Schools serve a number of functions in our society beyond just transmitting academic knowledge and skills.
In this lesson, we differentiate between manifest and latent functions of schools and discuss examples of each.
Functions of School
If I were to ask you ‘What did you learn in school?’ what would you say? Would you tell me about the subject knowledge you gained and the classes you attended? Would you talk about the time you spent with friends and your participation in extracurricular activities? Schools certainly act as a transmitter of knowledge and academic skills like reading, writing, and arithmetic. But they also serve other functions in our society as well, and these can be categorized as manifest or latent functions.A manifest function of school is a function that people believe is the obvious purpose of school and education. Manifest functions of education are those that are intended and that most people think about. For example, in elementary school, parents expect their children to learn new information but also how to ‘get along’ with other children and begin to understand how society works.
So, two of the most significant manifest functions of schools beyond teaching subject knowledge are socialization and the transmission of cultural norms and values.
Manifest Function: Socialization
Socialization refers to a process by which individuals acquire a personal identity and learn the knowledge, language, and social skills required to interact with others. Again, students don’t only learn from the academic curriculum prepared by teachers and school administrators. They also learn social rules and expectations from interactions with others.
Students in America receive rewards for following schedules and directions, meeting deadlines, and obeying authority. They learn how to avoid punishment by reducing undesirable behaviors like offensive language. They also figure out that to be successful socially, they must learn to be quiet, to wait, to act interested even when they’re not, and to please their teachers without alienating their peers.
Manifest Function: Cultural Transmission
Besides socialization, another significant manifest function of school is the transmission of cultural norms and values to new generations. Schools help to mold a diverse population into one society with a shared national identity and prepare future generations for their citizenship roles. Students are taught about laws and our political way of life through civic lessons, and they’re taught patriotism through rituals such as saluting the flag.
Students must also learn the Pledge of Allegiance and the stories of the nation’s heroes and exploits. Because America is a capitalist nation, students also quickly learn the importance of both teamwork and competition through learning games in the classroom as well as activities and athletics outside the classroom.
Latent Functions of Schools
In addition to manifest functions like socialization and culturization, schools also serve latent functions in society. A latent function is a function that people are not aware of or doesn’t come to mind straight away and usually is not intended. For example, schools often play a matchmaker function: they put together individuals of similar ages and backgrounds, and this results in many of us finding romantic partners and mates in primary, secondary, or post-secondary school.
Latent functions may sometimes contradict manifest functions. For example, another manifest function of school is to serve as a sorting mechanism that selects students for higher or lower social positions based on their academic performance. Optimistically, schools prepare students for their future social positions by identifying and developing each student’s talents and abilities regardless of the student’s current social position. Teachers encourage the ‘best and the brightest’ to pursue the most challenging and advanced studies while guiding the ordinary students into educational programs suited to their talents.
However, some sociologists believe that this social placement system is a latent function of school that perpetuates inequality. They believe students’ future social positions are determined by their current positions in society, which the schools try to preserve. For example, wealthier parents send their kids to better schools, which provide more opportunities for higher future social positions.
Additionally, social attitudes and habits are taught (usually unintentionally) that produce people who ‘fit’ into the social, political, and economic statuses that are common in society. These lessons that prepare individuals to accept the requirements and expectations of adult life are what sociologists call the hidden curriculum. For example, in addition to teamwork and competition, American students quickly learn that society seeks out and reveres the best individual, whether that person has the best score on a test or the best performance at a spelling bee. Even collaborative activities focus on a leader, and team sports single out the one most valuable player of the year.
So the hidden curriculum in this case involves the promotion of individualism. This carries them to adult life in our individualistic society, where they must be independent and may make decisions based on self-interest.
In summary, schools serve functions in our society beyond transmitting knowledge and academic skills.
These other functions can be categorized as manifest or latent. Manifest functions are functions that people believe are the obvious purposes of school. They include the academic curriculum plus functions like socialization and the transmission of cultural norms and values to new generations. Latent functions are functions that people are not aware of or don’t think of straight away. They include the hidden curriculum that prepares students for adult life plus functions like matchmaking.
As you come to the end of the video, you will be able to:
- Explain the functions of a school in terms of manifest functions and latent functions
- Analyze where socialization and cultural transmission fit into the functions of schools
- Consider how latent functions and hidden curriculum prepare students for adult life