This article is an exploration of the role that the American public education system along the U.S.-Mexico border plays in the acculturation and assimilation of students. While culture and education are very broad subjects, the majority of the studies conducted are primarily associated with the full integration of immigrant students, political and bureaucratic policies, and pedagogical duties. The focus, in this case, will be the intentional and unintentional paradigms that educators implement in their classrooms that affect the process of enculturation. Practices that can be considered patterns are essential and will take precedence because uncharacteristic incidents or anecdotes might not have significant cultural implications. It is also important to note that acculturation does occur in isolation and the exclusion of potential associative factors is only an attempt to highlight the influence that teachers, administrators, and curriculum architects have in this process. How do alternative perspectives on history and politics affect the cognitive development of children? What are the psychological consequences or stressors resulting from the infusion of unfamiliar customs and models in education? How do these intrapersonal conflicts affect students in relation to their broader academic goals? It is the goals of this entry to answer or begin to answer some these questions and similar questions that have remained overwhelmingly unaddressed.
In 1939, as the nation was inching toward desegregation, an obscure thesis was published from the University of Southern California. In it, Katherine Meguire discussed the “Mexican Problem” and endorsed segregation as means to address the educational needs of the students and cultural differences. Meguire explained that Mexican and Mexican American children were not of “purebred stock” and predisposed to cultural laziness. While in certain ways Meguire discusses how eucators can help the process of acculturation, her initial comments point to an archaic, insensitive, and highly racist doctrine of the early 20th century and can be used to explore how cultural perspectives have changed in the classroom.
For the next three decades the predominant rhetoric surrounding education on the border dealt with various attempts to desegregate schools. In 1951 George Sanchez reflects on the progressive implications of cases like Mendez in California and Delgado in Texas. However, it was not until 1975 case Keyes v. Denver that the Supreme Court attempted to conclusively eradicate any form of Hispanic discrimination in public schools. While certain aspects and effects of segregation resonate in today’s education system, a new focus defined the latter part of century.
Between the 1980s and 2000s various legislative initiatives tried to accommodate the influx of students in public schools. Many of the initial policies dealt with appropriate placement, language issues, funding, and accountability. The most recent and prominent piece of legislature is the No Child Left Behind Act which passed in 2001 and aimed to close the achievement gap between ethnic groups education through administrative improvements and cyclical assessments. Students’ native language became a major consideration during instruction and testing. However, many educators still believe that the program has failed to curtail the gap and fix some of the more complex issues within the education system.
Nevertheless, the historical record of Mexican and Mexican American education along the border is mostly limited to the judicial and legislative approaches to this issue. Acculturation in the classroom has predominantly focused on language, but language is only one part aspect of culture. While some observations have been published, more detailed and intensive studies are warranted in order to understand the impact of formal education on acculturation.
Perspectives on CultureEdit
Separation and Union of CulturesEdit
As stated before, the first half of the 20th century was dominated by the perpetuation and resistance of segregation in public schools. Hispanic culture was largely secluded to segregated classrooms or schools. Even within these separate institutions, the role of educators as cultural has always been mixed. While some teachers considered suppressing “Mexican habits” as part of their pedagogical responsibilities, other reports suggest that segregated classrooms tried to accommodate and develop “natural” capabilities. A 1933 letter to the Department of the Interior Office of Education stated that Mexican pupils needed adequate resources “conducive to the discovery and development of their artistic tastes” (Reynolds 18).
Integration, nevertheless, did not abate this paradoxical relationship and to this day schools “remove and suppress certain foreign features”
but also “build upon the Mexican culture, often equally crudely” (Grebler). For example, often students’ names are Americanized by changing Maria to Mary, Jesus to Jesse, etc. Sometimes border school policies also address differences in apparel and styles without regard to culture sensitivity. At the same time, modern schools are spending money on extracurricular activities that promote diverse cultural symbols like folkloric groups and mariachi. Further research on the impact of certain historical perspectives remains to be conducted. For instance, according to the Texas 7th grade state curriculum teachers are required to present evidence how the Texas Revolution led to personal, economic, and religious freedom; the word “colonization” is repeatedly omitted from final revisions of the new standards; although the impact of ethnic groups is mentioned, their alternative perspectives are not considered. Whether people agree or disagree with the ideas presented in textbooks and instruction, little data exists on the effect these sometimes contradictory perspectives have on children from Mexico or even Mexican American students. Psychological and cognitive pressures are still unaddressed during most pedagogical approaches.
Educators often regard language as the most eminent part of culture which they more directly and deliberately influence. This discourse, however, is not subject to the debate or lack of study that the previous discussion entails. English language proficiency has always been the cornerstone of local, state, and federal standards regardless of stress, cultural implications, or academic/ professional aspirations. This is not a critique of these policies, for it is evident that English is necessary in order to function in American society irrespective of people’s opinion on the subject. Nevertheless, the approach to ESL (English as a Second Language) has changed over the years. Even before desegregation, Spanish was highly discouraged in the classroom. Frequently students, in spite of their cognitive maturity, were expected to acquire the language and abandon native linguistic structures.
Understanding of acculturation along the U.S.-Mexico border remains incomplete. While certain characteristics of enculturation of have played vital roles in border discourses over the past century, other topics like academic acculturation have been largely ignored. Educators and border studies scholars must continue to analyze the impact education has on the acquisition of culture and assimilation.
- Diego Galvan, University of Texas Brownsville
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Grebler, Leo, and Joan W. Moore. The Mexican-American people: the Nation's second largest minority. New York: Free Press, 1970. Print.
Lafromboise, Teresa, Hardin L. Coleman, and Jennifer Gerton. "Psychological Impact of Biculturalism: Evidence and Theory." Psychological Bulletin 114.3 (1993): 395-412. PsycARTICLES. Web. 26 June 2014.
Meguire, Katherine Hollier. Educating the Mexican child in the elementary school. 1938. Reprint. San Francisco: R and E Research Associates, 1973. Print.
Reynolds, Annie. “The Education of Spanish-Speaking Children in Five Southern States.” Office of Education Bulletin, June 1933. Education and the Mexican American. Ed. Carlos Cortes. New York: Arno Press, 1974. . Print.
Sanchez, George. "Concerning Segregation of Spanish-Speaking Children in the Public Schools." 1955. Education and the Mexican American. Ed. Carlos Cortes. New York: Arno Press, 1974. . Print.