Research Paper: Education Reform a Paradigm Shift

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[. . .] Kozol (1991) quotes the former U.S. Commissioner of Education as saying;

"A caste society violates the style of American democracy…the nation in effect does not have a truly public school system in a large part of its communities: it has permitted what is in effect a private school system to develop under public auspices…Equality of educational opportunity throughout the nation continues today to be more a myth than a reality" (97/98).

This statement seems very harsh, and it was stated almost 50 years ago now. Kozol saw this as an indication that even people at the highest reaches did not believe in the reality of education reform, no matter what they wanted in reality.

People are well-meaning, for the most part, but they are also many times clueless regarding what actually needs done. The present debate is about school choice, but Kozol argues in an interview that the system that has been presented is false reform also (Hayes, 1992). He argues that if voucher programs are used to give every parent in America the choice of schools for their children, poor children will still end up with the worst choices because vouchers would still be based on the tax base of the district where they live. It would actually change nothing. He is presenting the fact, without saying it, that schools will not reform until there is a new meme which can then spread to a fundamental paradigm shift for the nation.

The Meme

Dawkins was very interested in the idea of how certain memes became ingrained in the Western society, and how they could be duplicated in other ways. He said

"What is it about the idea of a god that gives it its stability and penetrance in the cultural environment? The survival value of the god meme in the meme pool results from its great psychological appeal. It presents a superficially plausible answer to deep and troubling questions about existence" (Dawkins, 1976, 193).

This is the fundamental truth and power of the meme idea. If a powerful enough meme could be introduced, then it should be a simpler process to further that toward reform. The question then becomes, what is the meme, and how is it instituted?

The basic problem that Kozol noticed in the failing school districts he visited was the fact that there was not enough money given to the students in the poor schools because the tax base was smaller. The problem here is not as much the fact that the schools received less money, as it is that they would never receive any more. The areas around the schools would continue to be poor, and many of the people too poor the even contribute to the tax base, so the schools continued to fail. The idea formed in Kozol that the way to create change was to equalize the amount of money that the district's produced. This does not mean that the people should be given the money to even out the discrepancy in tax base, but that pride in the neighborhood and job opportunities should be found that would allow the adults in the neighborhood to raise the tax base. The new meme that Kozol suggested throughout his book, even if he never actually presented it as such, was neighborhood pride and beautification.

One study was conducted to see what the effect of neighborhood pride had on elderly Black women in a rural neighborhood (Carlton-LaNey, 2003). In the qualitative study, the women talked about their neighborhoods and why they cherished them. The authors listened and recorded the information for posterity, but they were also interested because the stories could also "identify strengths upon which services, programs, and policies can be hinged" (Carlton-LaNey, 2003). The women talked with pride about the places they chose to live rather than being forced to as a result of poverty. Pride can be developed if the people of a neighborhood are willing to do what it takes to believe that the place where they live is worth salvaging.

This meme can be reinforced psychologically in many ways. People from other neighborhoods can help the people improve their neighborhood and demonstrate to the that they live in an area that should be beautified and preserved. Many of the houses in inner city neighborhoods have great architectural significance, and the people living there have never considered it because they are burdened with the belief that the area is trashy and unworthy. The meme needs to be developed such that it proves to the people that the area where they live is valuable and worth saving. This thought spreads to a community, and people begin to value where they live and the effort adds value to the neighborhood. It also has the effect of giving the people value in themselves which gives them more pride in their work and other areas of their lives.

Paradigm Shift

The meme is spread in a few communities initially and the result is that the pride that the people have in their community leads to better jobs, some people going back to school to get better educations, properties increasing in value, and eventually more revenue for the school. The paradigm shift is from an idea that these areas are so defeated that the only way to help them is to throw money at the problem, to one in which the pride they generate from helps them to realize that they can generate the help themselves. The people realize that reform has to come from within their area, not from some government program that has been set up to patronize and further depress them. The shift starts with the people in the neighborhoods, but it continues, because others see the benefits, until people realize that this is the method that they have been missing all these years.

The goal is to create a paradigm that people can make a difference in their own communities that can strengthen their schools. With the meme that pride in the neighborhood presents all of these different benefits it is possible to create just such a paradigm shift.

Conclusion

Memes are actually fairly easy to create, but memes that last and develop into paradigm shifts are very difficult. It would take a real belief to create the benefits of such a program, and the eventual psychological change that Dawkins discusses in the god meme. However, it may succeed if people were made to realize that the reason former reform efforts did not work is because they did not get at the root of the problem. It may be unfortunate that money is the issue that controls the good and bad between schools, but it is a reality nonetheless. Creating the right meme and allowing it to grow would provide the benefit of a nationwide paradigm shift that would create the benefits in education that have been lacking previously.

References

Carlton-LaNey, I. (2003). Stories from rural elderly African-Americans. Generations, 27(3), 34-46.

Chick, G. (1999, November 21). Proceedings from the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association: "What's in a meme? The development of the meme as a unit of culture," in Perceiving culture: Unit definition in cultural anthropology. Retrieved from http://www.personal.psu.edu/gec7/Memes.pdf

Dawkins, R. (1976). The selfish gene. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Bouck, E.C. (2004). How size and setting impact education in rural schools. Rural Educator, 25(3), 38-51. 1P3-670531371.

Hayes, L. (1992). A simple matter of humanity: An interview with Jonathan Kozol. Phi Delta Kappan, 74(4), 334-342. 1G1-13323200.

Kozol, J. (1991). Savage inequalities: Children in America's schools. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc.

Kuhn, T. (1977). Second… [END OF PREVIEW]

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