Dave Brummett EDF 503, Henry Shonerd Tuesday 5:30-9:30pm Assignment #2 – Ethnicity, Race, National Origin, and School (Personal Experience) Ethnicity, race, and national origin play a large role in today’s educational system. It was only a little more than forty years ago, during the Civil Rights movement, that laws were passed to allow students of all race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, and ability to attend and obtain an equal education. In 1954 the Supreme Court case of Brown v. The Board of Education and ten years later the Civil Right Act of 1964 passed by Congress, would make desegregation a reality. “Desegregation continued in many states until more than a decade after the Supreme Court unanimously declared that separate but equal schooling was not equal in its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.” (Gollnick/Chinn P.51) Since the mid-twentieth century when these landmark cases and decisions were made for equal rights and schooling, the struggle for achieving those outcomes still persist today. As an American born white male, I have seen the struggles made by students of other races, ethnicities, and national origin, but haven’t had any real first hand experiences. In order to understand how factors of race, ethnicity, and national origin impact our schooling today, I interviewed two people of different race and national origin. The first person I interviewed was an American born male who identifies himself as an African American. The second person I interviewed was a Mexican born male who moved to the United States when he was ten years old. Both interviewees went to school in the 80’s and 90’s, graduating from high school in the mid 90’s. Although these two people are of different races and nationality, they did have similar stories about the type of education they received and the ways in which they were treated. The first thing I wanted to know from the African American Interviewee was did he see or personally experience any forms of racism in school, either from students or from teachers and the administration. He informed me that he had experienced racism from both his peers and from teachers/administrators. He told me that before going to school in Albuquerque, he went to school in Little Rock, Arkansas. He said that his school in Little Rock was made up of both white and black students. He felt that the white students were always being treated better than were black students. He said that he felt like teachers paid more attention to the white students and would help them more than black students. For example, if they were doing book work and both a white student and a black student raised their hand for help. Virtually every single time the teacher would go to the white student first. He also said that the teachers seemed to be more patient and understanding with white students about late assignments or needing further explanations about something; whereas the teacher seemed to get very frustrated and annoyed with black students very easily about almost anything. He also gave me examples of when he experienced racism from students as well. He told me that white students and black students mostly kept to themselves when he was in Little Rock, and that racist comments were almost expected of from white students. He said that they would make fun of him and other black students for the way they acted and talked, or for the way they dressed. He said that the white students were usually better off financially and had nicer clothes, so they made fun of black students for wearing old “hand-me-downs.” When he moved to Albuquerque, he did say that he experienced far less racist comments, but still felt that he was treated differently from the school system, than were white students. He told me that there was an incident during his senior year where his brother and a white student were involved in a fight. He saw the fight happening and tried to break it up and pull his brother back, as were the white student’s friends. He told me that they were all called into the office. His brother admitted that he started the fight, and told the principal that his older brother (the interviewee) was only trying to stop it. They were both expelled from school for the rest of the year. The white student involved received a ten day suspension and the other students trying to stop the fight received no punishment at all. I asked him what happened after that, if his parents got involved or if they tried to fight the decision. He told me that his parents went to school in the sixties and lived in the south during the Civil Rights movement. He told me that given their background he felt that they were too afraid to pursue anything, so he simple transferred to another school to finish out his high school years. The next thing I asked him, was had he ever heard the term “acting white”, and had he ever seen or experienced this term being used? Authors Gollnick and Chinn address acting white as “Underachieving black students often attribute academic achievement as acting white, and attack achieving students for excelling in school, speaking Standard English, listening to the “wrong” music, or having white friends.” (Gollnick/Chinn P.63) He told me that both in Little Rock and in Albuquerque he witnessed black students referring to other black students as acting white. He said that he was never accused of it or told anyone else that they were acting white. He said that he didn’t like how black people would treat each other this way. However; he did admit to me that he understood why some blacks would get upset at other blacks and say they were acting white. He said that he would see some blacks doing the opposite. For example; achieving black students would look down upon under achieving black students and criticize them. The achieving black students would say that it was the under achieving black’s fault they weren’t succeeding in school because of the way they dressed or talked, or the way they dressed. Lastly, in light of the recent election, I asked him if having a black President would change racial dynamics in this country, especially with education. His first response was “He better.” When I asked what he meant by that; he said that there is a lot of pressure on Barack Obama being the first black President. He said that his every move will be watched and if he “Screws up” even a little bit people will say “See, that’s why we can’t have a black President.” I told him that there are a number of white Presidents who were absolutely terrible and made lots of mistakes. His response was, given the history of this country, blacks have constantly been told that they are not good enough or smart enough, and can’t do the things whites can do. He said that he hopes President Obama proves them wrong. He also said that he understood that there will still be racism in the world, but hopefully by having a black President, that perhaps now, their will be an equal playing field when it comes to schools and education. Schools he feels have been consistently over looked by former white Presidents. The next person I interviewed was a male who was born in Mexico and came to this country when he was ten years old. I asked him the same first question that I asked the African American interviewee. Have you ever seen or experienced racism while going to school either by other students or teachers/administration? He said that he had experienced racism from both groups when he was in school. He told me that when he came to America that he didn’t speak any English at all. He had to attend special classes to learn English. He said that when he was put into regular classrooms, that teachers were very impatient with him and were constantly frustrated with him. He said on a couple of occasions the teachers would yell at him because he didn’t understand what they were saying to him. He said that it wasn’t that he didn’t understand math or science, but because of the language barrier, he simply didn’t understand what the teacher was saying to him. For this reason he hated going to school. Not only did he feel like the teachers hated having to do extra work to help him, but that the students in class resented him for slowing down the class or for occupying so much of the teacher’s time. He said that although he went to school here in Albuquerque, and there were a number of Latinos in his class, he felt very isolated. He said that in most of his classes there would usually only be one or two other Mexican immigrants in class, who like himself, did not speak very good English. He said students made racial and derogatory comments towards him all the time. For instance: “Why don’t you learn some English”, or “Go back to Mexico.” He said he would tell them that he was trying his best to learn English. He told me what hurt him the most was other Latino students, particularly Americans of Mexican Descent, would make fun him and call him names. He couldn’t understand why Latino students, just because they were born in America and in some cases were only one or two generations removed, felt that they were better than him. I asked him why he thought American born Latino’s would act this way. The only thing he could think of was that they saw how he and other immigrants were treated, and they didn’t want to be treated the same way. So perhaps by distancing themselves, they too wouldn’t suffer the same discrimination and ridicule. He told me that the only friends he could rely on were the handful of students at school who were in the same situation as him. The problem was that they were only all together when they were in their English as a second language class. Otherwise he would be in math, science, or P.E. class with only one or two of those students and sometimes by himself. He said that when they were in class together they sat next to each other, so they could help each other out if they needed to. He said that this also got them in trouble, because when they would speak to each other, usually in Spanish, the teacher would yell at them for talking in class. He said that most teachers did not speak Spanish and assumed that they were socializing with each other, rather than believing that they were asking each other for help. In addition to dealing with non-supportive teachers, they also had to put up with discriminating classmates. He said that when he spoke Spanish students would a “disgusted” glare, and when he tried to speak in English they would laugh at him and make fun of his accent, which he thought was worse. He also told me about what would happen when he and other Spanish speaking students would sit together at lunch. He said that if they talked in Spanish to communicate with one another, other students would assume they were talking bad about them and usually cause trouble. Eventually, he did say that things got better as he got older and his English improved, but he still had to put up with some racist comments and jokes. He said he had to deal with a constant barrage of fellow students calling him illegal. So the next question I asked him was about immigration, and what were his thoughts. He said that he’s torn on the issue of immigration. He understands why people from Mexico are leaving and coming to the United States. He also understands that with there being so many illegal immigrants sneaking into the country lately why Americans are so upset. He told me that he now has a young son who is in the first grade this year, and he can’t believe how many students at his school don’t speak English. He said that there were nowhere near this many Mexican immigrants when he went to school. He said that he also noticed that there are a lot more fluent Spanish speaking teachers to help those students. He said that if there were that many when he went to school, perhaps the strength in numbers would have deterred students from teasing him so bad. He believes that since there are more Spanish speaking immigrants today, that his son will have a better understanding and appreciation for those students, unlike the treatment he received in school. “At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Latinos replaced African Americans as the largest non-European group in the United States. The number of Latino students has also surpassed the number of African American students in school.” (Gollnick/Chinn P.67) As a Latino immigrant himself, he struggles with the issue of immigration. How can he criticize those coming to America, when his family came to the U.S. nearly twenty years ago. He said most Latino immigrants are coming here for better paying job opportunities, but also because the school systems are better. Although he had to endure a lot of discrimination growing up, he is grateful for the education he received, and is very happy that his son will have the same if not better opportunities he had. Interviewing these two men about what it was like being a minority going to school was very insightful. I saw some of the things they mentioned while I was in school, but could never really grasp the gravity of how painful and hurtful it was for them. As a future educator is very important to be aware of how race, ethnicity, and national origin plays a role in the education system. Hopefully, now that the United States has just elected its first minority President, things really will change. In describing President Obama’s America, journalist Joe Meacham writes “We have not reached the promise land in which race and ethnicity no longer matter; history tells us that racism, tribalism and nativism will be always with us.” (Meacham P.40) I certainly hope he’s wrong. References Gollnick D., & Chinn, P. (2006). Multicultural Education in A Pluralistic Society (8th Edition). Pearson. Meacham, D. (2009). Who Are We Now. Newsweek. Special Inauguration Edition. January 26, 2009.