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Discuss the role of education in promoting social control.


Social control, conformity and resistance

 A Level/AS Level/O Level

Free Essay Outline

Define social control and its significance in society. Briefly introduce different perspectives on the role of education (functionalist, Marxist, feminist etc.) and state your argument - which perspective(s) will you be focusing on and why.

Functionalist Perspective
Explain how functionalists view education as promoting social control: transmitting shared norms and values, fostering social solidarity, role allocation, etc. Provide evidence and examples to support the functionalist view.

Marxist Perspective
Contrast with the Marxist perspective: education as an instrument of class reproduction, promoting capitalist ideology, creating a compliant workforce through the hidden curriculum. Provide evidence and examples.

Other Perspectives (Optional - Choose one or two to discuss briefly)
Feminist Perspective: Briefly discuss how feminists might argue education reinforces gender roles and patriarchy.
Interactionist Perspective: Briefly consider how interactions within schools (labelling, self-fulfilling prophecy) can contribute to social control.

Evaluation and Conclusion
Critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the discussed perspectives. Consider the limitations of viewing education solely through the lens of social control. Conclude by summarizing your argument and stating your overall perspective on the role of education in promoting social control.

Free Essay 

Social control refers to the mechanisms by which society ensures conformity to its norms and values. It is crucial for maintaining order, stability, and cohesion within any society. While social control can be achieved through various means, including law, religion, and family, education plays a particularly significant role in shaping individuals and promoting social conformity. This essay will explore the role of education in promoting social control, focusing primarily on the functionalist and Marxist perspectives. These two contrasting views highlight the complex and multifaceted nature of education's influence on individuals and society.

Functionalist Perspective
Functionalists view education as a vital institution that contributes to the smooth functioning of society. They argue that education performs several important functions that promote social control:

1. Transmitting Shared Norms and Values: Education acts as a crucial vehicle for transmitting the dominant values, beliefs, and norms of society. Through the curriculum, textbooks, and interactions with teachers and peers, students are exposed to the prevailing social ideals and learn to internalize them. This process of socialization helps ensure that individuals understand and accept the social expectations and rules of their society. For example, the emphasis on punctuality, discipline, and respect for authority in schools prepares students for the hierarchical structure of the workplace.

2. Fostering Social Solidarity: Functionalists argue that education promotes social solidarity by fostering a sense of shared identity and belonging among individuals. Schools bring together people from diverse backgrounds, creating a common ground for social interaction and shared experiences. This fosters a sense of community and national unity. Rituals such as school assemblies, sporting events, and national holidays also contribute to this sense of shared identity and social cohesion.

3. Role Allocation and Social Stratification: Education plays a key role in allocating individuals to different social roles and positions within society. Through academic achievement and qualifications, students are sorted into specific professions and social classes. This process, known as meritocracy, ensures that the most talented and capable individuals are placed in positions where they can make the most significant contributions to society. However, this perspective has been criticized for ignoring the role of social inequality and the influence of factors like socioeconomic status on educational attainment.

4. Developing Skills and Knowledge: Functionalists argue that education equips individuals with the necessary skills, knowledge, and attitudes to contribute effectively to society. This includes practical skills such as literacy and numeracy, as well as more abstract skills like critical thinking and problem-solving. Education prepares individuals for the demands of the modern workforce and promotes economic growth.

Marxist Perspective
In contrast to functionalism, Marxist theory views education as an instrument of social control that serves the interests of the ruling class. Marxists argue that education serves to:

1. Reproduce Class Inequalities: Marxists believe that education reinforces and perpetuates existing class inequalities by transmitting the dominant ideology of the ruling class. They argue that the curriculum, teaching methods, and assessment practices are designed to benefit the wealthy and powerful, while disadvantaging the working class. For example, the curriculum may focus on subjects that are relevant to the dominant class, such as finance and economics, while neglecting subjects that are more relevant to the working class, such as trade skills and manual labor.

2. Promote Capitalist Ideology: Marxists argue that education promotes capitalist ideology by instilling values such as competition, individualism, and consumerism, which benefit the capitalist system. They also argue that education prepares students to be compliant and docile workers who are willing to accept their place in the capitalist hierarchy. For example, through the "hidden curriculum", schools teach students to conform to authority, accept rules, and tolerate unfair treatment, which prepares them for the demands of a hierarchical workplace.

3. Create a Compliant Workforce: Marxists argue that education serves to create a compliant and productive workforce by teaching students to be obedient and unquestioning. Through the hidden curriculum, schools emphasize obedience, discipline, and conformity, which prepares students for a workplace where they are expected to follow orders and perform their tasks without questioning authority.

Other Perspectives (Optional - Choose one or two to discuss briefly)
While the functionalist and Marxist perspectives offer contrasting views on education's role in social control, other perspectives offer further insights.

Feminist Perspective: Feminists argue that education can reinforce gender stereotypes and patriarchal structures. They point out that the curriculum often reflects male-dominated perspectives and that girls may be discouraged from pursuing certain subjects or careers. For example, the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields is often attributed to gender bias and expectations.

Interactionist Perspective: Interactionists emphasize the importance of social interactions within schools in shaping individuals and promoting social control. They argue that processes such as labelling and the self-fulfilling prophecy can contribute to social control. For example, if a teacher labels a student as "troubled," this label may influence the teacher's interactions with the student, which in turn can shape the student's behavior and academic performance.

Evaluation and Conclusion
While both functionalism and Marxism offer valuable insights into the role of education in social control, neither perspective provides a complete or comprehensive understanding. Functionalism, by focusing on the positive contributions of education, overlooks the potential for social inequality and the reproduction of existing power structures. Conversely, Marxism, by emphasizing the role of education in serving the interests of the ruling class, may downplay the positive aspects of education in promoting social mobility and individual development.

It is important to recognize that education is a complex and multifaceted institution that can serve both to promote social control and to challenge existing power structures. The role of education in promoting social control is not straightforward or absolute. It is influenced by a range of factors, including social, economic, and political forces, as well as individual choices and experiences. Therefore, any discussion of education and social control must consider the complexities and nuances of this relationship.

In conclusion, while education plays a significant role in promoting social control, it is ultimately a complex and contested space. It can be used to serve the interests of the dominant class, but it can also be a tool for challenging existing power structures and promoting social change. The effects of education on individuals and society are influenced by a wide range of factors and perspectives, making it an ongoing area of debate and analysis.


Ball, S. J. (2008). Education and social change. Routledge.

Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J.-C. (1977). Reproduction in education, society and culture. Sage.

Durkheim, E. (1956). Education and sociology. Free Press.

Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1978). The communist manifesto. Penguin.

Willis, P. (1977). Learning to labour: How working class kids get working class jobs. Columbia University Press.

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