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Racialization of Hispanic and Asian Students in the Educational System: Training Administrators, Teachers and Parents for Policy Changes
Victor M. Rodriguez Domínguez, John N. Tsuchida and Jose F. Moreno
California State University, Long Beach
(Policy Brief Written for the NEA, 2009)
Racialization is the social and historical process of assigning individuals and groups a racial identity and social status (Rodriguez, 2007). The creation of a racial identity and social status includes a series of political processes which construct racial meanings, shape the identities of individuals and groups, and place them into positions of dominance or the dominated. The processes of racialization are always legitimized through ideologies and operate in the various institutional systems/arrangements that are the foundation of our society. In the economic arena, such systems/arrangements lead to stark differences in income on the basis of race, and cause lopsided incarceration rates of people of color in the criminal justice system. A strategic pillar of our society, the educational system has as one of its major latent functions, the perpetuation of a system based on inequality. The educational system historically has been part of our nation-building processes and functioned as the place where our national ideologies are inculcated and disseminated.
Our national ideology and identity are rooted in notions about racial differences, and about inferiority and superiority. We learn which cultural patterns and norms define who we are, and dictate how we understand the world and how we relate with one another. These lessons are taught in explicit and implicit ways; we learn them through narratives and practices perpetuated in the educational institutions where we teach and learn. The way we fund public education and the glaring inequities that exist between and within school districts convey a powerful message to students who are attending well financed and inadequately funded schools about their status in society. The distortions, absences and inadequate coverage of the history and culture of Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans in the educational offerings constitute a hidden curriculum that teaches students whose history and contributions are really important in defining who we are as a nation.
Classroom dynamics and pedagogical practices tend to reinforce wittingly or unwittingly racial ideologies by clearly evidencing the concrete reality of a racial hierarchy in the classroom. The way students of color are disciplined, often with racially diverse consequences, tends to legitimate culturally racialized notions of how violent or unruly some racial groups are in contrast with the majority group. Furthermore, the ways parents, teachers and administrators interact with each other indicate to children which individuals and groups are dominant and powerful in society. The absence of diverse teachers and administrators portends a vision of our present and future racially stratified society where students of color do not seem to fare well. The role of education in the racialization process has deep roots in our history and requires meaningful changes in institutional policy and culture.
GENEALOGY OF THE RACIALIZING FUNCTION OF EDUCATION
European immigrants who came to the shores of what today is the United States encountered the indigenous people and developed notions of difference that created hierarchical frameworks of racial and cultural inferiority and superiority. These ideas would further develop and dictate how decisions would be made as to who were worthy of inclusion in civil society and who were not. Education was an important tool that delineated the boundaries for Euro-Americans and people of color, as well as for citizens and non-citizens. Indigenous people were initially excluded from education and society, and it was not until 1924, when the Snyder Act (43 Statutes-at-Large 253, ante, 420) was enacted to grant them citizenship in the United States. Enslaved Africans were also excluded from education and citizenship; they were prohibited from becoming U.S. citizens until the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1868.
Although American-born Asians automatically became U.S. citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment, Asian immigrants had long been denied the right of naturalization until the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 (66 Statutes-at-Large 163) made all foreign-born Asians eligible for naturalization after meeting residency requirements. However, the U.S. Congress had previously accorded the privileges of naturalization to the Chinese in 1943 (Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943, 57 Statutes-at-Large 600), and to the Filipinos and Asian Indians in 1946 (Luce-Celler Act of 1946, 60 Statutes-at-Large 416), due to their countries’ military alliance with the United States during World War II. The denial of naturalization rights to alien Chinese and Japanese for 61 years and 30 years, respectively, coupled with their physical differences and the media misrepresentations of Asian Americans as a whole, was no doubt responsible for many White Americans mistaking or misidentifying U.S.-born Asian Americans as foreign-born.
A White waitress in a Rochester, Minnesota, restaurant automatically presumed a Sansei (a third-generation Japanese American) customer to be foreign-born and commended him on his “good English.” This customer was a lawyer born and raised in that state and educated at the University of Minnesota Law School, and naturally spoke impeccable English. An immigration inspector at the U.S.-Canadian border harassed another Minnesota lawyer of Japanese ancestry who was returning from his short trip to Toronto in the mid-1980s, and almost denied him reentry into the United States, because he did not have his passport. This lawyer only had his driver’s license from Minnesota, which then was a perfectly acceptable official document for U.S. citizens making brief trips to Canada and returning to the United States. This Sansei lawyer was unable to reenter his own country until the immigration officer received a faxed copy of his passport. Even former three-term U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga was not immune from such occasional annoyances. At a State Department reception in 1981 in honor of Japanese diplomats, then Secretary of State Alexander Haig “welcomed” Senator Matsunaga to the United States and asked him: “How are you enjoying your stay in our country?” The Senator from Hawaii deliberately replied in pigeon English: “Secretary Haig, I happened to be one of the Senators who confirmed your appointment as Secretary of State.” One can easily imagine Secretary Haig’s embarrassment. The late Representative Robert Matsui, a 13-term Member of Congress from California, once stated that although every guard on Capitol Hill knew who he was, once he was outside the Congressional buildings, most people simply assumed him to be a Japanese national and treated him as such. Racialization of Asian Americans as foreign-born is a continuous problem which could occasionally cause them various degrees of annoyance and inconvenience in schools, employment, government offices, and commercial public places.
Hispanics, particularly people of Mexican descent, experienced a different relationship with the United States. After the Mexican American War of 1846-48, close to 100,000 Mexicans became U.S. citizens as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which also ceded more than 500,000 square miles of Mexican national territory to the United States. While education, when available, was not denied to the new citizens of Mexican descent, increasingly a system that segregated Mexican students from their white counterparts became the educational norm. In Orange County, California, for example, some small school districts segregated Mexican American students from white public schools through the late 1940s, allegedly by reason of their limited English proficiency. Led by Gonzalo Mendez, a group of Mexican parents filed in 1945 a class action in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, against the Westminster, Garden Grove and El Modeno School Districts, and the Santa Ana city schools, because their children were required to attend segregated schools allegedly on account of their limited English proficiency. The court held in 1946 that such segregation was prohibited by California’s Constitution and Education Code (Mendez et al. v. Westminster School District of Orange County et al., 64 F. Supp. 544 ). When the school districts appealed, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court decision, holding that “respondents have violated the federal law as provided in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution by depriving them of liberty and property without due process of law and by denying to them the equal protection of the laws (Westminster School District of Orange County et al. v. Mendez et al., 161 F.2nd 774 ).” Severn years prior to the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Mendez case invalidated all school segregation throughout the Ninth Circuit Court States of Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, as well as the Territory of Hawaii.
Asian students were also segregated from public schools for a long time, beginning in 1860 when California excluded Asians, Blacks and American Indians from public schools (Ancheta, 1998; Chen, 1982). Although Mendez had direct impact on the outcome of Brown, Chinese Americans in Mississippi had challenged, albeit unsuccessfully, the unconstitutionality of the “separate but equal” doctrine two decades earlier. Article 8, §207 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 provided: “Separate schools shall be maintained for children of the white and colored races.” Legally classified as “colored,” Chinese immigrants’ U.S.-born children were barred from attending Mississippi’s public schools.
Gong Lum was a prosperous Chinese grocer in Rosedale, Mississippi. When his nine-year-old daughter Martha was not allowed to attend a public elementary school in the Rosedale Consolidated High School District 1924, Lum filed a petition in the State Circuit Court of Mississippi for the First Judicial District of Bolivar County, seeking a writ of mandamus to force the school district to admit his daughter (Loewen, 1971). Although the trial court issued a writ of mandamus, ordering the school to admit Martha (Rice v. Gong Lum, 139 Miss.760, 104 So. 105), the Supreme Court of Mississippi overturned the lower court’s decision, holding that Article 8, §207 of the state Constitution required Martha to attend a school for colored races (Rice v. Gong Lum, 139 Miss.760 , 104 So. 105). Undaunted by the Mississippi Supreme Court decision, Lum appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which addressed the issue of whether Mississippi accorded Martha the equal protection of the laws by giving her the opportunity to attend a segregated school. In affirming the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision, the U.S. Supreme Court relied on Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537 ) which established the doctrine of “separate but equal,” and Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education (175 U.S. 528 ) which held that “the education of the people in schools maintained by state taxation is a matter belonging to the respective states” (Lum v. Rice, 275 U.S. 78 ). After losing the legal challenge, the Lum family relocated to Elaine, Arkansas, to enable their daughters to attend a White public school. Some Chinese families with school-age children moved to Memphis, and others bid farewell to the South once and for all. Lum v. Rice shows that Chinese Americans, though an extremely small ethnic group in the United States before World War II, also struggled courageously to abolish school segregation in the pre-Brown era. The Lum case was a precursor to Lau v. Nichols (414 U.S. 563 ), a U.S. Supreme Court decision leading to the creation of bilingual education across the country.
While the manifest function of the educational system is providing the knowledge and skills necessary for the full participation of citizens in a democratic society, more often than not, education became an instrument that created a social hierarchy between inferior and superior citizens within a racially stratified society. Public schools in the nineteenth century became institutional arrangements that would perpetuate the dominance of Anglo-Saxon protestant culture and world views (Spring, 2006). Native Americans were sent to boarding schools where they were forced to assimilate (Spring, 2006). Chinese in California, particularly in San Francisco, were legally required to attend Oriental Schools until the Mendez case ended de jure school segregation across the Western States. African Americans, particularly in the wake of Plessey v. Ferguson of 1896, were relegated to segregated and inferior schools throughout the nation. Hispanics, especially Mexicans, began to be subjected to “Americanization” programs and attendance at “Mexican Schools” which developed as Mexican immigration began to rise in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century (Gonzalez, 1990). These Americanization programs were not designed to create upwardly mobile citizens but were molding, through vocational and civic instruction, a docile and domesticated labor force. These educational efforts were legitimated by the “Mexican problem ideology” which assumed that Mexicans were clannish, inassimilable, passive, fatalistic and violent and therefore unable to be equal to Whites (Gonzalez, 1990). The latent outcome of all of these educational efforts with students of color resulted in the internalization of a sense of inferiority and a racial identity that precluded them from full participation as citizens of this nation. Unfortunately, while much progress was achieved during the Civil Rights Movement, the role and latent function of the educational system has not been fundamentally transformed.
THE PERSISTENCE OF RACIALIZING IDEOLOGIES
Race continues to be the core organizing principle in U.S. society; this is most evident in the educational system. During the Civil Rights Movement, the struggles of African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans gained the moral high ground and led to a national consensus regarding the need for educational reform. In the post-Civil Rights Movement period, the legal, political and pedagogical discourse around race has shifted dramatically. This new element that is shaping how we address legal, political and pedagogical issues around race is called by some scholars the “color-blind ideology” (Bonilla-Silva, 2003).
This “color-blind” ideology is the outcome of major societal changes that took place since the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education held school segregation unconstitutional and abolished the doctrine of “separate but equal.” This historic decision, coupled with the political and grassroots struggles of communities of color to enhance access to democratic rights, provided a platform for a series of laws enacted by Congress which provided a formal framework for the implementation of liberal ideals about racial justice. However, the de-mobilization of the Civil Rights Movement, the major social and economic changes that transformed the nature of our economic system, and the demographic changes in the racial and ethnic composition of the nation, have created the illusion that we have now become an inclusive society. The election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States and his inclusion in his cabinet of three Asian Americans (Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke), two Hispanics (Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar), and an African American (Attorney General Erick Holder) may have added further credence to the popular belief that American society has become more democratic and inclusive.
It is within this context that this ideology has taken the principles of liberal thinking (work ethic, meritocracy, equal opportunity and individualism, etc.) and turned them into lenses to understand, naturalize or dismiss the persistent inequities that pervade our educational system. Today, those groups in positions of social, cultural and political dominance in our society fail to see race as a factor in the inequities that plague the nation’s educational system. The discourse of racial justice is considered an anachronism given the legal and discursive efforts during the last decades to address racial inequality (Steinberg, 1995). Therefore, elements of traditional liberalism are used today to discount race from being a factor in the inequities and have guided educational policies that fail to address the persistence of racial inequity. Instead, racial inequality is seen as the outcome of individual or group deficiencies that can be remedied if individuals and groups adopt the dominant culture.
This perspective is rooted in the “culture of poverty” theories that became dominant in the 1980s, and still persist today in many liberal attempts to address economic and racial inequalities. This new form of discourse encompasses a recurrent framework that blames the victim and leaves policies, organizational patterns and structures, economic conditions, and residential patterns excluded from any rigorous, critical examination. This framework is still the dominant perspective being used to understand the challenges of educational achievement and poverty among Hispanics, Asian Americans, and other children of color. In some educational systems around the nation, frameworks for understanding poverty, like the popular Ruby Payne model, are woven together with efforts to address the gap in educational achievement of students of color (Payne, 2001). These “new” perspectives, like those of the past, tend to make it difficult for us to accurately diagnose the root causes of the educational achievement gap, thereby further contributing to the perpetuation of the problem (Gorski, 2005, 2007, 2008). This is particularly troublesome given the large numbers of students of color who attend schools with a higher percentage of students from low socio-economic backgrounds.
One of the most damaging effects of these ideologies and their pedagogical practices is that like all ideologies, they become powerful instruments that make the process of racialization invisible to policy makers and practitioners (Gorski, 2007). Its dominance in contemporary educational systems requires sustained efforts to educate and organize faculty, administrators and parents in order to challenge its hegemony (Schoefield, 2001). This effort is even more urgent today as we face the most dramatic demographic change this nation has ever experienced in its history since the beginning of European immigration. This is the time for education to be about truth and not about the building of myths.
CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS OF YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES
Challenging the role of racialization processes in the educational system becomes more urgent as the nation transitions to the most dramatic changes in the racial make-up of its population in the 21st century. Within the next three decades, the nation will become, for the first time since the establishment of the republic, a country where half of its residents will trace their ancestries not to Europe, but to Africa, Asia, Latin America and to its indigenous populations.
Figure 1 Table 6: Percent of the Projected Population by Race and Hispanic Origin for the U.S. Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau, 2008
As Figure 1 indicates, by 2040, close to half of all Americans will not be of Anglo-Saxon descent. While we do not have any historical experience from which to draw on to fully interpret what this will mean, it is clear that given the salience of race and racialization in the nation’s public school systems, there is an urgent need to implement policies to reduce their negative consequences. If these consequences impacted the educational aspirations of numerically small populations decades ago, this time around they will determine the possibilities of further social and economic development for the entire nation. The United States cannot afford to exclude more than half of its population from the educational development that is necessary in a competitive and globalized economy and society.
The dramatic transformation in the racial make-up of the nation will be much more pronounced in the population under the age of 18. By the year 2030, racial and ethnic minorities will make up more than half of the U.S. population under 18. This is a trend that is also beginning to take place in public school systems throughout the nation. In Figure 2 and Figure 3, the dramatic transformation of the racial make-up in K-12 from 1972 through 2006 illustrates and portends the dramatic changes that the nation’s public schools will face in the next few decades.
Figure 2 Percentage of racial/ethnic minorities enrolled in public schools from kindergarten to high school, 1972-2006. (Planty et al, 2008)
Figure 3 Percentage of racial/ethnic minorities enrolled in public schools from kindergarten to high school, 1972-2006. (Planty et al, 2008)
A significant proportion of the rise of students of color is due to the dramatic rise in the Hispanic student population in the public school system. While representing only 6 per cent of all students in the system in 1972, Hispanics accounted for 20 per cent by 2006 (Planty, et al., 2008 10). This growth occurred in all regions of the United States, although the rate of increase varied by state and region. In the West, for example, students of color comprised 55 per cent of public school students, whereas Whites represented 45 per cent (Planty, et al., 2008 10). Recently (2009), the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute of California released an analysis of national data on school enrollment by race and ethnicity. According to the report, in nine of the nation’s largest cities a majority or a nearly half of students enrolled in first grade are Hispanic.
Policy and practice changes in the educational system will be impacting a large segment of the public school student population, which nationally will be composed of predominantly racial and ethnic minority students. If policies are not developed to address the challenges that racialization poses to students of color, the nation’s ability to enhance educational and economic opportunities for all Americans might be imperiled. Racialization, as studies suggest, is an important barrier in the academic achievement of students of color. This is particularly troublesome in the experience of Asian and Hispanic children.
RACIAL INEQUALITIES IN THE PUBLIC EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM
Significant social, economic and achievement gaps exist between Whites and the various racial and ethnic minorities who are rapidly becoming the majority of the student enrollment in our public educational system. In economic terms, in 2005-06, larger percentages of Hispanic, African Americans and Native American/Alaskan Native students attended schools that were considered “high-poverty.” These are schools where 75 per cent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (Planty, et al., 2008 ix). This is much higher than the percentage for White and Asian American students. With $64,200, Asian Americans collectively had the highest median household income in 2006 of all ethnic groups in the United States, compared to $50,700 for White households. However, the poverty rate for Asian Americans was 10.3 per cent, whereas the corresponding rate was 8.2 percent for non-Hispanic Whites (U.S. Census Bureau News, 2007). Many students from Asian American families in poverty attended school in high-poverty, high-crime areas.
In terms of the funding of education, federal and state funding has increased while local sources (such as property taxes) have decreased. The percentage of total revenues from local sources decreased from 47 per cent to 44 per cent. In some areas which have greater concentrations of Hispanics, this decrease is more pronounced than in other regions. Although the property taxes earmarked for school districts decreased in the West, they increased in all other regions (Planty, et al., 2008 166). These structural inequalities, coupled with institutionalized racialization practices within schools, lead to a significant achievement gap for students of color.
Hispanics demonstrate some of the lowest educational outcomes, whereas Asians/Pacific Islanders exhibit more positive indicators. In 2006, 49 percent of Asian Americans 25 years and older had bachelor’s degrees, compared to 27 per cent for all Americans in the same age bracket. However, the degree of educational attainment differed widely among Asian ethnic groups. For example, 69 per cent of Asian Indians had college degrees, as opposed to 26 percent of Vietnamese Americans (UCLA: 2008 Statistical Portrait of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Other Pacific Islanders). Although Cambodians, Laotians and Hmong are educationally more disadvantaged as newer refugee/immigrant groups, the lack of current disaggregated data makes it difficult to accurately evaluate the status of their educational attainment.
Figure 3 KewalRamani et al, 2007, p. 122
The proportion of adults (25 years and older) who have achieved a high school education has increased from 1990 to 2005, but intra-racial and ethnic differences are stark. While Hispanics have increased their high school completion rate during this period from 51 per cent to 58 per cent, unlike Blacks they have not narrowed their achievement gap with Whites (KewalRamani et al., 2007). In 2005, the gap between Hispanics and Whites was 32 percentage points, compared to 31 percentage points in 1990 (KewalRamani et al., 2007). According to the same study, as of 2005, only 11 per cent of young Hispanics (25 to 29 years of age) had completed a four-year college education, compared with close to 28 percent of all young adults in the United States who had bachelor’s degrees.
The racial and ethnic differences in the dropout rate among the 16- to 24-year-old cohort continue to be a serious problem in the educational system. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey of 2005, 7.2 per cent of Whites were high school dropouts, in comparison to the corresponding figures of 22.8 per cent for Hispanics, 11.6 per cent for African Americans, and 3.5 per cent for Asians.
Figure 4 Percentage of 16-24 year-olds who were high school dropouts by nativity and ethnicity ACS, 2005
When Hispanic statistics are disaggregated, they point to significant differences among Hispanic sub-groups, and between the native-born and foreign-born groups. Mexican American youth had a 25.5 per cent dropout rate, while 16.9 percent of Puerto Ricans and 32.6 percent of Central American youth were dropouts. These differences are even starker when nativity is factored in. For example, only 13.8 per cent of native-born Mexican American youth were dropouts, whereas the corresponding figure for foreign-born Mexicans was 41.9 per cent. Puerto Rican data is not disaggregated by nativity since migrants from Puerto Rico are not technically “foreign-born.”
In addition to the challenge that dropping out has for various youth groups of color, the context of their communities presents an additional difficulty that at times leads to the stigmatization of students of color. Such a problem is particularly evident in the challenge and safety issues that gangs and gang violence present for students of color. This is another dimension of the experience of students of color that is also shaped by their race and ethnic background. The National Crime Victimization Survey of 2005 indicated that among youth between the ages of 12 and 18 years, 38.4 per cent of Hispanics, 36.6 per cent of African Americans, and 16.6 of Whites reported that gangs were present at school during the previous six months. The percentages vary significantly depending on the neighborhood context with inner city students of color experiencing rates more than 40 per cent (National Crime Victimization Survey, 2005). With respect to realistic fear for their safety, furthermore, 10 per cent of Hispanic students and 9 per cent of African American can students reported in 2005 that they were afraid of being physically harmed at school, in comparison with only 4 per cent of White students (Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2007).
THE CONTINUING CHALLENGE OF SEGREGATION
Students of color face another challenge that is still pervasive in the nation’s schools. The persistence of segregation is a gnawing problem that erodes the possibilities for qualitative change in the educational system. Hispanic and African American students are more likely to attend segregated schools. These schools tend to have fewer resources, less funding, and higher rates of teacher turnover. In the 2005-06 academic year, while 23 per cent of all schools in the nation had 75 per cent or more students of color, 56 per cent of Hispanics and 50 per cent of African Americans attended such “segregated” schools (Planty, et al., 2008 50). While the rate of segregation is lower for Asian/Pacific Islander students than for Blacks or Hispanics, it is still higher than for Whites. Hispanics, according to the work of Gary Orfield (2004), are the most segregated group in the educational system.
In June 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 et al. (Nos. 05-908 and 05-915) severely set back the progress made by Brown v. Board of Education. In that case, the Seattle School District and the Jefferson County District, Kentucky developed student assignment plans based on “white or non-white” and “black or other,” respectively, to maintain racial balance among their schools. The parents of students in these districts filed suits, on the grounds that it was a violation of the equal protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to assign students solely on the basis of their race. In ruling in favor of the parents, the Supreme Court distinguished these reassignment cases from Grutter v. Bollinger (539 U.S. 306 ). The Court concluded that in Grutter, the University of Michigan Law School’s “narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body” is constitutional “in the context of higher education,” but that the school districts’ student assignment plans based on “a binary conception of race” are designed only to achieve “racial balance, an objective this Court has repeatedly condemned as illegitimate (Community Schools v. Seattle School District [Nos. 05-908 and 05-915]).” In the wake of the Supreme Court’s regressive decision, the process of de facto school segregation will continue unchecked and unrectified for many years to come.
LACK OF DIVERSITY AMONG FACULTY
For example, Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders share the challenge of being in school systems which lack teachers of color or staff. A little more than 44 per cent of the nation’s schools do not have teachers of color or staff (Irvine, 2003). Close to 83 per cent of all teachers in K-12 are White, only 7.9 per cent are African American, and 6.2 per cent are Hispanic (Snyder, 2008 22). Even though Asian American students account for 4.3 per cent of K-12 students, Asian American teachers represent only 1.8 per cent of the faculty (Klein, 2007 507). The lack of teachers who are culturally competent has serious consequences on the educational experiences of students. It impacts their achievement and cognitive development. Furthermore, the lack of cultural competence and awareness of the role of schools in the racialization process leads to problems in the development of the students’ self-concept and attitudes. The absence or scarcity of same-race teachers not only impedes the diversification of faculty, but also deprives ethnic minority students of various school enhancement benefits, and above all, role models to emulate (Klein, 2007).
Many teachers have been trained to uncritically accept color-blind pedagogies and practices, and have unknowingly given validity and meaning to the racialization processes that devalue the culture, perspectives, values and world views, which students from different cultures bring to the classroom. Instead of utilizing these as resources for the enrichment and the broadening of perspectives, many teachers ignore them, thereby sending a subtle but powerful message that the cultures and experiences of students of color are not worthy. It is not a coincidence that these students become silenced or that they begin to cope by internalizing oppositional identities which tend to reproduce inequality and limit the achievement of some groups of students of color (Tatum, 1997; Valenzuela, 1999). Moreover, the lack of cultural competence discourages parents from actively participating as advocates and supporters of their children’s education.
Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders have the highest percentage of students who speak other languages than English at home. Approximately 2.5 million people five years and older regularly speak Chinese at home; Chinese is the second most widely spoken non-English language in the United States. Furthermore, each of the other three Asian languages―Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Korean―is spoken at home by over one million people (UCLA: 2008 Statistical Portrait of Asian Americans). The lack of translators or bilingual teachers and staff dissuades parents from participating in teacher/parent conferences, PTA’s, and school board meetings. In the end, parents are blamed for the inadequacy of school systems in providing the resources needed to incorporate the diversity of students and parents in our educational midst.
What is often most difficult to process in a color-blind ideological paradigm is the development of data, specifically, quantitative data that may suggest the outcomes of a racialized schooling environment. Indeed, as school districts and state systems increasingly develop a rhetoric of concern and focus for the “achievement gap” and racial disparities in outcomes, they often confound the gap as a product of language barriers, poverty, negative neighborhood influences, and poor parenting skills or absentee parents. Educators, along with policymakers and the general public, tend to take a view that schools’ low achievement levels are concentrated in geographic locations that are poverty-stricken or economically marginalized and thus attribute the “achievement gap” as a function of class. What happens however when we analyze data and achievement patterns within a school site? How might we explain racial/ethnic disparities within a school? Typically data is produced that displays racial/ethnic outcomes on one chart and then data is displayed on academic outcomes for students who are socio-economically disadvantaged on another chart, and still further we then display a chart for outcomes for English Language Learners. In other words, we compartmentalize “deficits.” In order to understand how racialization may be playing out in schools, one must analyze data across these dimensions as a means of best framing and thus exploring the embedded nature of a racialized school environment.
For example, Figure 5 below displays data from a large urban district in California on the percentage of students who graduate having completed a college-prep curriculum known as the A-G Requirements in California. These courses are required by the University of California and California State University for admissions eligibility. By displaying data by race/ethnicity AND socioeconomic background (we use the measure of free/reduced lunch program as districts do not collect data on family income), we can see that there are disparate outcomes by race/ethnicity AND class. While we can see disparities across racial/ethnic groups and across “class” categories, it is striking to note that a smaller proportion of African American and Hispanic students who are NOT on free/reduced lunch complete the college-prep sequence than all other students including White and Asian American students. Such district-wide disparities are often explained as a function of housing segregation patterns, which then concentrate low-income and minority families in underresourced neighborhood schools.
*Note: Economic background based on Participation in Federal Free/Reduced Lunch Program. Low income = Yes; Non-Low Income = No
The realities of the negative impacts of housing segregation (themselves a function of racialized housing covenants) are most certainly at play in these district-wide data. However, when we examine College-Prep outcomes within a school site the same pattern holds true. Figure 6 displays similar disparities across race/ethnicity and economic background. While this school is a highly racially/ethnically diverse school, with no single group exceeding 30% of the student body, these data certainly suggest that there are processes that intersect race/ethnicity and class which result in disparate outcomes for Hispanic students. Indeed, while 34% of Non-Low Income Hispanic students complete the College-Prep sequence, over 44%, 37% and 50% of White, Asian American and Filipino students who are Low-Income complete the College-Prep sequence.
Figure 6. California High School A-G College Prep Completers by Race/Ethnicity and *Economic Background
*Note: Economic background based on Participation in Federal Free/Reduced Lunch Program. Low income = Yes; Non-Low Income = No
While limited in what can be concluded from this data, there is a developing body of research which suggests that school sites that may appear “desegregated” in their student body make-up, the curriculum and types of courses within the school are highly segregated by race/ethnicity as well as income. While we have known for decades about the curricular tracking that has occurred in schools, disparities that cut across race/ethnicity and economic background are little understood. So, how might we explain a finding that non-low income Latino students are faring worse than low income White and Asian American students?
Analyzing Mathematics data from the National Assessment of Education Progress, the Nation’s Report Card under President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, Lubienski (2003) found that “differences in [instructional] practice are related to students’ race as well as their SES, with high-SES black students likely to encounter many of the practices that low-SES students generally encounter. This provides evidence that, almost 50 years after Brown v Board of Education, schools continue to employ unequal educational practices with students on the basis of race, in addition to SES.” (pg. 28) In her analysis, Lubienski found that teachers tended to utilize more rudimentary and basic skills teaching practices with Black students regardless of SES, while there was less use of such methods and for shorter periods of time for White students. In short, a racialized practice wherein expectations, however benevolent, were shaped by the ascription of Black students as a group needing more basic emphases by their teachers, led to lower achievement levels for Black students across SES.
Conversely, the opposite may hold true for Asian American students vis-à-vis classroom practices. Asian Americans are often perceived as the “model minority,” a mythology which pervades educator beliefs about this ethnic group. Consequently, educators may tend to racialize Asian Americans as inherently intelligent and/or culturally superior academically and thus needing greater academically challenging work, thereby further raising teacher expectations. Greater teacher expectations, fed by the racialization of Asian Americans as more studious and committed to their schooling, may then lead to greater academic outcomes and placement in college prep course sequences. While the data for this type of analysis is quite limited, analysis of California High School Exit passage rates shows a similar pattern of Non-Low income Latino students (and Black students) passing at a lower rate than low-income Asian American and White students across major urban districts in California. Additionally, scholars have noted similar disparities across race/ethnicity and SES in SAT and other standardized test scores.
The lesson from these descriptive data at a local level is that the framework of racialization can help educators frame their analytic questions in such a way as to not be dismissive of racialized processes. Rather such analyses can move them away from a “color-blind” ideological premise that a Ruby Payne framework or liberal ideologies might otherwise lead them towards. Therefore, utilizing disaggregated local-level achievement data by race/ethnicity and economic background and then intersecting these data points can lead to powerful findings about the extent to which racialization may be playing out within a district and school sites. These data may also suggest that racialization works in the interest of some students while simultaneously working against others. With racialization permeating our public education, we need to explore ways in which a framework of racialization can help us understand disparities in outcomes, challenges and successes within our school systems.
FOCUSED AREAS OF CONCERN
There are a number of areas where research indicates that racialization has negative consequences in the public school system. We will examine each one briefly and suggest some policies to address some aspects of these challenges in order to begin a process of change to improve the quality of education for all students.
Classroom Pedagogy and Management
Schofield’s (2001) classic study indicates that a color-blind perspective and practice leads to an atmosphere where racist stereotypes are not challenged and thus become embedded in the world views of many students. Moreover, a color-blind ideology and practice impacts how educational systems deal with the disciplining of children. Amanda Lewis’ work, Race in the Schoolyard: Negotiating the Color-Line in Classrooms and Communities (2003), clearly illustrates how the school can contribute to the creation of criminalized stereotypes which lead to the more severe disciplining and suspension of members of some racial groups than others. Sagar and Schofield (1980) also illustrate in an exercise how the same behavior is evaluated and racialized in different ways, depending on the race of the actor. Such disparate and arbitrary evaluation has been highlighted as a major factor in the significant difference in the discipline rates of Hispanics and African American children as compared to White children. It is not surprising that the incarceration rate of Hispanic youth, particularly males, is rapidly increasing in the nation.
The pervasiveness of color-blind ideology in the classroom perpetuates and reproduces the racialized narratives all children have learned through the process of racialization. According to Bonilla-Silva (2003), there are four basic frames that illustrate the role of this ideology.
• Frame 1: Minimization of the existence of racial disparity (normalizing differences)
In the classroom, this is manifested by the lack of knowledge, beyond a mythologized version of U.S. history, of how the system of race was created. In the curriculum, a series of myths are taught in social science and history that obscure rather than reveal the complex origin of the social construction of race in the United States. This leads to a world view that normalizes racial inequality and ascribes poverty, lack of educational achievement, exclusively to individual faults and weaknesses (Lewis, 2003 24). Also, there is a reluctance to engage in the classroom in the understanding and discussion of issues of difference and racial disparities.
• Frame 2: Blaming the pathology of non-White cultures (modern version of culture of poverty theory) for inequality
One of the main justifications for the assimilation model in our educational system is the assumption that the cultures of communities of color are an obstacle and a cause of the social, economic and educational disparities that impact these communities. Native Americans were sent to boarding schools, away from their parents in order to assimilate them into the dominant culture. A similar process took place in the Southwest with Mexican children who in many instances were placed in segregated schools and were provided vocational instruction. Similar efforts were also applied in Puerto Rico with the imposition of English as the language of instruction, the hiring of U.S. English-speaking teachers, and the use of textbooks which distorted the history, culture and memory of Puerto Rican children.
• Frame 3: Racial phenomenon is “natural” (people of color like to self-segregate; therefore segregation occurs.
Another way the classroom can serve as an affirmation of a color-blind ideology is to make no efforts to train teachers about the underlying reasons for social, psychological, and developmental processes that lead students, especially adolescents, to “self-segregate.” The work of Tatum (1997) has illustrated how these processes are not “natural” but part of socio-psychological processes of development in a racialized society. Also, something not clearly understood is how “oppositional” cultures are created by youth as a way of coping with their racialized experiences (Lopez and Stanton, 2001; Suarez-Orozco, 2000). Unfortunately, these oppositional cultures are assumed to be “natural,” but in reality they are means of resisting a racialized environment in ways that are unfortunately self-destructive. Peer groups tend to reinforce this oppositional culture when they stigmatize their fellow students of color who try to excel in school by labeling them as “acting White.”
• Frame 4: Upholding abstractly the ideals of equality and meritocracy without grounding them. Absolutist view that when a group is dominant or privileged it always “deserved” it.
This frame tends to assume that all children are on a level playing field and that society offers equal opportunity to all; therefore, failure and lack of success is not due to context, structures or policies but to the inability of children of color and their families to concretely live out the core values of the dominant culture. Again, the lack of historical context and knowledge, and the lack of culturally competent teachers that could help process racializing events in the classroom cause children of color to internalize inferiority and White children to internalize superiority. These scripts then become self-fulfilling prophecies of success and failure for many children (Loewen, 1995; Lopez and Stanton, 2001).
The challenges that students of color face are not insurmountable. Research has shown that given appropriate policies and pedagogies, significant changes can be implemented that will improve the quality of education. Social psychology research in higher education is increasingly providing evidence that all students can benefit from a pedagogy that integrates diversity into the curriculum (Antonio, 2001; Hurtado, et al., 1999; Milem, 2000).
In the meantime, our educational system is no longer considered one of the best in the world and we are losing our ability to compete academically at the international level. In the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), fourth graders’ reading literacy was assessed and compared with 45 educational jurisdictions across the world. Students in ten jurisdictions scored higher than U.S. students. Nations like Russia, Sweden and Italy received significantly higher reading literacy scores. Within the U.S., White fourth graders scored higher than Hispanics, African Americans and American Indians/Alaskan Natives in reading literacy (Planty, et al., 2008 28). In terms of science literacy, the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA 2006) found that the United States’ average score was below 30 countries from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). One of the areas of weakness among U.S. students was in their ability to explain phenomena scientifically and to use scientific evidence (Planty, et al., 2008 29). Among the nations that scored higher than the U.S. were Canada, Japan, Australia, Ireland, Netherlands, and Korea.
The issue of how racialization stigmatizes Asian and Hispanic cultures is also relevant to the challenges that students of color face in the public educational system. "Maintenance of the culture of origin acts as a powerful buffer in mediating the entry of the child into mainstream culture, communities that keep children close provide them with a protective frame of reference (Suarez-Orozco, 2001).” According to Brookings Institution demographer William Frey, "The future of our education system depends on how we can advance Hispanics through the ranks," which is also is true for Asian Americans and other students of color (Quaid, 2009).
• Development of longitudinal data systems wherein student achievement can be more closely analyzed across multiple demographic dimensions (e.g., race/ethnicity, economic background, gender, English Learner etc.).
• Explicit State and Board policies that seek to infuse on-going cultural competency training and development for teaching and administrative leadership staff.
• Greater attention to the preparation of teachers in Teacher Education Programs including the provision of culturally competent training, curricular and pedagogical development, and tracking of credentialed teachers to examine promising practices in Teacher Education.
• Explicit curricular policies that support multicultural and multiethnic materials and frameworks.
• Explicit hiring policies and practices designed to provide a diverse teaching and administrative leadership staff.
• Professional development for teachers and administrative leadership staff to enable them to use data to examine disparities in outcomes and to engage in conversations about race and schooling outcomes.
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Links to National Educational Association Resources (training module and powerpoint presentation)
National Education Association Resources on Racialization