3. Structural Funtionalism/ Consensus Theory

Structural Functionalism/ Consensus Theory

Structural functionalists believe that society tends towards equilibrium and social order. They see society like a human body, where key institutions work like the body's organs to keep the society/body healthy and well[4]. Social health means the same as social order, and is guaranteed when nearly everyone accepts the general moral values of their society. Hence structural functionalists believe the purpose of key institutions, such as education, is to socialise young members of society. Socialisation is the process by which the new generation learns the knowledge, attitudes and values that they will need as productive citizens. Although this purpose is stated in the formal curriculum[5], it is mainly achieved through "the hidden curriculum"[6], a subtler, but nonetheless powerful, indoctrination of the norms and values of the wider society. Students learn these values because their behaviour at school is regulated [Durkheim in [3]] until they gradually internalise them and so accept them. Education must, however perform another function to keep society running smoothly. As various jobs in society become vacant, they must be filled with the appropriate people. Therefore the other purpose of education is to sort and rank individuals for placement in the labour market [Munro, 1997]. Those with the greatest achievement will be trained for the most important jobs in society and in reward, be given the highest incomes. Those who achieve the least, will be given the least demanding jobs, and hence the least income.

According to Sennet and Cobb however, "to believe that ability alone decides who is rewarded is to be deceived".[3] Meighan agrees, stating that large numbers of capable students from working class backgrounds fail to achieve satisfactory standards in school and therefore fail to obtain the status they deserve[7]. Jacob believes this is because the middle class cultural experiences that are provided at school may be contrary to the experiences they've had at home [8]. In other words working class children are not adequately prepared to cope at school. They are therefore "cooled out"[9] from school with the least qualifications, hence they get the least desirable jobs, and so remain working class. Sargent agrees with this cycle, stating that schooling supports continuity, which in turn support social order.[3] Talcott Parsons believed that this process, whereby some students were identified and labelled educational failures, "was a necessary activity which one part of the social system, education, performed for the whole"[7]. Yet the structural functionalist perspective maintains that this social order, this continuity, is what most people desire[4]. The weakness of this perspective here becomes evident. Why would the working class wish to stay the working class? Such an inconsistency demonstrates that another perspective may be more useful in examining the issue further.

Functionalist perspective. People who employ the functionalist perspective view society as a set of interrelated parts that work together to produce a stable social system. According to functionalists, society is held together through consensus. In other words, most people agree on what is best for society and work together to ensure that the social system runs smoothly. Sociologists who adopt this perspective follow in the tradition of Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim. Some of the topics of interest to functional sociologists include the division of work in the family and the functions served by education in society.

Like Durkheim, functionalists view the various elements in society in terms of their functions their positive consequences for society. Recognizing that not everything in society operates smoothly, functionalists also label certain elements as dysfunctional. A dysfunction is the negative consequence an element has for the stability of the social system. Dysfunctional elements, such as crime, disrupt society rather than stabilize it.

In addition to being either positive or negative, functions can be either manifest or latent. A manifest function is the intended and recognized consequence of some element of society. A manifest function of the automobile, for example, is to provide speedy transportation from one location to another. A latent function, on the other hand, is the unintended and unrecognized consequence of an element of society. A latent function of the automobile is to gain social standing through the display of wealth.

How Consensus Theory could be applied to education.

Consensus theorists see society as an integrated system maintaining an equilibrium with interrelated institutions. These institutions provide the rules governing behaviours that serve to maintain a kind of equilibrium and set of common values that bind people together.

Implications to educational practice

Consensus theory has the following implications to educational practice:

According to Consensus Theory, education will aim to produce experts in all professions for the benefit of all members of the society for example teachers, doctors, engineers, etc

Secondly, Consensus theorists suggest that selection to higher levels of education should be based on merit, that is, it should be based on one's performance in competitive examinations.

Further, Consensus theorists believe that the best-brained pupils are expected to join the higher occupational/ professional jobs for the benefit of the entire society.

Based on ideas of Consensus theorists, it is assumed that those who do not do well in school are lazy or have less intellectual abilities.

Consensus Theory is likely to support a differentiated type of education and educational opportunities for the different categories of people. For example, having public and private schools, high cost and low cost schools, pupils doing different examinations like KCSE and A- level, etc.

Finally, Consensus theorists believe that education is likely to be conservative in order to maintain the status quo and stability in the society.