The greatest manifest function of a school education is to get an education. It is to acquire the skills needed in order to read and compute on a basic level in order to either join the workforce or go on to higher education. While it is best if this education is reinforced at home through parental involvement in the education process, academic education is expected to take place within a school and is led by a qualified teacher or group of teachers in order to provide the child a background in math, science, and the humanities.
The next important manifest function is discipline. The child is expected to conform to the school day routine of getting up early in the morning to attend and going home in the afternoon. The child is also expected to do the work of each day; children who do not work are punished according to the rules of the school.
Latent functions are unintended but equally important. The child learns time management and how to work with deadlines—this is especially true for the high school student who is about to enter either the workforce or higher education. The child learns social skills and how to get along with others of different backgrounds and views. The child also has a safe place to learn new hobbies: a child may decide to try out for a sport in order to spend more time with friends even though he or she knows little about the sport.
Many institutions have what are considered manifest and latent functions. These different functions are the services and experiences provided by that institution. Manifest functions are intentional and designed by society, whereas latent functions are essentially unintended consequences and functions of the institution.
In terms of manifest functions, the typical school system has two intended benefits. The first, of course, is education; students are intended to learn and become more knowledgable. A second function is discipline; this rigidity and structure in the school day is designed to prepare them for the working world and a structured lifestyle.
There are several latent functions, and really any schooling experience unrelated to the intentional functions would be considered latent. For example, socialization is a major latent function. Parental time is another, as it gives parents a period of time without their children primarily used for work.
According to the sociologist Robert Merton, community organizations such as educational institutions have both latent and manifest functions. The manifest functions include the recognized uses of schools, while the latent functions include unintended consequences. For example, the manifest functions of schools include providing an education for the students and providing them with intellectual and academic experience and skills to eventually get a job.
However, there are several latent functions of schools, including finding romantic partners and even marriage partners. In addition, schools can function as a way to find a place in the social hierarchy of the school and the larger community. Other latent functions of school include finding an interest in extracurricular activities that may or may not be part of the school agenda. For example, students who are interested in something can meet each other at school and further their interests. These types social interactions are latent or unintended consequences of students going to school.
In Sociology, Functionalists argue that a school education has two functions. There are manifest functions, for example, which are the most obvious and intentional functions of a school education. These include socialization, a process which teaches students the norms and values of society. In addition, schools educate students in a wide variety of subjects and also prepare students for further education possibilities, like university, and the world of work.
In contrast, a school education has a number of latent (or less obvious) functions. According to Diana Kendall (1998), for instance, a hidden curriculum exists within schools to teach students about other social norms and values, like conformity and obedience. (See the first reference link provided.)
Schools also fulfill a number of other latent functions including giving young people something to do during the daytime (and, therefore, keep them busy), as well as making friends and learning about relationships and dating.
The sociologist Robert Merton proposed that social institutions such as education in schools have functions that are both manifest and latent. The manifest functions are the ones that society intends those institutions to have. The latent functions are the ones that are not intended, but which come about even so.
In the case of education in schools, the clearest manifest function is to educate students. Society needs members who have the education and skills that allow them to be economically productive. Another manifest function today is the inculcation of certain values. We expect schools to teach children to be patriotic and we expect them to socialize students to do things like resisting to bullying and peer pressure.
However, schools also have latent functions. One of these latent functions is to provide day care for parents as they go to work. Another is to provide students with the opportunity to socialize with their peers and, at the higher grades, to find potential partners in romantic relationships. Marxist scholars would argue that schools socialize students to feel that our current class structure is legitimate and inevitable. These are functions that are not the real purpose of school, but which schools nonetheless fulfill.