As this meme passed down through generations, it became more pervasive and it also became more complete. When slavery in the New World began, both blacks and whites were enslaved, black slaves could gain freedom, and slavery was not a condition of birth. However, as that changed, the memes surrounding African-Americans also changed. Not only were blacks seen as not equal to whites, but they were seen as incapable of becoming equal to whites. Therefore, when Jim Crow segregation was first challenged under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court determined that separate facilities were not inherently unequal, despite overwhelming evidence that the facilities provided for African-Americans were factually inferior to those provided for whites. While this meme has been challenged by newer ideas and has, generally, not stood up to scientific, moral, and religious challenges, vestiges of it remain in almost every American person. As a result, many Americans, of all races, simply do not challenge the assumption that at least some African-Americans are inherently inferior to other people, and thus do not deserve to experience the same living conditions and other opportunities as other Americans.
The interesting thing is that the students experiencing the disparity are aware of it, and aware of the impact that race and the memes surrounding race have on equality and inequality in America. When Kozol asked students in East St. Louis, whether, all other things being equal, they would be content to stay in a segregated school, all of them answered that they would not. (Kozol, 1992). In fact, even though these students had little knowledge of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, they could certainly appreciate the irony of the fact that a local high school named for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had sewage running through its hallways and an almost totally black student population. (Kozol, 1992).
It is the adults who do not seem to grasp the terrible irony of the situation, or to understand that, even if the deplorable conditions in cities like East St. Louis could be attributed to malfeasance and incompetence by the city's public officials, students would still be suffering:
Critics in the press routinely note that education spending in the district is a trifle more than in surrounding districts. They also note that public schools in East St. Louis represent the largest source of paid employment in the city, and this point is often used to argue that the schools are overstaffed. The implication of both statements is that East St. Louis spends excessively on education. One could as easily conclude, however, that the conditions of existence here call for even larger school expenditures to draw and to retain more gifted staff and to offer all those extra services so desperately needed in a poor community. What such critics also fail to note, as Solomon and principal Sam Morgan have observed, is that the crumbling infrastructure uses up a great deal more of the per-pupil budget than would be the case in districts with updated buildings that cost less to operate. Critics also willfully ignore the health conditions and the psychological disarray of children growing up in burnt-out housing, playing on contaminated land, and walking past acres of smoldering garbage on their way to school. They also ignore the vast expense entailed in trying to make up for the debilitated skills of many parents who were prior victims of these segregated schools or those of Mississippi, in which many of the older residents of East St. Louis led their early lives. In view of the extraordinary miseries of life for children in the district, East St. Louis should be spending far more than is spent in wealthy suburbs. As things stand, the city spends approximately half as much each year on every pupil as the state's top-spending districts. (Kozol, 1992).
Of course, these deplorable conditions were not limited to East St. Louis, but could be found throughout the United States, despite the fact that and, though they may be able to point out irony in their educational system, many of them also come to believe that they are somehow inferior:
Children, of course, don't understand at first that they are being cheated. They come to school with a degree of faith and optimism, and they often seem to thrive during the first few years. It is sometimes not until the third grade that their teachers start to see the warning signs of failure....
By the fourth grade many children see it too...By fifth or sixth grade, many children demonstrate their loss of faith by staying out of school. The director of a social service agency in Chicago's Humboldt Park estimates that 10% of the 12- and 13-year-old children that he sees are out of school for all but one or two days every two weeks. The route from truancy to full-fledged dropout status is direct and swift. (Kozol, 1992).
This behavior reinforces existing memes about education and the disadvantaged, especially African-Americans; if people are not taking advantage of the education that is being provided, why provide greater educational opportunities?
Although Kozol's book does a wonderful job of describing the problem, the fact is that the problem is so large it almost defies description. Therefore, it should come as little surprise that the solutions are equally huge and, perhaps, even daunting. Javier Corrales believes that the fact that true education reform requires concentrated costs, but offers diffuse benefits, which means that opponents of the measures are more likely to be vocal than proponents. (Corrales, 1999). Therefore, to encourage educational reform, Corrales suggests that potential beneficiaries need to be educated and organized, so that they can be as vocal as opponents. (Corrales, 1999). In addition, would-be opponents need to be educated about the benefits of proposed actions, instead of simply concentrating on costs. (Corrales, 1999).
Furthermore, some well-intentioned educational reform simply does not appear to assist at-risk students. For example, at one-time, early childhood education was seen as a privilege of the wealthy, who could afford to send their children to expensive preschools. Therefore, one of the major educational reform efforts was to launch the Head Start program, which gave preschool-type education to underprivileged students. However, research reveals that pre-school education does not assist students, and can actually hamper student performance. (Home School Legal Defense Association, 2007). Early education, especially for students who are not prepared for a formal educational environment, can have a lasting and negative impact on motivation, intellectual growth, and self-esteem, which can result in a negative impact on school performance. (Home School Legal Defense Association, 2007). Moreover, while children do show initial benefits from preschool education, those benefits are no longer visible by the end of elementary school. (Home School Legal Defense Association, 2007).
Of course, educational reform concerns a substantial amount of economic reform, as well. Most school districts are largely funded by local property taxes. However, a string of judicial decisions has declared that such funding is unconstitutional, because it requires wealthier people to pay a lower tax rate and still receive greater educational benefits than people in poorer communities. (Fischel, 1998). The problem is that these reforms, which has been strictly fiscal, have not resulted in an improvement in education in poorer communities. On the contrary, "despite all the representations of its advocates that school-finance reform -- finance reform is a step forward for public education, it has, in fact, failed to improve the quality of education in any state where it has been imposed. Still worse, it appears to have dumbed down education in states with especially stringent reforms." (Fischel, 1998). When faced with the prospect that their property tax money will go to fund education in underprivileged areas, the wealthy have managed to push through tax cuts and other reforms, which shift the burden of education to the state and result in an overall decline in the educational system. (Fischel, 1998).
Research reveals that meaningful educational reform is going to require an overarching change in the social structure value memes. First, society is going to have to understand that all children are equal and deserve equal educational opportunities. It would be easy to suggest that society should view all humans as equal, but that is an impossible goal. Adults recognize that not all human beings are equal. Through life circumstances, by the time people enter into adult life, they do have differences in potential. Furthermore, by adulthood, differences in choices have frequently furthered the gap in potential. To pretend that those differences do not exist is to try to establish a meme that will not take root because it is contradicted by the daily life experiences of members of both the dominant the subordinate social class. However, to stress that all children are born with equal potential is a much easier change to bring about. In fact, the well-intentioned Head Start program was based upon such a premise; the challenge is simply to find a program that truly will help all students meet their…
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