Public education, it can be argued, shapes society, instils social mores and indoctrinates the impressionable with those philosophies the elites value. This essay will focus upon three main areas intrinsic to the education system. These are the social reproduction of ideas, the life chances created and instilled through education, and the socialisation of the individuals undergoing the educational process. Two main sociological perspectives that are useful when studying the education system are Functionalism and Critical Theory, because they focus on macro issues and social structures more than the interactionist perspective.
Functionalists believe that the school system is an agent of social reproduction, which operates to reproduce well integrated, fully functioning members of society (Webb, Schirato and Danaher, 2002: 114). Critical theorists, conversely, hold that education is the most effective mechanism for promoting social change and for giving opportunities to less privileged groups so that they can advance their social standing.
However, education usually reproduces existing social divisions, maintaining the relative disadvantage of certain groups (Webb, Schirato and Danaher, 2002: 106). Munro (1994: 108) describes the different approaches by stating that, "functionalists tend to see education as synonymous with socialisation, while a conflict theorist is inclined to view education as ideological- that is, reflecting the interests of particular groups."
Functionalists hold that the major institution for social reproduction is the education system, whereas, from a critical perspective, teachers, who oversee this reproduction, have been made into administrators of programs that provide "manpower capitalisation" through planned and directed behavioural changes (Illich, 1973: 327). Illich (1973: 327) comments, from a critical perspective, that teaching and learning remain sacred activities separate and estranged from a fulfilling life. This is because the things being taught do not line up with the necessary knowledge needed for life outside of education, and that "learning from programmed...