The middle school years are very crucial to an adolescent’s sense of self-image and development of critical thinking concerning social issues. Urban schools today are often very racially and culturally diverse. Yet, while students ‘ live” in a community together, they do not take the time to examine each other beyond the media representation of their respective ethnic groups. Thus, they interact according to learned myths. Hence, it is necessary to discuss images and stereotypes that are perpetuated about race, color, gender and language, with students just to maintain class harmony. Student knowledge of how the law and history effect them and their education is lacking.
Knowledge is power, thus one would assume education is the way (means) to gain power. The educational systems within our country are controlled by those in the majority. Change is needed, but to effect change one must assess the past history to understand how the present system developed. One must ascertain what worked, what failed and the reasons that caused the success or failure. Political and economic factors are extremely important issues in the assessment of history. Although we must remember that history is cyclical, and we can predict some future changes from the past.
Stephan Thernstorm in his book
Poverty and Progress: Social Mobility in Nineteenth century City
describes school as “ . . . the chief instrument by which society equipped its citizens with the skills and values necessary to compete effectively.”
The idea then was that if you open the doors of knowledge to everyone, every pupil with the capacity and ambition will do the rest for themselves. However schools were not necessarily organized for the students, but for and by the adults who are employed by school systems. Visionaries such as Horace Mann saw schools as the means to produce economic change without disruption and chaos. Schools were to help maintain moral and decent behavior and contribute to economic growth. Each wave of immigrants to America has been told that education is the key to their success at achieving the American dream. Most groups have taken advantage of public educational opportunities and have improved their economic situation. Hence, the notion that public school education has evolved to represent the ‘melting pot’ that America professes to be proud to embody.
However, has the blending been achieved or is it an illusion? Is the heterogeneous approach the solution or should we educate children in separate environments according to gender, race or language? Do girls have greater self-esteem and learn more when they are educated separately from boys or vice versa? Should people only attend school with students of the same race or ethnic background? Does learning in one’s native language matter? Afro-Americans, Hispanics and women have had a greater struggle and continue to be the topic of educational systematic reform.