It is obvious that in the United States, education plays an integral role in an individual's life and role in society as a whole. Sociologists, however, view this role from many different points of view and ultimately come to different conclusions about what education truly achieves. One of these conclusions, which comes from a functionalist point of view, is the idea that the primary function of education is to help socialize children and prepare them for their eventual entrance into society as adults. Another one of these conclusions, which comes from a conflict theory point of view, believes that education widens the gap in social inequality. By using the above sociological perspectives of functionalism and conflict theory, we will look at how education's primary role – that of a functionalist perspective of promoting a functional society, is at the same time accompanied by a juxtaposed conflict theory perspective where a "by-product" of education is one that perpetuates social inequality. .
The sociological theory of functionalism is known as a structural theory. To a functionalist, society is seen as a human body with many interrelated parts that function together to maintain a healthy whole. From a functional point of view, education serves several important functions in society, which include: socialization, social integration, social placement, and finally, social and cultural innovation (Barkan, 2012). Perhaps the most important role of education is socialization. The French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, once argued that the main function of education is the diffusion of society's norms and values in certain areas (Durkheim, 1895). One of these areas focuses on social rules. In school, it is imperative that children learn to interact with others with a fixed set of rules that include learning promptness, respect for authority, cooperation and sharing, and other such requirements.