Through personal and research experience, I know that immigrant parents want to be a part of their children’s education. For them, access to a good education is one of the main reasons immigrants stay in the U.S. Consider, then, the irony that it is sometimes the lack of access to knowledge of how the USian school system works that stands between parents and being able to effectively advocate for their children in schools.
My mother emigrated from Perú to the U.S. when she was 35 to go to graduate school. Though she had class privilege, race privilege (she is considered white), a graduate degree and an American husband, when she started to have trouble with me in school, she was at a loss. We had just moved from Bolivia when I entered the USian school system. She was concerned with my English language skills (was I proficient enough?), but also knew that my first grade education in Bolivia had been more advanced than what the first grade in rural-suburban Florida could offer me. However, due to historic misunderstandings of how race, ethnicity, and history combine in places other than the U.S., school officials placed me back in the first grade and denied me language testing. This marked the beginning of my mother’s “education” in the USian school system. Read more
Anthony1 who self-identifies as a DREAMer2 grew up and attended school in the Phoenix metro area. He has been married for seven years. Although he was born in Mexico, beyond family stories, he has little memory of his parents’ homeland since he moved to the U.S. as a child. Anthony is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to enroll in college, but in the meanwhile he proudly cares for his 18 month old daughter and a niece and nephew full time.
Rosa M. Jiménez is an Assistant Professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. She earned her Ph.D. in Education from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research interests include critical and culturally relevant pedagogies, social studies education, and immigration. She examines the education, alienation, and empowerment of working class students of color, with a focus on Latina/o immigrant students. Dr. Jiménez interrogates how educators can affirm, access and sustain Latina/o students’ everyday cultural practices, experiential knowledge, and family histories. Dr. Jiménez has over ten years of experience working in K-12 public schools as a social studies teacher, literacy coach and educational researcher.
For decades Latinas/os have been called ‘the sleeping giant’ because of their dormant collective political and economic promise. We saw a glimpse of this promise during the 2012 November elections as 71% of Latina/o voters helped re-elect President Obama, signaling to many that the giant had awakened (Pew Hispanic Research Center). The Republican Party was stunned and began to take notice of Latina/o political power. These events come on the heels of a nearly three-year firestorm of (post SB 1070) anti-immigrant legislation, racially hostile public discourse, record-breaking deportations and family separations, an unprecedented Executive Order granting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the historic civic action, protests, and mobilization of immigrant rights groups. In turn, these events have prompted a renewed national focus on immigration with the possibility of bi-partisan legislation on ‘comprehensive’ immigration reform. The national debate and possible ensuing policies are intrinsically linked to how educators think of Latina/o immigrant children and their education. Read more
Dr. Carole Cobb is an accomplished curriculum designer, program developer, and coalition builder with over thirty combined years of successful teaching and administrative experiences as a public school educator, university professor, and education consultant. She is the Executive Director of Sankofa Education Alliance, a non-profit training and consulting company, whose mission is “creating healthy learning and living environments for children to excel, families to thrive, and communities to flourish”. Recently, Dr. Cobb served for four years in the Los Angeles Unified School District as its K-12 District Coordinator concentrating her efforts on eliminating educational disparities for Standard English Learners (SELs) and providing professional learning opportunities for administrators, teachers, support staff, and parents in cultural responsive educational practices to ensure equitable access to quality education for these historically underserved students.
Standard English Learners Defined
Standard English Learners (SELs) represent a population of students whose ancestral or home languages reflect unique cultural and linguistic histories other than English, and differ in structure and form from the language of school [i.e. mainstream standard American or academic English]. Their languages incorporate English vocabulary while embodying phonology, grammar, and sentence structure rules transitioned from various indigenous languages including African languages, Native American languages, Hawaiian languages, and Latin American Spanish. These languages relexify English vocabulary into their respective ancestral linguistic structure; however, because their primary language is now English, they are classified as English Only. Subsequently, these “language and linguistically-different” students do not receive the instructional support they need to become proficient in school language or mainstream Standard American English. Historically marginalized, Standard English Learners have been academically underserved in both K-12 and post-secondary educational settings.
Timothy San Pedro is a PhD Candidate in English Education at Arizona State University, where he has conducted three years of ethnographic research in a Native American Literature classroom in a state that has banned ethnic studies programs in public schools. He taught Alaska Native High School students for the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and grew up on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana. He is a Ford Fellow; a Gates Millennium Scholar, mentor, and regional director; and a Cultivating New Voices among Scholars of Color Fellow. San Pedro’s research interests include Native American Urban Education and socio-culturally sustaining pedagogies.
As I enter the Native American Literature classroom that I am conducting research in, I see many faces, hear many stories, and engage in many conversations. On this particular day, I overhear a conversation Eileen has with another classmate. She says to her friend: “If you cut us in half and put us together, you’d have two complete people.” Eileen is referring to her and her friend’s ethnic makeup; they are both half Navajo and half African American.
Although a joke between two friends, I know what it feels like to want to be fully something, rather than on the margins of two or more cultural or ethnic identities. I want to reach out to both of them at this point and say, “It can get quite confusing. Take me, for example. I’m half Filipino, half Caucasian, yet I grew up on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Since my family left my father, I have had zero contact with my Filipino culture and have been embraced by the Native American community around me. Where does that leave me? Who does that make me? Where do I fit, if anywhere?” Those conversations centered on identity may come later with Eileen. For now, I just give them a smile.
Paul C. Gorski is an assistant professor in New Century College, George Mason University. Gorski’s work and passion is social justice activism. His areas of scholarly focus include anti-poverty activism and education, critical race theory and anti-racism education, and critical theories pertaining to women’s rights, LGBT rights, labor rights, immigrant rights, and anti-imperialism. Gorski is an active consultant and speaker, working with community and educational organizations around the world—such as in Colombia, Australia, India, and Mexico—on equity and social justice concerns. Gorski founded EdChange, a coalition of educators and activists who develop free social justice resources for educators and activists.
In my view, the challenge of educational inequity is not, as many assume, that too few people care about creating learning environments that work for all students. The challenge, despite an overwhelming desire among most teachers and administrators to serve the needs of all students, is that we generally have very little understanding of the depth and complexity of the problem.
Consider, for example, the monster we commonly refer to as the “achievement gap”. I use this example because a vast majority of education equity attention today is focused on this “gap” as measured in standardized test score comparisons. Over many decades, even before today’s term for it was coined, school leaders have attempted myriad strategies for redressing “achievement gaps” among and between students across race, language, class, and other identities. But we’ve made so little progress. Why?
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Dr. Cobb is the Administrative Coordinator for Los Angeles Unified School District’s Office of Academic English Mastery/Standard English Learner Programs. Its mission is two-fold: to eliminate educational disparities for African American, Mexican American, Native American, and Hawaiian American students; and to train teachers, administrators, and support staff in cultural responsiveness to ensure equitable access to quality education for historically under-served students. For twenty years Dr. Cobb has been an independent training consultant, providing training in culturally relevant and responsive education; change management; leadership development; strategic planning; and coalition building.
Who are Standard English Language Learners?
Standard English Learners (SELs) are students for whom Standard English is not native, whose home languages differ in structure and form from the language of school [i.e. standard American or academic English]. These students are generally classified as “English Only” African American, Hawaiian American, Mexican American, and Native American because their home language incorporates English vocabulary while embodying phonology, grammar, and sentence structure rules transitioned from indigenous/native languages other than English including African languages, Native American languages, Hawaiian languages and Latin American Spanish.
David Gibson is creator of simSchool (http://www.simschool.org), a classroom flight simulator for training teachers, currently funded by the US Department of Education FIPSE program and eFolio, an online performance assessment system. His research and publications include work on complex systems analysis and modeling of education, Web applications and the future of learning, the use of technology to personalize education, and the potential for games and simulation-based learning. He founded The Global Challenge Award, a team and project-based learning and scholarship program for high school students that engages small teams in studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics in order to solve global problems.
“What is going on with Cathy and Javier today? I thought they would LIKE working together.” “Bill’s head has been down for most of the second half of the class, but I know he loves this class.”
Good teachers constantly negotiate a balance between the tools at their disposal, their pedagogy, and their knowledge of content in ever-changing contexts – the intersecting systems of their classrooms, their school, and the family and community lives of their increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse students.