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Spring 2004
Diversity, Economics and Education
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"There should be community-oriented assignments," says Rogers. "Not a library research project on early Californians, but something that combines the library and classroom with home and community work on, say, immigration to California."

"In California, more than anywhere in the U.S., we have the potential for creating a truly bilingual, globally oriented, educated population. That is one of the things this country and the world needs the most."
Education Professor Jeannie Oakes

Creative approaches to education, however, require well-trained and highly motivated teachers, and that costs more money. "The tasks of teachers have been dumbed down by economics at the very time that teachers need to be more skilled than ever," says Rogers.

Economics also gets in the way of involving parents and families in the schools. "We encourage parents to help out whenever possible," says Imanishi. "But a lot of my students come from homes where there is only one parent. When the child gets back from school, that mother or father often is still out working and may not even get home until after the child is already asleep. I know that they want to support their children at home, but it is very hard for them to find the time."

Thus, many of the schools that could most benefit from family and community involvement, that need it to help make up for shortfalls in fully credentialed teachers and poor facilities, can't get it. The families are too busy simply trying to make a living. The communities have too many other, more urgent problems.

In America, people dislike the word "class" as it applies to the nation's social strata. Unfortunately, class is at the heart of many education issues. The schools with the best-trained teachers, the best facilities, the greatest resources, parents with the time to get involved in the educational process, supportive communities and the ability to take advantage of the opportunities inherent in diverse student bodies are, with few exceptions, in higher-income neighborhoods where the schools don't usually need as much help.

Education, says Walter Allen, a UCLA professor of sociology, is a basic commodity, and the mess that's being made of its distribution is affecting all of society for the worse. Fixing the problem will require more than simple changes in curriculum. It will take political and social solutions.

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