Diversity in U.S. schools is simultaneously a national advantage over other countries where students lack the advantages of multi-cultural influences, and a drawback in terms of providing egalitarian learning opportunities for children from minority backgrounds. Latino students, from the territory of Puerto Rico, and from families with roots in the Caribbean, as well as Central and South America, are a large constituent of all those enrolled in various levels of the U.S. education system.
This document considers the similarities and differences between the case of one Carrey Perez and other Latino students whose feedbacks about their educational experiences have been published (Espinoza-Herold, 2002). The document ends with conclusions about the implications of these similarities and differences.
Common Experiences of Latino Students in U.S. Schools
No student, whether Latino or from another ethnic group, would like to intentionally perform badly on the scholastic front. The recognition and sense of achievement which comes with admirable grades, and also with verbal appreciation in public by members of a faculty are universally coveted by all students. Some students, who do not perform well in an educational setting, may feel that they are disadvantaged, rather than that they lack interest in the subjects taught, or that they are disinclined to make the effort to do better.
Such feelings of injustice are stoked by any hints or awareness by children that they are somehow different from the majority of their peers in a class room. It is also possible that children may feel that they are treated differently by teachers on account of their cultural or appearance-related differences from the mainstream, and indeed such discrimination may be real more than imagined. One similarity between all Latino students is that they desire educational equity (Suâarez-Orozco, and Paez, 2002).
One way to eliminate discrimination in educational matters is to reduce one’s differences from others as much as possible, so that appearance, behavior, and interests merge with the mainstream. Most Latino children are aware that living conditions in the United States are better, in material ways, than in the third world, and there is always familial influence to work towards a better life as a fundamental aim of immigration in to the adopted country. Children are especially adept at learning languages, adjusting native pronunciation, learning dress codes, and developing shared interests with their peers. However, there are also contradictory pressures to retain their cultural identities (Suâarez-Orozco, and Paez, 2002). This is an entirely legitimate and even desirable aspiration, but it needs to be kept in the picture when the common desire for educational equity is raised. Overall, educational equity with retained cultural identity is a common utopia sought by Latino students in general (Suâarez-Orozco, and Paez, 2002).
The centrality of the family is another commonality which marks Latino students from their peers from white majority backgrounds (Suâarez-Orozco, and Paez, 2002). Once again, this is desirable and should be built on as an advantage in national and social development terms, but it does make the task of complete assimilation, if this is an aim, more difficult to achieve. Many aspects of intellectual development of children relate to their situations at homes. A learning situation built around the classic American family structure of parents and children may have dissonance for Latino children accustomed to extremely close bonding with their families. These differences in the nature of family ties can have wide ramifications, such as the amount of time families expect their children to spend as a unit. Certainly, there are differences in matters of privacy, individual liberty, the granting of greater degrees of decision-making and spending freedom, and the overall family involvement in the very process of education and growing up.
A related matter is the very definition of the immediate family. Grand parents, god parents, uncles, and aunts, tend to have stronger and more continuous bonds with children in Latino settings than is the norm with respect to mainstream America (Suâarez-Orozco, and Paez, 2002). This wider family circle and the commitment to it will set most Latino children apart because others in their classes define their immediate families differently, and also have looser bonds with them in terms of decision-making and in forming ideas and values.
Latino children may be well integrated in to their school settings, yet they will continue to be stereotyped (Tatum, 2001).Misinformation about Latinos is so ingrained and pervasive that no stakeholder in the educational system is able to shake off its effects altogether. The stereotyping may be so subtle and subconscious that it becomes nearly impossible for a lay person to uncover whether discrimination and educational inequality is real or imagined!
The stereotyping has effects of mutual induction with responsive behavior by Latino children. Reticence, embarrassment, fear, language nuances, and defensive interests, may make Latino children inadvertently reinforce stereotyping when they first enter a U.S. school environment. The quality, commitment, and basic integrity of faculty members, play crucial roles during these delicate first days.
Stereotyping is less of an issue in multi-cultural environments than it is in isolated ones. Therefore, integration is easier in class rooms with established patterns of diversity, whereas white majority children and teachers, who have had little prior direct contact with Latinos, will tend to fall back on any misinformation to which they must have been subject in the past!
The structures and curricula used for history lessons and for other humanities may also contribute to stereotyping. Garbled and biased versions of the colonization of the areas from which Latino children originate, pose massive hurdles in the path of true understanding. Many white majority children may have no inkling of the cultural wealth of Latin America, or may not even be able to distinguish between the variegated streams of communities which are loosely bundled under the term ‘Latino’ (Tatum, B, 2001). Overall the degree of prejudice due to stereotyping may vary, but elements of passive racism are inevitably present in U.S. schools.
People of any community may have hateful feelings towards others-it is not limited to the mainstream (Tatum, B, 2001). Latino communities which feel deeply aggrieved, especially if their immigration processes have been particularly unpleasant, may harbor great resentment against the mainstream, and transmit such negative feelings towards their children as well. Responses of Latino children regarding their predicaments can be interpreted, at least in part, to stereotypes and bias on which they too have been fed. Latino children may also band together and even determine that they will spurn all efforts at amelioration, rapprochement, and integration. However, racism always works to the advantage of the white majority (Tatum, B, 2001). It never helps Latinos, even if they contribute to a situation. Therefore, a shared understanding between all students and the faculty, of the benefits and core values of diversity, is a necessary pre-condition for equality in education.
While much of the feedback from Latino students relates to subjective and judgmental matters, academic performance is a concrete matter on which there cannot be two opinions. Poor academic performance is disturbingly common amongst Latino children as a group (Valencia, 2002). Changes in education systems, especially at the primary level, are difficult to implement, because of the controversies which surround this matter, and contradictory pressures as well. Therefore, Latino children, and their supporters and facilitators must all address the important matter of how academic performance can be improved, discrimination notwithstanding. This is not to say that equality in education is less than essential, but to underscore the initiatives that Latino interests must take on their own.
Differences between Latino Experiences in U.S. Schools
Why do some Latino children report U.S. school experiences different from others (Espinoza-Herold, 2002)? Can some inferences be drawn from cases of better integration and lesser discrimination, so that conditions are ameliorated elsewhere? Though some of the reasons, such as language issues, may be more obvious than others, they are all worth collating, so that the combined effect of all changes makes a greater difference in improving education conditions for all Latino children in the U.S.
Time is a great healer of many of the ills of Latino children, new to the U.S. and its systems. Children of earlier generations of immigrants can overcome subtle prejudices related to their origins much better than those who have only just entered the country (Suâarez-Orozco, and Paez, 2002). Latino children born in the United States do not carry the mental baggage and habits of those to come to the country after a few years of schooling in their native countries. A child with class friends in another country, and who has grown accustomed to a set of teachers in his or her country of birth, faces rather formidable obstacles in accessing enabling learning conditions in a U.S. school.
The degree of diversity in the school district also impacts the ability of Latino children to assimilate fully in to the learning environment (Suâarez-Orozco, and Paez, 2002). Diverse communities with plenty of pre-existing Latino students create conducive class room conditions for new children who have only just arrived in the area. This is also because white majority students and faculty are more literate and aware in respect of sensitive ethnic issues. Conversely, children from pioneering Latino families who first enter areas with overwhelming white majorities are more likely to face both overt and hidden forms of racism.
The umbrella term ‘Latino’ is a source of differences in itself, when it comes to understanding why some children with backgrounds of relatively recent immigration face greater educational integration hurdles than others who seem to cope almost seamlessly. Latinos come from over a dozen countries, including the territory of Puerto Rico (Suâarez-Orozco, and Paez, 2002). Each of these 12 nations and the territory has a character and cultural history entirely of its own. There is tremendous diversity within the Latino world itself. U.S educators, with interests in helping Latino children do better at school, may misdirect their efforts, because they aim for standard solutions which are not very relevant for some of the students they seek to serve. Children from Cuba may carry scars of the political repression in their original countries, but are often better equipped than most when it comes to basic learning skills and motivations. Children from the agrarian reaches of countries such as Mexico or Guatemala, on the other hand, may be uncomfortable with the claustrophobia of a forbidding school building in a densely-populated urban district of the United States: they will probably simultaneously be accustomed to a more regimented learning system, with high doses of such dated practices such as corporal punishment. Some Latino children may enter a U.S. school without basic values for scholastic achievements. We may take the pre-school years for granted in the United States, but the truth is that the mind conditioning which takes place at this stage has an important bearing on how any child can fare later in class. There are other related reasons why children from some Latino communities may require custom solutions which will empower them to withstand any form of racism, and to realize their full academic potentials.
Differences in socio-economic status can also affect learning opportunities for Latino children inducted in to the U.S. school system (Suâarez-Orozco, and Paez, 2002). However, white majority children, African Americans, and any other ethnic group from poor families, may face similar dilemmas in schools. U.S. schools, unlike their counterparts in other countries, so not prescribe uniforms for children to use in schools. Students are not obliged to use standard buses to commute from and to your homes. Following sports, and other hobbies, as well as recreation and interaction norms, can all cost vast sums of money. Parents from any ethnic group, who cannot afford to provide their children with the resources needed to keep up with the richest in a batch, are often unable to provide their wards with the emotional and psychological support needed to stand up to the differences in spending power which the U.S. economic system and social norms allows. Racial discrimination and ethnic misfits with a white majority oriented educational system are not the only reasons for learning disabilities: psychiatric and psychological disorders of economic deprivation can affect grades as well.
Not all families treat their roots with the same degrees of attachment and respect (Reese, Balzano, Gallimore, and Goldenberg, 1995). It may be insensitive for an immigrant family to cut links with their origins, but their children may fare better at school if they make conscious efforts to blend with the American milieu such as it is. Excessive emphasis on the Latino way of life at home will only make life more difficult for a child from such a background: it can then stand in the way of building the kind of future for the next generation, which would be a primary reason for immigration in the first place. The effects of this kind of commitment may be behind why Latino women are able to do better in adult life in terms of landing higher paid jobs than their male counterparts (Suâarez-Orozco, and Paez, 2002).
Outcomes are better where biliterate paraprofessionals, who understand minority cultures, and who are committed to helping, are available (Lenski, S, not dated). Latino communities would do well to be pro-active, and to arrange for these kinds of counselors from other districts, should such assistants for teachers be unavailable in certain schools. The differences between how individual schools implement the national educational system of the United States may have less to do with how Latino children perform, than steps that individual families and communities from such ethnic minority groups take to protect the long term interests of their wards.
Perceptions of students from minority communities about U.S. school conditions can be startlingly different from opinions and intentions of educators, and their feedback and direct responses may provide invaluable insights on the problems of such students and how the educational system can respond to address them (Espinoza-Herold, 2002).
Many sections of stakeholders in the U.S. education system, and in society at large feel that racism is a thing of the past (Tatum, 2001). It may therefore be on the decline or less obvious than it used to be. Though subtle racial discrimination is very difficult to establish in a school environment, it can still be debilitating for Latino students.
Latinos are not the only ethnic group in the U.S. Besides, education systems are difficult to change because of the long term effects that such modifications may have. The white majority have their own genuine interests in the matter. Latino parents would therefore do well to be more pro-active in the protection of the academic interests of their children within the existing system with all its drawbacks.
A structured orientation for all Latino children who have had some amount of education prior to entering the United States, before they start schooling in the country would help enormously. English proficiency, and personal assistance by a paraprofessional who is fully conversant both with relevant indigenous cultures and with the U.S. system as well, will enable students from abroad meet the challenges of their new learning environments better.
Perhaps Latino parents could do with counsel themselves. It may be best to allow their children to finish schooling in the lands of their births, if cultural identity is to have priority. Such children could always work on their English capabilities, and move to the United States for higher education and for employment later. Latino children, who are brought to the United States, before or during primary education, would be best served by helping them adopt American culture as completely as possible. Developing broad based contacts and friendships with large numbers of white majority families and their children would be a most enjoyable way of doing this. All whites are not blatant racists, and most people, sub-conscious biases notwithstanding, will be happy to experience the ways of other cultures.
There are also ways of exposing children with Latino origins to their native cultures in ways which do not create conflicts with education systems designed for mainstream students. Vacations in the country of origin, exchange programs between schools, exposes of culinary styles, and exhibitions of arts and crafts are some methods which all children and their families can enjoy without tones of negative discrimination.
The fight against racial discrimination also needs the support of professional educational psychology as well as modern management (Quality Matters in Your Industry, 2007). Schools and communities which have adopted Total Quality Management and regular appraisals of learning abilities of all the children for whom they are responsible, are able to produce improved results on secular bases.
Espinoza-Herold, M, 2002, Issues in Latino Education: Race, School Culture, and the Politics of Academic Success, Allyn & Bacon,
Lenski, S, not dated, Reflections on Being Biliterate: Lessons from Paraprofesionals, Action in Teacher Education, Volume 28, Number 4
Reese, L, Balzano, S, Gallimore, R, and Goldenberg, C, 1995, The Concept of Educacion, Latino Family Values and American Schooling, International Journal of Education Research, 23 (1)
Suâarez-Orozco, M, and Paez, M, 2002, Latinos: Remaking America, University of California Press
Tatum, B, 2001, Defining Racism: Can We Talk? Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study, Rothenburg, P, editor, Worth Publishers
Valencia, R, 2002, The Plight of Chicano Students: an Overview of Schooling Conditions and Outcomes, Chicano School Failure and Successes: Past, Present, and Future, Routledge Palmer
Quality Matters in Your Industry, 2007, American Society for Quality web site, accessed May 2007 from: http://asq.org/