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Schools as Instruments of Social Change, Essay Example

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Introduction

Social changes transform people, places, and things in society. Schools are places where exciting transformations are expected. We cling to the hope that schools are places where social change occurs for the betterment of all community stakeholders: students, teachers, parents, and citizens. All things change. Schools are no exception. This paper looks at a few of the federally-produced changes that have targeted education through the years with the intent of making things more equitable for all people of all races, faiths, sexes, and physical-mental abilities.

Social Ills

There are things that hold our schools back. One of those things is that we do not all have the same advantages. Another is that sometimes we do not know how to do more with less. Problems in society cause schools to withstand the worst of those issues. Schools are full of children –our children –and when adults suffer, our children suffer.

In his book, Liberalism and Social Action, Dewey (1999) discussed how an individual relates to modern society –what the character of a person is, how a person can come to value freedom, and why social and political action become important in helping the individual realize a connection with the society that permeates specificity in time and place. The history books of our nation fill with stories of those who worked tirelessly in order to help the American people to be better educated by schooling processes to follow their dreams. Celebrating this, Dewey desired us to embrace that connection.

Dewey focused on a brand of social consciousness that experimented with the proper amount of social control and political intervention, given the reality of the advent of what we now know as an age of information and technological advance. Dewey tended to equate freedom with individuality and insisted that this freedom requires acknowledgement before a person can understand a proper role in the overall framework of society. Social action as Dewey envisioned it, lacked the fist of authoritarianism. Instead, Dewey’s idea of social action (change) affirmed the basic liberties that were born with the experiment of America. He wished that citizens would find their own way instead of having the government imposing ethics, doctrines, or roles upon them. Dewey congratulated any social environment that encouraged social action.          

Brown V. Board

A famous legal battle proves an instance when Americans, confronted with the truth, did the right thing to produce positive social change. In the 1950s, the Supreme Court was unanimous in its decision that schools separated by race could not be equal. Argued by former Justice Thurgood Marshall, the case became a landmark ruling that eventually altered the landscape of public education. Before Brown, races did not unite for the purposes of public education (Cozzens, 1998). Now, more than a half century removed from the conclusion of the case, there are those who remember still the last vestiges of legalized racial categorizations and the awkward ways in which society tried to ignore them for more than a decade after the ruling through, not only de jure (legal) but de facto (factual) practices.

Unequal Funding

Why does it appear that some schools have everything? Why does it seem that other schools languish without adequate resources for instruction? As long as current funding formulas for education find basis in tax rosters, then funding will never truly be equal. The rich will get richer. The poor will become poorer. This is an area that screams for an overhaul of change. Coeyman (2000) covered Jonathan Kozol, a critic of U.S. public school finance policies, as he delivered Kozol’s address to a 5th grade graduation class in a poor New York ghetto school:

Every year at commencement time we have a lot of slogans. But you are going      to have to study very hard to win the prize. In this unequal society          of ours, you’re not going to be able to get by with slogans (p. 18).

Kozol would shift the responsibility for educational funding from the local to the federal level, an idea that opposes the prevalent thinking of most political figures and educational lobbyists. Kozol writes books about an equity system that is absolute, giving more to those with less and less to those with more. He favors legislation that changes real estate property tax patterns that command funding formulas, and he sees early intervention initiatives, like additional funding for more preschool readiness programs, as concrete solutions for complex problems in learning in the early grades.

Title I

It is helpful to understand why and how Title I schools came into being. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson unveiled his plans for eliminating racial injustice and poverty in the United States. As part of this “Great Society,” Congress enacted the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (Institute of Education Sciences, 2007). This broke the long-standing taboo of providing federal financial assistance to the states for the purposes of education. Title I, in its renewed authorization under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, sought to improve the academic achievement of the disadvantaged.

Head Start

Head Start also began in the 1950s and received reauthorization by Congress in 1981. This program operates under the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and assists low-income parents and their children. Head Start wants to affect poverty by working on school readiness with preschoolers and by assisting poverty-stricken parents through health, nutritional, and social service referrals. Head Start exists in order to facilitate social change.

Special Education

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides educational support and special services to those who qualify under numerous categories including, but not limited to, autism, traumatic brain injuries, mental retardation, and hearing impairments. Students who place into this receive an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and are placed, as the law reads, in a “least restrictive environment,” or as most special educators say, best “inclusion.” Teachers make classes as inclusive as possible for these and other learners. This law brings all students forward and promotes social change that is positive for those who receive IEPs and for those who learn acceptance and diversity because of such processes.

Title IX

In 1972 an educational amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed into law. We know it as Title IX, and it says that people of both sexes will have the same opportunities in any educational program or activity that receives federal finding. This means that, in either the classroom or the athletic field, equal opportunities exist for males and females. This amendment does not apply to some things, such as sororities and fraternities. By facing facts like the unequal treatment of girls in subjects and team sports that traditionally been dominated by males, Title IX was a giant step forward in requiring schools to comply to males and females alike.

No Child Left Behind

Smith, in 2005 research, wrote about No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as being perhaps “the most important piece of US educational legislation for the past 35 years” (p. 507). Now, high stakes testing, cemented with measures that guarantee strict accountability aim at living up to the name of the legislation. No Child Left Behind, as it turns out, is a difficult piece of legislation to interpret, and it also appears to be impossible to fund in accordance with the requirements of the statute.

Much of what NCLB undertakes is praiseworthy in that it ensures all schools in receipt of federal funding to chart progress of subgroup student populations: i.e., poor students, minority students, non-native English speaking students, and special education students.

A Local School

The school where my neighbor’s children attend boast middle school team sports for both sexes. They have an after school program, funded by Federal money, to work with lower income students who need homework help and safe care until an adult figure gets home from work to monitor them. The school has seven special education teachers who meet with parents and provide rewards and incentives for IEP students to get the most out of their schooling. The school is situated in a city that has experienced plant closings and lay-offs. Just down the road is a federal preschool program. Everything covered in this paper is either in this one school or at least in close proximity to it. The system seems to be working.

References

Coeyman, M. (2000). At the heart of no ordinary crusade. Christian Science Monitor, 92(156), 18.

Cozzens, L. (1998). Brown v. board of education. African American History. 11 May 1999. Retrieved March 6, 2010 from           http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/index.html

Dewey, J. (1999). Liberalism and Social Action. New York: Prometheus Books.

Institute of Education Services. (2007). National assessment of title I final report: Summary of key findings. U. S. Department of Education, NCEE, 2007- 4014, October.

Smith, E. (2005). Raising standards in American schools: The case of “no child left behind.” Journal of Education Policy, 4(204), 507-524.

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