Functionalist and Conflict Theories paper

Functionalist and Conflict Theories

#1        Every given society suffers from uneven distribution of intellect or a natural-born talent. However, functionalists argue that economic success enjoys a direct correlation to the intellect, thereby inequality in a society is natural. This phenomenon explains best explains why students from low-income households posts poor performances about their counterparts from the middle and upper households (Week 4, 6). Functionalists view economic success as a direct result of individual ability. As one’s level of IQ is a distinguishing factor for economic success which breeds inequality in any societal setting. This, in turn, explains why school is viewed as a social institution that is expected to promote equal opportunity and maximize social equality (Wilcox, 272). According to functionalism, people considered to be intellectually endowed are more likely to succeed in school and life as compared to those with deficiencies in individual ability.

Economic success is determined to a great extent by the availability of cognitive characteristics. Functionalist argue that economic success is directly attributable to personal motivation, perseverance and individual capability, which are realized through classroom socialization. In essence, these cognitive abilities enable one to integrate with the workforce setting the pace for success effectively. People who lack these cognitive abilities are likely to rag behind when it comes to achieving economic success a phenomenon that results in inequality in a society. Wilcox observes that these cognitive skills which amount to the ‘capacity to learn’ among some other technical skills are what managers pay for meaning a lack of them renders one inappropriate for the employer widening the inequality lift in a society (Wilcox, 273). As such, when one lacks what it takes to fit into becoming human capital, they are pushed further away from economic success.

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#2        Being a consensus theory functionalist theorists put a lot of emphasis on the positive aspects of school like socialization and the vital role it plays in a society’s structure. According to functionalists, through aspects like socialization education assists in maintaining a society by imparting into individuals values of competition, achievement and equal exposure to opportunities.  According to Wilcox (271), “schooling is a social institution with a key role in socializing children for available adult roles.” Societies in which the class system have been adopted have various dominating societal norms such as guiding beliefs as well as values depicting the accepted modes upward social mobility (week 4a, 4). As such apart from preparing children to take up adult duties in the community, the other primal school role of is perpetuating such dominant societal forms. These societal norms are especially important as they influence how people think, make decisions and judgments relating to their lives.

Education offers all children an equal opportunity to participate in a free and fair contest that has tremendous rewards to be won. Functionalists argument about the relationship between schools and dominant societal norms is supported by the dominant U.S. cultural norm emboldened into contest mobility. As a transmitter of culture, school has an implication on the issue of equal opportunities in education to children (Wilcox, 271). In essence, functionalists have used the theory to support its claim noting that the U.S. society is an open contest whereby people compete to win prizes that they win either in the form of credentials, fame, money et.c (week 4a, 2). With the contest being free and fair functionalists argue that winning in this contest is predominantly dependent on one’s effort and personal motivation and not special treatment or favouritism.

Dominant cultural norms shape education as an equally available opportunity for all. These dominant societal norms are compelling to the point that they have the potential to exert pressure over people so that they can open up to the dominantly accepted routes of moving up the socio-economic ladder — however, schools classifying students according to their potential based on their academic merit. The functionalist argument behind the variation in students intelligence has a direct correlation with the students’ economic background (week 4a, 3). Additionally, the theory argues that intelligence is passed down from one generation to another in the form of inheritance.

The functionalist theory

The functionalist theory argues that when students socialize in schools, they learn to commit to societal values in a way that motivates them into aspiring certain societal positions. Socialization in schools comes in the form of rewards and punishments for behaviour and academic performance. However, this reward system is prone to bias, especially on the moral aspects of achievement and actual cognitive achievement. In this respect, a cognitively smart student may be thought of as well-behaved, which is not always the case (week 4a, 4). However, the functionalist argues that the school reward system exhibits fairness in as long as it accords all students equal opportunity to compete for the rewards.

#3        Inequality can never be regarded as natural for it fails to serve the good of the greater community.

To begin with, contrary to the belief of functionalists there exists no correlation between inequality and intellect. In essence, inequality only maintains power relations to a small group in the community by preserving the wealth, privilege, and status of these dominant sub-groups. As such, there exists little to no relationship between economic success and individual intelligence. With the equality of social equality that education is perceived to offer those in classrooms either from poor or well-off households drink from this well of knowledge proportionately. Parents both from poor and wealthy households give equal attention to education as noted by Lareau “Working-class and poor parents are no less eager than middle-class parents to see their children succeed in school” (198).

Secondly, economic success is not only linked to cognitive abilities. To put it into perspective, non-cognitive attributes such as motivation, orientation towards authority, discipline and work ethic are all determinants of economic success. However, all these skills are not gathered from school. According to Wilcox (274) for employees to be at their level best productivity those at occupies lower-level jobs gain their motivation from other structures that are external from them. In contrast, those holding higher-level positions derive motivation for work from skills that are attained by self. The problem with functionalists undermines all these other moral concepts of achievement and success. The argument that inborn talent and personal motivation are solely responsible for economic success is misguided. Even with motivation and individual ability, one needs more skills and knowledge concepts that are not directly attributable to school education.

#4 Education’s primary role is to normalize inequality. According to conflict, theorists school legitimizes economic inequality in a society. The dominant societal norms about the individual capability that functionalist portrays as to be perpetuated by education unfairly influence schooling in a way that is only meant to protect the interests of the dominant group or rather the elite few. For instance, schools are split into different types guided by the status and social class of parents of the children attending the schools. There are public schools, with dilapidated facilities and worn out structures and private academies where the infrastructure and structures support ‘education’. The dilapidated schools are attended by children from poor and working-class households while children from well-off households attend the well-furnished schools. How, then can it be that education is not legitimizing inequality? In comparing elementary schools in America, Lareau (24) found that there were significant differences in these schools with some similarity on in some of the social practices that guide institutional standards.

In contrast to what functionalists makes us believe that education indeed socialize students with certain behaviours attributes, and knowledge that enables them to integrate into the workforce efficiently Bowles and Gintis refutes that claim arguing that the school reward system is only designed for socializing students into the belief that they are singly to blame for their failures or triumphs (Week 4a, 17). Classroom socialization is only used as a meritocratic ideology to find some justification for the variation that is witnessed in achievement. The thinking entailing beliefs, attitudes as well as values meant for justifying the status quo are only intended to make things look natural. It deceives that everyone has an equal opportunity to compete in school and life for rewards regardless of their capability  (Mann, 128). According to conflict theorists, it is wrong to depict the results for such competition which assumed to be a success only to be credited on personal motivation and innate talent. The argument is that when it comes to increasing skills and knowledge, education is beneficial to everyone across all levels of IQ. However, it can only predict economic success or failure but not a student’s level of IQ.

Conflict theorists

Unlike functionalists, conflict theorists believe that the primary social function that schools have towards an economy and society at large is that through socialization it produces youthful workers armed with non-cognitive characteristics that enable them to integrate into the workforce. The explanation to this argument lies squarely in conflict theorists ideal that in schools socialization only produces generalized classroom consciousness to poor students and those of the working class so that they do not question or resist the society by trying to fix the status quo. Parsons (week 4, )also expresses displeasure with the argument that education is indeed the shaper of society by noting that students from poor households and with high-ability are consistently cross-pressured in an attempt to get successful in a society that has defined success as a competition for the smart and bright. These students get into some sought of internal conflict with themselves eluding the benefit of school-based socialization. As such Parsons refers to the socialization in school as imperfect as students are susceptible to getting influenced by peers with negative influence.

School rewards such as special treatment, teacher’s praise, or grades are not entirely based on the cognitive skills or intelligence of students but rather on beliefs about their economic futures. Egalitarian objectives of education are always in constant conflict the it’s integrative role of preparing children so that they can take on adult roles in society. However, such conflict is brought about by the long-held belief of the days of common school movement that school can be a panacea of societal problems (Spring, 71).

Works Cited

Laureau Annette. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race and Family Life. University of California Press,        Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, 2003.

Mann Horace.Report of Massachusetts Board of Education. 1848. pp. 121-127.

Spring Joel. Spring Ideology and Politics of the typical School: The American School. 1642-1958             Chapter 4; The Ideology and Politics of the Common School.

Wilcox Kathleen, Differential Socialization in the Classroom: Implications for Equal Opportunity.            In Doing the Ethnography of Schooling.pp.271-309. Holt, Reinhart &Winston, 1982.

Week 4a; Review: Functionalist Theory

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