Paradigm Shift in Education Reform Using Thomas Kuhn Richard Dawkins and Jonathan Kozol Research Paper

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Education Reform

A Paradigm Shift in Education Reform

Basic ideas are not confined to one branch of science or one area of academic study; if it is a truly worthwhile idea it can be expanded to include many different area of science. The scientific method was at first thought to only be useful to those scientists who knew that they could find definitive answers such as mathematicians and physicists. The hard sciences laughed at the efforts of those in the so-called "soft" sciences and helped them to the realization that they were such because they were really not a part of the real scientific community. Then people in medical sciences began to use the scientific method to prove certain elements connected with illness and other aspects of the human body; psychologists used the method to develop theories, even if they could not be proven in any broad sense, they assisted with diagnosis and treatment; and other sciences such as anthropology used the method to further prove the workings of their particular universe of study.

Two ideas epitomize the thought that worthwhile theoretical discoveries are not the purview of one branch of science alone. Richard Dawkins devised a theoretical stance called meme theory based on what he knew to be true of gene theory. It has been used to explain and assist in discoveries in a great many areas of science. Thomas Kuhn is specifically known for his writings on paradigms and paradigm shifts which have added a great deal also. These two theories can be used with the knowledge found in Jonathon Kozol's book on educational inequalities to shed new light one reform. This paper looks at the reasons for the inequalities Kozol writes about to develop a meme that can be spread and turned into a paradigm shift that will create true educational reform.

Thomas Kuhn: Paradigm Shift

The idea of a paradigm shift is a natural expression since it has been more than 50 years now since Thomas Kuhn wrote his famous book about the structure and scientific revolutions. He used the word paradigm throughout the book, too many times and in too many different ways for some critics liking (Kuhn, 1977), to describe a concept that he had difficulty expressing in any other way. His definition of the term was given as "universally recognized scientific achievements that, for a time, provide model problems and solutions for a community of researchers" (Kuhn, 1962, 10). A simpler explanation of this concept is that it is an idea that gains some amount of leverage with a particular community and is considered worthy of study until a new, better concept is discovered. A good scientific example of this is Bohr's model of the atom. For many years people believed that Bohr was correct in assuming that atomic structure contained a certain number of neutrons, protons and electrons spinning round the central two in various valence shells. However, scientists began to realize that this did not completely cover all that they knew about the way that electrons behaved, so the electron cloud effect was theorized due to the ability of an electron or group of electrons to act as both particles and members of a wave.

The above example can be described as a paradigm shift which was also part of Kuhn's landmark book. A person who experiences a paradigm shift moves, in thinking or research, from one particular concept to another. Kuhn (1962) states that a "switch of gestalt" (shape, form or wholeness of concept) is necessary for the shift to take place (85). He goes on to say that "crisis simultaneously loosens the stereotypes and provides the incremental data necessary for a fundamental paradigm shift" (Kuhn, 1962, 89). Thus, a paradigm is a basic belief or idea that someone holds which can only be switched to a new idea or fundamental belief if there is some crisis of understanding which makes the shift necessary.

Richard Dawkins: Meme Theory

Richards Dawkins is a biologist whose seminal work is the explanation of evolution through the biological sciences, but his most critical contribution to society may be that of meme theory. Dawkins believed that, in biology, there was a central construct which was a "self-replicating unit of transmission" (Dawkins, 1976, 193). The unit he was describing for biological purposes was a gene, but he realized immediately that the idea had application possibilities far beyond his own corner of science. He wrote the book The Selfish Gene to explain how meme theory could be applied to culture. Thus, a meme becomes a "unit of cultural transmission" (Chick, 1999). His thought that people operated with a certain meme dominant within their psyche which was difficult to root out. He said "If a meme is to dominate the attention of the human brain, it must do so at the expense of 'rival' memes" (Dawkins, 1976, 197). Thus it is a belief that is difficult to dislodge when it is of cultural level force. However, the concept has recently taken on a different meaning and become any new idea or image that is introduced into a group (sometimes on the cultural level, but more often between friends who are friends on Twitter). New "memes" are constantly exploding onto the electronic culture and Dawkins idea has taken root in a very different way than he imagined.

Jonathon Kozol: Educational Inequalities

In the United States, it has been known for a long time that there are differences in the way students experience education at all levels of school. Jonathon Kozol was instrumental in pointing out the inequities that existed in the United States much to the chagrin of citizens. Most likely still believed, as Kozol (1991) quoted a nineteenth century writer as claiming "Americans…are unwilling that any should be deprived in childhood of the means of competition" (101). People who came to the United States at that time (likely around 1840) could have looked at the non-slave population and made such a statement. But, it was a very different America that Kozol was examining. This was now an America that had subjected different minority populations to educational conditions that could in no way be considered equal. He followed up the above quote by saying

"It is hard to read these words today without a sense of irony and sadness. Denial "of the means of competition" is perhaps the most consistent outcomes for the education offered to poor children in the schools of our large cities…" (Kozol, 1991, 101).

He is saying that the educational system in the United States has regressed since the influx of poor students to the inner cities began to occur directly after the Civil War, and it seems to be getting worse and not better.

The problems he uncovered are myriad. Teachers in rural, suburban and private schools have many fewer students per classroom (Bouck, 2004) which helps the stent because the teacher is able to spend more individual time with each student. He found that poor students were getting inferior text books that were neither current nor clear (Kozol, 191, 45). He saw that "slow readers in an eighth grade history class…taught from fifteen-year-old textbooks in which Richard Nixon is still president" (Kozol, 1991, 77). Classrooms were either too hot or too cold, they were shabby and had dangerous conditions such as protruding nails and broken windows that had not been fixed in years, and the students were forced to try and learn in a social atmosphere more conducive jail than school.

He saw many issues in the poor schools (this was not just urban schools but those in poor rural areas also), but he saw that those which resided inside were caused by the people outside. The structure of school funding had become that a district was taxed a certain amount and the school system within that district received an allocation of money largely based on the property taxes set by local and state governments. In some states they had different systems for funding the school, and all received some amount of federal funding, but it was always true that poorer areas received less funding because property values were lower in those districts. This meant that they had fewer dollars to spend on what was often more children. In one poor area he found that "30% or more of the potential tax base is exempt from taxes [for various reasons], compared to as little as 3% in the adjacent suburbs" (Kozol, 1991, 68). This issue basically had to do with both the value of the people's property (this was in Council Bluffs, Iowa), and the income that they earned. Kozol sees the inequalities as a function of the income inequality of the nation, and due to the way that most states allocate funds to schools.

Blending the Theories for Education Reform

The Problem with Reform Efforts

For one, Kozol is very skeptical regarding the reform efforts of the well-intentioned people who try to begin a new school revolution. He says "Efforts of reform…

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