Relevance of Marx’s Social Theory and Foucault’s Concept of Discipline in Education

Subject: 🏺 History
Type: Exploratory Essay
Pages: 9
Word count: 2617
Topics: Communism, ☭ Socialism, Marxism, Teaching Philosophy
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Over the years, Marxists have sought to apply the social theory in understanding the role of education. Karl Marx developed the social theory in which he differentiated the two classes making up the society. Particularly, Marx had the conviction that there is an on-going class struggle between capitalists (bourgeoisie) and the working class (proletariat). In his view, capitalists have an advantage because they control the means of production. On the other hand, the working class is subject to continued oppression as the capitalists seek to maximise their profits. The two classes have been engaging in a bitter struggle as the capitalists seek to expand their production (Marx & Engels, 2014). Despite the efforts of the working class, to resist the oppression of the capitalists, they have remained under continued pressure from the wealthy class. Marxists believe that mass education represents one of the strategies that the capitalists use to exert control over the working class. There has been an international debate on whether mass education represents a capitalist tool of domination. Several Marxists have focused on explaining how the social theory serves to explain the manner in which capitalists use education to control the working class. This paper will explore the views of Karl Marx and those of other Marxists regarding the application of the social theory in education.

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Karl Marx has received recognition for his efforts to define the social theory and the on-going class struggle in the capitalist economic structure. Specifically, Karl Marx was a strong supporter of communism and was against capitalism. For this reason, he sought to elaborate the adverse effects of the capitalist system. He paid special attention to the manner in which capitalists use various strategies to control the working class (Kelsh, Hill, and  Macrine, 2009). Since the capitalists own and control the means of production, they oppress the working class by paying them meagre wages. The capitalist system compels the working class to endure hard labour with minimal pay. The capitalists maximise their profits by exerting more pressure and control over the working class (Marx & Engels, 2014). Karl Marx defined the class struggle between capitalists and the working class. He believed that the working class would later organise a revolution against the capitalists. However, the capitalists have been keen to establish various institutions and tools for expanding their control over the working class.

Karl Marx defined the criteria used to categorise the working class in the capitalist system. Some workers have remarkable skills and are significant contributors to the process of production. On the other hand, other individuals lack significant skills and serve as casual labourers in various industries. For many years, the capitalists have been taking advantage of the working class by compelling them to work under unfavourable conditions and receive salaries that do not conform to their labour (Kelsh, Hill, and  Macrine, 2009). There is evidence that the working class is less likely to improve itself because many of the workers only earn income that sustains their basic needs. In some cases, some workers face the compulsion of living below the poverty level because they earn insufficient income to meet their basic needs (Marx & Engels, 2014). Karl Marx explained his theory by citing that the ruling class comprising the capitalists uses various ideologies to control the working class. Capitalists have developed remarkable ideologies that the working class has adopted. Many of these ideologies play the role of maintaining the dominance of the ruling class while ensuring that the working class remains submissive to the capitalists.

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The capitalist ideologies serve as the ruling class ideologies because the working class is not conscious of the subtle forms of control. Capitalists do not use force to control the working class. On the contrary, they have mastered the tactics of using different ideologies to win the loyalty of the working class. The social theory has become significantly popular as it seeks to explain how capitalism has penetrated into every aspect of life. Specifically, many Marxists support the views of Karl Marx and are of the view that capitalism has become the source of evil in the modern society. It is impossible forth working class to escape from the ideologies of the capitalists without recognising the subtle nature of the control and organising revolutions. Marxists believe that (Kelsh, Hill, and  Macrine, 2009)social theory applies to education. Specifically, Marxists seek to explain how capitalists have been using the education system to control the working class. Supporters of Karl Marx conceive that mass education represents one of the tools that the capitalists have been using to exert control over the working class. Particularly, capitalists introduced education as a way of spreading and reinforcing their ideologies.

Capitalists were keen to introduce national systems of mass schooling in their efforts to create a socialised labour force. Marxists are keen to highlight that the national systems of mass schooling represent a capitalist’s stool that helps in the development of a docile society. Notably, a docile society is easier to manage and control. Mass education serves to alienate work arrangements in the factory system. These Marxists have a strong conviction that mass schooling has proven to be a tool for oppression in various countries (Marx & Engels, 2014). It is unfortunate that the education system in many countries only serves to meet the interests of the capitalists. It is less likely that education in many countries pays attention to the needs of the learners. Notably, the state has a significant measure of control over the education system. Marxists believe that a state exercises a stringent level of control over the education system. Many states only serve the interests of capitalists despite the level of democracy. There is evidence that states remain subservient to the opinions and interests of the capitalists.

The current education system reflects a curriculum controlled by capitalists to enhance their ideologies. For capitalists, it is imperative to work with the state in creating school regulations that convert learners into a docile group. In many countries, the education system does not pay attention to the individual needs of learners. For such states, the education system serves as a subtle tool for the capitalists to influence the state. Marxists believe that the current education system has a formal curriculum and an accompanying hidden curriculum that propagates the ideologies the ruling class (Marx & Engels, 2014). As a result, the hidden curriculum has deliberate intentions of messing up children belonging to the working class. On the other hand, the hidden curriculum serves to elevate learners belonging to the middle and upper classes. There is evidence among Marxists that the national curriculum has its basis on political grounds. Specifically, there are ideologies tied to the national curriculum that seek to reinforce capitalist ideas.

The capitalist economic structure exhibits significant powers that register adverse effects on the education system as well as the social structures. The capitalists have been using the school system to reproduce a society that upholds their ideologies. Marxists are of the view that the school system serves as a platform for cultural reproduction that only gives recognition and rewards to children belonging to the upper and middle classes (Marx & Engels, 2014). There is a significant devaluation of the efforts made by children of the working class. The hidden curriculum surrounding the school system plays a critical role in reproducing the class structure of the society. The Marxists have explained the process of reproduction by highlighting that the school system prepares different individuals for various careers in the future (Kelsh, Hill, and  Macrine, 2009). After completing the school system, some of the learners become professionals with exemplary knowledge and skills that they apply in the economic system. Other learners become semiskilled and take up different roles in the economic structure.

Since the school system has a hidden curriculum, some of the students become casual labourers in the capitalist system because they do not benefit immensely from the school system. Other Marxists posit that the education system is an ideological state apparatus that serves to convince learners on the importance and relevance of the status quo. Capitalists use the school system to defend their interests by reinforcing the legitimacy of capitalist practices (Kelsh, Hill, and  Macrine, 2009). These explanations demonstrate how the school system yields a class-divided society and meets the needs of the capitalists. The school system does not provide equal opportunities for all the learners. For the middle and upper classes that enjoy a significant advantage of cultural capital, the school system benefits them. However, people from the lower class of the society made up of the working class are less likely to benefit from the school system.

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The school system promotes ideologies that validate the culture of the upper class and invalidate other cultures. Marxists have been keen to highlight that cultural reproduction is also evident in various other ways. Particularly, the use of body language, grammatical exactitude, colloquialism, and accent may serve to emphasise the status quo of the capitalists. Children from the upper and middle classes demonstrate their class lifestyle in school through their language, attitudes, value systems, dressing, and non-verbal communication (Kelsh, Hill, and  Macrine, 2009). The introduction of private schools that provide additional privileges to the upper and middle classes also serves to enhance cultural reproduction (Marx & Engels, 2014). Specifically, private schools receive funds from wealthy capitalists who want their children to access quality education. Middle-class children attend separate schools that are likely to lack the basic resources. For this reason, the privileges provided in private schools enhance the learning outcomes of the students. The working class children experience a major disadvantage due to the lack of resources in the public schools.

The aspect of cultural reproduction has its basis in the fact that the school system promotes aspects of the culture that serve as “common sense”. Particularly, the common sense aspects include the consumerist society and the capitalist economic system. The school system promotes the technical division of labour associated with capitalism. Labour divisions emerged as one of the main attributes of capitalism. The division of labour serves as a concept and strategy that enhances class domination. Marxists are also of the view that the school system reproduces the economic structure (Kelsh, Hill, and  Macrine, 2009). The school system enhances several aspects of economic inequality. During the school years, individuals slowly embrace the existing social relationships between students and teachers as well as among the learners. Such social relations emphasise the need for hierarchy in the society that will govern the division of labour. Learners attain various levels of education, an aspect that prepares them for the job responsibilities at different levels of the capitalist structure.

Michel Foucault developed an important theory regarding discipline. He spent many years analysing the prison system and its development. He realised that the prison system only serves to reproduce a society with various levels of crime (Foucault, 2012). Particularly, the prison system uses stringent approaches in keeping the prisons under control. The stringent disciplinary system has become an issue of interest in enhancing specialised criminal recidivism. Michel Foucault’s rationale of the prison system is that it serves to enhance the power of the ruling class to exert control over the working class. He used the analogy of the prison to describe other institutions established by capitalists to maximise their interests. The school system is one of the institutions that capitalists to exert control over the working class (Foucault, 2012). The school system produces a docile population that readily accepts the manipulative ideologies.

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Schools serve as disciplinary institutions in which teachers focus on the welfare of the learners. However, it is clear that Michel Foucault associated the disciplinary system with what happens in the modern school days. Despite his tone and convictions, Michel Foucault established a remarkable analogy between prisons and schools. All these institutions empower capitalists to enhance their ideology and make it seem like the most acceptable truth. The curriculum establishes the expected standards in the school system that all learners need to understand (Foucault, 2012). Many of the working class children are at the lowest level and are the victims of stringent disciplines. Michel Foucault used his theory to elaborate the use of the hidden curriculum in the modern education sector. The theory is similar to the interpretation of the Karl Marx theory in the education system. Other scholars have used these explanations to demonstrate how capitalists have been using subtle ways of controlling the education system.


A critical analysis of the current education system reveals that it promotes the interests of capitalists. Specifically, capitalists established the education system to ensure that they could have a significant level of control through cultural production. Mass education helps in reproducing a socialised society that is class conscious. Marxists believe that the current education system has a hidden curriculum that helps to propagate the ideologies of capitalism as common sense. Learners in the system are less likely to recognise the impact of the subtly hidden curriculum. The outcomes of mass education include graduates with various competencies in different careers. Some of the graduates have exemplary skills and can hold remarkable positions in the capitalist system (Kelsh, Hill, and  Macrine, 2009). It is explicit that the school system promotes the technical division of labour and hierarchy of the society. Marx’s social theory has helped his supporters to visualise the manner in which mass education represents a capitalist tool of registering more control over the working class. On the other hand, Michel Foucault developed his concept of discipline and explained how the education system has been using schools as specific places to instil disciplinary practices. Michel Foucault believed that schools represent capitalist institutions of expanding control over the working class.


Karl Marx has received recognition for developing the social theory that describes the class struggle between the capitalists and the working class. Marx believes that the capitalists use subtle ideologies to control the working class. The working class represents victims of oppression by the capitalists. Marx was against the capitalist system in which the ruling class controlled the means of production and caused a disadvantage to the lower class comprising the working class people. Capitalism also promoted the division of labour which categorises employees depending on their level of skills. Many Marxists have used the social theory to explain how the current education system only serves to meet the interests of the capitalists. Specifically, Marxists believe that the school system reproduces the class system through the hidden curriculum. Mass education supports the division of labour concept because it yields graduates with a diverse range of skills and abilities.

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Different educational attainments also reflect an aspect of the class system because the learners occupy various positions in the hierarchy that Marx described. Many of the Marxists believe that the national curriculum only promotes the interests of the capitalists who work together with the state. On the other hand, Michel Foucault explored the concept of discipline. In his concept, he revealed that schools are similar to prisons because they serve as tools of cultural reproduction. Through the stringent systems in schools, it becomes possible for capitalists to enhance their control over the working class. It is apparent that the views of Marx and Foucault are of great relevance in understanding the purpose and significance of mass education. The capitalists have been using education as a subtle tool of reinforcing their ideologies and recreating a society that accepts the status quo.

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  1. Foucault, M. (2012). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage Books.
  2. Kelsh, D., Hill, D., and  Macrine, S. (2009).  Class in Education: Knowledge, Pedagogy, Subjectivity. London: Routledge.
  3. Marx, K., and Engels, F. (2014). The Communist manifesto. London : Penguin Classics.
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