Education Advocacy Issues Massive Institutional Research Paper

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[. . .] • Developing a strong democracy through a truly innovative and progressive curriculum that will empower the students and assist more of them in moving on to higher education. This curriculum will emphasize civics and active participation of citizens in political and economic life, as well as the history and contemporary struggles of the poor, minorities and the working class.

• Changes in pedagogy that will move-away from the teacher-centered to the student-centered classroom and more active participation of students and parents in the learning process, as well as the school administration and the development of the curriculum.

• Seek more state, federal and private funding for improved textbooks and other learning resources, computers, school supplies and laboratory equipment.

States paid about 50% of the budgets in these inner city schools and the federal government about 6%, but these funds are never sufficient to even come close to evening out the disparities with white suburban schools. Since funding is based on property taxes and the value of property is much lower in these segregated ghetto communities, this is "the decisive force in shaping inequality" (Kozol, p. 55). Even though property taxes tend to be higher in large cities, they have much higher costs for police, fire services and public health care than the suburbs so the schools often get shortchanged. Since the federal government permits tax deductions for property taxes and mortgage interest payments, this amounted to a subsidy for segregation and inequality. In 1984, these federal deductions amounted to $41 billion while aid to public schools was only $7 billion.

Kozol is correct in insisting that social inequality is the norm in the United States that will never be repaired by changes in teachers, pedagogy, tests or classroom methods. He points out that of course "there are wonderful teachers…almost everywhere in urban schools, and sometimes a number of such teachers in a single school," but this is not the norm by any stretch of the imagination (Kozol, p. 51). Inner city school teachers are older and badly paid compared to those in the suburbs, and the cities rely on poorly paid substitutes and temporary and part-time teachers as well. They have no funds for remedial classes, sports facilities, libraries or textbooks. No parents with money would ever send their children to schools like these if they had any other choice, and few teachers would work there unless they were unemployable anywhere else. Unfortunately, the majority of them simply pass the students from one grade to the next, expecting little of these poor and minority students and caring less.

In the 1960s, New Left community organizers who worked in these inner-city ghettos used the term participatory democracy to describe their vision of a new society in which the poor, minorities and working class would take control of the institutions that affected their lives, including public schools. This is what Benjamin R. Barber refers to as a "strong democracy" in which "every member of the community participates in self-governance" (Barber, 1989, p. 355). Obviously this is a far cry from the situation in these segregated ghettos today, and indeed the vision of an activist and mobilized citizenry in these places was hardly welcome to police and government officials in the 1960s and 1970s. In a strong democracy, the people would not be passive spectators, merely voting for representatives every few years and then allowing them to govern. In this broad and expansive democratic vision, public talk would not be limited to the well off, educated and articulate, but all would be invited into the conversation (Bauman, 2001, p. 16). Nor would the elites do all the talking and force the masses simply to listen, no more than the teacher in the classroom would be doing all the lecturing while students sat quietly and passively taking notes. It would go beyond liberal theory of competing factions, parties and self-interested individuals and "passive consumers of political services" and instead consider broader ideas about the meaning of a good society (Barber, p. 356).

Jean Anyon is correct that the purpose of public education in America is social reproduction and reinforcement of the class system that already exists. Schools perpetuate this system by teaching working class children through rote memorization and drills to perform menial tasks under instructions from superiors, while those from the middle and professional classes are taught from an earlier age to be more creative and imaginative, to make connections, think in broader terms and be more independent. As for the poorest of the poor and minorities in the segregated ghettos, the dysfunctional schools there hardly teach them anything at all, and simply continue the system of segregation, marginalization and absolute inequality. Public education in the U.S. is based on "an unequal system of social classes" in which the children of the middle and upper classes are channeled to the universities, and the working class into service, industrial and technical occupations (Aynon, 1981, p. 210).

Progressive educators should be aware of this social process and intervene in it with a transformational pedagogy, at least in schools where the administration permits this. In working class schools, this means breaking with teaching methods like talk and chalk, copying notes, rope memorization and directed activities in favor of those that encourage reflection, creativity and imagination. These students are only being prepared for "mechanical routine work procedures," with minimal civics and social studies education that emphasizes facts and dates without any overall context or discussion of ideologies and social systems (Anyon, p. 212). Most definitely it does not teach the history of strikes, working class parties or slave revolts, nor does it assume that most of these students will ever go to college where they might hear about these. Unlike their middle and upper class peers, they received almost no information about other civilizations, cultures or religions, of even about capitalist institutions like banks and corporations, and their teachers had little enthusiasm for offering them anything but the 'basics' in a very dumbed-down form. At some point, these students do become vaguely aware of exactly what their future place in society is likely to be, and even though they might dislike this and rebel against it, their resistance is ineffective.

Students from middle class and professional backgrounds are more likely to be taught through creative writing, essays, special projects and individual and group activities. Depending on the schools and the desires of parents and administrators, this type of schooling might also be limited by the need to pass standardized tests and get into "good" colleges (Aynon, p. 214). Social studies classes placed more emphasis on comparative cultures and civilizations, as well as explaining systems and ideologies like capitalism, communism and socialism, although with military and economic elites and aristocracies treated in greater depth than slaves, servants, workers and peasants. In contrast to the physical rebellion, withdrawal and apathy in the working class schools, opposition in these more privileged environments tended toward "extreme individualism or narcissism" or excessive egoism (Aynon, p. 217). These students were more adept at finding ways to play or manipulate the system to their own advantage than their lower class counterparts, but this was also an important part of their socially reproductive education.

Policy Processes and VIBES? (Values, Interest, Beliefs, Ethics, Slangs)

After a lengthy lawsuit by civil rights groups in the 1960s and 1970s, the federal courts ordered school busing to achieve integration between the suburban and city schools in Detroit, but this was overturned by the Supreme Court in the 1974 Bradley v. Milliken decision, by a 5-4 vote. Since that time, racial segregation based on residence has remained the norm in the public school systems in every metropolitan area (deMarrais and LeCompte, 1999, p. 35). Since that time integration between urban-minority schools and white suburban schools has simply not occurred in the United States. Nor has funding ever been equalized between them despite numerous lawsuits over the decades, from New Jersey to Texas.

Blaming the Victim (1971, 1976) was first written at a time when the Nixon administration and neoconservatives like Daniel Patrick Moynihan were blaming the problems of blacks in the urban ghettos on a culture of poverty and dysfunctional family structure rather than centuries of racism, segregation and systematic structural inequality. For white middle class America at that time, the capitalist system functioned fairly well, so they found it more comfortable to blame the victims of that system for their supposed individual failings rather than undertaking the more difficult task of social and economic restructuring. They could then ignore the legacy of discrimination, hostile or indifferent teachers and administrators in the public schools, racist textbooks, overcrowding and underfunded education and health care systems that badly served poor and minority communities (Ryan 1971, 1976).

Low-quality schools were not the cause of poor minority achievement so much as a symptom of a much deeper social and economic problem. Those who blamed the black family… [END OF PREVIEW]

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