Critically discuss this statement.
In today’s society educational success and failure vary dependent on different social groups, for example, social class and gender reflect different levels of educational attainment. Research shows that children of parents in higher social classes are more likely to achieve high grades in key stage tests and at GCSE. Indeed sixteen year olds whose parents have a higher professional occupation achieved 77% of GCSE grades A* - C and sixteen year olds whose parents are in routine occupations achieved 33% of grades A* - C (Youth Cohort Study, 2004). This assignment will examine research evidence regarding social class and gender along with social theories which relate to the subject matter such as Functionalism and Marxism. It will also outline the main arguments for and against the claim that educational success and failure are about the social class and gender of pupils/students.
The American functionalist Parsons (1961) stated that all schools operate on meritocratic principles, meaning that all pupils are ruled by individual merit and talent on the basis of their achievement and not wealth, income or social status. Meritocracy is an educational ideal which suggests that every pupil/student has an equal chance of achieving. Achievement success and failure are based solely on levels of intelligence along with hard work, enthusiasm, dedication and commitment. We will now examine if meritocracy actually exists.
Parsons (1961) claimed that after primary socialization within the family, the school takes over as the focal socializing agency: school acts as a bridge between the family and society as a whole preparing children for adult life. Parents treat the child as their particular child but in larger society the individual is treated and judged in terms of universalistic standards. Within the family the child’s status is ascribed. However in advanced industrial society, status is largely achieved, for example, individuals make a career. The school prepares young people for this transition, from the particularistic standards and ascribed status of the family to the universalistic standards and achieved status of adult society. (p. 545)
Durkheim (1961) claimed that school is society in miniature. Like parents, teachers get children ready for larger society and so they teach children discipline, hard work, co-operation and respect. If such shared norms and common values are not followed, then society will fall apart. Durkheim also stated that education creates shared identity through wearing school uniform and playing team sports. This creates “essential similarities” with modern society. Without these, co-operation, social integration and therefore social life itself would be impossible. A vital task for all societies is the welding of a mass of individuals into the united whole, in other words the creation of social integration. This involves a commitment to society, a sense of belonging and feeling that the social unit is more important than the individual. Durkheim argued that “to become more attached to society the child must feel in it something real, alive, which dominates and to which the person also owes the best part of himself”.
Davis and Moore (1967) also saw education as a means of role or status allocation. This is an important mechanism whereby the most talented and able members of society are allocated to those social positions that are functionally most important. High rewards act as incentives for these posts which means that people compete and the most talented will win through. The educational system reinforces the most talented with higher qualifications and in turn provides entry to important occupations in society.
However Marxists Bowles and Gintis (1976) beg to differ and believe that education exists primarily to provide exploitable