The Advantage of The Middle Class in Education

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Meritocracy is part of a neoliberal ideology that has been made into an educational policy called marketisation and commodification. It is supposed to be a social system which gives people status or rewards because of what they achieve, rather than because of cultural and economic capital. This should therefore create equal opportunity for all of those in society, no matter what social class background they come from. Meritocracy is linked to social mobility as there is social inequality even though society is argued to be meritocratic. The model of the British Education System is unfair and is very much not meritocratic as those children form middle class backgrounds get a better standard of education compared to those children from working class backgrounds.

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Education has been particularly significant as an instrument of social policy. A ‘good education’ is often seen as the key pathway to upward social mobility, made possible for individuals if there are equal opportunities for everyone. Educational policy is increasingly driven by the principles of market choice and competition and framed from the perspective of encouraging the best to succeed. These ideas of marketisation and meritocracy and whether if education is a public or private good, need to be criticised so sociologists can understand how the education system reproduces class inequality based off meritocracy and unequal opportunities for those of lower social class backgrounds compared to those of a higher social class background. In 1988, New Labour introduced the Education Reform Act which involved more central governmental control and direct funding and standardised tests. There were also new introductions to the education system such as tuition fees which made it harder for working class children to access the better standard of education as parents can’t afford to pay for tuition fees. Thus, making those from higher class backgrounds gaining a higher level of educational knowledge and grades as parents can afford to pay for private education. The objectives of the meritocratic model are to bring about educational reform to make society fairer and to also promote economic growth. This form of a rational organised system was to try and get rid of the social inequality that was reflected in differences shown in abilities and skills. These ‘abilities’ are allegedly supposed to be randomly distributed in society. Middle class children gain more abilities as their standard of education is better than those from a working-class background.

From a Marxist perspective, Marxists such as Bowles and Gintis (1979), education is serving the needs of the economy rather than the needs of the individual. It is argued that there is a myth of meritocracy which acts as a false class consciousness. For Marxists, education performs three important roles. Firstly, the socialisation role which is the role in instilling capitalist norms and values, secondly, the allocation role which is slotting people into their occupational positions to reproduce existing social class inequalities and lastly, the vocational role which is a further way in which the ruling class can instil capitalist norms and values in young people and provide an illusion of equality of opportunity. Louis Althusser argued that no class can hold power for long simply because of the use of force. Ideology provides a much more effective means of control as if people’s hearts and minds are won over then force becomes unnecessary. He also argued that in modern society the education system has largely replaced the church as the main agency for ideological control. Education, the family, religion and the media are part of the Ideological State Apparatus and all play a role in ‘brainwashing’, transmitting ruling class ideas, norms and values onto the lower and working class. Firstly, schools transmit an ideology which states that capitalism is just and fair or reasonable. Secondly, schools prepare pupils for their roles in the workforce and most are trained as workers. This means that they are taught to accept their future exploitation and are provided with an education and qualifications to match their adult work roles. Through this type of role allocation, their educational qualifications legitimate their positions of power. Bowles and Gintis (Schooling in Capitalist America 1979) represents the most famous Marxist theories of sociology of education. They argue that the hidden curriculum of schools does not instil shared norms and values, but rather those norms and values of the ruling class.

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