Classic Texts: Emile Durkheim "Moral Education" 1925
Last updated 18 Apr 2019
In this classic text, Durkheim considers how education is able to perform the role of socialisation: teach children the norms and values of their society.
Durkheim argued that, for society to work, there had to be a value consensus. People in society had to agree about what was important and how to behave. That way society functions (works) without everything having to be controlled and managed all the time. Education is a crucial agent of socialisation.
Durkheim saw the teaching of History - in particular - as a key part of this socialisation process. He argued that, through learning the history of their country, people learnt to feel part of something bigger than themselves: part of a community. This helps to encourage children to understand that society is important: that they should be interested in other people, not just themselves.
Also, outside the classroom, school encourages children to work together with all sorts of people - not just people they are related to or are particularly close friends with. Again, as with teaching history, this helps children learn to be a part of wider society.
Durkheim was particularly interested in the teaching of morals: right and wrong. This was an important part of teaching values: it is important that there is broad agreement in society about what is right and what is wrong. Also, in school, behaviour can be strictly controlled. Durkheim thought it was important to have strict discipline in school. That way, children would learn what was acceptable or not. Through this, by the time children leave school, most will have learnt self-discipline and not need to be controlled. They should also have learned that misbehaviour has negative consequences, both for themselves and for society.
Critics of Durkheim would suggest that these lessons do not benefit the whole of society but only powerful groups. Marxists would suggest it is the ruling class who benefits, and feminists would suggest it is men who benefit.