Education has been changing alongside with society in accordance with emerging trends. Social theories have played an important role in the development of the US educational system. It is necessary to note that each social theory has its strengths as well as weaknesses. Therefore, it is important to choose the most appropriate approach which could fit the contemporary society. It is possible to briefly analyze functionalism, Marxism, post-modernism, and interpretivism to select the most suitable approach.
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According to functionalists, education plays an important role in passing knowledge and skills to younger generations to enable them to acquire appropriate roles in society. This approach can favorably affect society as there is a precise paradigm of transferring knowledge to younger generations (Kezar & Dee, 2011). There are also particular roles in schools (teacher-student relationship) as well as in the society (people acquire skills to take a specific role, to occupy a certain position).
At the same time, this approach is characterized by some weaknesses. Precise division of the society and distribution of roles often negatively affect the development of the society as reliance on particular structures leads to a lack of creativity and development in schooling.
Marxism also employs the concept of roles though this approach interprets them differently. Thus, Marxists see education as a system that supports the existing power distribution and ensure that classes in power control less empowered classes (Manzon, 2011). One of the strengths of this approach is that it unveils inequalities persisting in the system of education. Admittedly, there is certain conflict among groups and more empowered classes have more opportunities to obtain knowledge and skills to preserve their power. At the same time, this approach presupposes significant attention to technical and intellectual skills, which is beneficial for society. However, there is a major flaw in this approach as it stresses the need for change but does not provide a specific strategy to implement the change.
Post-modernism is based on such concepts of nihilism and self-destruction. Post-modernist believe that education cannot serve as a tool for preserving power and expect certain changes to come (Rikowski & McLaren, 2002). One of the strengths of the approach is its focus on changes and inequalities in education. Though, the major weakness of postmodernism is its fragmentized nature (there is no specific system) and a lack of particular strategies to implement changes. In a nutshell, post-modernists reveal downsides of some trends and approaches but do not explicitly specify their position and their vision of the most effective society.
Interpretivism focuses on an individual’s meanings and interpretations. Culture and diversity play core roles in this approach (Inglis, 2013). The major strength of interpretivism is that it contributes to diversity in society and education. This diversity involves a diversity of ideas, respect to different cultures and mindsets, cooperation. Nevertheless, there are still significant weaknesses in the approach as interpretivism lacks specific methods to achieve the aims. The approach is also characterized by excessive attention to individual ideas rather than certain strategies.
Clearly, each approach is characterized by certain strengths and weaknesses. It is necessary to compare the four theories to identify the most suitable for modern society. Thus, Marxism and functionalism have a lot in common as they are based on the concept of roles. According to both approaches, there are certain roles in society. Nevertheless, the two approaches differ in their evaluation of such a structure.
Functionalists view roles as a positive trend that helps the society to develop as different groups cooperate with each other and achieve goals which important for all, but supporters of Marxism stress that there is a conflict among different groups as each group strives for control and power. Noteworthy, Marxism does not provide precise tools to change the situation for better, whereas functionalism is characterized by numerous strategies that can be employed.
Postmodernism can be regarded as an incomplete critique of the two approaches considered above. Post-modernists believe such structures are destructive and lead to the society torn into classes where those in power (groups of people and institutions) exploit those in less privileged positions. Though, this approach is less suitable than Marxism and functionalism as it does not have any strategy or even complete methodology.
Interpretivism stands out against the three approaches as it does not focus on classes or conflicts. More so, interpretivism concentrate on individual ideas and mindsets and cooperation between individuals and groups. Therefore, it is possible to note that the most appropriate approach for contemporary society is a combination of functionalism and interpretivism with certain elements of Marxism.
In conclusion, it is possible to note that the contemporary educational system can benefit from diversity suggested by interpretivism, precise structures provided by functionalists and attention to possible conflicts between some groups. Education should be based on such concepts as the diversity of cultures and mindsets, effective collaboration of sophisticated structures and neutralization of conflicts among groups and structures. These concepts can help schooling contribute to the development of a society where younger generations have their standpoints and are ready to negotiate and strive for cooperation.
Inglis, D. (2013). An invitation to social theory. Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons.
Kezar, A., & Dee, J.R. (2011). Conducting multi-paradigm inquiry in the study of higher education organization and governance: Transforming research perspectives on colleges and universities. In J.C. Smart & M.B. Paulsen (Eds.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (pp. 265-317). New York, NY: Springer.
Manzon, M. (2011). Comparative education: The construction of a field. New York, NY: Springer.
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Rikowski, G., & McLaren, P. (2002). Postmodernism in educational theory. In D. Hill (Ed.), Marxism against postmodernism in educational theory (pp. 3-15). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.