘long shadow of work’ because schools create a hard-working disciplined workforce for capitalist societies. This process is essential for social reproduction – the reproduction of a new generation of workers schooled (disciplined) into accepting their role in society. This occurs through:

School and workplace – school mirrors the workplace through its hierarchical structures – teachers’ give orders and pupils obey. Pupils have little control over their work – a fact of life in the majority of jobs. Schools reward punctuality and obedience and are dismissive of independence, critical awareness and creativity – this mirrors the workplace expectations. The hidden curriculum is seen by Bowles and Gintis as instrumental in this process.

Social inequality – schools legitimate the myth that everyone has an equal chance – those that work hard deserve the top jobs, these people deserve their superior rewards (meritocracy). In this way inequality becomes justified. However Bowles and Gintis argue that rewards in education and occupation are based not on ability but on social background. The higher a person’s class or origin the more likely they are to attain top qualifications and a top job. See Bourdon (position theory); Bourdiau (cultural capital) ; and Bernstein ( language and class). For Bowles and Ginitis then, school can be seen to legitimize social inequality.

Assessing Marxist and functionalist perspectives of education.

To appreciate the subtle differences between Functionalist and Marxist perspectives on education please work through the following presentation then test your knowledge  Marxism test questions only  Click on this link for the 15 questions

Return to overview

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15 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Ashauna / Feb 22 2013 9:34 am

    very insightful

  2. tony / Oct 13 2015 6:26 pm

    i know its very early in the year, but ive recently starte AS Sociology and this is such a life saver when it comes to the 12 markers when it comes to revision, Thank you very much

    • C H Thompson / Oct 13 2015 6:52 pm

      My pleasure, direct your classmates to this site too and thanks for the feedback 🙂

  3. Megan / Oct 18 2015 2:28 pm

    This website has been so helpful in my education studies for university on the sociological perspectives of the purpose of education. Thank you so much. Is this a certified site that I could use as a reference for my essay? (England)

    • C H Thompson / Oct 18 2015 6:24 pm

      Yes you can use our address for your references. Thanks for the positive feedback 🙂

  4. Krazie_K / Oct 21 2015 8:40 am

    Althusser argues that ideology in capitalist society is fundamental to social control and education is instrumental in transmitting this ideology. He argues education is an ideological state apparatus which helps pass on ruling class ideology (for example ideology) in order to justify the capitalist system.
    Am I correct in thinking this basically mean the ruling class use education to justify a capitalist society and system, keeping everyone in their places, ie the bourgeoisie remain the bourgeoisie and the proletariat the proletariat? Thank you for this article, very helpful for my presentation 🙂

    • C H Thompson / Oct 21 2015 12:15 pm

      Yes you are correct in thinking ruling class use education to justify a capitalist society and system, keeping everyone in their places, the two-tier education system illustrates this. Hope that helps and thanks for the positive feedback too 🙂

  5. Sahid Mohammed Abdus / May 5 2016 6:55 am

    Does this mean that marxists want to create an obediant work force? that functionalists want working class to progress?

    • C H Thompson / May 5 2016 7:25 am

      No Marxists’ point is the school system is designed so it creates an obedient workforce – via hidden curriculum. While functionalists’ identify schooling as a process which helps establish a collective conscience – via hidden curriculum – such as establishing a consensus on the value of meritocracy which implies everyone can succeed if they put the effort in. Hope that helps 🙂

  6. Ally / Jun 21 2016 9:43 pm

    Very helpful page, thanks a lot for creating it 🙂

    I don’t get the link between education & social roles and Marxists. I thought it was the feminist believing that education reinforces gender roles? Can you please explain that to me as I’m confused by the theories. Thanks in advance 🙂

    • C H Thompson / Jun 23 2016 7:43 am

      Hi – thanks for the positive comment 🙂 Yes feminists do argue education reinforces gender roles, whereas Marxists’ argue education reinforces an individuals class position. In contrast functionalists’ argue education facilitates goal attainment via meritocracy. Hope that helps?

  7. RUDOLPH / Sep 6 2017 8:28 pm

    I LOVE THIS WEB PAGE…..MUCH LOVE FROM ME TO YOU…NCOOH

    • C H Thompson / Sep 8 2017 9:20 am

      Many thanks 🙂

Trackbacks

  1. What is the point of education? « Sociology at Twynham School
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