Thursday, October 1, 2009

Comparing Theories – Functionalist, Conflict, & Interactionist

We have spent the last few classes focused on discussing and comparing various sociological theories. Since I have already discussed functionalism in some detail, this post will focus on conflict theorists and interactionist theories. To be honest, I was wondering what the significance in learning all of these theories was to studying education, but I understand now how important it is to understand these theories so that I am able to relate back to them when discussing the education system.

One of the most important aspects of conflict theorists that I took away was the idea that all institutions are controlled by and benefit the dominant class. Your social class is determined by your relationship to the “means of production” – basically your power. Conflict theorists seek the answers to questions that address whose interests institutions serve. According to conflict theories, the dominate ideas in society are those of the dominate class and one role of the school system is to transmit the ideology of this dominate class. In addition, schools train students for their already determined place in the economy. That is, those working class children will be streamed into shop class while their elite counterparts will be streamed into more academic courses. After reading Eric’s blog post - The Role of Schools and Education (Marxist/conflict theorist point of view) - I completely related to what he was saying about his experience in school. It is clear that this theory is not without flaws but sometimes this is the case. In the high school I went to, it seemed that many of the “lower status” (or working class) individuals were not encouraged to go to university and it was the role of the school to determine what job they should go for after high school and how to prepare them for it. According to this theory it is not our role as teacher to provide knowledge but to instill the “right” attitudes and lead them to their predestined roles. (Side note: I also hope that my degree gets me more that just credentials.)

While functionalists ask “How does it work?” and conflict theorists ask “Whose interest does this serve?”, interactionists ask “What does it mean?” For interactionist theories, according to Joyce Barakett and Ailie Cleghorn (Sociology of Education, 2008), “the task is to understand how structural variables become incorporated into the individual’s perceptions and interpretations of social action and how he or she acts on the basis of these” (p. 39). Within these theories, underlying assumptions and hidden meanings are addressed. In addition, it is explained how our perceptions of problems and what is in reality the problem have little to no connection. I think that this will be interesting when discussing the issues of education.

Now that we have some information about sociological theories under our belts, I am looking forward to discussing how these theories relate to education.

Barakett, J. & Cleghorn, A. (2008) Sociology of Education: an Introductory View from Canada. Toronto: Pearson Education Canada. p. 39-41.

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