The sociological theory of functionalism argues that societies, much like the human body, are made up of separate but interdependent parts (Taylor et al, 2000). Each part has a distinct but important function in maintaining the whole. If something should disturb one part of the system, then all other parts will be affected too; in order to survive they then have to work together to re-establish equilibrium. Functionalists argue that members of a society must hold some common beliefs, perceptions and attitudes - a value consensus - in order to function effectively. This consensus is achieved through socialization, which is performed primarily by the family and the education system in modern industrialized societies (Taylor et al, 2000).
This is to say that each part of society functions both in autonomy and dependence upon each other part. Thereby, on a macro level, one can examine how nations work, with governments, religious systems, educational systems, families, and other institutions each fulfils its own ascribed purpose, and effectively makes the nation function well as a whole. On a smaller level, one can see how communities work, with churches, schools, businesses and families working to make their communities a pleasant place to be. At the university level, however, we see the inter-workings of functional institutions as well; academics, athletics, student organizations, instructors, and students themselves all work together to form a unified whole that is the university. Furthermore, that university, in turn, becomes an important part of society, helping it to function as a whole by providing education and socialization experience to its citizens-the students.
Emile Durkheim, arguably the father of the functionalist approach to sociology, viewed education, primarily as a way of projecting the norms and values of a society on to a younger generation, thereby creating value consensus - a generally accepted view of the aims and goals of society (Taylor et al, 2000). For example, if a child is able to respect and understand the rules and values of a school, then she will be able to assimilate to the rules and values of wider society. "It is by respecting the school rules that the child learns to respect rules in general, that he develops the habit of self-control and restraint simply because he should control and restrain himself. It is the first initiation into the austerity of duty. Serious life has now begun," (Durkheim in Taylor et al, 2000). That is to say that children are socialized or interpellated into society through their interactions with social institutions. This socialization does not however, cease in grammar school. Rather, it continues well into adulthood, and the mid-twenties, where individuals are still learning how the world really works. (Sorry, No reference here-My own idea.)
Durkheim believed individuals are born 'asocial beings' - having no understanding of society's language, ability, or traditions, and in order to survive we must learn these both as members of a group and as individuals. We must become "social beings" (Durkheim, in Taylor et al 2000) - that is, individuals must acquire a sense of belonging to something far wider than their individual situation, and that developing an allegiance to the wider society is an essential aspect of maintaining a healthy society