Education as a Social Institution

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Education as a Social Institution


Social institutions are integral part of a human society because they are one of the most important structural elements that govern behavior in various spheres of social life. In any wide society, five major institutions are always present. These are the family, politics, education, religion and economics. These institutions may have different applications but they are interrelated in a number of ways. For instance, schools need funds, politics needs education and religion, religion needs education and family while the family needs all of the aforementioned institutions. Social institution change aspects of life in individuals such as social stratification, deviance, cultural activities and socialization. The sociological theories (functionalism, conflict and interactionism) have influenced education as a sociological institution with each of them influencing both the individual and the society’s view hence creating a social change in the education. This paper will delve into education as a social institution by fist looking at the theories that underpin it.



Functionalism is a theory that covers a wide area in social sciences in which it addresses social structure in terms of the function of its constituent elements such as traditions, customs and institutions. This perspective was thought of the original sociological positivist “Aguste Comte” who stressed the need for cohesion after the social malaise of French revolution, which was later developed as a full theory by Emily Durkheim (Mitchell, 2007). Functionalism was a term of particular stage in social science and it has an affinity with grand theory which lays emphasis on small units of socialization such family but it simply emphasizes the effort to impute as rigously as possible teach feature, custom or practice. Its effect on the functioning of supposedly stable cohesive systems, functionalism focus on the ways the universal education serves the needs of the society. Education is seen as to convey basic knowledge and skill to the next generations as seen by functionalists. Other roles which they gave include; transmission of core values asocial control. In American education, the core values reflect the issues that support the potential and economic systems that originally fueled education (Mitchell, 2007). The revised curriculum helps students to develop self-esteem and identities. Individualism is the important value in American classrooms, which advocates independent action of the individual. Unlike the Japanese or the Chinese student, American students learn very early. However, the students in Japan grow in a culture that values community responsibility and abhors individuality .Sorting is an aspect that functionalist describe as very integral in learning where merit is used to separate students and this is how the society gets people to do various occupations because everyone cannot have the same rank in the society.


Networking is one of the most significant aspects of education. In education, the primary interest of sociologists is how the concepts of sorting and networking contribute to bringing together people or couples with homogenous interests and backgrounds. This is because education is a powerful sociological factor that has a magnetic impact that will ensure that people who share common backgrounds will be lumped together by default because of the ease at which they are able to identify with each other. Replacement of the family is another function of education in which discipline, issues of carrier development and human sexuality are involved in school curriculum. The social stratification of the society from a functionalistic point of view is aimed at promoting stability and education is one of the contributors. There are certain institutions, which include the family system, religion, and economy .These institutions working in order with harmony will increase the stability of social stratification.



Social conflict is a theory that is profoundly related to ideas of Karl Marx (1815-1882), who was one of the greatest theorists, political analyst and philosopher (Schaefer, 2009). This theory holds that education is an institution that maintains the status quo and the status quo in the society to day is one riddled with inequality. This means that the authorities who have been very dominant in the society will continue suppressing the ones that are low in the society because education does nothing to change the sorry state of inequality in the society (Schaeffer, 2009). This means that the children of the affluent who have access to high quality schools and colleges are the ones who end up getting the high caliber, well paying jobs. The children of the not so well to do families will continue getting average quality education that will, not guarantee them decent employment meaning that the rich will continue getting richer and the poor in their poor state. This situation is bound to maintain the conflict that has been there in the society rather than end it.

The conflict theorists’ viewpoints on social stratification are found from the social arrangements of the day. Benefits are found from those who hold the power of the day, today’s power elites’ primarily people of WASP background (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants) and this control the wealth. The power elite also control the wealth and impose their will on those who do not control the wealth. The structures of social stratification, which will lead to conflicts, include all social institutions. These conflicts include those of racial confl1icts that occur between minorities and whites, labor union verses owners (Cockerman, 1993).


This theory is an exact opposite of the strict behaviorism theories prevalent at the time it was formulated (Schaefer, 2009). According to the theory humans are distinct from infrahuman (lower animals) simply respond to the environment where as humans have the ability to interrupt the process. Symbolic interactionists scrutinize education based on the observations they made in the classroom.  They focus on how teacher expectations influence student performance, perceptions and attitudes (Schaefer 2009). According to this theory, the objective world has no reality for humans but only subjectively defined objects have meaning. Meanings can be changed through creative capabilities of humans and individuals may influence the many meaning that form the society (Schaefer, 2009).Thus human society is a social product. Symbolic interactionists take meaning as a foundation of the system and in their approach and methodology; they tend to apply qualitative research methods instead of quantitative ones.  Symbolic internationalism is utilized in the analysis of qualitative research and for example, this methodology can help a librarian to comprehend the various ways in which the users use the library resources.  The approach will also focus on the symbolism that is portrayed by objects and the interpretative bit of it. There are wide variations in these theories because the functionalists have a proposition that schools do their sorting using merit while in the conflict approach, the proposition is that schools sort according to ethnicity and class differences. The  conflict approach claim that education just works towards maintaining the society the way it is; creating class differences that engender conflict. In social change, Talcott Parsons viewed the society as an entity having a complex system of equilibrium but this proposition is a mere fallacy because there is enough valid evidence that can counter this claim with a lot of reliability. Social evolution has four distinct processes and they include; differentiation, adaptive upgrading, inclusion and value generalization. The most popular and succinct definition of social change is the one that was put forward by Harper (1993) where  he labeled it as a vital change of the structure of the society and patterns of culture as time goes by.  The changes affect everything from population to the economy, which as it so happens alongside such others has industrialization and shifting cultural norms. Short time changes as in family developmental stages may be obvious and easy to deal with but hey do not include changes at all in the end. According to the functionalists, the society has various functional elements that operate in unison towards the maintenance of stability and order in the society. They also front a view that cultural norms and values are not susceptible to dynamism and change. These theories of education as a sociological institution affect the views of the society in the following ways. Firstly, Macro perspectives have overall model of society as they explain social class differences in education by the role which education plays in the society (Mitchell, 2007). Functionalists and Marxists approaches give a macro-perspective, which is used to explain social class difference in education achievements. They also look at the overall structure of the society and argue tat education prepares pupils for the position in an equal society. Secondly, the conflict theory puts society's most vulnerable children at a terrible risk. For example by displacing them, destroy schools and break education systems. Good education rarely survives major conflicts; many families can't to sustain the education of their children who are forced to remain at home helping out in the family.  As conflict continues, students lose hope of studies, fear leads to parents not letting their children for studies, and teachers are forced to step in who are often untrained and unpaid. Lastly, the interactionism departs from the other two approaches in that it focuses on the daily interactions in the schooling environment placing a lot of concentration of individual contacts and this makes it view the other two approaches as simpletons that are influenced by inevitable outside forces  (Mitchell, 2007).


Education is one of the most important social institutions without which, all the other institutions would be rendered obsolete. Apart from enlightening the masses, education plays a vital role in the existence of peace and stability in the society and promotes harmony between interrelating beings. It also promotes sound economic processes and political dispensations meaning that without education, society would be in a state of absolute chaos. This means that the betterment of the society depends on the quality of the education that members of that society get.