Just Sociology

The sociological perspectives on education: key concepts and essay topics.

Education is a cornerstone of modern societies, shaping individual lives and the overall social structure. Sociologists take a critical perspective on education, exploring how it reproduces and challenges social inequalities, reinforces and challenges social norms, and shapes economic and political systems.

This article reviews key concepts, short answer questions, and possible essay topics related to the perspectives on education. Additionally, it briefly discusses the AQA A-level sociology specification and provides guidance on how to approach the education section of the exam.

Key concepts:

Ideological state apparatus (ISA) is a term coined by Marxist sociologist Louis Althusser to describe the diverse institutions, such as schools, media, religion, and family, that disseminate the dominant ideology of the ruling class to maintain their power. In contrast, a repressive state apparatus (RSA) refers to the coercive institutions and practices, such as police and military, that enforce the rule of the state.

An ideological tool is any instrument, practice, or idea that reinforces or challenges existing power relations and norms. Dominant ideology refers to the set of beliefs, values, and norms that the ruling class promote as universal and natural, shaping people’s understandings of the world and their place in it.

Correspondence theory is an idea in sociology that posits that individuals’ experiences and perceptions of the social world correspond to the objective social reality. The hidden/informal curriculum refers to the implicit messages and values conveyed through the schooling process beyond the formal curriculum.

These can include the cultural norms, gender roles, class expectations, and socialization into the dominant ideology. Marketisation of education is the set of policies and practices that apply market principles, such as competition and choice, to education, turning it into a commodity and creating a marketplace for schools and students.

Parentocracy is a concept that describes a system where parents can exercise significant influence over how schools are run, thus reducing the power and role of professionals in education. Voucher System is a mechanism where governments provide vouchers or vouchers to parents to offset the cost of education in private schools, giving them more freedom to choose.

Value consensus is a term that refers to the shared moral and normative understanding of a society about what is right and wrong, good and bad. Role allocation is the process by which individuals are assigned different roles and statuses based on their abilities, interests, qualifications, and socio-cultural background.

Particularistic refers to social relationships based on personal ties, such as kinship, friendship, and nepotism. Universalistic, in contrast, refers to social relationships based on impersonal criteria, such as merit, qualification, and achievement.

Specialist skills refer to the expertise and knowledge required in specific areas, such as science, engineering, arts, and trade. Social solidarity refers to the degree and quality of social integration and cohesion in a society.

Meritocracy is a concept that describes a system where individuals’ social status and rewards are based on their merit, talent, and effort. National identity refers to a sense of belonging and loyalty to a nation-state, often based on shared culture, history, language, and political values.

Selected Short Answer Questions:

Marxist perspective on education argues that education serves as an ISA and reproduces social inequality by legitimizing the dominant ideology, teaching skills that reinforce existing social structure, and preparing individuals for their role in the labor market. Feminist perspective on education highlights how education reflects and reinforces gender stereotyping, discrimination, and patriarchy, and how it can be a site of resistance and empowerment for women.

Functionalist perspective on education stresses education’s role in promoting social integration, specialization, and meritocracy, providing individuals with the skills and values required for their future roles and contributing to the economic and political functioning of society. New Right perspective on education advocates for marketization, parental choice, and accountability in education, seeing it as a way to improve efficiency, quality, and diversity, but also as a potential source of social divisions, inequalities, and conflict.

Globalisation refers to the processes of growing interconnectedness and interdependence among people, cultures, and economies across the world, facilitated by technological advancements, political changes, and market forces. Parental choice is a policy that enables parents to choose the school their children attend and encourages competition among schools.

Possible 30 Mark Essay Questions:

Sociological explanations for social inequality in education can be located within multiple theoretical perspectives, such as functionalism, Marxism, feminism or interactionism. These perspectives explain the persistence of social class differences in educational provision, but offer contrasting solutions, such as reform or revolution.

Marxist perspective offers a critical analysis of education, highlighting how the education system serves capitalist interests by creating false consciousness, elitism, and legitimation of the capitalist system. Marxist critique argues that so long as the means of production remain in the hands of the appropriately few, education cannot be reformed, as educational structures will always mirror capitalistic structures.

In contrast, feminists have highlighted the gendered nature of education and the ways in which gender stereotypes and dominant patriarchal values are reinforced. Feminist critiques of the education system highlight gender-based differences in courses and choice of subjects, gender inequalities during learning, and gender-based violence such as sexual violence.

Interactionists highlight the powerful effect of labeling on educational performance. That is, that students self-identity is shaped by their interaction with the education system, particularly the comments, judgements and assessments of teachers, and other significant individuals.

LABELLING can have a profound effect on individuals and can impact on their educational achievement. Conclusion:

Education remains an essential component of any society, reflecting and influencing its social, cultural, economic, and political structure.

By exploring different perspectives, theories, and concepts related to education, we can better understand its functions, dysfunctions, and potential for change. By guiding our approach to the study and examination of education, we can enhance our ability to analyze and evaluate its role in shaping society and individuals’ lives.

In conclusion, this article delves into the complex theories and perspectives on education, highlighting key concepts, short answer questions, and possible essay topics. Understanding the sociological examination of education is vital in comprehending its role in shaping society and the individual.

By analyzing the different perspectives, theories, and concepts presented, we can better evaluate education’s functions, dysfunctions, and potential for change. Below are some FAQs covering some common questions or concerns that readers may have on this topic.

– What is the role of education in reproducing social inequality? – How does the Marxist perspective differ from the functionalist one when it comes to education?

– How can gender stereotypes impact educational achievement? – What is the difference between an ideological state apparatus and repressive state apparatus?

– What is the hidden/informal curriculum, and how can it impact students? – What is the marketisation of education, and what are its potential implications?

– How can parental choice impact a students education? – How does globalization impact education?

– What is meritocracy in education, and how can it impact social mobility? – What role does the national identity play in shaping educational policies and practices?

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  • 16.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Education
  • Introduction
  • 1.1 What Is Sociology?
  • 1.2 The History of Sociology
  • 1.3 Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology
  • 1.4 Why Study Sociology?
  • Section Summary
  • Section Quiz
  • Short Answer
  • Further Research
  • 2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research
  • 2.2 Research Methods
  • 2.3 Ethical Concerns
  • 3.1 What Is Culture?
  • 3.2 Elements of Culture
  • 3.3 High, Low, Pop, Sub, Counter-culture and Cultural Change
  • 3.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture
  • 4.1 Types of Societies
  • 4.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Society
  • 4.3 Social Constructions of Reality
  • 5.1 Theories of Self-Development
  • 5.2 Why Socialization Matters
  • 5.3 Agents of Socialization
  • 5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
  • 6.1 Types of Groups
  • 6.2 Group Size and Structure
  • 6.3 Formal Organizations
  • 7.1 Deviance and Control
  • 7.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Deviance and Crime
  • 7.3 Crime and the Law
  • 8.1 Technology Today
  • 8.2 Media and Technology in Society
  • 8.3 Global Implications of Media and Technology
  • 8.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Media and Technology
  • 9.1 What Is Social Stratification?
  • 9.2 Social Stratification and Mobility in the United States
  • 9.3 Global Stratification and Inequality
  • 9.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Social Stratification
  • 10.1 Global Stratification and Classification
  • 10.2 Global Wealth and Poverty
  • 10.3 Theoretical Perspectives on Global Stratification
  • 11.1 Racial, Ethnic, and Minority Groups
  • 11.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity
  • 11.3 Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism
  • 11.4 Intergroup Relationships
  • 11.5 Race and Ethnicity in the United States
  • 12.1 Sex, Gender, Identity, and Expression
  • 12.2 Gender and Gender Inequality
  • 12.3 Sexuality
  • 13.1 Who Are the Elderly? Aging in Society
  • 13.2 The Process of Aging
  • 13.3 Challenges Facing the Elderly
  • 13.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Aging
  • 14.1 What Is Marriage? What Is a Family?
  • 14.2 Variations in Family Life
  • 14.3 Challenges Families Face
  • 15.1 The Sociological Approach to Religion
  • 15.2 World Religions
  • 15.3 Religion in the United States
  • 16.1 Education around the World
  • 16.3 Issues in Education
  • 17.1 Power and Authority
  • 17.2 Forms of Government
  • 17.3 Politics in the United States
  • 17.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Government and Power
  • Introduction to Work and the Economy
  • 18.1 Economic Systems
  • 18.2 Globalization and the Economy
  • 18.3 Work in the United States
  • 19.1 The Social Construction of Health
  • 19.2 Global Health
  • 19.3 Health in the United States
  • 19.4 Comparative Health and Medicine
  • 19.5 Theoretical Perspectives on Health and Medicine
  • 20.1 Demography and Population
  • 20.2 Urbanization
  • 20.3 The Environment and Society
  • Introduction to Social Movements and Social Change
  • 21.1 Collective Behavior
  • 21.2 Social Movements
  • 21.3 Social Change

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • Define manifest and latent functions of education
  • Explain and discuss how functionalism, conflict theory, feminism, and interactionism view issues of education

While it is clear that education plays an integral role in individuals’ lives as well as society as a whole, sociologists view that role from many diverse points of view. Functionalists believe that education equips people to perform different functional roles in society. Conflict theorists view education as a means of widening the gap in social inequality. Feminist theorists point to evidence that sexism in education continues to prevent women from achieving a full measure of social equality. Symbolic interactionists study the dynamics of the classroom, the interactions between students and teachers, and how those affect everyday life. In this section, you will learn about each of these perspectives.


Functionalists view education as one of the more important social institutions in a society. They contend that education contributes two kinds of functions: manifest (or primary) functions, which are the intended and visible functions of education; and latent (or secondary) functions, which are the hidden and unintended functions.

Manifest Functions

There are several major manifest functions associated with education. The first is socialization. Beginning in preschool and kindergarten, students are taught to practice various societal roles. The French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858–1917), who established the academic discipline of sociology, characterized schools as “socialization agencies that teach children how to get along with others and prepare them for adult economic roles” (Durkheim 1898). Indeed, it seems that schools have taken on this responsibility in full.

This socialization also involves learning the rules and norms of the society as a whole. In the early days of compulsory education, students learned the dominant culture. Today, since the culture of the United States is increasingly diverse, students may learn a variety of cultural norms, not only that of the dominant culture.

School systems in the United States also transmit the core values of the nation through manifest functions like social control. One of the roles of schools is to teach students conformity to law and respect for authority. Obviously, such respect, given to teachers and administrators, will help a student navigate the school environment. This function also prepares students to enter the workplace and the world at large, where they will continue to be subject to people who have authority over them. Fulfillment of this function rests primarily with classroom teachers and instructors who are with students all day.

A teacher writes on a whiteboard and a group of students looks on while seated at desks.

Education also provides one of the major methods used by people for upward social mobility. This function is referred to as social placement . College and graduate schools are viewed as vehicles for moving students closer to the careers that will give them the financial freedom and security they seek. As a result, college students are often more motivated to study areas that they believe will be advantageous on the social ladder. A student might value business courses over a class in Victorian poetry because she sees business class as a stronger vehicle for financial success.

Latent Functions

Education also fulfills latent functions. As you well know, much goes on in a school that has little to do with formal education. For example, you might notice an attractive fellow student when he gives a particularly interesting answer in class—catching up with him and making a date speaks to the latent function of courtship fulfilled by exposure to a peer group in the educational setting.

The educational setting introduces students to social networks that might last for years and can help people find jobs after their schooling is complete. Of course, with social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn, these networks are easier than ever to maintain. Another latent function is the ability to work with others in small groups, a skill that is transferable to a workplace and that might not be learned in a homeschool setting.

The educational system, especially as experienced on university campuses, has traditionally provided a place for students to learn about various social issues. There is ample opportunity for social and political advocacy, as well as the ability to develop tolerance to the many views represented on campus. In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement swept across college campuses all over the United States, leading to demonstrations in which diverse groups of students were unified with the purpose of changing the political climate of the country.

Functionalists recognize other ways that schools educate and enculturate students. One of the most important U.S. values students in the United States learn is that of individualism—the valuing of the individual over the value of groups or society as a whole. In countries such as Japan and China, where the good of the group is valued over the rights of the individual, students do not learn as they do in the United States that the highest rewards go to the “best” individual in academics as well as athletics. One of the roles of schools in the United States is fostering self-esteem; conversely, schools in Japan focus on fostering social esteem—the honoring of the group over the individual.

In the United States, schools also fill the role of preparing students for competition in life. Obviously, athletics foster a competitive nature, but even in the classroom students compete against one another academically. Schools also fill the role of teaching patriotism. Students recite the Pledge of Allegiance each morning and take history classes where they learn about national heroes and the nation’s past.

A group of people in graduation caps and gowns stands with their hands over their hearts.

Another role of schools, according to functionalist theory, is that of sorting , or classifying students based on academic merit or potential. The most capable students are identified early in schools through testing and classroom achievements. Such students are placed in accelerated programs in anticipation of successful college attendance.

Functionalists also contend that school, particularly in recent years, is taking over some of the functions that were traditionally undertaken by family. Society relies on schools to teach about human sexuality as well as basic skills such as budgeting and job applications—topics that at one time were addressed by the family.

Conflict Theory

Conflict theorists do not believe that public schools reduce social inequality. Rather, they believe that the educational system reinforces and perpetuates social inequalities that arise from differences in class, gender, race, and ethnicity. Where functionalists see education as serving a beneficial role, conflict theorists view it more negatively. To them, educational systems preserve the status quo and push people of lower status into obedience.

Boy kicking a soccer ball on a playground toward three other boys who are caged against a wall by a small metal goal post. The boys are crying or holding their ears.

The fulfillment of one’s education is closely linked to social class. Students of low socioeconomic status are generally not afforded the same opportunities as students of higher status, no matter how great their academic ability or desire to learn. Picture a student from a working-class home who wants to do well in school. On a Monday, he’s assigned a paper that’s due Friday. Monday evening, he has to babysit his younger sister while his divorced mother works. Tuesday and Wednesday, he works stocking shelves after school until 10:00 p.m. By Thursday, the only day he might have available to work on that assignment, he’s so exhausted he can’t bring himself to start the paper. His mother, though she’d like to help him, is so tired herself that she isn’t able to give him the encouragement or support he needs. And since English is her second language, she has difficulty with some of his educational materials. They also lack a computer and printer at home, which most of his classmates have, so they have to rely on the public library or school system for access to technology. As this story shows, many students from working-class families have to contend with helping out at home, contributing financially to the family, poor study environments and a lack of support from their families. This is a difficult match with education systems that adhere to a traditional curriculum that is more easily understood and completed by students of higher social classes.

Such a situation leads to social class reproduction, extensively studied by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. He researched how cultural capital , or cultural knowledge that serves (metaphorically) as currency that helps us navigate a culture, alters the experiences and opportunities available to French students from different social classes. Members of the upper and middle classes have more cultural capital than do families of lower-class status. As a result, the educational system maintains a cycle in which the dominant culture’s values are rewarded. Instruction and tests cater to the dominant culture and leave others struggling to identify with values and competencies outside their social class. For example, there has been a great deal of discussion over what standardized tests such as the SAT truly measure. Many argue that the tests group students by cultural ability rather than by natural intelligence.

The cycle of rewarding those who possess cultural capital is found in formal educational curricula as well as in the hidden curriculum , which refers to the type of nonacademic knowledge that students learn through informal learning and cultural transmission. This hidden curriculum reinforces the positions of those with higher cultural capital and serves to bestow status unequally.

Conflict theorists point to tracking , a formalized sorting system that places students on “tracks” (advanced versus low achievers) that perpetuate inequalities. While educators may believe that students do better in tracked classes because they are with students of similar ability and may have access to more individual attention from teachers, conflict theorists feel that tracking leads to self-fulfilling prophecies in which students live up (or down) to teacher and societal expectations (Education Week 2004).

To conflict theorists, schools play the role of training working-class students to accept and retain their position as lower members of society. They argue that this role is fulfilled through the disparity of resources available to students in richer and poorer neighborhoods as well as through testing (Lauen and Tyson 2008).

IQ tests have been attacked for being biased—for testing cultural knowledge rather than actual intelligence. For example, a test item may ask students what instruments belong in an orchestra. To correctly answer this question requires certain cultural knowledge—knowledge most often held by more affluent people who typically have more exposure to orchestral music. Though experts in testing claim that bias has been eliminated from tests, conflict theorists maintain that this is impossible. These tests, to conflict theorists, are another way in which education does not provide opportunities, but instead maintains an established configuration of power.

Feminist Theory

Feminist theory aims to understand the mechanisms and roots of gender inequality in education, as well as their societal repercussions. Like many other institutions of society, educational systems are characterized by unequal treatment and opportunity for women. Almost two-thirds of the world’s 862 million illiterate people are women, and the illiteracy rate among women is expected to increase in many regions, especially in several African and Asian countries (UNESCO 2005; World Bank 2007).

Women in the United States have been relatively late, historically speaking, to be granted entry to the public university system. In fact, it wasn’t until the establishment of Title IX of the Education Amendments in 1972 that discriminating on the basis of sex in U.S. education programs became illegal. In the United States, there is also a post-education gender disparity between what male and female college graduates earn. A study released in May 2011 showed that, among men and women who graduated from college between 2006 and 2010, men out-earned women by an average of more than $5,000 each year. First-year job earnings for men averaged $33,150; for women the average was $28,000 (Godofsky, Zukin, and van Horn 2011). Similar trends are seen among salaries of professionals in virtually all industries.

When women face limited opportunities for education, their capacity to achieve equal rights, including financial independence, are limited. Feminist theory seeks to promote women’s rights to equal education (and its resultant benefits) across the world.

Sociology in the Real World

Grade inflation: when is an a really a c.

In 2019, news emerged of a criminal conspiracy regarding wealthy and, in some cases, celebrity parents who illegally secured college admission for their children. Over 50 people were implicated in the scandal, including employees from prestigious universities; several people were sentenced to prison. Their activity included manipulating test scores, falsifying students’ academic or athletic credentials, and acquiring testing accommodations through dishonest claims of having a disability.

One of the questions that emerged at the time was how the students at the subject of these efforts could succeed at these challenging and elite colleges. Meaning, if they couldn’t get in without cheating, they probably wouldn’t do well. Wouldn’t their lack of preparation quickly become clear?

Many people would say no. First, many of the students involved (the children of the conspirators) had no knowledge or no involvement of the fraud; those students may have been admitted anyway. But there may be another safeguard for underprepared students at certain universities: grade inflation.

Grade inflation generally refers to a practice of awarding students higher grades than they have earned. It reflects the observation that the relationship between letter grades and the achievements they reflect has been changing over time. Put simply, what used to be considered C-level, or average, now often earns a student a B, or even an A.

Some, including administrators at elite universities, argue that grade inflation does not exist, or that there are other factors at play, or even that it has benefits such as increased funding and elimination of inequality (Boleslavsky 2014). But the evidence reveals a stark change. Based on data compiled from a wide array of four-year colleges and universities, a widely cited study revealed that the number of A grades has been increasing by several percentage points per decade, and that A’s were the most common grade awarded (Jaschik 2016). In an anecdotal case, a Harvard dean acknowledged that the median grade there was an A-, and the most common was also an A. Williams College found that the number of A+ grades had grown from 212 instances in 2009-10 to 426 instances in 2017-18 (Berlinsky-Schine 2020). Princeton University took steps to reduce inflation by limiting the number of A’s that could be issued, though it then reversed course (Greason 2020).

Why is this happening? Some cite the alleged shift toward a culture that rewards effort instead of product, i.e., the amount of work a student puts in raises the grade, even if the resulting product is poor quality. Another oft-cited contributor is the pressure for instructors to earn positive course evaluations from their students. Finally, many colleges may accept a level of grade inflation because it works. Analysis and formal experiments involving graduate school admissions and hiring practices showed that students with higher grades are more likely to be selected for a job or a grad school. And those higher-grade applicants are still preferred even if decision-maker knows that the applicant’s college may be inflating grades (Swift 2013). In other words, people with high GPA at a school with a higher average GPA are preferred over people who have a high GPA at a school with a lower average GPA.

Ironically, grade inflation is not simply a college issue. Many of the same college faculty and administrators who encounter or engage in some level of grade inflation may lament that it is also occurring at high schools (Murphy 2017).

Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic interactionism sees education as one way that labeling theory is seen in action. A symbolic interactionist might say that this labeling has a direct correlation to those who are in power and those who are labeled. For example, low standardized test scores or poor performance in a particular class often lead to a student who is labeled as a low achiever. Such labels are difficult to “shake off,” which can create a self-fulfilling prophecy (Merton 1968).

In his book High School Confidential , Jeremy Iversen details his experience as a Stanford graduate posing as a student at a California high school. One of the problems he identifies in his research is that of teachers applying labels that students are never able to lose. One teacher told him, without knowing he was a bright graduate of a top university, that he would never amount to anything (Iversen 2006). Iversen obviously didn’t take this teacher’s false assessment to heart. But when an actual seventeen-year-old student hears this from a person with authority over her, it’s no wonder that the student might begin to “live down to” that label.

The labeling with which symbolic interactionists concern themselves extends to the very degrees that symbolize completion of education. Credentialism embodies the emphasis on certificates or degrees to show that a person has a certain skill, has attained a certain level of education, or has met certain job qualifications. These certificates or degrees serve as a symbol of what a person has achieved, and allows the labeling of that individual.

Indeed, as these examples show, labeling theory can significantly impact a student’s schooling. This is easily seen in the educational setting, as teachers and more powerful social groups within the school dole out labels that are adopted by the entire school population.

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1.1 The Sociological Perspective

Learning objectives.

  • Define the sociological perspective.
  • Provide examples of how Americans may not be as “free” as they think.
  • Explain what is meant by considering individuals as “social beings.”

Most Americans probably agree that we enjoy a great amount of freedom. And yet perhaps we have less freedom than we think, because many of our choices are influenced by our society in ways we do not even realize. Perhaps we are not as distinctively individualistic as we believe we are.

For example, consider the right to vote. The secret ballot is one of the most cherished principles of American democracy. We vote in secret so that our choice of a candidate is made freely and without fear of punishment. That is all true, but it is also possible to guess the candidate for whom any one individual will vote if enough is known about the individual. This is because our choice of a candidate is affected by many aspects of our social backgrounds and, in this sense, is not made as freely as we might think.

To illustrate this point, consider the 2008 presidential election between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain. Suppose a room is filled with 100 randomly selected voters from that election. Nothing is known about them except that they were between 18 and 24 years of age when they voted. Because exit poll data found that Obama won 66% of the vote from people in this age group ( http://abcnews.go.com/PollingUnit/ExitPolls ), a prediction that each of these 100 individuals voted for Obama would be correct about 66 times and incorrect only 34 times. Someone betting $1 on each prediction would come out $32 ahead ($66 – $34 = $32), even though the only thing known about the people in the room is their age.

President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain

Young people were especially likely to vote for Barack Obama in 2008, while white men tended, especially in Wyoming and several other states, to vote for John McCain. These patterns illustrate the influence of our social backgrounds on many aspects of our lives.

Wikimedia Commons – CC BY 3.0; Wikimedia Commons – public domain.

Now let’s suppose we have a room filled with 100 randomly selected white men from Wyoming who voted in 2008. We know only three things about them: their race, gender, and state of residence. Because exit poll data found that 67% of white men in Wyoming voted for McCain, a prediction can be made with fairly good accuracy that these 100 men tended to have voted for McCain. Someone betting $1 that each man in the room voted for McCain would be right about 67 times and wrong only 33 times and would come out $34 ahead ($67 – $33 = $34). Even though young people in the United States and white men from Wyoming had every right and freedom under our democracy to vote for whomever they wanted in 2008, they still tended to vote for a particular candidate because of the influence of their age (in the case of the young people) or of their gender, race, and state of residence (white men from Wyoming).

Yes, Americans have freedom, but our freedom to think and act is constrained at least to some degree by society’s standards and expectations and by the many aspects of our social backgrounds. This is true for the kinds of important beliefs and behaviors just discussed, and it is also true for less important examples. For instance, think back to the last class you attended. How many of the women wore evening gowns? How many of the men wore skirts? Students are “allowed” to dress any way they want in most colleges and universities, but notice how few students, if any, dress in the way just mentioned. They do not dress that way because of the strange looks and even negative reactions they would receive.

Think back to the last time you rode in an elevator. Why did you not face the back? Why did you not sit on the floor? Why did you not start singing? Children can do these things and “get away with it,” because they look cute doing so, but adults risk looking odd. Because of that, even though we are “allowed” to act strangely in an elevator, we do not.

The basic point is that society shapes our attitudes and behavior even if it does not determine them altogether. We still have freedom, but that freedom is limited by society’s expectations. Moreover, our views and behavior depend to some degree on our social location in society—our gender, race, social class, religion, and so forth. Thus society as a whole and our own social backgrounds affect our attitudes and behaviors. Our social backgrounds also affect one other important part of our lives, and that is our life chances —our chances (whether we have a good chance or little chance) of being healthy, wealthy, and well educated and, more generally, of living a good, happy life.

The influence of our social environment in all of these respects is the fundamental understanding that sociology —the scientific study of social behavior and social institutions—aims to present. At the heart of sociology is the sociological perspective , the view that our social backgrounds influence our attitudes, behavior, and life chances. In this regard, we are not just individuals but rather social beings deeply enmeshed in society. Although we all differ from one another in many respects, we share with many other people basic aspects of our social backgrounds, perhaps especially gender, race and ethnicity, and social class. These shared qualities make us more similar to each other than we would otherwise be.

Does society totally determine our beliefs, behavior, and life chances? No. Individual differences still matter, and disciplines such as psychology are certainly needed for the most complete understanding of human action and beliefs. But if individual differences matter, so do society and the social backgrounds from which we come. Even the most individual attitudes and behaviors, such as the voting decisions discussed earlier, are influenced to some degree by our social backgrounds and, more generally, by the society to which we belong.

In this regard, consider what is perhaps the most personal decision one could make: the decision to take one’s own life. What could be more personal and individualistic than this fatal decision? When individuals commit suicide, we usually assume that they were very unhappy, even depressed. They may have been troubled by a crumbling romantic relationship, bleak job prospects, incurable illness, or chronic pain. But not all people in these circumstances commit suicide; in fact, few do. Perhaps one’s chances of committing suicide depend at least in part on various aspects of the person’s social background.

In this regard, consider suicide rates—the percentage of a particular group of people who commit suicide, usually taken as, say, eight suicides for every 100,000 people in that group. Different groups have different suicide rates. As just one example, men are more likely than women to commit suicide ( Figure 1.1 “Gender and Suicide Rate, 2006” ). Why is this? Are men more depressed than women? No, the best evidence indicates that women are more depressed than men (Klein, Corwin, & Ceballos, 2006) and that women try to commit suicide more often than men (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008). If so, there must be something about being a man that makes it more likely that males’ suicide attempts will result in death. One of these “somethings” is that males are more likely than females to try to commit suicide with a firearm, a far more lethal method than, say, taking an overdose of sleeping pills (Miller & Hemenway, 2008). If this is true, then it is fair to say that gender influences our chances of committing suicide, even if suicide is perhaps the most personal of all acts.

Figure 1.1 Gender and Suicide Rate, 2006

Gender and Suicide Rate (males are much higher than females)

Source: Data from U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2010 . Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab .

In the United States, suicide rates are generally higher west of the Mississippi River than east of it ( Figure 1.2 “U.S. Suicide Rates, 2000–2006 (Number of Suicides per 100,000 Population)” ). Is that because people out west are more depressed than those back east? No, there is no evidence of this. Perhaps there is something else about the western states that helps lead to higher suicide rates. For example, many of these states are sparsely populated compared to their eastern counterparts, with people in the western states living relatively far from one another. Because we know that social support networks help people deal with personal problems and deter possible suicides (Stack, 2000), perhaps these networks are weaker in the western states, helping lead to higher suicide rates. Then too, membership in organized religion is lower out west than back east (Finke & Stark, 2005). Because religious beliefs help us deal with personal problems, perhaps suicide rates are higher out west in part because religious belief is weaker. Thus a depressed person out west is, all other things being equal, at least a little more likely than a depressed person back east to commit suicide.

Although suicide is popularly considered to be a very individualistic act, it is also true that individuals' likelihood of committing suicide depends at least partly on various aspects of their social backgrounds

Although suicide is popularly considered to be a very individualistic act, it is also true that individuals’ likelihood of committing suicide depends at least partly on various aspects of their social backgrounds.

Wikimedia Commons – CC BY-SA 2.0.

Figure 1.2 U.S. Suicide Rates, 2000–2006 (Number of Suicides per 100,000 Population)

US Suicide Rates, 2000-2006. The highest rates of suicide are in Alaska and the western half of the US, besides much of California

Source: Adapted from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention. (2009). National suicide statistics at a glance. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/statistics/suicide_map.html .

Key Takeaways

  • According to the sociological perspective, social backgrounds influence attitudes, behavior, and life chances.
  • Social backgrounds influence but do not totally determine attitudes and behavior.
  • Americans may be less “free” in their thoughts and behavior than they normally think they are.

For Your Review

  • Do you think that society constrains our thoughts and behaviors as the text argues? Why or why not?
  • Describe how one aspect of your own social background has affected an important attitude you hold, a behavior in which you have engaged, or your ability to do well in life (life chances).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2008). Suicide: Facts at a glance. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/Suicide-DataSheet-a.pdf .

Finke, R., & Stark, S. (2005). The churching of America: Winners and losers in our religious economy (2nd ed.). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Klein, L. C., Corwin, E. J., & Ceballos, R. M. (2006). The social costs of stress: How sex differences in stress responses can lead to social stress vulnerability and depression in women. In C. L. M. Keyes & S. H. Goodman (Eds.), Women and depression: A handbook for the social, behavioral, and biomedical sciences (pp. 199–218). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, M., & Hemenway. D. (2008). Guns and suicide in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 359, 989–991.

Stack, S. (2000). Sociological research into suicide. In D. Lester (Ed.), Suicide prevention: Resources for the millennium (pp. 17–30). New York, NY: Routledge.

Sociology Copyright © 2016 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.


A level sociology revision – education, families, research methods, crime and deviance and more!

mind map of sociology of education for A-level

Table of Contents

Last Updated on November 21, 2023 by Karl Thompson

Links to posts on the sociology of education for A Level Sociology, including perspectives on education (Functionalism, Marxism etc.), explanations for differential educational achievement (class, gender, ethnicity), in-school processes (labelling etc.) and the impact of social policies such as the 1988 Education Reform Act. 

The first section of this page includes links to posts covering the main content for the different sub topics within the Education topic for A-level sociology, the structure of which is taken directly from the AQA’s specification. These posts are either medium form (like a text book section) or revision notes form, sometimes both!

The second section includes links to my assessment posts – either essay plans, 10 mark questions or general exam advice relevant here to the sociology of education.

mind map of the sociology of education for A-level sociology


A level sociology scheme of work

Sociology A-level scheme of work AQA education

The Sociology of Education: An Introduction

An Overview of the Education System in England and Wales – an introduction to the different types of school in England and Wales, the primary, secondary and ‘tertiary’ stages of education and the main compulsory national exams which make up the ‘education system’ .

Education and Schools in the United Kingdom – Key Statistics – a look at of some of the most basic statistics on the UK education system, including the number of schools, school types, pupils and teachers, along with some comments on the validity of such statistics.

Education with Theory and Methods – A Level Sociology Paper 1 – an overview of the first of the three exam papers within A level sociology (AQA focus)

Education Key Concepts – brief definitions of key concepts relevant to the A-level sociology of education module.

The role and functions of education

This really means ‘the perspectives’ on education – mainly Functionalism, Marxism, and the The New Right, but it might also be useful to know about Feminism and Postmodernism, especially for evaluation purposes.

Many of the perspectives discuss education in relation to work and the economy, ‘role allocation’ in Functionalism is about this for example’, and the link to class structure is hopefully obviously mainly ‘Marxism’.

Although vocational education is not explicitly on the syllabus, it would be useful to know something about it here because there are obvious links to work and the economy.

summary grid of perspectives on education for sociology

Perspectives on the Role of Education – Knowledge Check List – a simple check list for this sub-topic, covering the five main perspectives you need to know (Functionalism, Marxism, The New Right, Feminism and Post/ Late Modernism), the key concepts and some selected short answer and essay questions

The Functionalist perspective on education  – brief revision notes covering four key ideas of Functionalism on education: how school encourages social solidarity, teaching skills for work, school as a bridge between home and wider society and role allocation and meritocracy. 

Emile Durkheim’s view on the role of education in society – class notes which take a more in-depth look at Durkheim’s view on the role of education in society. Including his views on education and the transmission of share values, education and social roles, and the role education played in the Division of Labour in society. 

Talcott Parsons’ perspective on education – class notes which take a more in-depth look at Parson’s views of the role of education in society. 

Evaluating the Functionalist view of the role of education in contemporary society – detailed evaluative post exploring a range of contemporary evidence which either supports or criticises the Functionalist view of education.

The Marxist perspective on education  – brief revision notes covering four key ideas of the Marxist perspective on education: school as part of the ideological state apparatus, the correspondence theory, and the reproduction and legitimation of class inequality. Also includes a section on Paul Willis’ neo-Marxist study ‘learning to labour’. 

Bowles and Gintis – The Correspondence Principle – detailed class notes on this classic piece of Marxist theory on education from Bowles and Gintis’ classic (1976) work ‘Schooling in Capitalist America’.

Evaluating the Marxist perspective on education – medium length evaluative post focusing on a range of contemporary evidence which either supports or criticises the Marxist view of education.

Joel Spring – Education Networks – Power, Wealth, Cyberspace and the Digital Mind  – book summary. Good supporting contemporary evidence for the Marxist view of education in a global context.

The neoliberal approach to education – neoliberalism has informed New Right policies of education reform in England and Wales. Key neoliberal ideas for education include more exogenous and endogenous privatisation more choice and voice for parents and more surveillance and top down performance management of teachers.

The New Right perspective on education  – brief revision notes covering the key ideas of the New Right, key New Right Policies and some evaluations. NB should be read in conjunction with the 1988 Education reform Act post. This just covers the theory. 

Evaluating the New Right’s perspective on education – a medium length post which looks at the long term trend in GCSE results, PISA international league tables, Stephen Ball’s work and Sue Palmer’s concept of toxic childhood to evaluate the impact (positive and negative) of marketisation policies on pupils in England and Wales.

Postmodernism and education – a medium length post outlining some of the ways in which education seems to have responded to the shift to postmodern society, by becoming more individualised and diverse, for example. 

Homeschooling in England and Wales – Homeschooling is part of the postmodern education landscape but only 1% pupils are homeschooled. This post looks at the characteristics of homeschooled pupils and some of the pros and cons of educating children at home.

Sociological perspectives on the relationship between education and work – a brief summary post covering the Functionalist, Marxist, Feminist, New Right and Postmodern perspectives on education and work. 

Functionalist, Marxist and The New Right Views of Education   – summary vodcast comparing the three perspectives .

Sociological Perspectives on the Role of Education in Society – Summary Grid  – summary revision grid covering Functionalism, Marxism, The New Right, and Post and Late Modern perspectives on education .

Differential Educational Achievement

Sociologists usually examine differential educational achievement by social class, gender and ethnicity.

Students absolutely need to know which groups do better and worse TODAY – in summary, girls do better than boys, Chinese and Indian students to best in terms of ethnicity, and white working class students are the largest group with the lowest results.

You also need to know about why some groups do better than others, which is typically broken down into home versus school explanations.

Sociological Explanations of Educational Underachievement – class notes, and an introduction to the sub-topic 

Social class and educational achievement

mind map of social class and educational achievement

The effects of material deprivation on education  – material deprivation refers to lacking in money or resources. This post explores how factors such as low income and poor housing have a detrimental effect on educational achievement for children.

Statistics on social class and educational achievement – the Government does not routinely collect detailed data on the relationship between social class background and educational achievement. Instead we have to rely on two ‘proxies’ for social class: students eligible for free school meals and independent school results compared to state funded school results.

The effects of cultural deprivation on education  – In the 1960s cultural deprivation theory believed that working class children failed in school because of the lack of appropriate norms and values relevant to education. These revision notes cover the concepts of immediate and deferred gratification, restricted and elaborated speech codes.

The effects of cultural and social capital on education  – brief revision notes on how the values and connections of middle class parents give their children an advantage in education

Cultural Capital and Education  – more detailed class notes on the above .

Social Class and In school factors and differential educational achievement  – revision notes on how labelling, pupil subcultures, banding and streaming and the hidden curriculum have differential affects on working class and middle class children.

Gender and educational achievement

Best thought of in terms of three sub topics:

  • Why do boys do worse than girls, and vice versa
  • Why do boys and girls choose different subjects
  • How do different genders/ sexuality experience school differently (gender and identity)

summary grid of gender and achievement, in-school and out of school factors.

What is the gender gap in education? – an introductory post outlining the extent of gender gap in education, focusing on GCSE and A-level exam results and degree entries by gender. The headline fact is that girls do better than boys in almost every subject and nearly every level of education!

Explaining the Gender Gap in Education – External Factors  – revision notes covering how factors such as gender socialisation and changing gender roles explain why girls do better than boys in education.

Evaluating the role of External Factors in Explaining the Gender Gap in Education  – An evaluation post focusing on what the most significant factors are in explaining why girls do better than boys.

Explaining the Gender Gap in Education – In School Factors  – revision notes explaining how things such as teacher labelling and pupil subcultures affect boys and girls differently

Gender and subject choice – An overview of subject choice by gender, looking at the most female and male dominated subjects at A-level and university and the more gender neutral ones.

Why do boys and girls choose different subjects? Summary revision notes covering socialisation, teacher labelling and gendered subject image .

Gender and identit y – revision notes exploring how hegemonic masculinity and femininity hinder or help boys and girls in education .

Education Policy and Gender – A look at the extent to which policies have focused on improving or ignoring gender equality in education, only focusing on males and females.

Transgender education policies in England and Wales – There is a lack of specific guidance on how schools should avoid discriminating against transgender pupils but this post explores the scant advice that does exist.

Ethnicity and differential educational achievement

How Does Educational Achievement Vary by Ethnicity – an overview of the latest statistics from the Department for Education.

Material Deprivation and Ethnicity  – material deprivation doesn’t seem to explain differential achievement by ethnicity.

Cultural factors and ethnicity  – revision notes  covering such things as ethnic variations in parental attitudes to school and family structure and how these affect education

In school factors and institutional racism  – revision notes focusing on how pupil subcultures and also teacher labelling and racism might affect educational achievement by ethnicity. Includes summaries of Tony Sewell, David Gilborn and the concept of educational triage.

Are Schools Institutionally Racist? David Gilborn has claimed that schools are, this post has a look at some of the evidence to asesss this claim.

Why do Gypsy-Roma Children have such Low Educational Achievement ? – Some of the factors include Tory funding cuts to traveller education services, children not feeling as if the school curriculum is relevant to them, and discrimination in schools.

Policies to Combat Racism within Schools – A historical overview of the main policy dynamics from assimilationism to cynical multiculturalism.

The relative importance of gender/ class and ethnicity in differential educational achievement

White Working Class Underachievement – the white working classes have some of lowest achievement levels l – this post is a summary of a thinking allowed podcast which tries to explain why.

Relationships and Processes Within Schools

Interationists tend to focus on processes within schools, which primarily means teacher labelling, pupil subcultures, banding and streaming and school ethos.

In school factors all partly explain differential educational achievement by class, gender and ethnicity, but are probably not as significant as out of school factors.

Teacher labelling and the self fulfilling prophecy – detailed class notes covering the definitions of labeling and the self fulfilling prophecy, summaries of David Hargreave’s work on typing, Rosenthal and Jacobson’s classic field experiment, and C. Rist’s study of an American Kindergarten which focused on the relationship between social class and labelling, Also includes some evaluations of the labelling theory applied to education. 

Pupil subcultures – detailed class notes on pupil subcultures in school, covering pro and anti-school cultures and Peter Wood’s work on the range of subcultures in-between these extremes – such as retreatist subcultures. 

School Ethos and The Hidden Curriculum –  brief revision notes focusing on how the ethos (basic values) of a school and the hidden (or informal rules) of a school advantage some students and disadvantage others. 

Education Polices

The AQA specification states that students need to know about ‘ the Significance of Educational Policies for an Understanding of the Structure, Role, Impact and Experience of, and Access to Education in British Society ‘.

This section includes links relating to policies of selection, marketisation and privatisation; policies to achieve greater equality of opportunity or outcome, and the impact of globalisation on educational policy.

summary grid of education policies

Education Policies in the UK – a  very brief overview of the Tripartite System, Comprehensives, the 1988 Education Act and New Labour’s and the Coalition government’s policies of 1997 and 2010.

Social democratic perspectives on education – social democrats emphasize the important role which education can play in promoting equality of opportunity. Social democratic views lead to comprehensivisation 

The 1988 Education Reform Act – detailed class notes covering all of the specific policies introduced to implement the marketisation of education – namely GCSEs, league tables, formula funding, OFSTED and the national curriculum.

New Labour’s Education Policies (1997-2010) – detailed class notes covering the  introduction of Academies, Sure Start, Education Action Zones. This post also analyses the impact of New Right or Neoliberal and Social Democratic ideas on Labour’s education policies. 

New Labour’s Education Policies –  summary revision notes of the above.

2010–2015 – The Coalition Government’s education policies – detailed class notes covering funding cuts to education, further acadamization and the pupil premium, among other things. 

2010-2015 – The Coalition Government’s Education policies – summary revision notes of the above topic.

Free Schools – Arguments For and Against  – class notes summarising some of the arguments and evidence for and against Free Schools, which are a type of academy.

E ducation Policy in England Wales 2015 to 2020 – An overview of several polices such as austerity, the Ebacc, progress on Academisation, and the expansion of grammar schools.

Education policy since 2020 – covering the lockdown policies, the impact on children and covid-catch up policies.

Compensatory Education – extra education designed to make up for social disadvantage.

The Privatisation of Education  – class notes covering endogenous and exogenous privatization of education.

Selective Education Since Comprehensivisation  – revision notes on ways in which education has become more selective, including selection by mortgage and covert selection.

Arguments for and Against Reintroducing Grammar Schools  – this was suggested a few years ago now my Theresa May, but I’m not sure it’s on the cards anymore. class notes .

Vocational Education

Vocational Education in Britain today – summarises contemporary vocational policies including vocational GCSEs, T-Levels and apprenticeships.

Trends in Apprenticeships in England and Wales – a statistical overview of Apprenticeships up to 2021.

Evaluating Apprenticeships in England and Wales – a quick look at the strengths and limitations of modern apprenticeships.

Assess Sociological Perspectives on Vocational Education – essay plan

Globalisation and Education

Globalisation is one of the fundamental sociological concepts students must be able to apply to every aspect of the specification!

Globalisation and Education – a summary of five ways in which globalisation has affected education in the U.K.

The globalisation of Education – an exploration of some of the evidence that suggests we have an emerging global education system – from the rise of global tech companies such as Google with learning platforms to international PISA league tables.

Sociology Revision Resources

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A level sociology revision mega bundle – which contains the following:

Mega Bundle Cover

  • over 200 pages of revision notes
  • 60 mind maps in pdf and png formats
  • 50 short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  • Covers the entire A-level sociology syllabus, AQA focus.

Assessment Material

This section includes links to exam technique, and model answers for essays, the two types of 10 mark questions and the short answer questions you’ll find in the education section of the AQA’s A-level sociology paper 7192-1 .

  • How I would have answered the June 2018 sociology A-level paper 1 – covering the 4, 6, 10 and 30 mark questions on the education section of this paper. The post also covers the 2 theory and methods questions. 
  • How I would have answered the June 2017 Sociology A-level paper 1  – covering the education and theory and methods sections of the paper
  • Analyse two reasons why women remain economically disadvantaged compared to men despite the increase in the gender gap in educational achievement (10)
  • Possible 10 mark ‘analyse’ questions which you might get on paper one
  • Evaluate the Functionalist view of the role of education in society – essay plan, long version
  • Evaluate the Functionalist view of the role of education in society – essay plan, brief version
  • To what extent do home factors explain social class differences in educational achievement?   essay plan , long version
  • Evaluate the view that differences in educational achievement by class, gender and ethnicity are the result of in-school processes – essay plan, long, bullet pointed

Other posts about education which may not be immediately relevant to the A-level:

Education in America – an overview of key facts and stats of the American education system.

Please click here to return to the homepage – ReviseSociology.com

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the mind map for education really helps summarise the topic

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Educational Systems from a Sociological Perspective

One of the first and most influential sociologists, Emile Durkheim, observed that education played the role of cultural determination in socialization and was responsible for nurturing the society’s collective values and beliefs in the growing generation. Education also allowed reproducing the existing society in terms of its structure, stratification, or distribution of material resources and political power (Hoenisch, ch. 1-2). The present paper is intended to discuss the educational systems of the United States, Mexico, and religious communities and demonstrate the accuracy of sociological views on this social institution.

In the United States, education is divided into several stages: Preschool, Elementary School, Middle School, High School, and Post-Secondary. Attending school is compulsory for children aged between eight and fourteen-fifteen in most states. Because U.S. education is de-centralized, most decisions concerning curriculum design in public schools are made at the state or local levels, whereas the federal authorities are responsible for providing only the general guidelines (e.g. education structure, general expectations from students).

Private schools are different from the public predominantly in the fact of the existence of tuition fees and the autonomy of public institutions in curriculum development. Although U.S. education is proclaimed to be secular at least in public structures, private institutions founded by churches are entitled to establish independently the level of religious influence on course programs. One of the distinctive features of American education is deep involvement with community and public activities (e.g. encouraging volunteering for the community or socially useful out-of-school clubs). Another characteristic is the mainstreaming or integrated teaching of children with and without special needs (or mental disabilities).

Statistically, graduation rate from high school is 77%, i.e. much lower than in other developed countries. Although Durkheim wrote almost one hundred years ago, education was strictly structured according to students’ abilities (Hoenisch, ch. 5), the U.S. system is not dominated by “able-ism” at the first sight, as even the results of standardized testing does not affect one’s graduation. At the same time, a number of private educational structures are extremely selective and enroll students on the basis of their performance. Moreover, the two preconditions for entering most colleges and universities are the proof of the aspirate’s interest and experience in combating social problems and high academic attainment. By stressing the importance of involvement into community activities, the institution of education imposes on learners the local society’s beliefs, patterns and expectations, as Durkheim contended (Hoenisch, ch. 3). In addition, due to the fact that from Durkheim’s and Pareto’s perspectives (Delaney, p.2), performance standards of sponsored education (private schools) are much higher than those in public structures, one can assume that education still remains stratified, i.e. more affluent citizens can afford higher-quality training and orientation.

In Mexico, education is highly centralized and regulated exclusively by the government, so this country has no public schools. According to Pareto, the selection procedures in educational system are almost identical to those which exist in the governing elites (Delaney, p.2). In Mexico, this selection is performed through the introduction of ostensibly convenient and beneficial distance education, as the history of this program suggests that it is used predominantly by students from rural and poor families, and that the levels of distance learner achievement are two times lower as compared test results showed by the children who consistently attend the school. Clearly, rural and low-class youths are prevented from joining the governing elites; moreover, the provision of lower-quality education to rural students also allows controlling urbanization and preserving traditional family structure and roles classically attributed to agricultural societies, as Durkheim also assumed (Hoenisch, ch.3).

In the Amish religious communities of the United States, the providers of education are “closed” private community schools, to which neither teachers nor students from the secular society have no access. Amish students taught the basics of reading, math and science, but receive no technology training, as technological development is rejected by the religious maxims of the Amish people. After the eighth grade, adolescents receive less organized community-run training in farming and housekeeping; for instance the workshops on pork dressing belong to the educational practice of Amish communities. Thus, segregated Amish education allows preserving the patriarchal family values, religious beliefs and reproducing the society which denies technological development, in accordance with Durkheim’s model (Hoenisch, ch.3). Moreover, the community education system obviously reflects the views of community leaders who normally assume the leadership and instruction-related responsibilities at school.

Works cited

Hoenisch, S. “Durkheim and Educational Systems” . 2009. Web.

RAND Education. Education in Mexico: Challenges and Opportunities. 2009. Web.

Delaney, J. “Pareto’s Theory of Elites and Education”. 2009. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2023, November 24). Educational Systems from a Sociological Perspective. https://ivypanda.com/essays/educational-systems-from-sociological-perspective/

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Relevance: Sociology: Education and social change.

The Functions of Education

  • Functional theory stresses the functions that education serves in fulfilling a society’s various needs. Perhaps the most important function of education is socialization.
  • If children need to learn the norms, values, and skills they need to function in society, then education is a primary vehicle for such learning.

The Functionalist Perspective on Education – ReviseSociology

A second function of education is social integration .

  • For a society to work, functionalists say, people must subscribe to a common set of beliefs and values. As we saw, the development of such common views was a goal of the system of free, compulsory education that developed in the 19th century.
  • Thousands of immigrant children in the United States today are learning English, U.S. history, and other subjects that help prepare them for the workforce and integrate them into American life.
  • Such integration is a major goal of the English-only movement, whose advocates say that only English should be used to teach children whose native tongue is Spanish, Vietnamese, or whatever other language their parents speak at home.
  • Critics of this movement say it slows down these children’s education and weakens their ethnic identity.

A third function of education is social placement.

  • Beginning in grade school, students are identified by teachers and other school officials either as bright and motivated or as less bright and even educationally challenged.
  • Depending on how they are identified, children are taught at the level that is thought to suit them best. In this way they are prepared in the most appropriate way possible for their later station in life.
  • Whether this process works as well as it should is an important issue, and we explore it further when we discuss school tracking shortly.

Social and cultural innovation   is a fourth function of education.

Our scientists cannot make important scientific discoveries and our artists and thinkers cannot come up with great works of art, poetry, and prose unless they have first been educated in the many subjects they need to know for their chosen path.

Education also involves several latent functions.

  • Functions that are by-products of going to school and receiving an education rather than a direct effect of the education itself. One of these is child care.
  • Once a child starts kindergarten and then first grade, for several hours a day the child is taken care of for free.
  • The establishment of peer relationships is another latent function of schooling. Most of us met many of our friends while we were in school at whatever grade level, and some of those friendships endure the rest of our lives.
  • A final latent function of education is that it keeps millions of high school students out of the full-time labor force. This fact keeps the unemployment rate lower than it would be if they were in the labor force.

Education and Inequality

  • Conflict theory does not dispute most of the functions just described. However, it does give some of them a different slant and talks about various ways in which education perpetuates social inequality.
  • One example involves the function of social placement. As most schools track their students starting in grade school, the students thought by their teachers to be bright are placed in the faster tracks (especially in reading and arithmetic), while the slower students are placed in the slower tracks; in high school, three common tracks are the college track, vocational track, and general track.
  • Such tracking does have its advantages; it helps ensure that bright students learn as much as their abilities allow them, and it helps ensure that slower students are not taught over their heads.
  • But, conflict theorists say, tracking also helps perpetuate social inequality by locking students into faster and lower tracks.
  • Worse yet, several studies show that students’ social class and race and ethnicity affect the track into which they are placed, even though their intellectual abilities and potential should be the only things that matter: white, middle-class students are more likely to be tracked “up,” while poorer students and students of color are more likely to be tracked “down.”
  • Once they are tracked, students learn more if they are tracked up and less if they are tracked down. The latter tend to lose self-esteem and begin to think they have little academic ability and thus do worse in school because they were tracked down.
  • In this way, tracking is thought to be good for those tracked up and bad for those tracked down. Conflict theorists thus say that tracking perpetuates social inequality based on social class and race and ethnicity.
  • Social inequality is also perpetuated through the widespread use of standardized tests.
  • Critics say these tests continue to be culturally biased, as they include questions whose answers are most likely to be known by white, middle-class students, whose backgrounds have afforded them various experiences that help them answer the questions.
  • They also say that scores on standardized tests reflect students’ socioeconomic status and experiences in addition to their academic abilities. To the extent this critique is true, standardized tests perpetuate social inequality.

Conflict theorists also say that schooling teaches a hidden curriculum, by which they mean a set of values and beliefs that support the status quo, including the existing social hierarchy.

Although no one plots this behind closed doors, our schoolchildren learn patriotic values and respect for authority from the books they read and from various classroom activities.

The Marxist Perspective on Education – ReviseSociology

Symbolic Interactionism and School Behavior

  • Symbolic interactionist studies of education examine social interaction in the classroom, on the playground, and in other school venues. These studies help us understand what happens in the schools themselves, but they also help us understand how what occurs in school is relevant for the larger society.
  • Some studies, for example, show how children’s playground activities reinforce gender-role socialization. Girls tend to play more cooperative games, while boys play more competitive sports (Thorne, 1993)
  • Another body of research shows that teachers’ views about students can affect how much the students learn.
  • When teachers think students are smart, they tend to spend more time with them, to call on them, and to praise them when they give the right answer.
  • Not surprisingly these students learn more because of their teachers’ behavior. But when teachers think students are less bright, they tend to spend less time with them and act in a way that leads the students to learn less.
  • One of the first studies to find this example of a self-fulfilling prophecy was conducted by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson (1968). They tested a group of students at the beginning of the school year and told their teachers which students were bright and which were not.
  • They tested the students again at the end of the school year; not surprisingly the bright students had learned more during the year than the less bright ones.
  • But it turned out that the researchers had randomly decided which students would be designated bright and less bright. Because the “bright” students learned more during the school year without actually being brighter at the beginning, their teachers’ behavior must have been the reason.
  • In fact, their teachers did spend more time with them and praised them more often than was true for the “less bright” students. To the extent this type of self-fulfilling prophecy occurs, it helps us understand why tracking is bad for the students tracked down.

Key Takeaways

  • According to the functional perspective, education helps socialize children and prepare them for their eventual entrance into the larger society as adults.
  • The conflict perspective emphasizes that education reinforces inequality in the larger society.
  • The symbolic interactionist perspective focuses on social interaction in the classroom, on school playgrounds, and at other school-related venues. Social interaction contributes to gender-role socialization, and teachers’ expectations may affect their students’ performance.

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Writing help, paraphrasing tool, human rights perspectives in lee v. weisman: balancing religious freedom and education.

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The case of Lee v. Weisman, which was heard by the Supreme Court in 1992 and ruled in the same year, is regarded as a key legal and constitutional investigation of the separation of religion and state in the United States. This seminal judgment centered on the debate around the use of nonreligious prayer in public school ceremonies, most notably those pertaining to graduation. The case threw into stark focus the continuous conflict between two rights protected by the First Amendment: the freedom to freely practice one’s faith and the right to be free from the establishment of religion by the state. This article examines the history of the Lee v. Weisman case, as well as its legal arguments, the judgment of the Supreme Court, and the larger consequences of the case.

In the case of Lee v. Weisman, the fundamental issue before the court was whether or not the presence of members of the clergy who give prayers at official public school ceremonies constitutes a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The case shed light on the idea of “psychological coercion,” which is the phenomenon in which students may feel obliged to engage in religious activities at school events, even if their participation is, in theory, optional. This feeling may be the result of social pressure or the expectations set by the school environment.

Weisman was awarded the victory by the Supreme Court in a judgment that was 5-4. Justice Anthony Kennedy presented the judgment of the court’s majority, which ruled that the inclusion of a prayer at a public school graduation ceremony did in fact violate the Establishment Clause. The Court stressed that the engagement of the government in this instance constituted a religious practice in a public school that was sponsored and controlled by the state. This was seen as a type of coercive pressure being placed on pupils, which violated the constitutional rights of those individuals who would not choose to take part in a religious activity.

Students are less likely to feel as if they have the freedom to refrain from complying to the ceremonial traditions, as was addressed in the majority decision of the case Lee v. Weisman. The majority opinion also highlighted the distinctive setting of a school environment, which is one in which attendance at events like graduations bears important social and scholastic relevance.

The ruling in Lee v. Weisman has substantial and far-reaching repercussions as a result of the case. It was a reaffirmation of the ideals outlined in the Establishment Clause, especially with regard to the functioning of the public school system. The decision emphasized how vital it is to keep public schools in a religiously neutral atmosphere and how essential it is to shield pupils from any kind of religious pressure that may be exerted in such institutions. This judgment has been very influential in following decisions and arguments over the place of religion in public institutions and the scope of rights afforded by the First Amendment.

In conclusion, the case of Lee v. Weisman is widely regarded as a precedent-setting decision in the context of the interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It sheds light on the difficult balance that the judicial system has to preserve in situations involving religion and public life, particularly those that take place in educational institutions. This case is reflective of the continuing dispute about the acceptable limits between church and state, a question that is still as pertinent now as it was at the time that the ruling was made. As our culture continues to struggle with these problems, Lee v. Weisman remains an essential point of reference for gaining an understanding of and finding one’s way through the intricate dynamic that exists between religious liberty and the neutrality of the state in matters of religion.

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  • Philosophy of Education
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Philosophical and Sociological Perspectives in Education

What is philosophy of education and how does it assist us as educators.

The Oxford dictionary (2006),defines Philosophy as the study or creation of theories about basic things such as the nature of existence, knowledge, thought, or about how we should live. Etymologically the word philosophy is a combination of two Greek words: Philo, ‘love’ and sophy, ‘wisdom’ which translates to the love of wisdom.

Philosophy asks questions rather than provide answers, it focuses on problems (Tiechman and Evans, 1992). There are four main branches or types of questions in philosophy: namely metaphysics, epistemology, axiology, and logic. Metaphysics deals with existence and reality. Epistemology questions the nature of knowledge and how people attain it. Axiology looks at values or fundamental principles. While logic examines how we reason.

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Bartlette and Burton(2007) define education as the all-round development of an individual this includes the physical, social, motor, language, creative, cognitive or intellectual, emotional, aesthetic as well as spiritual development. Education and philosophy are closely linked andcannot exist independently of each other. Philosophy lays the foundation for education by providing a way of thinking more clearly about situations. Philosophical thought methods can be applied in different areas of life (Warbuton,2004). All educational problems are questions of philosophy so, when we apply the principle to solve various educational issues, we call it educational philosophy. Educational philosophy answers questions as to why we teach/educate (aim), where to teach (school), whom we teach (child), who teaches (teacher), what we teach (curriculum), and how to teach (methods), when we teach, (motivation) and so on.’ (Dash, 2015). Therefore, according to Nodding 1995, the study of education and its problems is what we call educational philosophy.

Each teacher comes to the classroom with their own attitudes, ideas and beliefs. These unique set of principles and ideals affects their teaching and student performance. As the philosophy of education carries the most personal thoughts and beliefs on education it helps craft teaching methods and principles it important that teachers are familiarized with it. It can also help teachers understand their roles and their students needs and learning styles. A philosophy of education helps school the school community (teachers, students, parents, and governing bodies) coordinate their efforts towards achieving a unified goal (Sooraj,2011). [398 words}

Inquiry Approach vs a Transference of Knowledge

The way a teacher teaches, their general principles, pedagogy, and management strategies that they use in classroom instructions is known as instructional methods (Richa,2014). The choie of instructional methods depends on a number of factors like the curriculum, subjects, classroom setting, and the teacher’s personality, beliefs and mood. A transference style of teaching is a traditional approach, here the teacher is the main of information, they stand in front of the class, either teaching basic rules, giving instructions or monitoring tasks, while the learners, are sited and listening attentively or are busy completing tasks silently, all assessments are test-based, and the questions often have one correct answer (Hinchey ,2010). This approach is rigid and does not provide learners a lot of opportunities for accessing content, they memorize content and do not analyze, which leaves no room for critical thinking. Even when the learners are given some practice, they rarely receive any feedback on tasks. On the other hand, in Inquiry-based learning the focus moves away from the teacher to the learners, the teachers’ job is more of a facilitator, coach, mediator, prompter, and aid for student’s development. In this approach it is believed that certain activities and enhancements in the setting improve the meaning-making process, such as active learning using dominant learning styles of kinesthetic, visual and auditory, creating opportunities for discussion, nurturing creativity and providing a rich, safe and engaging environment (Bower, 2012).

The CAPS curriculum was made to support an inquiry-based instruction at a national and a regional level of schools, this may help boost the student accomplishment outcomes. The curriculum has clear outcomes and roles for both learners and educators. The curriculum allows educational authorities support their teachers confidently by providing continuous professional development, technical support and supplies. The CAPS curriculum content-based learner-centered approach, redefines the teacher’s role from that of a sole knowledge bearer to more of that of facilitator and monitor this motivates the learners to engage in lessons and respond in differently to specific content and teaching methods and strategies. This has also led to teachers having to adapt traditional teaching methods to meet their learners’ learning needs. Approaches to education shouldn’t have to change between fostering knowledge acquisition and learning through participation but rather combining both in a meaningfully (Sfard,1998).

Sociological Aims of Education

Many see education as the door to financial and economic freedom, one that decreases poverty and inequality, promotes social, economic and cultural growth. In South Africa, due to its political history the education system is said to be biased and designed for a certain race group and class while ignoring the needs of ethnic minorities and class. However, it can be also be argued that there are other factors that have caused these inequalities within the education system in South Africa (Meltzer, 1967:37).

The most obvious and stressed aim of education is linked to employment and future roles (Bartlet and Barton,2007). Education should help build up a qualified and creative workforce by providing people with the compulsory productive skill set and abilities that an economy needs to at least allow enter to and access the employment market. During Apartheid, ‘Bantu Education’ restricted instruction in certain subjects and was used to force minorities into the unskilled work (Asmal & James, 2001). After apartheid was abolished, education became compulsory for all South African children and schooling was no longer segregated.

The second objective of education is to develop individuals’ discipline with a respect for authority and tradition (Bartlet and Barton,2007). This should be consciously and selectively done because traditions need to be chosen for communication as well as oversight depending on their value and desirability in today’s democratic set-up. The graduates produced should not just represent individual culture, but should also be active representatives of communal culture through official channels. Since 1994 South Africa has shifted from an oppressive education system by taking down the scaffolding of apartheid and replacing it with a system that promised well-being, respect, and expression for all South Africans (DOE,2001).

The final aim of education is social service, here the maverick in education still maintains his distinctive ideals. A well-built society affects education as social structure is influenced by many factors such as religion, politics, and economy. Which in turn influences individuals. So, while preserving traditional values, education needs to develop new values and social patterns where citizens are rooted in their own cultures and yet open to other cultures and a Global outlook is fostered (Hemrom,2008).

Personal Philosophy of Education

My personal aim for each class that I teach is to challenge every learner and watch them develop to their full abilities and potential. I believe every child can learn and can contribute to their education. This means allowing them to actively partake their learning. I try to create a nurturing classroom that inclusive and provides a safe learning environment so that my learners can freely express themselves and be creative. When learners feel unsafe in in any way whether its emotionally or physically, they shut down and this can affect their learning capacity.

I believe that every class is a unique community and every member has something meaningful to contribute. So, I believe that group work is vital to having a successful class. Through group work, learners are able to use their strengths to help build each other’s weaknesses. As a teacher, it is important to teach and show learners how work with and to help others.

As an educator, I need to be aware of learning, motivation, behavior, and development philosophies in order to relate to my learners and push them to reach their full potential. This means constantly learning and finding ways to improve me. If learners do not relate to the content they are being taught, then they will not be interested in it. So, I try to make the content as relatable as possible through various activities and excises that are energetic, meaningful and cater for different learning styles. From my own learning experiences, I know how treasured reassurance, praise, and positive reinforcement from your teacher is. So, I aim to encourage learners while teaching them to be self-motivated through thought-provoking yet supportive classes. It is important to me that my learners, know that I work hard for them and expect them to work hard too.

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  • Bartlett, S. & Burton, D. 2007. Introduction to Education Studies. London: Sage Publications. (Chapter 2)
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  • Noddings, N. 2012. The caring relation in teaching. Oxford Review of Education, 38(6): 771-781.
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  • Sooraj, P,2011.IMPLICATION OF IDEALISM IN MODERN EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM https://educational-system.blogspot.com/2011/11/
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  • Vygotsky, L. (1978). Interaction between learning and development. Readings on the development of children, 23(3), 34-41.
  • Vygotsky, L. S. (1980). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard university press.
  • Warburton, N. 2004. Philosophy the basics. New York: Routledge. (Pages 1-7)

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Sociological Perspective: Education Bibliography 10 Pages 2416 Words

             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 studied well enough to stay in school and continue their education. Science tells us that if two highly intellectual people have children, their children have a much higher chance of being highly intellectual also. This idea is very similar to having two blue-eyed people producing blue-eyed children. However, this doesn't always happen. Separately from science, there are many different factors that influence these facts such as the school and friends. However, why do different groups of students consistently do worse than other students in education? For example, working class children, on average, do not do as well as middle class children. On average, black children do not do as well as white children (Bluhm Morley). This is proven by statistics on exam results and those pursuing higher education. By using the sociological perspective, we will look at the education system through the theories of functionalism, confliction, and symbolism. We will also observe the impacts of sociological variables in education through social class. Doing so, we'll answer a question, "How does education impact our society?"              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 co...

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Sociological Perspective on Education

My view of education is coherent with the Functionalist sociological perspective. This standpoint might seem outdated since its roots go to the foundation of sociology by Durkheim (Little & McGivern, 2016). Yet, I believe that the ideas and methodology of this scholar are relevant and applicable nowadays, as well as his approach to education. The Functionalist view lies in considering educational institutions as vital social structures that serve the functions of an individual’s socialization. In turn, socialization includes comprehending the behavioral patterns appropriate for society and finding out a person’s place in the community. Moreover, a set of networks is created by the educational system, which is of considerable use (Little & McGivern, 2016). I perceive these functions as essential for the future well-being of a person.

Precisely, education is necessary for the successful integration of a person with a society. Nowadays, rarely can people escape communication with others. For effective communication, practice and experience are vital and educational institutions provide such material. Ergo, education delivers the instruments for exploring not only the material world but social structures as well. Knowing the norms and strategies of behavior with different people is important since cooperation guides humanity’s progress. Education, in this sense, becomes a facilitator of social interactions. Various bonds between former classmates and universities graduates create local communities, companies, and even philosophical schools. Moreover, in educational institutions, a person can acquire the skills of self-criticism so that not to become a prisoner of individualistic fallacy. By understanding the social contexts, a person can successfully interact and live in society. As a result, various activities beneficial for society might emerge from the individuals engaged in education, which fulfills its purpose, in my opinion.

Little, W., & McGivern, R. (2016). Introduction to Sociology (2nd ed.). Pressbooks.

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    Educational Systems From Sociological Perspective Essay. ... Emile Durkheim, observed that education played the role of cultural determination in socialization and was responsible for nurturing the society's collective values and beliefs in the growing generation. Education also allowed reproducing the existing society in terms of its ...


    28-May-2021 TriumphIAS SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES ON EDUCATION Listen Relevance: Sociology: Education and social change. The Functions of Education Functional theory stresses the functions that education serves in fulfilling a society's various needs. Perhaps the most important function of education is socialization.

  15. Sociological Perspective On The Education System

    The sociology of education is simply the belief that educational institutions are not only a place for academic learning but also a place for learning how to behave and socialise amongst other people. "In its broadest sense, education is simply one aspect of socialisation: it involves the acquisition of knowledge and the learning of skills.

  16. Essay On Sociological Perspective

    In the perspective of sociology, education is social institution in the classes of which society provides its member with essential knowledge as well as basic facts, skills for job and cultural norms and values. Theoretical approaches as a fundamental image…show more content…

  17. Essay on The Sociological Theories Impact on Education

    Theories Of Sociological Imagination. Structural functionalism is a macro analysis view defined as "The way each part of society functions together to contribute to the whole.". In education, it focuses on how it serves the needs of society. Functionalists view education as a way to pass on knowledge and skills.

  18. Sociological Perspectives In Education

    The sociology of education is a condition of human survival. This means education is a social institution through which a community of people and people in the world teach children the basic related to school and learning. The knowledge, learning skills,normal and accepted behavior or beliefs in a group of people.

  19. Summary: Sociological Perspective of Education

    Summary: Sociological Perspective of Education Summary While speaking during a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the newspaper's North Street, central Kingston office January 29, 2013, at which the Caribbean Policy Research Institute's recent findings on Education in Jamaica' were examined; Mr..

  20. Human Rights Perspectives in Lee v. Weisman: Balancing Religious

    Essay Example: The case of Lee v. Weisman, which was heard by the Supreme Court in 1992 and ruled in the same year, is regarded as a key legal and constitutional investigation of the separation of religion and state in the United States. ... Human Rights Perspectives in Lee v. Weisman: Balancing Religious Freedom and Education. (2023, Nov 24 ...

  21. Essay On Sociological Perspective On Education

    Essay On Sociological Perspective On Education 1264 Words3 Pages Comparative Theoretical Perspectives on Education Sociological theories are based on how individuals perceive, understand and explain the acts and behaviors in societies. Throughout history, many individuals have developed their own assumptions on how social life is explained.

  22. Philosophical and Sociological Perspectives in Education

    Sociological Aims of Education Personal Philosophy of Education References What is Philosophy of Education and How Does it Assist Us As Educators The Oxford dictionary (2006),defines Philosophy as the study or creation of theories about basic things such as the nature of existence, knowledge, thought, or about how we should live.

  23. Sociological Perspective: Education essays

    Sociological Perspective: Education essaysIn 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

  24. Review of Bielsa (2023): A Translational Sociology: Interdisciplinary

    DOI: 10.1075/target.23033.che Corpus ID: 258881331; Review of Bielsa (2023): A Translational Sociology: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Politics and Society @article{Chen2023ReviewOB, title={Review of Bielsa (2023): A Translational Sociology: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Politics and Society}, author={Li Chen}, journal={Target.

  25. Sociological Perspective on Education

    My view of education is coherent with the Functionalist sociological perspective. This standpoint might seem outdated since its roots go to the foundation of sociology by Durkheim (Little & McGivern, 2016). Yet, I believe that the ideas and methodology of this scholar are relevant and applicable nowadays, as well as his approach to education.