« November 2008 | Main | January 2009 »

December 9, 2008

Latino Youth and the U.S. Educational System

Excellent example of the Research Paper by Tamas Baker - Fall 2008.

My own personal experience is that the U.S. Educational System is failing Latino Youth . One example is at my daughters' high school, Sunset High School, where I have served for seven years as a mentor in their College & Career Center. I mentor high school juniors and seniors on post high school plans. It is frustrating being assigned Latino students because there are so many opportunities available to them, but I (and other mentors) cannot get them to even come in so we can talk with them. Another example occurred last spring at a Sunset High School parent meeting where a Vice Principal expressed concern at the difficulty the school was having keeping Latinos students engaged in school. Lastly, my husband is a first year high school teacher and struggles to successfully reach Latino students. This is relevant to me because I am applying to a School Counselor Masters program this winter and I wondered is this just me (and my experiences) or is this a universal issue.

My research showed that the U.S. Education system is failing many Latino youth. The following is a small subset of the evidence confirming this. "At 21 percent, the national Latino high school dropout rate is more than twice the national average at 10 percent." (Pew Factsheet: 2004) "By the end of high school, Latino students have math and reading skills that are virtually the same as those of White middle-schoolers." (Education Trust: 2003). College enrollment rates for Latinos have not increased over the last 20 years. "Only 20 percent of Hispanic students leave high school prepared for college, compared to 40 percent of whites." (Alliance for Excellent Education: 2008) In looking closer to home, Oregon is failing Latino youth as well. In Oregon, 50% of all sophomores meet or exceed state standards in reading and math. However, only 25% of Latino sophomores meet state requirements in reading and only 20% of them meet state requirements in math. (Employers for Education Excellence: 2008)

So why is the U.S. Education system failing Latino youth? In this paper, I will focus on a number of reasons and their sociological implications but this is by no means an exhaustive list. One reason is that many Latinos are poor. In 2002, in the United States, 22% of Hispanics live in poverty. Locally in Hillsboro, Oregon 23.5% of Latino families live in poverty as compared to 5.3% of White families. Additionally in Hillsboro, 25.8% of Latino children live in poverty as compared to 5.6% of White children. Poverty impacts Latino youth in so many ways. Often Latino youth face competing options; many need to work significant hours each week (20 - 40 hours) to help support their families. These youth have less time for homework, they miss school because of work and they are tired during school. Secondary school supplies and fees are expensive (e.g. the $100+ calculator needed for required high school math courses). Latino youth may not have all the basic school supplies needed to do well in their classes. Additionally, many families cannot afford the outside services needed by their youth. A friend of mine whose family is struggling financially has a son who is having difficulty with geometry. Tutoring would help him a great deal but she said it is just not an option due to financial reasons. Latino youth are more likely to fall further and further behind because they are less able to get the extra assistance that they need. Furthermore, there are activity fees for a lot of secondary school classes & activities. The normal school fees for my daughter to be in choir and play a second tier sport are hundreds of dollars. This limits participation for these Latino youth (e.g. no sports). Lack of transportation also has a negative impact on participating in school events/activities and getting homework assistance. So Latino youth may be discriminated against because they cannot stay after school to meet with a teacher because they do not have transportation home. Lastly, families in poverty experience many other hurdles (e.g. unsafe neighborhood, lack of proper medical care and proper nutrition) that have to impact student's school performance.

Minority groups (e.g. Latinos) often live in segregated neighborhoods. "Segregation can mean that minority groups are compelled to live separately under inferior conditions." (Anderson & Taylor: 292) 75% of Latino students attend segregated schools where minorities comprise 50% or more of the student population. "Segregation can mean that minority groups are given inferior educations." (Anderson & Taylor: 292) "Segregated schools tend to have fewer financial, human, and material resources than schools in more affluent areas. By the time students who attend these schools reach high school, the academic challenges they face have been compounded by years of substandard education." (Alliance for Excellent Education: 2008) "Segregation can mean that minority groups are given inferior educations." (Anderson & Taylor: 292) What this can look like to Latino youth is that their schools are understaffed, have outdated and inadequate resources and less qualified teaching staff. Furthermore, the teaching staff can be overloaded, discouraged and burned out. As part of a food assistance program I visited a particular elementary school in the Beaverton School district which would probably be considered a segregated school. Although both school buildings were both old, the contrast between this school and my children's elementary school was painfully evident everywhere I turned.

Latinos are commonly victims of stereotyping. "A stereotype is an oversimplified set of beliefs about members of a social group or social stratum." "Stereotypes based on race or ethnicity are called racial-ethnic stereotypes." (Anderson & Taylor: 275) Latinos are seen as lazy and of inferior intelligence. Prevalent attitudes include "you do not vote" or "you do not do well in school." Latino men are oversexed and macho (exaggerated masculinity). Latino women are stereotyped as "hot".

Latino youth experience prejudice and discrimination. A recent example of this is Oregon Ballot Measure 58. This ballot measure would have limited the use of foreign language instruction in public school from 1 to 2 years depending on the student's age. Chief petitioner Bill Sizemore says "the measure would save education money, contending that "these kids will learn English more quickly when they are required to do so."" Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) are the language skills needed to interact in social situations and takes six months to two years to develop. So what is the problem with the ballot measure? Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP), what you need to succeed in school, may take up to 7-10 years to develop. This ballot measure would have caused the Oregon education system to discriminate against non-English speaking students.

Prejudice, discrimination, lower status, and stereotyping negatively impacts Latino youth. They are treated differently by teachers. "Social class stereotypes also affect teachers' interactions with students. Teachers are likely to perceive working-class children and poor children as less bright and less motivated than middle-class children. Teachers are more likely to define working-class students as troublemakers." (Anderson & Taylor: 90) Several Latino youth interviewed "painted a picture of schools where teachers had low expectations of them and little interest in whether they went on to higher education." (Immerwahr: 2003) Teachers expect less of them. Teachers spent less time with them. Teachers are biased against them. Additionally, they experience institutional racism "such as schools assigning Blacks and Latinos to lower tracks than Whites with the same ability test scores." (Anderson & Taylor: 280) So the impact is not just at the teacher level it is at the school level and at the institution level.

"Race, like ethnicity, lumps together groups that may have very different historical and cultural backgrounds, but once so labeled, they are treated as a single entity. This is called the out-group homogeneity effect, whereby all members of any out-group are perceived by an individual to be similar to even identical to each other, and differences among them are perceived to be minor or nonexistent." (Anderson & Taylor: 274) It is very evident that this is what is happening to Latinos. [My references did it. I am doing it throughout this paper.] One reference's definition of Latino high schoolers included Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Costa Rican, Guatemalan, Honduran, Nicaraguan, Panamanian, Salvadoran, other Central American, Argentinean, Chilean, Columbian, Ecuadorian, Peruvian, Venezuelan, other South American and all other Hispanic or Latino. This is a large number of different groups including many million square miles. Why do we assume they all can be lumped together as one people group because they all are of Spanish descent? There are significant differences within these people groups including their ancestry (White Spanish colonists versus Plantation slaves), their "race" (some identify as White while other identify as Black), tenure in the US (newly migrated versus others who can trace their roots back to before the Spanish-American war), and how they came to the US (e.g. military conquest versus political refugees). By grouping all of these youth together as one entity, while it appears to simplify life on the surface, using this broad brush approach means you are mostly likely not meeting the needs of any of them well. All Latino youth are not the same so how can they possibly all learn the same way?

Latino youth struggle as their lives span two different, clashing cultures: between their school culture (predominately U.S.) and their home culture. "As Latinos move within the pressures of work, school, community and home, they have to contend with the pressures of diverging expectations related to overall behavior and language. These diverging expectations can be a focus of internal conflict and stress." (Taylor: 2004) There are many examples of this. U.S. culture stresses assertiveness, independence and achievement while Latino families are collective (e.g. the family expects you to be successful so you can help out the family). A Mexican family may only view Mexican TV, eat only Mexican food, and only speak Spanish at home. So a Latino youth may not be able to receive help on homework at home or develop the English language skills needed to be successful in school. Additionally, girls are often over-protected and not encouraged to explore all career paths. My husband and I wonder if this is why one of his students consistently spends the beginning of 1st period putting on her makeup. It is not OK with her family for her to wear makeup, yet it is rare for a high sophomore girl not to wear makeup. As a result of this cultural clash, Latino students experience the stress of role conflict. "A role is the expected behavior associated with a particular status." "These roles can conflict with each other, a situation called role conflict, wherein two or more roles as associated with contradictory expectations." (Anderson & Taylor: 114) Latino youth experience stress when their role of child conflicts with their role of student (e.g. competing options).

I have to admit going in to this I suspected that Latino parents did not see the value of education. My research said the complete opposite. "By significantly higher percentages than the rest of the population, the parents of Hispanic high school seniors believe that a college education is an essential prerequisite for a good job and a comfortable middle-class lifestyle." (Immerwahr: 2003) Latino parents strongly value education, but this is not translating into more education for Latino youth. Why is this? This is because many Latino youth are in charge of their education. One reference called this "child in charge." Latino youth are often the first generation to attend U.S. high school. Parents don't know how or have the skills (e.g. English) to navigate the U.S. educational system. While willing, parents are often unable to support their children in this arena. This results in students have a "stunning lack of knowledge of the rules of the game." (Immerwahr: 2003) Additionally, Latino youth are often misinformed about educational choices. "Like teenagers from every age, they sometimes speak with equal confidence about things they understand and subjects they don't know so well." (Immerwahr: 2003) This lack of knowledge, misinformation and ignorance leads Latino youth to make poor educational choices. My experience as a parent is that it is common for teenagers to make poor choices. However, these poor educational choices have much more life-long impacts with Latino youth because they may not have an adult in their life to assist with mid-course correction.

Clearly there is a problem with how the U.S. Education system is under-serving Latino youth. There are many reasons for this, but what do we do about it? During my research I found few solutions. One solution I did find is identifying and engaging more mentors for these youth. Successful mentorship increases when the mentors are Latino, have similar family background and upbringing, speak the same language and come from the same socio-economic status. This has been demonstrated in my Sunset High School College & Career mentor example I talked about in the first paragraph. A few years ago the school hired a Latino, Spanish-speaking woman to work with Latino students. She has had success in many areas with these students.

Instead of solutions to the problem, I found barriers. One specific barrier is non-Latino parents may fear that if there is real equity for all children, that it will hurt their own child's chances. This breeds competitiveness for student resources (e.g. the scarcity mentality). A second specific barrier is that a strong enough case has not been made that wider access to quality, higher education is in everyone's best interest. We have an individual versus global viewpoint. "The most recent national surveys show that nearly everyone believes that society needs more college-educated workers. Yet according to more recent surveys, the public still places primary emphasis on individual responsibility for attaining a higher education, and believes that the benefits of higher education go primarily to individuals. Also, people see college dropouts as a problem for those individuals who drop out, rather than for society as a whole." (de los Santos Jr, Alfedo G.: 2003) This encourages that thinking that "If I can do it (get through college) so can you!" This thinking is totally ignorant of the possible differences in support systems.

The biggest barrier is that Latinos are not the dominant group in the U.S. "The group that assigns a racial or ethnic group to subordinate status in society is called the dominant group." (Anderson & Taylor: 275) In the U.S., Whites are the dominant group. In this role, Whites have assigned Latinos to a subordinate (minority group) status in our society. Even though Latinos are the fastest growing minority group and expected to make up 30 percent of the US population by 2050, they are still a lower-status group. A privilege of being the dominant group is having the most power with respect to social institutions (e.g. the education system). The U.S. Education system is geared predominately toward White students. The implications of this are huge and widespread: who gets the most, best resources; how students are taught; and where students are taught. We see this in many of the reasons the U.S. Education system is failing Latino youth (e.g. poverty, segregation, stereotyping). These reasons stem from Latino youth having lower-status than White youth.

So if we can eliminate the prejudice and discrimination that Latino youth experience as a result of their lower-status, there is still a huge problem. Education is a social institution. As a social institution it is slow to change. Additionally, because education is a social institution it is subject to institutional racism. Institutional racism is "so much a part of U.S. institutions that discrimination can occur even when no single person is causing it." (Anderson & Taylor: 280) Latinos will experience institutional racism long after any individual is racist towards them.

Clearly the U.S. Education system is failing Latino youth and the outlook continues to be bleak. At first, this made me feel hopeless. But then I realized just by doing this paper, I have made a difference. I have demolished many stereotypes both my husband and I had. Additionally, we have both gained understanding and we can make a point of passing this on to others.

Anderson, Margaret L. and Taylor, Howard F. 2008. Sociology in Everyday Life. Thomson Wadsworth: United States.

Broughton, Ashley. 2008. "Minorities expected to be majority in 2050." http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/08/13/census.minorities/index.html.

2004. "Latino Teens Staying in High School: A Challenge for All Generations." Pew Hispanic Center Fact Sheet. http://pewhispanic.org/files/factsheets/7.3.pdf">http://pewhispanic.org/files/factsheets/7.3.pdf.

2003. "Latino Achievement in America." The Educational Trust. http://www2.edtrust.org/NR/rdonlyres/7DC36C7E-EBBE-43BB-8392-CDC618E1F762/0/LatAchievEnglish.pdf.

2008. "Latino Students and U.S. High Schools." Alliance for Excellent Education. http://www.all4ed.org/files/Latino_FactSheet.pdf.

2008. "The Need - Oregon's Challenge." Employers for Education Excellence. http://e3oregon.org/tn_or_challenge.html.

Immerwahr, John & Garcia, Marlene L. & Madrid, Arturo & Molera, Jamie & de los Santos Jr., Alfedo. 2003. "With Diploma in Hand Hispanic High School Seniors Talk About Their Future." http://www.highereducation.org/reports/hispanic/hispanic.shtml

2007. "Hillsboro Community Profile." Washington Country Commission on Children & Families.

Taylor, Amy. 2004. "A Cultural Exploration of the Latino Community." http://www.nasponline.org/publications/cq/cq331latino.aspx.

Pilon, Bradley. 2004. "Immigrant Teenagers - Helping Them Adjust To Their First Year: Recommendations for Parents." http://www.nasponline.org/communications/spawareness/immigrantteen.pdf

Manning, Rob. 2008. "State Puts High Price Tag on Education Measures."

Haynes, Judie. 2007. "Explaining BICS and CALP."

December 5, 2008

Culture and the Paradigm of the Letter 'E'

Excellent example of paper 2 by Krystal Riley. Fall 2008.

Is it possible to write an objective analysis on human values? Of this I am uncertain, although I feel it must require being a master of contradictions. From what I can tell, nothing can exist entirely outside of the context from which it was created, and we humans tend to play with this relativity through awareness and our being intentional. The meaning interpreted through a word is often dependent on its placement in a sentence, and that sentence rests almost entirely on the thesis of the whole. If society is drafting a story, then it is almost certain that I would be doomed to ridicule if I was to loudly assert myself as merely being the letter 'E'. Standing alone, this letter carries no message, except to suggest that at some point it has strayed from its original home. Sure, as a vowel I can boast of my adaptability and the fact I am in high demand, but it is quite clear that if I were to attempt to truly alter the spelling of any word where the letter 'E' does not belong I would quickly be shunned, and my creation misunderstood. Culture, both material and non-material, is often just the interaction between symbols, rituals, and the environment in which they are occurring; just as we likely are all in agreement on the order of our alphabet, its pronunciations, and the corresponding definitions to the words it can build, humans have assigned meaning to every facet of existence.

Socialization is how persons learn to interact meaningfully, safely, and efficiently. We capture values in norms; some are explicit and known throughout society, such as laws and ordinances, while others are known more locally or abstractly. For example, it's an accepted fact that it's not okay to take sips from the soda of the man sitting next to you on the bus, and that in San Francisco you don't take short cuts at 2:00 a.m. through the tenderloin district. Pretty helpful if you think about the alternative of not having a clue what "the bird" was meant to tell you. It is through the process of socialization that human beings learn behavioral norms, cultural values, and begin to formulate their identity. For example, once a child has begun to understand the subtleties and rules of their culture, they now have the ability to analyze and evaluate themselves and the people around them in comparison to these standards. They soon gain an understanding of roles and the expectations that society has of them. Through this knowledge, the relationships we have with others, and the influence of the subconscious mind, we develop our personality.

Asserting that we are merely products of our environment may seem a bit fatalistic, and some people, in an attempt to escape the what they perceive to be the inevitability of being a product and pawn of their environment, take on the identity of being the opposite of whatever mother culture is attempting to communicate to the masses. While this too is necessary to the balance of our society, so-called anti-conformity does not seem incredibly proactive to me, if human beings did not conform to certain social expectations there would be chaos; an identity that is tied to culture is necessary to effectively function. Just as language is the tool we use to communicate, culture is the human tool we use to express and create meaning; we intentionally create, preserve, and communicate our identity. It is interesting to note that both language and culture are static entities; their definitions are inextricably linked to individual identity, which inevitably fluctuates throughout the course of a lifespan. Certain sociologists would suggest that society doesn't imprint personality, personality is the function of the meaning of a society, and because it is created by us, in essence we are culture, and even on an individual level we are society.

As I assume it is for most people, I have almost always had an underlying awareness of the frameworks of interaction that are occurring around me. It seems that it is far too easy to relate to others through common conditioning, entire conversations can occur through instinct, and even apparently meaningful interactions are often operated through the exchange of meaningless shibboleth. However, certain frustrations associated with this are offset by the fact that when witnessing what appears to be the pointlessness of many social norms, analysis often proves them as having tremendous relevance.

Is it rude to not respond to a monotone 'hi how are you' from a cashier? Should we make eye contact and smile when passing strangers on the street? Definitely maybe! Depends on what local customs and cultural norms are, throw in differences in family background, language, and extreme situations like a gang neighborhood where it might be the pinnacle of good sense and good taste that you NOT make eye contact, maybe some oft repeated and taken for granted gesture is much greater than just a social lubricant, it's a survival tactic! This way in which what we mean is bound in the context of our culture into which we became socialized was illustrated anecdotally by a friend of mine when I described this paper. He said every gesture has a story behind it. He has Cherokee in his lineage, and he described a tradition wherein unfamiliar and wary tribe leaders greeted each other in public by showing that their hands were free of weapons, then clasping hands as a sign of trust. Sound familiar? Business executives shake hands! The French kiss! The Japanese bow, and in the United States when asked how you are doing by a stranger behind a counter, it's usually customary to reply 'I'm doing just fine, thank you!

Even as various meanings of the letter 'E' are only known by the tone of voice, sentence, paragraph, or literary context in which it is used, it is likewise with people. We know ourselves and others in the context of the relationships, families, and culture in which we live. Although most people have experienced the frustration of being translated incorrectly, it still remains true that we are in constant communication with the rest of the world.