Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons belong to the functionalist school of thought regarding sociology. Emile Durkheim (1858 - 1917) is known as one of the founding fathers of sociology and most of his ideas lie within structural functionalism. He holds that education has several functions in society. Talcott Parsons (1902 - 1979) on the other hand was more of a development of Emile’s ideas. This essay analyses the similarities and differences between their ideas on education and inequality.
Both Durkheim and parsons believe that the school plays the central role in socialization. French sociologist Emile Durkheim believed that it was a means of transmission of societal norms and values. Talcott Parsons on the other hand, argues that the family provides primary socialization while the school is the basic socializing agency in society preparing the children for future roles. Therefore, all of them agree on the important role the school plays in the social system.Both Durkheim and Parsons believe that education inspires social solidarity. He posits that society survives best with a degree of homogeneity and education enforces such homogeneity by teaching the child the demands of life and “essential similarities” at an early age. He continues that without such “essential similarities” and social solidarity, social life becomes impossible. (Saha 1997, p. 3). Parsons also believes that education inspires social solidarity but in the end when it comes to the work setting. He holds that employers require a variety of skilled employees and when these personnel come together to achieve a specific goal, social solidarity is inspired. As such, for Parsons, the aspect of social solidarity through education is more indirect as compared to Durkheim. Both of them recognize the role of education to provide a link between an individual and society though through different angles. Durkheim argued that for a child to be attached to society the child must feel something real and powerful that dominates them and to which they attribute the better part of themselves. He believes that education provides this all-important link between the individual and society. He says that children should learn the history of their society so that they feel that they are part something greater them hence they develop a sense of commitment to society (Saha & Zubrzycki 1997, p. 8). Parsons however does not put forth the idea of education as to attach individuals in society but he sees education as the bridge between the universalistic and particularistic judgment of individuals in society. Therefore, education fills the gap between primitive and informed judgment. Both Parsons and Durkheim contend that education fosters equality. Durkheim views this equality through similar school rules that guide the behavior of children. Parsons on the other hand holds that education ensures equality through providing equal opportunities and rating students according to their performance (Haralambos & Holborn 2008, p. 109). By putting them in the same classroom setting and setting the same examinations, schools teach the value of equality. This value later helps them have proper judgments especially when faced with differential reward for differential accomplishments in the work setting. It ensures that both the high and low achievers perceive the system as just because status is achieved through equal chance. Both parsons and Durkheim acknowledge that education provides individuals with skills for future roles. Durkheim acknowledged that education provides skills for future occupations and that in industrial society’s social solidarity depends on specialized skills. For instance, the manufacturer of a product requires cooperation from a collection of specialists (Cladis 1999, pg 96). This necessity facilitates social solidarity. Parsons on the other hand, sees education as a mechanism to select individuals for
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