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Combating Social Inequalities through Education

Education is, no doubt, valuable in its own right, but it also is enabling in the sense that it serves (however imperfectly) as the gateway for obtaining other social goods, such as desirable employment, adequate income, and political power (Howe, 34).  Only through education does one achieve a social standing as a participating citizen entitled to the benefits of equal rights and say in life.  Through education does one uplift one self from poverty, discrimination, glass-ceiling jobs, and a realization that many injustices can be accomplished by the knowledge of what is right or not.  Yet, education by itself will only accomplish so much in this day and age.  Equality of education, equality of superior curriculum, equal treatment and environmental conditions in learning institutions; sense of community and belonging, cultural and language identification and acceptance; as well as the destruction of the social and class barriers that often hold back those who have much to gain.

Those are essential tools in the process of enlightenment for students who have no chance in the educational systems they are now exposed to.  In order for an America to be composed of citizens who participate in the political arena and contribute to the better good of society an America that has an equal system of education for all is needed.
Aristotle states that for a citizen to act as the title given to him he must have knowledge, age, and wisdom.  He must have intelligence to contribute to the administration of justice.  If that must be true, then what becomes of those citizens who do not have the time or luxury of getting an education?  A piece written by Jonathan Kozal speaks of the disadvantage of those who do not have the means to afford a good education and are set behind those who do.  In Children of the City Invincible: Camden, New Jersey, he speaks of students who do not even have enough textbooks to go around being set back from mainstream society.   How then must a citizen have proficient knowledge if he or she cannot even sit in a classroom that is environmentally safe for them?  Children come into school with rotting teeth, she says [school nurse]. They sit in class, leaning on their elbows, in discomfort.  Many kids have chronic and untreated illness.  I had a child in here yesterday with diabetes.  Her blood-sugar level was over 700.  Close to coma level(Kozal 138). With the health conditions as poor as that, how is there any way possible that these student will learn and grow from their experience in schools?  There is no money to be given by the parents to help the situation either.  Camden, New Jersey, is the fourth-poorest city of more than 50,000 people in America.  In 1985, nearly a quarter of its families had less than $5,000 annual income.  Nearly 60 percent of its residents receive public assistance.  Its children have the highest rate of poverty in the United States (Kozal 137).  Kozal speaks of poignant situations in which students attend schools that are so horrible no politician, school board president, or business CEO would dream of working.     The areas in which these children must learn are next to dumpsites, toxic waste sites, and in the worst ghettos of the cities.  This is the learning environment in which they are provided.  What then, does this tell the children?  They are not worth clean rooms, nice books, friendly school environments, anything.

Why should these children care about English or science if they dont even have the books or the equipment?  America is only setting these children up to fail and be added to the labor class.
Unequal schooling reproduces the social division of labor (Bowles 49). To have children as the highest rate of poverty is only pushing them further from being equal citizens.  The unequal schooling these children are subjected to is Americas way of meeting the needs of capitalist employers for a disciplined and skilled labor force, and to provide a mechanism for social control in the interests of political stability (Kozal 65).  They are bred and instructed for a world of labor and a class society composed of workers.  Since these children come from working class parents whose property values are often not very high, their contribution to the taxes for the schools are minimal; leaving them with no choice but a minimal education for their children.  Evidence on the relationship between the level of school inputs and the income of the neighborhoods that the schools serveindicate[s] that both school expenditures and more direct measures of school quality vary directly with the income levels of the communities in which the school is located (Bowles, 49).  Schools that are located in an influential area have a curriculum that invites creativeness, discussions, and flexibility; while those who are on financial assistance to meet the schools budget is fixated on obedience and punctuality (Bowles 50).  The social-class inequalities in our school system and the role they play in the reproduction of the social division of labor are to evident to be denied (Bowles 51). There are numerous studies that indicate the future of the child is dependent on the social class that composes the school and the curriculum allowed on the budget maintained by the surrounding community.  Class divided schools indicate those with less will have few resources to provide the children with a superior education.   Unless schools are able to provide an equal education to all regardless of their social class, students will not surpass the expectations set upon them

The polis, or political association, is the crown: it completes and fulfills the nature of man: it is thus natural to him, and he is himself naturally a polis animal; it is also prior to him, in the sense that is the presupposition of his true and full life (Aristotle 2).  Man is meant to partake in the political association, he/she is meant to live with others and interact with them. Every man/woman wants to be a part of a community and have social interaction with that community.  This is what makes man/woman feel like he/she belongs, has a niche, or is accepted.  With that acceptance does the feeling to contribute and participate come in hand.  If there is a feeling of alienation, exclusion, or hostility one will do nothing but try to survive; they will not contribute to the betterment of all the people feeling the same alienation.  The person will not educate themselves in a society in which it does not accept them; thereby escalating the situation in which they are already in. With a community in which he/she feels a part of he/she will feel like they have an equal voice and equal vote and security in their position as a citizen.  Strip that way and he/she will no longer feel like a productive citizen nor will he/she then contribute to the community.  Developing a sense of belonging to society is a key attribute of active citizenship.  Those who feel excluded are less likely to participate in the political arena (Flores 261).   He/She will be seen as unequal to the rest of society.  Such is the case of minorities among the nation.  In the case of Camden or East St. Louis, this level of participation and range of different citizens is not plausible.  To be able to participate, one must have sufficient time, knowledge, and energy; to the residents of Camden or even East St. Louis, it is close to impossible.  With the daily struggle of earning a living, putting food on the table, a roof over the head, clothes on the back, and caring for children leaves no time or energy to participate in the learning action or push children to gain much knowledge to leave that way of life.

The situation in which most minorities find themselves in is bleak.  Segregation is not even a vocabulary word; it is a fact of life.  Jonathan Kozal speaks of that in his research of the nations schools.  What is more astonishing in his findings is not that there are more schools segregated than before, it is the fact that the school administrators or teachers have no concept that it exists or is apparent.  They have been set apart and placed in a homogenous community of minorities that there is virtually no way out.  It is as if they have assimilated racial isolation as a matter so immutable, so absolute, that it no longer forms a part of their own thinking (Kozal 151) The families in which have no community sharing, or concept of acceptance are the ones suffering most from this kind of de-citizenship.  As mentioned before, a participating citizen is one that is able to have an equal voice, rights, and standing in the government.  These families have none of these rights that are too often taken for granted.  Once these families have a sense of belonging, only then will they be able to share their concerns with each other and feel their voices together will actually make a difference.  Not only is their sense of belonging essential to their fight for action resulting from an injustice, there is also a need to see what else life has to offer.  To explain, their communities are composed of a homogenous group of people who are all poverty stricken, if they have the chance to live among those who are middle class or upper middle class they will be able to see what else life has to offer and make a more combined effort to reach that goal.  There is no variety or difference of citizens in the community of Camden and East St. Louis so they cannot see what America can provide or offer.  They will only see what is before them and thus limit themselves.  Their children will be limited to the little resources provided by the community and be surrounded by those in a similar situation of life; thereby creating an enclave where no one come in, no one gets out.  They will not see what other students have provided for them as resources in which to learn (such as books, clean schools, qualified teachers) so they will not strive to go further (there are always exceptions to the rules).
The ethnic upsurge (it can hardly be called a revival because it was unprecedented) began as a gesture of protest against the Anglo centric culture.  It became a cult, and today it threatens to become a counter-revolution against the original theory of America as one people, a common culture, a single nation. (Schlesinger 161)

Schlesingers view of America becoming a place where ethnic cults thrive among the citizens is a bit far-fetched.  His idea that ethnic groups are ripping away at the unity of America is what white Anglo-Saxon males have worried about for years.  That a minority will rise from his subservient status and take rein of what is rightfully his.  In the case of Latinos becoming the number one minority group and even climbing into positions of authority, this has set a trend of writers and politicians in a frenzy of worry.  A minority in a leadership position- the very thought of it will send shivers down many politicians.  Yet, the emergence of multicultural citizens has lead to the idea of creating a multicultural education program that will embrace the cultures and provide students with a firm background in their past history in order to yield a new generation secure in their self-worth ready to take on new challenges that will spring up in the future.

Multicultural education will recognize, accept, and appreciate differences.  It will teach responsibility and commitment towards democracy and equality in the face of so many different ethnicities.  It will provide students to become critical thinkers and accepting of different races, instead of bigotry, discrimination, and racism.  Ethnic studies would teach concepts such as gender, families, and perceptions that would otherwise go unnoticed or learned.  Having a multicultural education will teach us about oppression and the forms of it, including where each ethnic comes from thereby leading to a greater understanding of everyones culture.  The unknown will now become know, forcing the fear of the unknown to disappear.  More will learn that there are more similarities between one group and another than differences.  Schlesingers view that this multicultural recognition and acceptance will divide the United States is actually quite the opposite of its effects.  Without multicultural education will the youth of America be subjected to deplorable learning conditions, in the case of Latino children being subjected to wretched learning conditions because of the language barrier.  Chicano parents in Lemon Grove, California, fought placing their children in a barnyard school, rejecting claims by the school district that such segregation was necessary to more effectively Americanize them (Alvarez 1987:153)(Flores 259).  Multicultural education is the key to the ever-changing, fast-paced, and culturally diverse America.

To reiterate, the equality of education and the equality of superior curriculum will enhance students that have otherwise been stilted in their growth and knowledge because of an inadequate educational system.  The need for equal treatment and environmental conditions in learning institutions will provide students with the sense that they are worth the time and effort of the school districts and create a positive learning environment; free of sickness, dump sites, and savage inequalities leading to the production of students who have no skills whatsoever.  A shared sense of community and belonging among the students and parents to provide a unified voice in addressing social injustices and a feeling that each are participating citizens worthy of equal vote and say.  A cultural and language identification and acceptance so the multicultural education will be enforced leading to less racism, sexism, and oppression.  The need for the destruction of the social and class barriers so that students are taught in an equal environment and they are not bred for the working class or expected to amount to nothing.  These theories all lead to the idea of an active citizen, in where their voice and opinion does matter and will be unified to bring about a better America and a brighter future.

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