Sociological Theories and How They Contribute to Our Understanding of Education Essay


Different scholars look at education functions from different perspectives depending on the theory they deploy in interpretation of their perceived features of education. The theories that tend to explain the sociological functions of education are collectively termed as sociological theories of education.

Young posits that sociology of education entails the study of the manner in which public institutions coupled with individuals experience the various impacts of education alongside its outcomes (1995, p.21). On the other hand Floud, Halsey and Martin (1956) claims that it “is mostly concerned with the public schooling systems of modern industrial societies, including the expansion of higher, further, adult continuing and education” (p.12).

People have, over the years recognized education as the most fundamental way of overcoming various handicaps in the society with the capacity to make the society achieve higher equality coupled with acquiring wealth. They have also claimed to have the ability to improve the social status of individuals.

Educational scholars strongly believe that through education children are able to develop to their full potential. Additionally, people view education as having the ability to make people from challenged background to rise to higher social classes.

In this context, Sargen argues that education is “perceived as one of the best means of achieving greater social equality” (1994, p.30).

Some sociology scholars argue that any properly formulated educational system has the ability to achieve this purpose precisely. However, as Bourdieu reckon that other sociologists have “a particularly negative view, arguing that the education system is designed with the intention of causing reproduction of social inequality” (1990, p.47).

Putting into perspectives the various scholarly approaches in the interpretation of the purposes of education, especially bearing in mind the social changes impacts of education, the modern perceptions of education attracts mixed reactions. It is in this regard that various sociological theories of education become significant as one of the subtle ways of determining the direction of modern and future educational policies.

The work on moral education by Emile Durkheim pioneered systematic studies on educational sociology. His work looked at the education as a platform that constitutes organic solidarity within the society. Max Weber, on the other hand, perceived education as a tool for political manipulations.

After the Second World War came to a halt, the subject of sociology of education acquired renewed interest. This renewed interest shifted from “technological functionalism in the US, egalitarian reform of opportunity in Europe, and human-capital theory in economics” (Sullivan 2001, p.893).

The concepts of human capital were widely necessary particularly by putting into consideration the fact that increased industrialization created divisions of labor and hence the necessity for a given way of hierarchically dividing labor inputs into the industries. Education level emerged as one of the subtle ways of accomplishing this endeavor: people with low education predominantly serving as manual workers.

Education results into stratification of social classes and forms an impeccable tool for ensuring social mobility. Nevertheless, some scholars argue that education produces only limited social mobility.

According to Heath and Cheung, “statistical and field research across numerous societies showed a persistent link between an individual’s social class and achievement suggesting that education can only achieve limited social mobility” (2007, p.89). The 1960s saw the collapse of functionalism approaches in education.

The concept of education as a good that people cannot mitigate suffered a fair deal of challenges. One of such challenges was the one placed by neo Marxists, who proclaimed that “school education simply produced a docile labor-force essential to late-capitalist class relations” (Ogg, Zimdars & Heath 2009, p.783).

The various ways of looking at the societal impacts of education predominantly lie squarely on a number of theories. Among these theories are conflict theory and structural functionalism. Social functionalism theory claims that the society inclines towards an equilibrium that tends to inculcate social order.

People look at education analogously to the human body, which comprises of various organs that must function harmoniously for maintenance of a healthy body. In this regard, social functionalism sees institutions such as education within the society as mainly intended to socialize kids.

Opposed to social functionalism, conflict theory claims, “society is full of vying social groups with different aspirations, different access to life chances and gain different social rewards” (Furze & Healy 1997, p.23). According to this theory, people characterize the society based on relationships that are predominantly sub-ordinative, oppressive, dominative, and exploitive in nature.

The two theories have different opinions with regard to the functions of education in the society as portrayed by activities carried out in the schools.

This paper compares these two theories coupled with the unveiling of the contrasts in the claims that exist between them with regard to the way educational or school activities are perceived in the two schools of thought. Nevertheless, it begins by presenting an overview of each of the two theories.

Overview of Conflict theory

With regard to conflict theory, the relationships that guide the society are exploitative, subordinate, oppressive, and dominative. This theory thus anticipates teachers to expect students to have some background experience of middle-class life right at home.

The conflict theory posits that reproduction of these predetermined functions end up exacerbating or rather reproducing existing inequalities from one generation to the other. Unfortunately, this is widely a misconception since people come from different backgrounds and hence making such an assumption is largely fallacious.

As Young reckons, “Some children are expected to help their parents after school and carry considerable domestic responsibilities in their often single-parent home” (1995, p.47). Anticipating students to be involved in helping in the domestic chores compounds the responsibilities of the students hence making them suffer from deterred academic success in schools.

According to the conflict theorists, the way educational activities have been structured clearly point to the fact that education serves as a way of further widening the social class gap. For instance, in most countries schools are funded by property tax, which means that in localities where the residents are rich the schools are heavily funded than poor and marginalized places (Jacob 2001, p.10).

Heavily funded schools in return seek the services of the best teachers and the students eventually perform far much better than their counterparts in other marginalized regions. By doing this, the conflict theorists argue that the system of governance in schools prepare the students for the unfair life ahead of them.

This is because the students from the best schools have the highest probability of securing positions in the best colleges in the country while those from the poor backgrounds hardly make it to colleges therefore only seeking positions in technical institutes and vocational trainings.

Students who gain access to the best training in the best colleges end up getting jobs in the corporate world while those who train in vocational and training institutes become manual laborers (Sullivan 2007, p.893). This is enough proof according to conflict theorists that education serves to widen the social class gap further and propagate further discrimination based on class.

Education functions as a way of instilling an ideology to the poor people in the society to accept their situations and rather than blaming the authorities to blame it on themselves. This is what the conflict theories term as the ‘hidden curriculum’ in education (Giddens 1991, p.116). School activities, such as sorting students based on their academic abilities, serve to prepare them to accept their social place.

This, in return, maintains the status quo in the society. The oppressed people, in this case, do not find the need to struggle to and be free from the poverty that engulfs them since they consider it as their fate. According to Anderson and Taylor (2009), they even start counting themselves lucky for the little that they have (p.19).

Conflict theorists argue that the composition of the tests intended at sorting the students is in most cases, discriminatory as far as the questions involved are concerned (Bassile 2011, p.263). This can be termed as discrimination based on class or even ethnicity.

For instance, a class test may include a question such as the following: Which of the following instruments form part of an orchestra? A) Guitar, B) Violin, C) Trumpet. D) None, E) All. This question can be classified by the conflict theorists as among those that propagate or portray racial discrimination. The fact that the question requires the students to get a definite difference between an orchestra and a band is one of the claims.

The second thing is that the question is trying to portray the orchestra as superior, considering that it is in most cases preferred by the elites and the rich people (Bassile 2011, p.262).

A conflict theorist would in this manner consider this school activity as revealing to the students the discriminative nature of the outside world and perhaps indirectly propose that the students struggle to align themselves with the favored class by working hard in school.

Competitions in schools, whether inside or outside the classroom, introduce the student to capitalism according to the conflict theory. When a student is recognized and rewarded for performing exceptionally either in extra-curriculum school activities or in classwork.

This makes the student feel that he/she is better than the others (Sadovnik 2007, p.12). Competitions in the schools are therefore regarded as unfair by the conflict theorists considering that they make the less privileged feel so.

The researchers and proponents of this sociological theory of education found out that “Where teachers have softened the formality of regular study and integrated student’s preferred working methods into the curriculum, they noted that particular students displayed strengths they had not been aware of before” (Wilson & Wyn 1987, p.137).

Softening of the formalities in education infers that teachers deviate from the traditional curriculum as determined by the state. The reason for departure is principally rested on the belief that what the state perceives as to entangle “knowledge” does not necessarily have to make subtle impacts in the students’ future career life and hence not vital to teach in school settings.

The state determined knowledge is thus more often than not non-useful to students and hence majority of them find it pointless to learn such knowledge. Wilson and Wyn, proponents of the conflict theory, laments, “students realize there is little or no direct link between the subjects they are doing and their perceived future in the labor market” (1987, p.120).

In this context and congruent with the conflict theory, the bottom line lies in teaching exactly what the students anticipate to be widely involved in the future. Unfortunately, such desires emanate from segregated interests, which one cannot harmonize for teaching groups of students who might be interested in similar interests. No two personalized interests can coincide.

From a different context Henry, Knight, Lingard and Taylor assert that “irrespective of their academic ability or desire to learn, students from poor families have relatively little chance of securing success” (1988, p.12). It is perhaps with this argument that the oppression, subordination, dominations and exploitation concerns in the conflict theory become eminently significant.

Bearing in mind Henry, Knight, Lingard and Taylor priory mentioned argument, it perhaps sounds plausible also to argue that, as the students who come from poor backgrounds struggles to succeed academically with little success, those from middle class backgrounds would employ less effort to achieve their academic dreams. Sargent concurs with this argument.

He, further, adds that “The federal government subsidizes ‘independent’ private schools enabling the rich to obtain ‘good education’ by paying for it” (1994, p.111). With the cute educational backgrounds, children coming from rich backgrounds financially, have more ample opportunity to excel in education and hence in future careers.

Rich children also have higher probabilities of acquiring gigantic rewards in the future as opposed to the poor children. Conflict theorists view this as a way of continual and acerbating of existing inequalities in the society, which people claim to alleviate, in contrast education systems.

Conflict theory furthermore, perceives education systems as mechanisms of aggravating social privileges among the elites only. The continued dominance by a single class of people is what conflict theorists’ term as social reproduction.

Social reproduction takes place due to educational ideologies held by the groups that dominate the society. The position held by conflict theorists is perhaps crucial by considering the question of the quality of education available to the two divides: the poor and the rich.

Consequently, from the perspectives of the conflict theory, the idea of equal availability of quality education for all serves nothing more than just a myth. To this end, Wright is concerned that “the effect of the myth is to…stop them from seeing that their personal troubles are part of major social issues” (Sargent 1994, p.92).

It is thus unsubstantial to argue that only what impairs people from achieving their dreams lies squarely on their inability to work towards their goals. However, many other inequalities exist that perpetuates the ability of less advantaged members of the society from achieving their dreams in education.

Many parents sacrifice to ensure that their children achieve their best in their academics. Even though this sacrifice is essential, conflict theory insists that it is not the sacrifice that matters but rather the elimination of existing social discrepancies in terms of equal accessibility to quality education.

Conflicts theorists look at the poor and hence less advantaged members of the society as the victims of what they term as victims of confidence trick. These victims of confidence trick “have been encouraged to believe that a major goal of schooling is to strengthen equality while, in reality, schools reflect society’s intention to maintain the previous unequal distribution of status and power” (Breen & Goldthorpe 1997, p.299).

As a result, conflict theorists are opposed to the idea that education is available to all without prejudices pegged on some way of discrimination of some members of the society. They also fail to strike to a consensus to the argument that education acts as a mechanism for ensuring fare distribution of wealth and achievement of equal societal status.

Social functionalism theory

Social functionalism theory looks at the educational system as analogous to a human body, which has many organs that must function in harmony for cute bodily health. Social health infers that the society lives in a socially ordered environment. Social order is normally assured where the society generally appreciates the moral values that are usually applicable and binding all members of that society.

The concerns of the structural functionalism theory tend to foster continual of certain predetermined functions that particular members of the society must accomplish for sustained realization of the roles of society from generation to generation.

In this context, structural-functionalist theorist proactively believes that the existence of social institutions such as educational institutions seeks to socialize teenagers and children in general (Heath et al. 2001, p.39).

In structural functionalism theory, the educational system is analogous to a human body, which has many organs that must function in harmony for good bodily health. Social health infers that the society lives in a socially ordered environment. According to Heath, “socialization is the process by which the new generation learns the knowledge, attitudes, and values that they will need as productive citizens” (2003, p.301).

Despite the fact that the curriculum explicitly proclaims this objective of education, more often than not, people achieve it through a curriculum that they may regard as “hidden curriculum”. The hidden curriculum encompasses “a subtler, but powerful, indoctrination of the norms and values of the wider society” (Harker 1984, p.164).

The school environment, according to the functionalism theory, seems more often regulated in such a way that students unconsciously learn these behaviors prompting the students to accept and internalize them.

The labor market is dynamic. People enter and leave, giving rise to vacancies that people must fill, so long as they possess certain attributes and qualifications. Education systems serve to produce such persons. As Bourdieu (1977) puts it, school serves yet another function entailing “sorting and ranking individuals for placement in the labor market” (p.89).

The sorting and ranking process results in the placement of individuals with high performance in training for the most crucial jobs: mainly the ones entangling decision-making. On the other hand, those with low performances find themselves ranked to train in chores that demand less intellectually with repercussions of being rewarded less.

Ranking of people following the functionalism theory attracts a myriad of criticisms. For instance, Henry, Knight, Lingard and Taylor argue, “to believe that ability alone decides who is rewarded is to be deceived” (1988). This argument is perhaps significant since the disparities exist between various educational settings. Using performance indicators such as the scores arguably do not necessarily reflect on the capacity of students.

It is thus unfair to set performance indicators in schools as true reflections of the performance of the students. Meighan and Siraj-Blatchford (1997) accepts this argument and adds that “large numbers of capable students from working-class backgrounds fail to achieve satisfactory standards in school and therefore fail to obtain the status they deserve” (p.103).

One of the factors that may impeccably deter some students from portraying their abilities through performance indicators includes deferring experiences at home. As a way of example, some functionalism theory proponents believe that children from working-class families are insufficiently equipped with strategies to cope with school challenges.

Jacob happens to be one of such scholars and posits that performance indicators are not true reflectors of children’s abilities since “the middle-class cultural experiences that are provided at school may be contrary to the experiences working-class children receive at home” (2001, p.34).

The performance indicators more often sieve individuals from working-class by making them remain at the working class just like their parents. This way, there is the mobilization of social reproduction of inequalities.

Now, the concerns of functionalism theory take us back to the concerns of social reproduction. In this context, Sargent (1994) confirms this trend. He proposes, “…that schooling supports continuity, which in turn supports social order” (p.99).

The repercussions of using performance indicators in grading students abilities is to taint some students as educational failures which social functionalism theorists argues that it prejudices people within a society. Since functionalism theorists insists that the social order must be sustained, it intrigues to think of why working class people would fill satisfied in remaining at this level from one generation to the other.

According to Bessant and Watts, the existing discrepancies in education between various classes of people “maintains social order and continuity which is what most people desire” (2002, p.13). However, arguably, social functionalism theory is inconsistent and challengeable since the question of why one class of people would prefer and fill satisfied in a while at that class is a recurring one.

School activities such as examinations, group work, sports, debates and other activities aimed at preparing the student to attain the necessary skill to serve as the social being that a human being is.

The spirit that is achieved in these activities is aimed at enabling the students to get the necessary skills also to rise in the social ladder (Apple 2000, p.24). To this extend, structural functionalists posit that education is aimed at facilitating social mobility and consequently helping in the closing of the social class gap.

The spirit of competition which is introduced to students in school is supposed to enable them to work hard as the rewards of hard work go up with personal efforts. In this sense, education assists the students and arms them with the necessary capabilities to face the world as it is.

Structural functionalists contest the claim held by conflict theorists that activities aimed at sorting students and rating them according to their capabilities are flawed and instead encourage further discrimination (Jacob 2011, p.36). According to the structural functionalists, these competitions are fair since they place the students at level ground and give them the chance to work their way up.

The nature of interactions that students experience in educational facilities is important in the effort to eradication discrimination of any sort. Students from varying backgrounds and ethnicities meet in educational facilities and interact freely with each other.

This teaches them the need to be tolerant to people from other walks of life or even those that one perceives to be different (Apple 2000, p.43).

In reaction to the question of there being schools that include only students from a given background or ethnicity and how the nature of this interaction helps in creating tolerance, structural theorists argue that there are hardly such schools where only one social class or ethnic group is represented and add that there is the inclusion of exchange programs in school curriculums which aim at handling that exception.

The school curriculum according to the structural functionalists is specially designed to ensure that the lessons offered in schools help in the transmission of the core values that are required for the student to succeed in the society. Other activities such as games and club activities facilitate in this by creating platforms where the level of achievement of these core values is tested (Sargent 2004, p.34).

For instance, education aims at ensuring that the students embrace courageousness and a game competition such as football gives the student the avenue to test such courageousness. Another key value that school activities aim at giving to the students is what structural theorists term as personal liberty, this is the ability to function independently and be in a position to choose what is right at the right time.

Comparing and contrasting structural functionalism and conflict theories

As discussed in previous sections, social functionalism theory entangles looking at the purpose of educational systems as mechanisms of socialization of people. On the other hand, conflict theory looks at the institutions from the angle of serving as to adapt and respond congruently with the behaviors of students as dictated by certain moral norms (Basile 2011, p.266).

According to conflict theory, these institutions do not necessary follow the traditional curriculum, but rather they follow a hidden curriculum characterized by some societal dictated forces, which warrants the departure of curriculums from the state established curriculum.

Social functionalism theory predominantly restricts its concerns to the manner in which universal education is adapted to satisfy the myriad of needs of the society. Manifestation objectives of educations form the solid foundations onto which functionalist theory pegs itself.

These objectives principally focus on the need to pass on basic skills and knowledge from one generation to another. The founder of the theory: Durkheim sighted out latent roles that any educational system deserves to accomplish. According to him, education has the noble aim to ensure socialization of people into one single mainstream.

He referred to this form of education as “moral education.” According to Bowles and Gintis (1976), moral education aids in forming “more-cohesive social structure by bringing together people from diverse backgrounds, which echoes the historical concern of “Americanizing” immigrants” (p.103).

From functional theory perspectives, education also has vital roles in ensuring transmission of social control coupled with core values of the society.

Some of this educational values which various educational systems, for instance, the American system follows includes the various characteristics, which foster economic systems and political systems, which in the first place served to fuel American education. Consequently, students get rewards for sticking to deadlines, schedules authority demands and while not negating following given guidelines keenly.

Perhaps one of the dominant characteristics of functionalism theory is the concept of individualism. With regard to Wright, “individualism embraces an ideology that advocates for liberty rights or dependent action of the individual” (1959, p.105). Compared to some others parts of education, American education seeks to reward the best individual amongst groups of competitors.

This approach doe not only apply to curricular activities but also to extracurricular activities. As a repercussion, even the educational activities that call for collaborators effort such as football must have a singling out of the player of the season or even year. Arguably, functionalism theory of educations seeks to inculcate the spirit of self-esteem as opposed to social esteem.

Learning about the necessity of competition is yet another vital characteristic that functionalist theorist sees as important. The spirit of competition is perhaps one of the essential traits of capitalistic economic constructions.

Students learn at early stage to compete for the best score, winning for an athletic challenge among other games. Consequently, there is the reproduction of competition altitude down from generation to generation. The fruits of engaging in some competitive task have always had some reward attached to it acting as a motivator. In schools, it takes some form of presents.

Arguably, the functionalism theory tends to advocate for capitalist systems in which the main driver of the economy is some anticipated gain either in terms of profitability or in kind. Additionally, as Sadovnik laments, “schools overtly teach patriotism, a preserver of political structure” (2007, p.91).

In fact, this is extremely crucial from functionalist point of view since it fosters continued existence of established societal norms then truncated down to subsequent generations.

Social functionalism theory advocates for rankings of students based on their abilities. This way the students can then undergo training on different area to which they are well suited for the economy to leap most from their contributions.

In this end, the ranking of student takes place based on some merits. Bernstein (1977) claims that “Society’s needs demand that the most capable people get channeled into the most important occupations” (p.27). With regard to social functionalism perspective point of view, schools have the noble role to ensure that they select the most able people from the massive population early enough.

To achieve, they give out these tests. Hence, at an early age, students learn to appreciate their abilities in comparison to their colleagues. Unfortunately, tests more often than not end ups instilling some negative spirit of ‘I cannot’ amongst some students.

However, as Bourdieu and Passeron (1990) reckon that “those who score highest on classroom and standardized tests enter accelerated programs and college-preparation courses” (p.37). Many functional theorists’ advocates for this approach referred as social placement.

Among such theorists includes: Wilbert Moore and Talcott Parsons, among others (Ball 2004, p.7). Majority of these sociologists scholars are inclined to a perception that social placement is vehemently crucial in society.

Upon realization of the sorting process, according to social functionalism theory, the nest purpose of education entails networking. Networking, according to social functionalism theorists, is a vital tool with the capacity to foster interpersonal connections.

In fact, social functionalism sociologists claim that this networking is an inevitable constituent of any well-formulated educational system. Right from colleges and or in high school, students have a network with colleagues in similar grades, majors or classes.

These networked programs more often have got the chances often ending up being professional or at some times remaining as personalized. In this end, education serves to match various groups of people within the society.

One drawback of these networks stands out because the various networked groups have certain attributes and ways of conduction of their academic affairs that characterize them. Hence, they may hinder free flow of information and knowledge to other networks.

Nevertheless as Apple (2000) reckons “Sociologists primarily interest themselves in how sorting and networking lead couples together of similar backgrounds, interests, education, and income potential” (p.45).

Arguably, people place immense concerns to the networking function of education to the extent that parents and guardians object and regulate the choices of colleges available to students. The main aim of limiting these options being predominantly inclined on the perception that kids should only attend colleges where they would find their perfect matches.

Proponents of the functionalism theory tend to advocate for the sarcastic two-fold roles served by education, which entangles changing of cultures coupled with preservations of cultures. “As students move through colleges, as well as beyond, their liberty increases, as they encounter a variety of perspectives” (Fine & Weiss 1998, p.39).

Borrowing from this line of view, it is perhaps subtle to argue that less educated persons are largely conservatism while their educated counterparts are incredibly liberal in nature. A heavy emphasis lies on the higher education to inculcate the spirit of research.

This has the capacity to make students subjects of changing values and initiators of knowledge evolution. From the functionalism dimension, education then serves to preserve coupled with skills and knowledge transmissions. In this end consequently, education is merely a transforming tool for the society.

Somewhat controversial and yet debatable function of education pegged on functionalism theory entails the argument that education fosters family placement of people. Despites the imminent controversies surrounding this function of education, perhaps its advocating is critical since the modern curriculums incorporate various aspects that would foster family placement of people going through such curriculums.

Such aspects include sexuality, development of careers and discipline. However, a good number of parents opposed to this functionalism function of education opts for home-based–schooling for their children or alternatively place them in privately established schools that are run consistently with values they advocate.

Opposed to the above concerns of social functionalism theory of education conflict theory “…sees the purpose of education as maintaining social inequality and preserving the power of those who dominate society” (Henry, Knight & Lingard 1988, p.15). The conflict theory consequently indebts itself to concerns of social order. Conflict theorists claim that education has a principle and noble role in fostering social order.

In this context, and in the most general sense, conflict theorists widely concur that education emerges as one of the tools that erode the concepts of status quo rather enhances the spread of social inequality.

With regard to Sargent, these inequalities are acerbated by the fact that to some extent educational systems serves to create ways of segregation of the broader society population into social classes (1994, p.89). Members belonging to the lower social classes are more often accustomed to remaining obedient workers.

As a way of comparison, both theorists strike to a consensus that education produces some kind of sorting. However, they immensely fail to agree on the manner in which education enacts such a sorting process. Sociologists who subscribe to functional theory of education argue that education sorts based on merit.

On the other hand, conflict theorists posit that education systems seek to sort people based on ethnicity coupled with distinct classes.

As Ball, Maguire, and Macrae (2000) notes “conflict theorists, proclaim that schools train those in the working classes to accept their position as a lower-class member of society” (p.57). This province of thought, on the other hand, as referred by subscribers of conflict theory, is a “hidden curriculum” that education serves to uphold as part of its roles.

In the two theories, formal education guided by curriculum preset by the state forces produces some kind of social imbalance. For conflict theorists, a clear difference exists between schools located in two contrasting regions. For the regions occupied by the rich, schools receive excellent funds and hence stand better chances of attracting the best staff to administer the curriculum.

On the other extreme, those schools situated in the poor regions have lesser funds available to them and hence attract moderate staff. With these differences in mind, conflict theorists argue that such differences end up reflecting themselves in the performance of students in schools. More sad is the fact that poor performance at the elementary level somewhat determines the destiny of the individual concerned.

Maguire, Wooldridge, and Pratt-Adams agree with the line of thought and lament that “students who attend high-class schools gain substantial advantages in getting into the best colleges and being tracked into higher-paying professions” (2006, p.109). These advantages of attending high-class schools are largely unavailable to students who attend less affluent schools.

Conflict theorists claim that more often than not such students end up in technical and or in vocational training centers. Worse, still, once this kind of imbalances is established within a society, it normally is truncated from one generation to another. In this context, therefore education serves to maintain the dominance of wealthy and affluent members of the society in leadership of almost every sector of economy.

Additionally, the functional theory also appreciates the likelihood of formal education to foster existence of social imbalances. In the course of ranking people based on their abilities, some imbalances are produced which in one way or another ends being truncated down to subsequent generations once they are established.

From the preceding discussion in previous sections, people have argued that the net effect of measuring student’s abilities through performance indicators such as tests is to produce some sort of prejudiced indication of the abilities of the students. Background characteristics of students play pivotal roles in determining the performance of the students in schools.

Since these backgrounds are eminently valid for deferring number of students, this variation reflects itself in their performance. Arguably, the standardization of performance indicators without relative or correlation factors to accommodate the variation in the backgrounds of student produces some imbalance. In this regard, educational system tends to favor the advantaged people in the society.

People who subscribe to conflict theory in unison agree on the capacity of the economics status of the affluent members of the society to favor them in economic terms and hence can afford best education. As this is not enough favor, testing procedures deployed in schools also tends to favor the affluent members of the society.

The poor consequently suffer twin challenges. In fact, intelligence quotient tests are among the testing procedures that proactively favors the affluent class of people. Intelligence test happens to be one of the tests employed to segregate students in terms of their abilities based on the scores recorded from these tests.

Other than inability to produce standardized results tests since they do not appreciate the differences among those they test for intelligence, Bourdieu see more trouble being acerbated by such tests, Bourdieu (1977) claim that “tests, which claim to test intelligence, actually test cultural knowledge and therefore exhibit a cultural bias” (p.69).

This perhaps presents a paradox, since people believe education to serve as the tool for a breakdown of cultural biases and in the modern age: promote global cultural diversity.

Again, even though modern educationists claim that education is predominantly culturally neutral, this is perhaps not the case based on both conflict and social functional theory of education. It is evident from the theories that education bases itself on some background knowledge. This background knowledge often is culturally sensitive.

Arguably, this thinking posses substance since the very initial knowledge that helps an individual to attach meaning to the environment he or she lives is based on the characteristics of this environment that one is put in immediately after being born. People who have differing artifacts dominate this environment. The construction of these artifacts differs based on people’s culture.

Considering the differences and similarities in the concerns of the two theories of education, perhaps one can establish a compromise between the two that mitigates the imbalances and foster the positive aspects of each of the theories.

This way we can challenge our understating on the role of education and settle on mechanisms that would perhaps call for adopting a mechanism for ensuring that the education and its testing procedures end up being more reflective of the abilities of the students both academically and in extracurricular activities.

There may be many ways of mitigating the imbalances. However, some of them would entail the provision of correlation factors in the scores recorded by students upon conduction of various tests on them such as intelligence tests while attempting to sort them out.

These correlation factors need have factors that help to accommodate the various differences existing among students among them cultural differences, and economic differences among others. This way perhaps the dominance of one group of people in the best jobs would cease and hence produce a better equal society.

There would be the mediation of the traditional role of education to maintain some discriminatory social order. Consequently, introspecting the roles of education from varying dimensions: from functional theory or conflict theory would lead to striking to neutral point at which the role of education in the society would end up to foster equality other than propagating inequality.


The paper has dedicated itself to scrutinizing social functionalism and conflict theories of education. It has clarified how social functionalism theory entangles looking at educational system as analogous to a human body, which has many organs that must function in harmony for good bodily health.

Any institution within the society that indebts itself to social harmony infers some sort of social order (Jones 2003, p.47). As revealed, there is the assurance of social order where the society generally appreciates the moral values that are generally applicable and binding all members of that society.

The theory brings education into the picture as to whether it may profile such a role. The conflict theory, on the other hand, encompasses looking at education purpose from the dimensions of being a contributor of relationships that guide the society. Based on perception, the relationships are exploitative, subordinate, oppressive, and dominative in nature.

A comparison of the two theories reveals that functional and conflict theories of education reveal existence of some social imbalances in their concerns. Education makes people climb up their social ladder by breaking down the barriers that may impair people from accomplishing this noble ability.

With this regard sociologists, such Sargen argues that education is “perceived as one of the best means of achieving greater social equality” (1994, p.30). While some sociology scholars argue that any properly formulated educational system has the ability to achieve this purpose precisely, as the paper discussed others believe that education in one way or another introduce inequalities.

These inequalities are reflected in the dominance by some affluent social class members in the control of major jobs that be regarded as the best in terms of rewards. The paper has also proposed how careful scrutiny of the concerns of the two theories may help in understanding education better.

In this end the paper has argued that introspecting the roles of education from varying dimensions: from functional theory or conflict theory would lead to striking to neutral point at which the role of education in the society would end up to foster equality other than propagating inequality.


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