Explain the manifest and latent functions of education.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Manifest means something clear or obvious: something we can see, touch, feel, verify. In terms of education, manifest refers to tangible outcomes: what type of jobs does education lead to, how much money can one make, and what practical skills can be learned that will help make money over the course of a lifetime. For example, a graduate degree from a prestigious university, such as Stanford, might result in gaining a position with a six-figure income. That's a manifest function of education.

Latent means the opposite of manifest: something hidden, dormant, not yet revealed. Because of this, it is more difficult to quantify the latent effects of education. For instance, gaining a college degree does not necessarily result in a high-paying job, nice house, and fancy car. But the process of being educated—of persevering through school—might instill the discipline, desire, and confidence to keep learning and to try to better your financial situation. Also, education builds a store of knowledge that might not apply directly to a job but can be useful in other ways.

For example, a manifest function of a business degree might be a high-level managerial job in a large company. A latent function of the psychology and philosophy courses taken in pursuit of that degree might be the ability to understand employees and motivate them to better performances.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The idea of manifest and latent functions comes from the sociologist Robert Merton.  Merton argued that things like education have manifest functions (the ones that the participants are aware of) as well as latent functions (ones that they are not aware of and which may not be intended).

In education, the manifest function is to learn skills and gain knowledge.  Students know that they are trying to do this.  They know that they are trying to learn how to do algebra, for example.

However, education may also have other functions, intended or not.  For example, education may bring about more inequality in a society.  Those who get more and better education become the elite while those who do not fall further behind.  No one really intends this and students are not aware of it, so it is a latent function.

You can also argue that a latent function of education is to socialize us.  It is partly through our educational that we learn the values that our society wants us to have.  We learn, for example, to compete with others to try to be the best.  This is a characteristic of a capitalist society but it is one that we are not aware that we are learning as we go through school.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial