When it was first initiated, the No Child Left Behind Act was intended to make schools accountable for the education of their students. This federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act was supposed to improve the quality of education for all children in the United States. This paper will show, however, that in many school districts, the No Child Left Behind Act has had the opposite effect. As a result, many minority schoolchildren are left behind in school districts with worsening educational problems.
This paper applies a conflict perspective approach to analyzing education in the United States in general, and the No Child Left Behind Act in particular. The first part of the paper gives an overview of the writings of Karl Marx on social inequity. This section then discusses how this theory and the conflict perspective are applicable to the problems in the American educational system. The next part then gives an overview of the failure of the No Child Left Behind Act in improving the educational system in the United States.
In the last part, the paper applies Marx's writings and the conflict perspective in an analysis of why the No Child Left Behind Act has failed to improve the quality of education for many children in minority school districts. It argues that as long as the roots of social inequality in education remain unaddressed, programs such as the No Child Left Behind Act will at best effect only cosmetic changes.
Karl Marx and social inequality
Marx is most well-known for his economic theories and his critique of capitalism. However, the thinker also made significant contributions to the field of social philosophy and social theory. Particularly relevant in this regard are his writings about how other social institutions - such as religion, education and the family - contribute to social inequality as a whole.
Marx was a strong advocate of establishing new economic institutions, ones that would do away with the destructive nature of capitalism. Marx's main critique of capitalism was that the current economic system promotes the domination of one group in society. As a result, many groups in society remain subjugated, their voices unheard. Furthermore, capitalism as an economic system reproduces these conditions, ensuring its own continuity in a vicious cycle by a selective distribution of social privileges.
According to classical Marxist theory, the economic and social privileges due to a person are products of his or her economic class. For Karl Marx, all people are "an ensemble of social relations" (Bottomore 89). People live their lives within the context of unequal social relationships. These unequal relationships in have grown out of an individual's access to the dominant means of production in a society.
Thus, Marx recognized the ruling class maintains a strong dominance in society. It is the ruling class of capitalists who are able to control the means of production and the proletariat, which sells its labor to the ruling class. However, in addition to these two classes, Marx also added the middle class. This "bourgeoisie" class is also dependent on the labor of the proletariat and also serves to further the interests of the ruling class (Bottomore, 85).
In The Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote that the "history of all existing society is the history of class struggle" (cited in Bottomore 87). This was because under capitalism, the ruling class' ownership of the means of production also necessitates that the proletariat families live under economic conditions that separate them from the interests and culture of the ruling classes. This means that the proletariat is constantly in hostile opposition to the ruling class, even as they continue to uphold these class divisions with their labor (Bottomore, 85).
For Marx, this economic "base" forms the foundation for the larger "superstructure" of the forms of state and class consciousness. In addition to economic conditions, the class structure also determines the "social, intellectual and life process in general" (Marx, cited in Larrain 45). In other words, the superstructure is not an autonomous body that exists independently of economic institutions. Instead, the forms of government and state authority as well as the social "consciousness" of a class is determined by the economic foundations of a society. Thus, any permanent change in the superstructure needs to be preceded by a change in a society's economic relations (Larrain 45).
In other writings, Marx explores the roots of the proletariat's consciousness, one that has been formed in relation to their lack of capital. In fact, economic conditions are responsible for transforming these people into a mass of workers who have nothing to exchange but their labor. They are defined largely by what they do not have, which means capital and property. This form of negative association also means that the proletariat lacks an "identity." They lack the sense of community that would allow them to define and enforce their class interests, whether through political or other means. This also means that the proletariat often cannot represent its own interests in the state's political structures, and must therefore be represented by the members of the ruling class (Fletscher 89).
In contrast, the members of the ruling class are careful to use class consciousness to their advantage, to enhance their social and economic privileges. The system of inheritance, for example, ensures that property remains concentrated in the hands of the ruling class. In this way, the aristocrats remained aristocrats, possessing circumscribed privileges as defined by their class interests (Fletscher 89).
Despite the astute realization that consciousness is defined in relation to one's economic conditions, this classical Marxist analysis of a superstructure (political institutions and consciousness) resting on an economic base proves inadequate to explain the many forms of social stratification. For instance, gender and race often affect privilege, even more than class. Furthermore, even Marx himself recognized that the peasant and working class often use their limited voting rights to further subjugate themselves, rather than establishing themselves as a revolutionary challenge to the ruling class (Fletscher 89).
As evidenced by advanced industrial capitalist systems like the United States, the class struggle is not always active. While class conflict is inherent, whether people - particularly workers - engage in collective actions against their exploiters also depends on the social structures that shape people's consciousness. In other words, in societies such as the United States, an active class struggle does not occur mainly because workers do not perceive themselves as "exploited." vast network of social institutions - media, religion, public schools - are able to effectively impart the values of the ruling class. These social institutions help quell the class struggle by promoting the ruling class values as the only "correct" social values. In schools and through the media, many Americans learn to accept the current social conditions as the only "legitimate" social structure in the United States.
It is in this respect that the state plays an important role. Marx saw the State as "the form in which the individuals of a ruling class assert their common interests." Because capitalists are the ruling class, their ideas and values also become the ruling ideas. In the United States, through the institutions such as mass media and education, this ruling class of capitalists promotes an entrepreneurial culture, where individual hard work can be richly rewarded. The consumer-oriented market focuses people's attention towards acquiring goods. The government enacts laws that favor corporate interests over labor.
Because Marx viewed the problem as rooted deep in capitalism, his solution calls for the development of a new economic system. His proposal thus calls for a "positive humanism," the ultimate form of communism that abolishes the private ownership of the means of production.
In this utopian solution, Marx envisioned a society where the common ownership of goods abolishes destructive competition and greed. As a result, people would then be free to find tasks suited to their interests and in line with their true creative essences.
In summary, class struggles are inherent in advanced capitalist systems. However, by harnessing the state's media, market and government mechanisms, the ruling class lulls workers into a state of complacency about their exploitation.
By using the state and its allied institutions, capitalists are able to quell or at least hinder class struggle.
Thus, the only solution is an overhaul of the current economic system, into one that recognizes people as more than mere workers but as complex human beings.
No Child Left Behind Act
Overview of the law
Officially named the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law by President Bush in 2002. This law sought to improve education by making states accountable for the performance of their students in standardized tests. Towards this, the federal government has allocated $58.3 billion in funding for 2005 alone ("U.S. Department of Education").
One of the key features of the No Child Left Behind Act was to ensure that all students must show proficiency in math and reading by the 2013-2014 school year. Schools must show a yearly progress…