ERIC Identifier: ED410367
Publication Date: 1997-07-00
Author: Trueba, Enrique T. - Bartolome, Lilia I.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education New York NY.
The Education of Latino Students: Is School Reform Enough?
ERIC/CUE Digest, Number 123.
With an overall population in the United States rapidly approaching 25
million, and a majority of the student population in some of the largest school
districts, Latinos are arguably worse off today than in previous decades
(Portes, 1996; Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco, 1995a; 1995b; Valencia, 1991a;
1991b). Yet, the resilience of Latino students and their potential for academic
success are significant (Diaz Salcedo, 1996). It is essential to capitalize on
the strengths of Latino students because the economic and technological future
of this country depends on their educational success, and the success of African
Americans and Asians, since these three groups together will constitute an
increasingly large portion of the total U.S. population by the mid twenty-first
This digest provides a critique of the various educational strategies that
have been used with Latino students, and suggests alternatives that may prove
more effective. Interestingly, some of the recommendations included here were
first made nearly 20 years ago, but they have not yet been widely implemented.
TRADITIONAL APPROACHES TO THE EDUCATION OF LATINO STUDENTS HISTORICAL EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE
Many educators acknowledge that the
reasons for the historical academic underachievement of Latino students could be
inappropriate cognitive, cultural, and linguistic teaching methods. However,
they do not believe that their own teaching methods or tools cause students'
problems; rather, it is the students who are not "regular" and who have
"special" needs. Such a traditional view also posits that teaching is a precise
scientific undertaking, and that teachers are simply technicians who use a set
of preselected skills and strategies in doing their jobs. Further, teaching
techniques are based on the belief that schools and teaching are value-free and
politically neutral. Consequently, change is required in children and families,
not in the schools and teachers (see American Association of School
Administrators, 1987; Carter & Chatfield, 1986; Knapp & Schields, 1990;
Means & Knapp, 1991). These assumptions have absolved teachers from the need
to critically analyze whether their teaching methods are equally effective with
all student populations.
THE "DEFICIT" VIEW OF LATINO STUDENTS
selection, and use of particular teaching methods arise from teachers'
perceptions of the academic ability and worth of students. However, even the
most pedagogically advanced strategies are ineffective in the hands of educators
who believe that ethnic, racial, and linguistic minority students are at best
culturally disadvantaged and in need of fixing, or, at worst, culturally or
genetically inferior, and consequently beyond help. Explanations for the
academic failure of Latinos (described as historical, pervasive, and
disproportionate) have traditionally relied on such a deficit-based model, which
has the longest history of any explanatory model for understanding the
achievement of low-status students discussed in the education literature, and is
deeply imprinted in our individual and collective psyches (Flores, 1982; 1993;
Menchaca & Valencia, 1990; Valencia, 1986; 1991). Also known in the
literature as the "social pathology" model or the "cultural deprivation" model,
the deficit approach assigns disproportionate academic problems among low-status
students (e.g., cognitive and linguistic deficiencies, low self-esteem, poor
motivation) to pathologies or deficits in their sociocultural background
Subject to application of this deficit model, Latino students over the last
century have been described as "mentally retarded," "linguistically
handicapped," "culturally and linguistically deprived," "semi-lingual," and,
more euphemistically, "at-risk" (Flores, 1982; 1993). The negative influence of
this model has been shown in teachers' preference for Anglo students, bilingual
teachers' preference for lighter skinned Latino students, and teachers' negative
perceptions of working-class parents as compared to middle-class parents
(Lareau, 1989; Bloom, 1991). In addition, unequal teaching and testing practices
have been documented in schools serving working-class and ethnic minority
students (Anyon, 1988; Diaz, Moll, & Mehan, 1986; Oakes, 1986; U.S.
Commission on Civil Rights, 1973). Educators (from all ethnic groups) who
participated in the studies that produced these findings were unaware of the
role they played in the differential and unequal treatment of their students, an
indication of the insidious influence of the deficit model.
The deficit view of subordinated students has been critiqued by numerous
researchers as ethnocentric and invalid (Boykin, 1983; Diaz et al., 1986;
Flores, 1982; Flores, Cousin, & Diaz, 1991; Sue & Padilla, 1986; Trueba,
1989; Walker, 1987). More recent research offers alternative models that shift
the explanation of school failure away from the characteristics of individual
children, their families and cultures, and toward the schooling process (Au
& Mason, 1983; Heath, 1983; Mehan, 1992; Philips, 1972). Unfortunately,
however, many of these alternative models have unwittingly given rise to a
kinder and more liberal, yet still pernicious, version of the deficit model, and
continue to consider subordinated students in need of "fixing" or "specialized"
modes of instruction. This equation of difference with deficit, especially as it
relates to Latinos and other low socioeconomic and ethnic minority groups, is
deeply ingrained in the ethos of even the most prominent institutions and
EDUCATIONAL REFORM STRATEGIES
An increasing number of
research studies in recent years have found traditional education practices
ineffective for Latino students. The studies have identified educational
programs, albeit based on the more "liberal" version of the deficit model, that
work successfully with Latino student populations limited in their English
proficiency (American Association of School Administrators, 1987; Carter &
Chatfield, 1986 ; Lucas, Henze, & Donato, 1990; Tikunoff, 1985). In
addition, efforts have been made to identify teaching strategies that are more
effective with culturally and linguistically "different" students, limited
English proficient students, and other "disadvantaged" and "at-risk" students
(McLeod, in press; Knapp & Shields, 1990; Means & Knapp, 1991; Tinajero
& Ada, 1993). Often, prospective teachers will imbue the "new" methods and
curricula with almost magical properties that render them, alone, capable of
improving students' academic standing. However, while it is important to
identify promising instructional programs and strategies, it is erroneous to
assume that the automatic replication or teacher mastery of any particular
methods will guarantee successful student learning.
Such a myopic focus on methodology obfuscates the central question: why
linguistically and culturally "subordinated" students (often also children from
economically oppressed families) do not, in general, succeed academically. Some
scholars feel that the reason may be that schools reproduce the existing
asymmetrical power relations among cultural groups (Anyon, 1988; Gibson &
Ogbu, 1991; Giroux, 1992; Freire, 1985). If they are correct, then educators
must move beyond the "methods fetish" (Bartolome, 1994), and erroneous
assumptions about the apolitical nature of education, to a critical assessment
of learning environments in their political contexts.
NEW APPROACHES TO LATINO STUDENT EDUCATION TEACHER
It is important to help teacher education students acquire a
sophisticated understanding of the learning environment. Teachers need to
possess the necessary subject matter knowledge and methodological skills to
teach. They also need skills to critically analyze exemplary pedagogy and to
translate it into cultural and linguistic codes appropriate for their students
(Freire, 1973; 1987; 1993; 1995). Teacher preparation programs are now making
efforts to help teachers develop such skills. The nature and extent of the
changes to traditional programs are a matter of speculation and experimentation,
but the need for a fundamentally different ideological basis is firm.
Student teachers must also be helped to develop the confidence to create,
adapt, or reform teaching strategies in order to actively engage children in the
learning process, challenge them, and demonstrate respect for them. Taking a
sociohistorical view of students from diverse cultural groups and poor families
can help teachers understand how important it is to acknowledge students' home
language and culture, and how eradication of them can be interpreted as a form
of dehumanization. Further, if teachers already recognize that getting a job,
finding a home, and surviving are not politically neutral activities, then they
will understand that teaching is also not a politically neutral undertaking.
Indeed, educational institutions mirror the culture, values, and norms of the
greater society. Thus, educators need to make concerted efforts to prevent the
reproduction of the asymmetrical power relationships existing in the various
social and cultural strata of the larger society.
Teachers should examine school practices critically so that they do not
unintentionally promote tracking and segregation within the school and
classroom, thus perpetuating the status quo. For example, schools often consider
low socioeconomic status and a "minority" racial/ethnic background of students
characteristics of "deficit" individuals, and therefore likely to indicate low
academic achievement (Anyon, 1988; Bloom, 1991; Cummins, 1989; Ogbu, 1974; 1978;
1981; 1982; 1983; 1991; 1992). Such a gratuitous conclusion lowers teachers'
expectations of certain students, which in turn can compromise their potential
for academic success.
Teachers can support positive social
change in the classroom in a variety of ways. They can create heterogeneous
learning groups for the purpose of modifying low-status roles of certain
individuals and groups. Cohen (1986) shows that teachers can create learning
conditions where students perceived as having low status (e.g., limited English
speakers in a classroom where English is the dominant language, students with
academic difficulties, those perceived by their peers as less competent) can
demonstrate their knowledge and expertise. Then, the students can see
themselves, and be seen by others, as capable and competent. Such "democratic" contexts engage all students in peer learning activities without isolating or
ranking them, and foster self-confidence and academic motivation.
Additional approaches, such as language experience, process writing,
reciprocal teaching, and whole language activities, can also create humanizing
learning environments where low-status Latino students receive academically
rigorous instruction (Cohen, 1986; Edelsky, Altwerger, & Flores, 1991;
Palinscar & Brown, 1984; Perez & Torres-Guzman, 1992; Zamel, 1982).
These approaches capitalize on students' existing knowledge (including
linguistic and cultural knowledge) and experiences, and are enriching and
cognitively challenging. Learning occurs when prior knowledge is accessed and
linked to new information; new information is understood and stored by calling
up the appropriate knowledge framework and then integrating the new information
(Jones, Palinscar, Ogle, & Carr, 1987). Acknowledging and using existing
student language and knowledge makes good pedagogical sense, and it also
constitutes an affirming experience for those students who feel dehumanized and
disempowered in the schools.
Students learn from and value each other's language and life experiences in
classrooms where they speak a language and possess cultural capital closely
matching those of the society at large (Anyon, 1988; Lareau, 1989; Winfield,
1986). This is precisely what needs to happen for the culturally different
child; Latino experiences and cultural capital need to be counted as strengths.
The incorporation of students' language, culture, and experiential knowledge
should not conflict with teachers's responsibility for providing students with
particular academic content knowledge and learning skills. The teacher is the
authority, but he/she does not have to authoritarian. Teacher and students
jointly construct knowledge, building on what students bring to class. Teaching
is not "fixing" students; it is discovering with students new ideas, new values,
and new worlds of hope. Teachers must convey in their daily work the conviction
that they are committed to humanizing the educational experience of students by
eliminating hostility, and replacing messages of distrust or disdain with
respect for all. This approach is precisely what Freire has taught in his
"pedagogy of hope" (1995).
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