Social Theory in the Function of Education

The search for a social theory which is compatible for 21st century educational philosophy is so difficult because there are so many social theories that influenced education. But, one can see that history of educational thought is developed in the context of social theory. Because of diversity, contemporary American society is the best specimen to examine the social theories and their function of education.

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It can be seen that the differences between diverse geographical regions, between rural and urban societies, and between social classes also add diversity to the America society. Another important reason behind the diversity of American society is the presence of millions of immigrants from all corners of the world. When people from Africa, Asia, and Europe immigrated to America, they carried their own culture and beliefs with them. These diverse cultural aspects resulted in the diversity of American society. One can see that most of the people in America are with strong family ties and are most loyal to the groups which they belong to.

Moreover, American give due importance to individual rights and individuality. The aspects of individuality of an American citizen are honesty and frankness. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State points out that: “Most Americans keep some kind of appointment calendar and live according to schedules.” ((n.d.), Living in the US: Measuring success). the people of America are of the habit of living according to schedules and they consider competitiveness as the most important quality of an individual. Moreover, the quality of competitiveness adds high value and achievement to American life. In education, this attitude of the people enables them efficient to be able to do many things within a limited time.

When one verifies the usability or influence of social theories in educational scenario, it can be seen that social theories are useful in educational modernization. When one considers the multilingual, multicultural, multiethnic society of America, influence is more evident. D. J. McAdam is of the opinion that it is important to know more about Native American culture. “I think it’s great to read books about Native American culture, go to museums, buy products that teach us about Native American values.” (D. J. McAdam, 2007).

When one try to examine Native American culture, it can be seen that it is gives a clear idea about Native American values. But now, the society is under the control of social theories. By comparing and contrasting different social theories, one will be able to identify the best social theory that is able to explain the function of education within contemporary American society. When one goes through the history of education, it can be seen that education is being influenced by social theories. Most influential social theories are functionalism, Marxism, interpretivism, and post-modernism.

Functionalists visualize the society which is being structured like a human body. For example, parts of our body function together to maintain a healthy whole. In a society, education, family etc plays the role of the parts and all function together to maintain the whole society. The strength of functionalism is that, it is able to identify the society as parts and as whole. The article-Functionalism argues that: “mental events can be realized in many different forms and structures.” ((n.d.), Functionalism).

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The theories of identity theorists and the behaviorists are not able define human mind as a part of human body because events that take place in a human mind can be realized in many different forms and structures. Moreover, they believe that individuals are responsible to live according to the norms and values of the society. The weakness of functionalism is that it restricts individual freedom and it gives due importance to usability not individuality.

Marxism, which is a social theory, based on social, political, and economic principles formulated by Karl Marx. The strength of Marxism is that it tried to develop an educational policy which combined general individual development and technical ideas. Raymond Allen Morrow and Carlos Alberto Torres points out that: “develop a conception of “polytechnic education” which sought to combine general individual development and the acquisition of technical skills.” (Morrow & Torres, 1995, p.12). the followers of Marxism were able to transform the traditional mode and aim of education.

The education system that was initialized by the Marxists was aimed to general development of the individual and acquisition of technical skills. The weakness of Marxism was that there were so many restrictions on individual liberty. In a Marxist society, all individuals were under the despotic control of government. Moreover, no one will be allowed to question the government.

Interpretivism points out that, if one wants to understand a phenomenon, the whole needs are to be examined. James Neill point out that interpretivism is better than positivism because its aim is to understand the phenomenon as a whole, not as a part. “The underlying assumption of interpretivism is that the whole needs to be examined in order to understand a phenomena.” (Neill, 2006). For example, if one wants to identify some problems in an educational system, the whole educational system must be examined. If one tries to examine it as a part, the real problem cannot be identified.

The strength of interpretivism is that it is helpful to have a clear look on anything that is to be examined critically. But its weakness is that it is time consuming so its influence as a social theory on education is limited. Post- modernism is another social theory which can be seen as a style of art, writing, music, theatre and architecture. Pauline Marie Rosenau points out that: “two major tendencies within post-modernism, the largely European, skeptical form and the predominantly Anglo-North-American form, which suggests alternative political, social, and cultural projects.” (Rosenau, 1992). there were two major tendencies within post-modernism, skeptical form and the Anglo-American form.

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Both these varied forms of post-modernism aimed at alternative political, social and cultural projects. It can be considered as a revolutionary approach to the study of society. Moreover, it was so popular in the west in 1980s and 1990s and it includes the features of older periods. Its strength is that it is able to combine different social theories of older periods. As it is a combination of older theories, it cannot be considered as a genuine social theory. It can only be considered as an imitation of older theories.

When one tries to examine these social theories in the light of educational system in contemporary American educational system, it is evident that there is a strong connection among social theories, education and national development. Ron Kurtus points out that: “There is a philosophy behind every school system, based on the views and values of the educators, as well as the society that is sponsoring the education.” (Kurtus, 2001). the philosophy behind every school system is formulated by the values that the educators believe in and the society. So, one can see that the educational scenario is under the control of the educator and the society. But the aim of education is development of individual, and eventually, the society.

One can see that literacy and basic education are the inputs in development. Moreover, one can see that literacy and basic education contributes to economic development and modernization of the society.

When one tries to examine the influence of post-modernism on American society, it can be seen that Americans are of the opinion that Arts which is less tough and soft and there is nothing to do with their daily life. John M. Eger points out that the studies conducted by Robert Root-Bernstein, who was a biochemist and MacArthur prize winner “educators lobbying for more emphasis on the sciences for he discovered that nearly all of the great inventors and scientists were also musicians, artists, writers or poets.” (Eger, 2008). was able to startle the educators in who were controlling the existing educational system in America. The discovery was that most of the great inventors and scientists were also “artists”. So the importance of Arts and the influence of post-modernism on education cannot be ignored.

When one examines the reforms in contemporary American educational system, it can be seen that it is able to fulfill its multicultural needs. Padmore Godwin Enyo Agbemabiese points out that “draw lessons from United States educational reforms, which were sometimes initiated to address the country’s multicultural and developmental needs.” (Agbemabiese, 2007, p.20). regarding to educational reforms, developing countries can draw lessons from developed countries. As an example, developing country like Ghana can draw some lessons from America and can used for large scale educational reforms.

The contemporary American society is blessed with multiple races, cultural pluralism and diversity in education. But one can see that it is enormously diverse and complex in its outlook. So, a single educational theory will not be able to satisfy the multiple educational needs of a diverse society. The best social theory that explains the function of education within the contemporary American society is functionalist theory.

The functionalist theory, which can explain usability, competitiveness, and efficiency which are the qualities that Americans believe in, can explain the functions of contemporary American education. So, functionalism can be considered as an important educational theory which can explain the functions of education in a diverse society.


Agbemabiese, Padmore Godwin Enyo. (2007). Emerging themes in educational reforms in Ghana as seen through education reforms in the United States: Educational significance of the study. 20. Web.

D. J. McAdam. (2007). Native American culture and American society: Attitutes today. Native Americans. Web.

Eger, John M. (2008). The arts in contemporary education: Marrying disciplines. American Association Of School Administrators. Web.

Functionalism. (n.d.). Web.

Kurtus, Ron. (2001). Philosophies of education. School For Champions. Web.

Living in the US: Measuring success. (n.d.). Education USA. Web.

Morrow, Raymond Allen., & Torres, Carlos Alberto. (1995). Introduction. Social Theory and Education: A Critique of Theories of Social and Cultural Reproduction. 12. Web.

Neill, James. (2006). Analysis of professional literature class 6: Assumptions of Interpretivism. Web.

Rosenau, Pauline, Marie. (1992). Post modernism and the social sciences: Insights, insights,inroads and intrusions. Princeton University Press. Web.

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