The Conflict Theory: The Elites Profit while the Lower Class is Controlled by Education

Education in America today plays numerous roles in determining the social and economic outcome of society and those who dwell in it. When questioning the purpose of education and whether it is producing social classes or providing equal opportunity for all students, there are two general responses to contemplate.
The Consensus theory states education’s purpose is to bring out the potential of every student and that each person can positively contribute to the well-being of society according to his or her capabilities.The Conflict theory argues education is in place to dictate and determine the potential of every student and if everyone was pushed to their potential society would not work, basically society needs the working class to thrive. By controlling the lower class through education and other institutions the elite persist to profit and stay at the top of the social and economical scale. Consensus theorists define society as a collection of like-minded people pursuing a common goal, yet along with natural resources, human resources are limited, so society must maximize its short supply in order to accomplish necessary functions.This social structure requires society to be divided into separate, but overlapping areas of responsibility creating social institutions. These institutions establish and organize a system of social behavior with a particular and recognized purpose. Before the Industrial Revolution sociologists such as Emile Durkheim, focused on schooling as one of the most important social institutions existing.
He wrote, “Education is the influence exercised by adult generations on those that are not yet ready for social life.Its objective is to arouse and to develop in the child a certain number of physical, intellectual and moral states which are demanded of him by both the political society as a whole and the special milieu for which he is specifically destined. ” (Sociology of Education, pg. 14) Durkheim strongly believed that schools played a major role in forming a functioning society with consistent moral values. This institution was a crucial element for sustaining order and growth in society.As society advanced from the agricultural to the industrial era public education arose as businesses required more complex knowledge in order to build and sustain society. The shift from gemeinshaft to gesselschaft created a rapid breakdown in socialization.

Because functionalists, such as Durkheim believed the social order was brought about by educational institutions “any change in society reflects a change in education and vise versa. ” Sociology of Education, pg. 4) Rather than a community defined by intimate bonds, it became impersonal and focused on organic solidarity. In order to keep a cohesive society public schools reflect the widespread beliefs creating a forged sense of nationhood and American values. In society occupational roles were expected to be achieved by merit. Education, an obvious input mechanism for achievement, became a necessity in society. Occupational tasks in the newly developed work force required various levels of skills, intelligence, and motivation.
Jobs involving higher levels of human resources are more highly rewarded due to their important impact on the eminence of the American way of life. Functionalists today view school as “The consensus and common bond between members of society, taught and reinforced in schools through socialization into shared norms, unites groups working toward common goals and keeps groups from disintegrating. ” (Sociology of Education, pg. 15) They view school as an essential foundation in building an open democratic society, as a means of solving problems of inequality and discrimination.Yet these “shared norms” imbedded into the learning criteria are produced by the upper class and ensure them from “disintegrating” because they are already exposed to the curricula being taught , where as those of lower social classes and other ethnicities are not, giving the upper class, yet another social and economic advantage. Conflict theorists argue that the organization and structure of society are based on domination and oppression. Society is a competitive arena where groups struggle for authority as the dominant group assembles society for their benefit.
With the proper up-bringing and education a person can accomplish most anything because human abilities are infinite. Conflict theorists find that all social institutions are structured to benefit the dominant class and vanquish the lower social class by making them think and/or feel a certain way. “The “haves” often use coercive power and manipulation to hold society together to their benefit, but this theory recognizes that change is inevitable and sometimes rapid, as the conflicts of the interest lead to the overthrow of existing power structures. ” (Sociology of Education, pg. 7) Using education to manipulate the lower class, the elite teach the poor that they deserve to be at the bottom to prevent rebellion. One mechanism used is another institution that has been an issue in public education since it conception. Religion, “the opiate of the masses” dulls your senses and provides a false perception of society.
The Protestant sector was the at one time the only schooling available and influenced what was taught for decades. Protestant ethic states that your future is predetermined at birth, therefore legitimizing the rule of the dominant.This is often referred to as blame the victim ideology. It puts the crisis of poverty on the poor and releases the elite of responsibility. During the Industrial era the upper class concentrated on developing hidden curriculum that based its importance on the structure, rather than the subject matter, teaching children to be worthy workers, consumers, and citizens. This hidden curriculum “contains a social and economic agenda that is responsible for separation social classes, giving elites more freedom and opportunity, and training non-elites to accept their lot as obedient, punctual workers. (Sociology of Education, pg.
260) For the working class schooling follows simple skills curricula with little thought put into the work, while upper class students learn to reason and conceptualize subject matters. Schooling was set in place for the working class to produce disciplined, punctual, obedient workers who had basic skills and were content with repetitious tasks. In the modern era private schooling arose in response to the rise of Capitalism to assure advancement and success of the dominant class and their children.The availability of high quality education is limited to the rich. Public schools are funded by property tax assuring lower class communities to have poor public schools. In segregated and poor cities schools do not have the adequate funds for sufficient buildings, staff, or supplies. “Critics also willfully ignore the health conditions and the psychological disarray of children growing up in burnt-out housing, playing on contaminated land, and walking past acres of smoldering garbage on their way to school.
They also ignore the vast expense entailed in trying to make up for the debilitated skills of many parents who were prior victims of these segregated schools or those of Mississippi. ”(Savage Inequalities, pg. 37) This is a perfect example of the elite using their power in society including media, politics, and general influence in the education system to keep the poor at the bottom for generations. Private schools are beyond the reach of the poor due to significantly high tuition charges.It is tragic enough that poverty stricken regions have floods in the halls and rats in the cafeteria, but even public schools that are moderately wealthy tend to be bias to class origins, regarding lower class students differently. Bowes and Gintis’ Economic Reproduction theory stresses the role of capitalists, the dictators, in determining the structure of society. It is based on the principle that there must be a correspondence between the needs of the economic systems and the shape, form, and function of all social institutions.
Within the class system a specific human identity must be formed for capitalism to function. One way this is done is keeping the unemployment rate high, by producing a reserve army of skilled labor wages stay low. Bourdieu’s theory of Cultural Capital states that the operation of schooling in America favors the upper classes by privileging their cultural knowledge and devaluing that of the lower class. Cultural capital is general knowledge, background, disposition, and skills that are passed down from one generation to the next.Upper class children, by virtue of certain linguistic and cultural competence acquired through family upbringing, are provided the means of appropriation for success in schools. In the film To Sir, with Love the illustration of cultural capital was apparent as Thackeray throws out regular learning curricula, literally, and starts teaching basic skills and manners of society, also known as cultural capital. Thackeray even takes the class on weekly field trips to museums exposing them to art and history that is common knowledge to the upper class.
By growing up in an environment where you are read to every night by your parents, take trips to museums, attend concerts, and so on, the academic performance, in schools based around the upper class culture, is translated into economic success by getting better jobs. In To Sir, with Love at the end of the film a graduating student got a job as a page boy, today known as a bell hops, and was proud and excited about his future in the work world, but was set on eventually going to a secondary night school to improve his chances at upward mobility.With a greater sense of cultural capital it gave the students in the film higher aspirations and confidence, because in reality without it they had no chance in a social structure controlled by the elite. Education is valued differently from one social class to the next. For the lower class education is valued, but considered out of reach and abstract. Middle class view it as a ladder, “If you work hard upward mobility is a possibility. ” The upper class perspective of education is based more on connections rather than the actual education received, which are easily found when your parents are members of elite social clubs.
Paul Willis Resistance Theory, contrary to Bourdieu’s premise, deems that culture mediates between social structure and individual action. The reason youth view restricted and meaningless jobs to be sensible for them are due to the process of autonomy. Willis argues that there are two types of working class student cultures; the Ear’oles, who aspire to middle class occupations and comply with school norms and the Lads, or resistors, who reject school ideology in attempts of maintaining their own culture. This is done by overthrowing teacher and administrative authority and disrupting classes.This was also displayed by Thackeray’s class when they continually harassed him by cutting off the legs of his desk and even burning a used feminine toiletry on the classroom fireplace. The root of this objection is a direct response of the realization of the exceedingly limited chances for upward mobility leaving the working class resentful and confrontational. Willis points out the problematic view points of the working class keeping them from advancing in the social structure of society are the principles that devalue mental work and their inferiority of the female.
Because people do not react passively to domination the cultural level of the working class is marked by contestation, resistance, and or compromise making school a site for class conflict. Willis and Bourdieu’s theories are both mechanisms of social reproduction in that they acknowledge that schools are institutions structured to implement the desires of capitalists, but before looking at the structure of the education system he first examines the culture, attitudes, and experiences of the lower class youth. By considering only the nonconformist lads in his study, Willis is hard-pressed to illuminate the purely institutional mechanisms that constrain the social mobility of working class individuals.And his insistence on the autonomy of culture means that his actual account of how the lads end up in manual labor occupations is remarkably free of attention to structurally embedded constraints. ” (Reproduction Theory Reconsidered, pg. 136) As the theory of Resistance focuses on the culture of social classes and how aspirations are haped and altered by the lifestyle of the lower class, Cultural Capital concentrates on the influence structure within society’s institutions, including education, have on social classes and ultimately their outcomes in life. “Aspirations provide a conceptual link between structure and agency in that they are rooted firmly in individual proclivity (agency) but also are acutely sensitive to perceived societal constrains (structure).
” (Reproduction Theory Reconsidered, pg. 137)

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