Although I have already addressed what I thought the problems with functionalism were, I think it is important to address what was discussed in class as well – just to reinforce my thoughts and close the discussion of functionalist theories.
As mentioned in my previous post, the notion of meritocracy just did not make sense. I discussed how the social class you are born into affects your ability to achieve higher education. This was reinforced in class by discussing the fact that those of higher socioeconomic status are more likely to go to post-secondary education institutions. However, just because one individual went to University after high-school, it does not necessarily mean that they will be of a higher social class that an individual who entered the work force right away. Depending on the degree you obtain, it might be difficult to get a job out of University that pays well.
One problem that I did not think to discuss is the ability to get a job even if the playing field is apparently equal based on education, talent, ability and work ethic. During the time this functionalist perspective of schooling was established, there was a lot of inequality in the states between white people and African American people. Although black individuals achieved levels of education equal to others, it was very difficult for them to get jobs because of their race. This discredits the functionalist perspective of meritocracy. In addition, there was what is referred to as the “glass ceiling” for women in the working world. This basically explains how women could not advance as much as men at their jobs regardless of merit.
Another problem with this theory is apparent when looking at the notion of the “expert society”. According to functionalists, with the many advances in technology, we have moved into a more expert society in which people need more complex education through formal schooling as opposed to learning skills in the home. Because of the advances in society, we would need educated people to fill positions in these expert fields. However, these assumptions were wrong as it has been proven through studies that many of the skills learned in school are not applicable in the future when those individuals are in the work force.
As discussed in class, functionalists are better at describing and identifying patterns than explaining the significance of them. This is good to get some basic information but other theories may be necessary to explain the significance of the findings.