Sociologists come up with theories to explain some phenomenon in society. A theory can be defined as a proposed relationship that exists between more than two concepts. This is to say that a theory is an explanation as to why a certain phenomenon occurs. Sociologists analyze these phenomenons in society from different perspectives and from different levels. From sweeping generalizations to concrete interpretations of social behavior and society, sociologists are able to study everything from macro levels of analysis of some of the large patterns in the society to the micro level analysis of some of the smallest patterns in the society. Today, sociologists apply three main theoretical approaches to this analysis: the functionalist approach, the symbolic interactionist perspective and the functionalist approach. These three approaches give sociologists theoretical paradigms in sociology for explaining how people influence the society and vice versa. Each approach distinctively conceptualizes social forces, society and human behavior. This paper will, therefore, look at these three sociological approaches and how they affect one of the most widely spread institutions in society, and that is the institution of education.
Each sociological theory applies to the institution of education differently. The functionalist theory, for instance focuses on the ways that universal education serves the society and all of its needs. Believers of this theory see education in its role of manifestation: conveying basic skills and knowledge to the next generation. The founder of the theory, Durkheim, identified the main role of the institution as one of socializing people in the mainstream society. ,oral education, as he referred to it, helped create a social structure that was more cohesive by bringing individuals together from diverse backgrounds, which echoes the traditional concern of immigrants’ Americanizing.
On the other hand, the conflict theory sees the purpose of the institution of education as maintaining inequality in the society and preserving power of those individuals who are dominant in the society. Conflict theories look at the same uses of education as functionalists. While functionalists look at education as a contribution that is essential to a society that is ordered, conflict theories see the system of education as perpetuating the status quo by structuring the lower classes to be obedient workers. However, the two theories agree that the system of education practices sorting, but they do not agree on how the system enacts this sorting. Functionalists argue that schoolssort based on merit while conflict theories argue that schools sort based on ethnic lines and distinct classes. The symbolic interactionists, however, limit their analysis of education to what is directly observed as happenings in the classroom. They, therefore, put more emphasis on how the expectations of the teacher influence student perceptions, performance and attitudes.
Each of these theories affects the views of the people who are part of the institution differently. For instance, functionalist theories affect students in that it points to the latent roles of education as socializing people in the mainstream society and the transmission of social control and core values. The core values in the education system reflect those characteristics that support the economic and political systems that originally drove education. Therefore, students of these systems receive rewards for following directions, schedules, obeying authority and meeting deadlines.
The most essential value present in the American classroom are ideologies that advocate for liberty rights and independent actions, therefore, students who follow such systems are likely to learn early unlike those who do not follow this educational system. The conflict theories also affect the views of the students in these institutes by relentlessly arguing that the purpose of education is solely to create a more docile work force for maintaining capitalism and maintaining power structures and not for social opportunity or benefit. Individuals in these institutions, therefore, believe that schools sort out students according to their social classes and not according to their IQ test just to maintain those social and class borders. The interactionist theories, on the other hand, affect the views of those in the education institution to believe that students who get closer to the teachers are the ones who gain more attention and, therefore, perform better.
Social change in the education institution can also be affected by these theories. For instance, the interactionist theory can help facilitators of change understand better some of the factors that affect student performance. In doing this, the facilitators can demand that all students be given equal chances and opportunities to get closer to the teachers and to benefit from this closeness. The functionalist theories can help policy makers change those educational systems that do not promote quicker learning, competition and other factors that can improve educational achievement. The conflict theories, on the other hand, can influence educational institutions to base their sorting of students based on their IQ tests and not on their ethnic and class status in the society.
Each of these theories can also affect the views of the society about the educational institution. The functionalist theory, for example, can influence the society to view the system of education as one of the most essential institutions in the society that provides core values, education and socialization of the mainstream society to the students. Conflict theories can, on the other hand, influence the society to believe that the education institution is not adequate or fair in providing the society valuable benefits. It can make the society believe that the most privileged in education and the society are those individuals from the upper class. The interactionist theory might influence the society to believe that teachers, and, the labels and expectations they have of the students affect the performance and academic achievement of the students.
As we have seen from the paragraphs above, sociologist theories are essential in explaining a number of phenomenons in the society. Education is one of these that can be explained using these theories. The functions of education and the influences of performance in schools can, therefore, be explained and understood using these three theories.
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