Esthefany Castillo: Increasing Educational Achievement Through Social Activism

The final assignment for SOC419 is an essay detailing a reform measure that could be taken to respond to the crisis in American education. The following is a student recommendation for public education policy. 

Introduction

In January of 2012, a verdict was taken to do away with the ethnic studies programs within the Tucson School District in Arizona. This was a controversy that up roared the nation and tore many in Arizona apart through racism; hate crimes, and discrimination against immigrants. The ethnic studies program managed to narrow the achievement gap amongst the Mexican-American students and the white students, and increase achievement and graduation rate amongst Mexican American students. Augustine Romeo, author of At War with The State in Order To Save the Lives of Our Children: The Battle To Save Ethnic Studies in Arizona, that students evoked a great sense of passion of feeling more conscious about the world around them through the ethnic studies courses. One student states to one of her teachers, “Before your class and this project, I don’t know who I was. It is like I was living outside of myself and just about everybody else. I am now alive; before I do not know what I was.” (Oliva Guevara, 125) The students proved to be strongly motivated to pursue higher education in order to make a change in society. These are ideas that Michael W. Apple and Paulo Friere speak too. They advocate for an education that makes the students aware of the world around them. They insist that an education that teaches both sides of a story and allows space for critical thinking will increase achievement amongst students.

The achievement gap has come to signify the inequalities in education throughout the United States. If such a gap within society’s youth is deeply rooted in social dynamics of race and class, why is it that these social issues are not addressed in schools? What I propose is a standard curriculum with the inclusion of social activism programs. The social activism program will be in the form of monthly projects concerning race, environmental justice, class …etc. All projects will be community based.  My hopes are that such addition to the curriculum will make students more conscious about their surrounding, yield higher motivation to learn, and give way to substantial educational achievement.

Hegemony in Education

In Ideology and Curriculum, by Michael W. Apple, Apple presents forth the roles that ideologies play in school curriculums. Apple argues that the problems with education are that it internalizes and reproduces a form of hegemony that perpetuates economical and social stratification. Apple believes that education is being used as a way to maintain social and economic inequalities. He states, “schools also play a rather large part in the distributing kinds of normative and dispositional elements requires to make this inequality seem neutral. They teach a hidden curriculum that seems unequally suited to maintain the ideal hegemony of the most powerful society” (Apple 41).  In other words, the hidden curriculum that teachers are teaching is one that preserves social and class inequalities. Yet, at the same time is revered as an objective institution. Such hegemonic order is obtained through teachers teaching consensus, only one side of the story. Apple explicates that, “it has become increasingly evident that the formal corpus of school knowledge found in, say, most history book and social studies text and materials has, over the year, presented a somewhat bias view of the true nature of the amount” (80). Teaching to consensus is troublesome because it further establishes social and economic inequalities by denying students the full truth of a subject matter. Students are only being taught one side of the story, that which is favorable to the hegemonic order.

As a solution to such complex problems that are deeply embedded within power and inequalities, Apple proposes that the curriculum be one that is altered to include conflict, both sides of the story. He argues for “a conscious advocacy of a more realistic outlook on and teaching of the dialectic of social change [that] would, no doubt, contribute to preparing students with the political and conceptual tools necessary to deal wit the dense reality they may face” (Apple 96). Such teaching would consist of a fuller picture in social studies and science class.  Teacher and students will be in dialogue with one another as they understand and discuss both sides of the topic being addressed.

In the manuscript Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire also critiques the current form of a standardized curriculum as education. Freire refers to this style of education as a “banking education,” or a traditional education. He believes that banking concept of education “becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat” (Freire 72). The banking concept is a form of education whose sole purpose is to pass on knowledge to the student. Freire argues that this style of instruction oppresses students and strives to maintain a hegemonic order by constraining student’s critical thinking. Based on the banking education’s “mechanism, statics, naturalistic, specialized view of consciousness; it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads women and men to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power” (Freire 77). This argument is similar to that of Apple, in that both believe that current educational curriculum is depriving students of their creativity and curiosity by only teaching them one side of the story. The lack of student consciousness about the world around them strengthens the hegemonic order within the hidden curriculum because it attempts to control their thinking and action. This causes students to conform to the world as it is, without having the ability to formulate their own opinions about it. Freire urges for a problem-posing form of education where the teacher presents the material to the student, and reconsiders her earlier consideration as the students express their own (Freire 81). In other words, there will still be a standard curriculum but one that takes into consideration students’ ideas. Teacher and students should be in dialogue, and there must be an equal distribution of power within the classroom. A problem-posing education will be beneficial to both the teacher’s teaching outcomes and students’ consciousness.

Experimental Intervention: Social Activism Program  

My proposal will be a deductive research in which I take into consideration Michael W. Apple and Paulo Freire’s theories of education and apply it to an experimental intervention study. I plan on conducting my research as longitudinal study throughout the course of two academic school years. I will focus my study on ten schools across the nation. The schools will be selected through a cluster-sample of states, inner cities, and public schools. It will be samples of 10 schools where all students in five selected schools will receive the treatment and the five other schools will serve as a controlled group, using their regular curriculum. The randomly selected ten schools will be place on a list numbered from 00 to 09. The five schools that will receive treatment will be randomly assigned using a Random Number Table until five numbers are selected. Throughout the two years, each student will take 6 tests- three at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year and 3 tests in the same order the following year. This study will take an interventional approach as it introduces a supplementary curriculum heavily based on education of social issues, social activism, group work, leadership, and community service. The subjects that would be tested would be math, reading, and history. I would also like to take into account the race and socio-economic class of the individual students. At the beginning of the experiment I will administer a survey to the parents of the students for demographic information regarding race, ethnicity, attained education, occupation, and income.

Experimental Curriculum 

Research will be conducted regarding prominent issues that low-income communities that are currently affecting low income neighborhoods. Some social factors that will be suggested to be address in class will be community health, education, housing, and race. The conducted will research will further this list. Once the chosen schools are ready to start a topic, class will choose individually what specific topic they feel relates to the overall topic the school is focusing on. A student-teacher brainstorm is essential because it will get students to think about things that might be related to the topic. This will allow students to start rating things in their everyday lives to social factors.

If a school from the south Bronx is chosen for the study the following procedures will take place. Every teacher will receive the full list of the selected sociological subjects that will be selected for the experiment after appropriate research is conducted. If the school was to focus on community health each class will have to brainstorm factors that student’s feel fall under that category. From there each class chooses something that they would like to further explore. It is possible for one class to be focusing on asthma while the other focuses on HIV/AIDS. All students will take part in research, analysis, and critical thinking. Students will be divided into groups where a final project will be presented. Projects are open to be as artistic and different as the group wants it to be. Their understanding of the knowledge will be based on their way of articulating during their presentation. Throughout the study, teachers will have to write down observations that she notices in the critical thinking of the students. Projects will be all the same in that a concluding point must be “How does this affect me?”. Projects should be placed in hallways in order for other students to see the projects of other classes. Teachers can schedule time for their classes to visit each other’s classrooms during presentations. This is to be done for every new area of focus.

Conclusion

This research design deems reliable for many reason. The treatment will be open ended where every month the students will focus on a social issue in their specific neighborhoods for one-year then social national issues the next year. I will however suggest themes that should be addressed such as Environmental Justice, Health Disparities, Gentrification, etc. By allowing students and teachers to focus on issues specific to their community I will be allowing for more connection between the student and the supplementary material. Although, different schools will differ in curriculum the key idea of teaching conflict and of raising the students’ social consciousness will still be present in all of the classes receiving treatment. Apple and Friere, theories will be put into effect. This proposal will allow for me to test the extent to which consciousness in one’s surrounding raises one’s motivation to learn.

References

Apple, W. Michael. 2009. Ideology and Curriculum. New York, NY: Routlege.

Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum International.

Romero, Augustine F. “ At War with The State in Order To Save the Lives of Our Children: The  Battle To Save Ethnic Studies in Arizona.” The Black Scholar 40.4 (2010): p7. Academic OneFile. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.

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