This article argues for the viewpoint that Head-Start-type early education is not only non-productive, but can actually lead to detriments to children's development as they enter formal school. The article begins by citing the results of a recent study of 35,000 students by Durham University, which found that there was no benefit to pre-school education programs for children. The article points to a series of earlier studies, reaching back to the 1960's, which demonstrate that there are no lasting benefits: it is clear from these studies that summer pre-school programs show no short-term or long-term gains, while all-year pre-schools offer some advantages only in the first year or two of formal schooling. The article also argues that children who go to pre-schools too young suffer from being away from their parents, and may have behavioral difficulties later. One could expect that those who back home schooling would also back the importance of constant parent presence, particularly for young children. The article could have been strengthened by the findings of Jean Piaget and Maria Montessori, who established a strong correlation between stage of development and ability to learn.
Dawkins' Arguments for the Selfish Gene
Dawkins' work extends the theories of E.O. Wilson from 1975, which extended Wilson's work with ant colonies to understand social behavior. As with ants, Dawkins argues that humans may embark on behavior which is destructive to the individual, while advancing the species, tribe or community. Dawkins argues that this "selfish" behavior is burned in at the genetic and/or biological level, and is bred into the species.
Dawkins' acceptance of Wilson's explanation for seemingly counter-intuitive behavior is not completely deterministic. He is at great pains to argue that the tendencies in certain individuals may be biologically driven, but can be different from individual to individual. An example of this is siblings within the same family; each may take a different role in order to secure his or her place within the family and community.
One of the criticisms leveled at Dawkins (and by extension to EO Wilson before him) is that the "selfish" gene takes away the concept of free will (Midgely 1981) (Bethell 2001). There are religious and psychological grounds for this criticism. Anyone who follows the debates against Darwinism in the late 19th and early 20th century will recognize that Dawkins' views challenge the religious notion of "free will." The behavioralists, represented by BF Skinner and his followers, eventually morphed their argument about stimulation-response to demonstrate that different reactions, or responses, were acceptable based on a complex interaction of a person's physical reality and the sum of his/her experiences. Dawkins' responses to his critics are similar -- genes are not determination, but influences, on behavior.
The Concept of "Meme" and Kozol's Concerns about Education
Dawkins developed the term "meme," which he borrowed from the Greek. He defines the term as a kind of cultural icon, or idea, or even a brand, which is associated with a particular social concept (Dawkins 1976). The concept of "memes" has been adopted as a whole new area of psychological and sociological study. Dawkins paints memes with a broad brush: they can include everything from prejudicial concepts to corporate brands. The second important element of his "meme" theory is that the ideas can be propagated, just as a virus is spread from one to another.
Relating memes to Kozol's ideas requires an understanding of how American culture regards sociologically-charged words and concepts. In Kozol's lexicon, these memes would include 'segregation,' 'black vs. white,' 'third world' and 'Apartheid.' Each of these powerful concepts is employed by Kozol to wake up the complacent American public. Kozol visited over 60 schools over a period of 6 years in order to understand the problems of segregated education in some of the worst school districts in the country (Kozol 2007).
There are a number of memes that Kozol chooses not to use, such as 'home schooling,' 'school choice' and 'mainstreaming.' The reason may lie in Kozol's background. He was a teacher in the inner city nearly 40 years ago. He was also a civil rights worker. His solutions are therefore more oriented to integration, whether forced or voluntary, rather than seeking new methods of educating students. Although there is a considerable demand for home schooling, charter schools and vouchers for minority students in areas where it has been tried, Kozol's answers appear to be more concentrated on moving students around and exposing middle-class white students to inner-city schools (thereby forcing their parents to vote more funds and clean up the schools) than finding real change on the sites where the students are being mis-educated.
Cultural Evolution through Meme Changes in order to Reform Education
Few elements of our culture are as value- and meme-packed as education. From the side of teachers, "higher pay," "more respect" and "eliminate standards" are effective battle cries. In those areas which are not only failing, but failing miserably, those in teachers' unions argue that the fault of poor teaching lies with the parents, lack of money, too many students per classroom, ineffective leadership or a hollowing-out of their neighborhoods. Such memes as "merit pay," "eliminate tenure" or "job security" have more meaning to teachers in many inner-city schools than "student graduation rates," "competitive advance" or "improved educational scores."
The language of state-sponsored primary and secondary education in the United States is overwhelmingly defensive, bureaucratic and socially correct. Part of the reason for this stasis and defensiveness may be that the educational system has been held back by a concern for position, licensure and tenure. Reys' arguments about the insufficiency of math education in the United States could be extended to all areas of learning (Reys 2002). He argues that students in the U.S. are taught outdated and irrelevant math which is neither coherent nor relevant to present-day needs. He uses the dreaded "I" word -- international (comparison) -- to suggest that math scores are so poor in the United States because so few schools and teachers have adopted new methods of teaching which are more interesting and more relevant to student's needs in the everyday world.
Memes can be used defensively or offensively. Those who favor home schooling can hurl the memes of "parental neglect," "bureaucratic learning establishment" and "poor results" at government-run school systems. Teachers can hurl "parental neglect," "lack of security" and "low pay" at school districts and the voters. Those who support charter schools can use the memes related to "government misdirection."
There are relatively few meme-less arguments for educational reform. The Gates Foundation has searched for newer ways to address education reform in a meme-less fashion (Miner 2005). Perhaps the educational establishment can learn something from American business, which has gone through so many changes in the past few decades. Perhaps the fewer memes that are extant, the more willing people are to listen, and to change.
What Cultural Changes Need to Take Place to Reform Education?
This author argues that many of the education reforms are already well under-way, and cannot be rolled back. Those students who could leave the corrupt, bankrupt and denuded inner-city schools have already done so. Those who are left have little or no voting power. The bankrupt school systems in many major cities have either been taken over by state or federal bodies, or will be soon.
At the same time, there has been an increasing availability of education to those who want to take advantage of it. The internet, charter schools, "magnet" schools, vouchers and home schooling have become easier today than in the past. Part of this easing has to do with the relaxation of laws about how we can educate our children. Another part has to do with the ubiquity of information.
Teachers, schools and textbooks no longer have a monopoly on knowledge; a student can access nearly all the information of the world from anywhere in the world.
This does not mean that all children in the U.S. are improving their educational status. We still have a problem with poor teachers, bureaucratic school systems, union resistance to measuring results and to the middle class' abandonment of the inner city.
Conclusion black student who graduates from high school has the same lifetime income as a white or Asian graduating from high school. He or she is also just as likely to obtain a college degree. The problem is that half of blacks and Hispanics fail to graduate from high school. While one can blame a series of factors for this dismal performance, the result is incontrovertible. One quarter of black males has been incarcerated before the age of 30. The increasing competitiveness of the global labor force has taken many of the low-education, low-skilled jobs away from those who have no education. As a result, this underclass of the uneducated will never be able to catch up.