ERIC Identifier: ED348200
Publication Date: 1992-09-00
Author: Escamilla, Kathy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Integrating Mexican-American History and Culture into the
Social Studies Classroom. ERIC Digest.
Hispanics in the United States are now the fastest growing and one of the
least educated ethnic groups in the country (Estrada, 1988; Broun 1992), and
Mexican-Americans make up 63 percent of the entire Hispanic population (Estrada,
1988). Over the past 25 years, educators have initiated many programs and
policies with the hope of improving educational attainment among
Mexican-Americans and other Hispanics. The purpose of this Digest is to discuss
one such effort--the integration of Mexican-American history and culture into
the social studies curriculum. The Digest will discuss why this effort is so
important and how to overcome possible pitfalls. Successful strategies discussed
in this Digest include: (1) selecting texts and other curriculum materials that
accurately represent the Mexican-American experience in the U.S., (2) helping
teachers to become more knowledgeable themselves, and (3) creating a school
climate that values ethnic diversity.
REASONS FOR TEACHING MEXICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY AND
Teaching such content serves multiple purposes. First, it can be
important to the self-esteem of Mexican-American students. Studies suggest that
positive ethnic affiliation among Mexican-Americans (and other groups) greatly
influences individual development in many ways, including: lifestyle choices,
values, opinions, attitudes, and approaches to learning (Gollnick & Chinn,
Yet, it is not enough for Mexican-American students--or any student--to learn
only about their own cultural heritage and history. They must learn to
appreciate and respect other cultural groups. This need leads to the second
purpose of integrating Mexican-American history and culture into the social
studies classroom: To develop "ethnic literacy" in ALL students. Ethnic
literacy, as defined by Banks and Banks (1989), is a knowledge of the role and
function that ethnicity plays in our daily lives, in our society, and in our
transactions locally, regionally, and transnationally. Ethnic literacy allows
all students to understand their uniqueness, to understand the complexities of
ethnicity and culture, and to take pride in who they are as people.
SELECTING TEXTS AND CURRICULUM MATERIALS
There are many
materials currently available to teach about Mexican-American culture and
history. But, as Banks and Banks (1989) have noted, many of these materials
limit their presentation of the Mexican-American experience to the discussion of
isolated holidays and events. Examples include the 16 de septiembre (Mexican
Independence Day) and 5 de mayo (an important holiday in Mexico, commemorating
the victory of Mexico over the French, who were occupying Mexico in 1862).
Another pitfall of some curriculum materials in use is that they tend to
present historical figures in two extremes. One extreme is the "hero
presentation," which describes a few exceptional historical figures as
superhumans, who overcame insurmountable odds to achieve greatness. More often,
though, social studies curricula depict the Mexican-American people as helpless
victims of poverty and discrimination, who largely reside in urban barrios or
rural migrant camps.
This dichotomy of heroes and victims produces a distorted account of the
Mexican-American experience in the U.S. Perpetuating stereotypes of
Mexican-Americans is harmful to all students in a classroom, but poses special
dangers to students of Mexican-American heritage. The view that only the
exceptional succeed, while the majority fall victim--combined with sporadic and
inaccurate treatment of the contributions of Mexican-Americans in the
curriculum--may lead students to conclude that if they are not truly exceptional
(and most of us are not), there is no hope for them, and their destined "place"
is in an urban barrio or rural migrant camp. Further, students may erroneously
conclude that their heritage has contributed very little to the development of
the Western Hemisphere.
Failing to present a more realistic picture of Mexican-American people and
their contributions leaves students with a dearth of realistic role models. Most
Mexican-American students are not likely to achieve the greatness of a Caesar
Chavez, nor will they likely live in a state of abject poverty. As a result,
many may find it difficult to identify with the Mexican-American culture as
presented in most social studies curriculum. This situation defeats one purpose
of integrating Mexican-American studies into the curriculum--to develop a sense
of ethnic pride.
Educators should look for curriculum materials that present a more considered
view of the Mexican-American experience and history. Some excellent examples are
cited in the bibliography at the end of this Digest. Such a view includes not
only heroes and victims, but "regular people," as well. Such a perspective
depicts diversity. There is not a single Mexican-American culture, just as there
is not a single American culture. Equally importantly, this view includes the
notion that cultures change over time. Effective instructional materials include
ideas related to the contemporary, as well as the historical experience, of
Research suggests that teacher decisions
are more important than either written curriculum or mandated texts in
determining the actual content of instruction. Further, these instructional
decisions often rest on teachers' personal experiences rather than what the
textbook suggests (Manley-Casimir & Wassermann, 1989). This finding is
important for several reasons.
First, nationally, 25 percent of our students are nonwhite, while only 10
percent of our teaching force is nonwhite (Broun, 1992). In urban districts, 70
percent of the student body is nonwhite, but only 30 percent of the faculty is
nonwhite. Further, the population of Hispanic students, alone, is growing at two
and a half times the rate of the general student population (Broun, 1992). Given
these facts, many teachers probably lack the firsthand experiences and knowledge
necessary to integrate readily the history and culture of Mexican-Americans into
their classroom instruction (Manley-Casimir & Wassermann, 1989).
Selecting accurate and diverse instructional materials turns out to be just
one of the needed steps. Another--even more important step--is to provide
preservice and inservice education to help teachers, themselves, learn the
history of Mexican-Americans in the U.S. For teachers to teach this subject
matter effectively, they need to understand and respect the diversity of
cultures in Mexican-American communities.
CREATING A SCHOOL CLIMATE THAT APPRECIATES
Student attitudes about school and their sense of self are shaped
by what happens both in the classroom and throughout the school. The benefits
gained by effectively incorporating Mexican-American history and culture into
classroom instruction will be greatly diluted unless the school as a whole
visibly appreciates not only the Mexican-American culture but also the students
who represent that culture (Banks and Banks, 1989).
For example, comments such as, "I love living in the Southwest--the
architecture is great, the lifestyle is wonderful," and so forth, may be common
in a given school. This same school may also feature cultural activities such as
folk dancing or a Spanish club, and a social studies curriculum that reflects
Mexican-American contributions. Yet in this school, when teachers describe their
Mexican-American students, they may also claim that students are "not
competitive," "not goal oriented," or "not future-directed." Some observers
describe such attitudes as valuing "lo mexicano" (Mexican things), but not "los
mexicanos" (Mexican peoples) (Paz, 1987). Students can make few gains in a
school environment that purports to value students' cultures but disdains
students of that culture.
For these reasons, preservice and inservice training and course work should
include administrators, counselors, paraprofessionals, and others in the school
environment who interact with Mexican-American students.
Integrating Mexican-American history and culture
into the social studies classroom is a worthy and important goal for all
schools. Effective integration requires that teachers have accurate materials
that represent the diversity of the Mexican-American experience and the broad
range of contributions made by Mexican-Americans (see suggested materials
below). But, curriculum materials will have little impact without effective
staff development for teachers and other educators. Further, if the goals of
developing cultural pride, self-esteem, and respect for diversity are to be
fully achieved, the total school environment--inside and outside the
classroom--must respect diversity and display an appreciation of
Mexican-American students and their heritage.
Banks, J. & Banks, C. A. (1989).
Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Broun, A. (1992). Building community support through local educational funds.
Journal of the National Association for Bilingual Education: NABE News, 15, (4
Estrada, L. F. (1988). Anticipating the demographic future: Dynamic changes
are on the way. The Magazine of Higher Education, 20 (3), 14-19.
Gollnick, D., & Chinn, P. (1990). Multicultural education in a
pluralistic society. New York: Macmillan.
Manley-Casimir, M., & Wassermann, S. (1989). The teacher as a decision
maker. Childhood Education, 65(4), 288-293.
Paz, E. (1987, Feb.). Appreciating people and artifacts. Address given to the
Arizona Association for Bilingual Education Annual Conference, Flagstaff, AZ.
Motiello, A. C. (1988). Cultural Pride (from series, Latino Family Life).
Santa Cruz, CA: Network Pub.
Pinchot, J. (1973). The Mexican-Americans in America. Minneapolis, MN: The
Silver Burdett & Ginn (1988). Silver Burdett & Ginn Elementary Social
Studies. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Author. (The series is available in Spanish and
Smith, G., & Otero, G. (1977). Teaching about ethnic heritage (part of
the Ethnic Heritage Series.) Denver, CO: Center for International Relations,
University of Denver.
Moore, J. (1976). Mexican-Americans. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Nova, J. (1973). The Mexican-American in American History. New York: American
Banks, J. (1988). Teaching strategies for ethnic studies. Boston: Allyn &
Tiedt, P., & Tiedt, I. (1990). Multicultural teaching: A handbook of
resources and activities. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
*Note: Due to space limitations, this bibliography is by no means exhaustive.
It is meant, however, to provide examples of materials and resources that
teachers may use to integrate the Mexican-American experience into social