Capitalist America & Education

Theorizing Schooling in America

Marxism is a belief system that economics is the basis on which structure for social and political ideologies are built. The classical Marx would classify people into two categories -- the bourgeoisie (haves) and the proletariat (have-nots). However, it is tough to classify people into these two categories today, thus economists use socioeconomic classes. The socioeconomic classes in America include the lower, middle, and upper class. Ideologies (belief systems) play an important role in maintaining those in power (upper class). This presentation aims to theorize the capitalist ideologies portrayed in the education system from a Marxist perspective.

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The Origins of Schooling in America

Horace Mann, also known as the 'Farther of the Common School' was an educational reformer who fought to have universal public education. According to Nasaw (1979), the initial purpose of common schools were to be the institutions in which the poor (lower case) would receive character training necessary for success: first as wage workers, and then as independent farmers or self-employed artisans (p. 37). Mann, and other educational reformers courted those in power like manufactures the most about the benefits of having a common school system. They felt that the the manufactures would benefit the most by gaining 'a disciplined workforce that the common schools intended to provide'. It is obvious, the original intent of school was designed to maintain social structure by providing a working class and maintaining those in power; which is including in the capitalistic ideology from a Marxist perspective.

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Marxist Theory Premises

  • According to Tyson (2015), Marxism maintains that getting and keeping economic power is the motive behind all social and political activities including education (p. 51).
  • It is evident that socioeconomic classes create divisions among people, but Marxism argues these divisions are more significant than religion, race, ethnicity, and gender.

Marxist Theorist on Education & Ideology

Marxist theorist Louis Althusser (1971) challenged that education's primary purpose was to create an obedient and efficient workforce in a capitalist society. Additionally, certain ideologies are imperative to a capitalist society to sustain social control. School, he maintains, is a tool used to maintain social control.
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How the Educational System Symbolizes the Working World


  1. Education divides society into specific social classes (i.e. the working class, and those in charge of the workers)
  2. Schools reward students for good behavior and punctuality, dismissive independence which reflects the working world.
  3. Education presents hierarchical systems (i.e. principal, assistant principal, teacher, student)
  4. Educational system sustains social inequalities by reinforcing the notion that those who work hard deserve more, yet students who come from better (wealthier) families have greater chances and opportunities.