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Monday, September 1, 2008

Are Latino Students Being Framed?

By Silvia Uribe


"Expectations" are something we fear at times. However, when talking about our children, high expectations can be the magic wand to cast the spell of success upon them. Talking specifically about Latino students, it's not enough that Latino parents have those expectations for their own children; schools, as well as teachers, should have them, too. Most children will respond well if they are sincerely encouraged not only with words, but by having a school system behind them that really trusts that their success can be real, no matter their race or family educational history.

As a mother of two young Latinas who have gone through the Santa Barbara and the Goleta school districts, I had to fight year after year for their rightful placement in classes that would take them ahead at a regular pace. At the beginning of each year, counselors always wanted to place them in the "not so hard" classes that, coincidentally, were packed with an overwhelming majority of Latinos.

It was upsetting because their recommendation was not based on my daughters' grades from the previous year, which showed that they both could deal with those "hard" classes with no problem. It took long discussions with those counselors to make sure my children could get the classes they deserved to be in, and nothing less. As the years passed, this tendency became more than upsetting. And believe me, I wasn't the only one dealing with this frustration. Many other Latino parents were, too. But they didn't have the knowledge of the system or the language proficiency to advocate for their kids, so their children were pushed to the "easier" classes, thus falling further behind as the years passed.

After graduating from high school with a GPA greater than many Latino and non-Latino students, this year my youngest child is attending City College for the first time (you know, the education there is of superior class and the cost is incredibly affordable.) Her long-term plan is to become a lawyer. Much to my daughter's and my dismay, it happened again. The same attitude regarding which classes she was advised to take, the number of units, and the university to which she should transfer. Everything that she was offered was "not as hard", or "easier to get into" than what she chose in the first place. And in case you're wondering, these "easier" options were more than a suggestion. She felt pressured to change her mind, and although the counselor's efforts were not fruitful, she was frustrated yet once again.

Have you ever wondered why so many Latino students don't perform well at school? I have the suspicion that it's not because they can't, but because they are not expected and encouraged to do well. This is the key question: What benefit is there in trying to send Latino students to classes in which they are required to do very little, as opposed to encouraging them to attend those classes that would awake not only their minds but also their spirits?

If we give children a reputation to live up to, they will rise to the challenge. In addition, we will give them the opportunity to feel proud of themselves. To know that in fact, they have a promising future, instead of seeing themselves as nothing more than a failure, or simply not "good enough".

On the other hand, we know that depression and hopelessness play a big role in youths' behavior. So, are we framing them first, and then are we complaining about the poor scholastic achievement they seem to attain?

If we continue to discourage and hold back such an important (in numbers and otherwise) segment of our community, this tendency could lead -- in a ripple effect -- our cities, states, and ultimately, our country to great social and financial issues.

Make no mistake, I do believe in public education, and I think that public schools offer our children great opportunities such as experiencing other cultures, some of the best, and most committed teachers, plus, up to now, they offer a larger array of activities that smaller, private schools cannot. This is precisely why public schools’ narrow vision, in this regard, bothers me so much. It’s simply unfair and stupid to think that children of a particular culture are incapable of achieving at the same level as those of other cultures without stopping to analyze how the system contributes to the problem, and finding ways to change it. If we continue to do the same, we will obtain the same results. As simple as that!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective

Cross-posted at

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