Functionalist Perspective of Education
• Functionalists consider education to perform the following manifest functions:
1) Transmission of the mainstream culture – Schools transmit cultural norms and values to each new
generation and play an active part in the process of assimilation, whereby recent immigrants learn
dominant cultural values, attitudes, and behaviors.
2) Social placement – Schools are responsible for identifying the most qualified people to fill the
positions available in society; as a result, students are channeled into programs based on individual
ability and academic achievement.
3) Training students for adult roles – Schools assist students with personal development as well as
provide career guidance.
4) Socialization – Schools teach students the appropriate student role, specific academic subjects, and
5) Social Control – Schools are responsible for teaching values such as discipline, respect, obedience,
punctuality, and perseverance. Schools teach conformity by encouraging young people to be good
students, conscientious future workers, and law-abiding citizens.
6) Change and innovation – Schools are a source of change and innovation. As student populations
change over time, new programs are introduced to meet societal needs (e.g., sex education, drug
education, and multicultural studies). Innovation in the form of new knowledge is required in colleges
• Functionalists also point out that schools perform latent functions:
1) Restricting some activities – Early in the 20th century, all states passed mandatory education laws
that require children to attend school until they reach a specified age or complete a minimum level of
education. This served to keep students off the street and out of the full-time job market for a number
of years, thus helping to keep unemployment within reasonable bounds.
2) Matchmaking and production of social networks – Because schools bring together people of similar
age, social class, and race/ethnicity, young people often meet future marriage partners and develop
3) Creation of a generation gap – Students may learn information in school that contradicts beliefs held
by their parents.
The Conflict Perspective of Education • Conflict theorists believe that schools often perpetuate class, racial-ethnic, and gender inequalities as
some groups seek to maintain their privileged position at the expense of others.
• Tracking – The assignment of students to specific courses and educational programs based on their
test scores, previous grades, or both.
- Numerous studies have demonstrated that ability grouping and tracking affect students’ academic
achievement and career choices. Although the stated purpose of tracking systems is to permit students