Education

Plays Well with Others

We’ve heard a lot of shouting about “safe spaces,” and how liberal college students across America are pampered little snowflakes who crumble at the slightest sign of conflict… while simultaneously being violent thugs who will gladly pummel the first conservative they see.

Yes, like a lot of conservative tropes, this one relies on contradictory oversimplifications.

In any case, right-wingers are clearly not fans of higher education — or, it could be argued, of education in general.

Damn that ivory tower.

Valley News – Shawn Braley

However, for those conservatives who still value learning, knowledge, and non-alternative facts, there is good news.

A recent study has shown that there is a way to improve the effectiveness of elementary school education. Grade schools that possess one specific trait tend to have more productive students.

Yes, it turns out that the best way to make a campus safer for its students is to embrace that most feared of liberal schemes: Diversity.

You see, the study found that kids “who attend racially diverse schools feel safer, less lonely and less picked on than their peers at more homogenous schools.” And by the way, this was true of all kids, including the white ones.

The researchers say that the emotional well-being of children “is important because their state of mind affects their ability to learn” and that “if you’re afraid in school, you’re not even going to raise your hand in class.”

This makes sense, of course. But the news that racial diversity is good for all kids — not just ethnic minorities — is bound to upset some people, sort of like the fact that racially diverse movies tend to be bigger hits (which is true, by the way).

In any case, by embracing racial diversity in education, we can do what’s right for kids while acknowledging a simple fact about changing demographics — a double whammy of societal goodness.

Wow, it’s never that easy. So let’s savor this one.

 


Strike Two

So we’ve established that Republicans have trouble attracting younger voters, and as a highly related tangent, we’ve pointed out that a lot of those pesky Millennials are Latinos. Hence, young Hispanics are not exactly lining up to vote Republican.

But as is often the case for the GOP, things are never so bad that they cannot get worse.

You see, when Trump crowed about how much he loved the poorly educated, he was just speaking the truth. Less-educated people make up an important constituency for the Republican Party.

In fact, “highly educated adults — particularly those who have attended graduate school — are far more likely than those with less education to take predominantly liberal positions across a range of political values. And these differences have increased over the past two decades.”

Basically, the more fancy book learnin’ you get in ya, the more likely you are to start talking more of that lefty commie crap.

welleducated

And who are these well-educated liberals? Well, we all know about the education gap. White people are more likely to have advanced degrees and attend prestigious universities.

But Latinos are making tremendous progress. No doubt you know that Hispanics are the largest ethnic minority group on U.S. university campuses, and that by some measurements, Latinos are even more likely than whites to attend college.

Although this comes with the caveat that Hispanics are more likely to be attending community colleges or two-year institutions, it is undeniable that Latinos are making huge inroads in education. In fact, over the last twenty years, the number of Hispanics enrolled in some kind of college has surged more than 200 percent.

So we have yet another reason why Latinos are not feeling the love for the GOP. We are becoming better educated and more likely to align with liberal values.

Hispanics go off to college and discover that climate change isn’t a hoax and that the gay people in their dorm are actually pretty cool and that the wealth gap can be analyzed in Econ 101.

All that gives conservatives the heebie-jeebies. And once again, it is Latinos who are doing the heebie-jeebing.

But is there a final reason why young Hispanics are dismissing the Republican Party? Hey, it wouldn’t be much of a trilogy of posts if I didn’t have a concluding chapter.

That’s coming next week.


Many Languages, One Voice

When my cousins from El Salvador first came to America, they didn’t speak English. Of course, they were kids, so they rapidly learned it. Today, everyone in my family, except for my abuela, embraces English as their primary mode of communication. My cousins’ children (and mine) will have to make an effort to be bilingual and not leave Spanish in my family’s past.

But other families don’t face the dilemma of losing the mother tongue. In fact, about 5 million children in the United States don’t speak English as their primary language. This constitutes 9% of all US public school students. Now, that number includes a lot of kids who speak Tagalong or Russian or Mandarin or something else that most of us don’t recognize.

But it’s fair to say that many of the children who speak English as a second language (ESL) communicate only in Spanish.

best_kid_raising_hand

Because we’re hearing more Spanish than ever in the country’s schools, the Obama administration recently issued the nation’s first set of federal guidelines on the rights of ESL students. The guidelines remind school districts across the country of their obligations under the law.

Among other things, all schools must identify ESL students in a timely manner, offer them language assistance and provide qualified staff and resources to help them learn English. In essence, ESL students have the same rights to a quality education as students who speak English, and schools must avoid segregating English learners from other students.

I know this is a shocker to the nativist crowd, but you can’t just yell, “Speak English, damn it!” at perplexed kids.

The decision makes clear that students who speak Spanish, or other languages, are becoming more common, and the American educational system has to meet their needs. The Obama guidelines are a welcome indicator of that fact.

Of course, it’s a little sad that anyone has to be reminded of this in the first place.


Hitting the Right Notes

I recently saw the movie Whiplash, which was a gripping look at the price of greatness. For those who haven’t seen the flick, it’s about a teenager jazz drummer obsessed with becoming a legendary artist.

how-to-do-drum-fills.WidePlayer

Now, most of us are not willing to practice an instrument until our hands literally bleed, as the Whiplash protagonist does. But the good news is that you may not have to.

You see, a recent study showed that taking music lessons — just basic chord progressions, strumming skills and the like — greatly improves people’s language and reading skills.

Even more interesting is that the research was conducted on at-risk, low-income children, most of them Latino.

The researchers believe that the experience of making music creates a more efficient brain that helps a person learn and communicate better. But the study implies that at least two years of lessons are required before improvements kick in.

So what does this mean for Hispanic kids, who often live in disadvantaged areas? Well, it implies that investing in music education may help Latino children improve their learning skills and close the educational gap between Hispanics and other ethnic groups. The results also imply that for low-income students, music lessons can be as important as traditional classes in math and reading.

Because music is a key part of Latino culture, programs that offer music education will find a receptive audience in Hispanic kids. After all, I could not have been the only Latino kid who grew up on a steady diet of Santana and Julio Jaramillo. And that’s not even getting into all the salsa, rock, hip hop, and stray bits of classic country that finds its way into Latino homes.

Basically, we like to listen to a lot of music, so it should be a natural extension to get Hispanic kids to learn how to play it.

This research aligns with another recent study, which found that bilingual kids have more flexible brains and better cognitive abilities. Keep in mind that most of the demand for Spanish-language immersion schools is coming from white families who want their kids to master another language and gain exposure to diversity.

So it might not be long before you peek into a classroom and see a bunch of multiethnic kids speaking Spanish and jamming on blues standards.

Rock on.

 


Penny Arcade

Recently, I wrote about how Hispanics are underrepresented in the STEM fields. Well, this underrepresentation creeps up in strange ways.

For example, Hispanics are big on video games. We are 32% more likely to consider video games our main source of entertainment, and we are 54% more likely to buy a video game the day it’s released.

Personally, I used to be king of the arcade back in the days when Galaga ruled the Earth.

galaga

 

But for the most part, the video game industry has ignored their large Latino fan base. Just 3 percent of video game characters are Latino, and many of those are — to no one’s surprise — cliché or offensive stereotypes.

So what can be done about this? Well, big guns like Google have plugged in and are trying to get Hispanic kids excited about technology. And lots of organizations have sprung up to teach coding and programming to Latino children. And the Latino STEM Alliance partners with schools, industry groups and community leaders to bring enrichment programs to Latino kids.

While the goal is to create better job opportunities for Hispanics, an even more crucial objective is to accelerate the nation’s pace of scientific and technological innovation. You see, without the input of Latinos, that’s just not gonna happen.

As for me, I plan to encourage my toddler son to love science and technology. It’s not only smart for society and good for my boy, it’s my master plan for retirement. I figure in twenty years, my son will come up with the next Facebook, and the family will be set.

Hey, why not?

 


I Did Not Code This Website

Not to boast, but Latinos are the most tech-savvy demographic. We are more likely to be early adopters, own a smartphone, watch videos online, and engage in social media than other groups.

Basically, if there is an electronic gadget that flashes, whirrs, buzzes, whistles, or just lights up, we are there.

But as a recent report showed, we’re not so good at actually creating the gadgets in the first place. Diversity is a serious problem in Silicon Valley, and Latinos are underrepresented when it comes to developing new technology.

At the largest tech firms, Hispanic representation rarely cracks single digits, and it never comes close to being proportional to the Latino share of the population. Many tech industry leaders fear that innovation will suffer because so few ethnic minorities — including Latinos — are becoming programmers, engineers and entrepreneurs.

This means that in a nightmarish scenario to horrible to comprehend, developing Back to the Future-style hoverboards will never happen.

hoverboard

 

Why is this? It’s because we’re sucking at the stem. Or rather, we’re sucking at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). You see, the number of STEM jobs significantly outpaces the number of people qualified for those jobs. Latinos account for about 17% of the U.S. population but only 7% of the nation’s STEM workers. Hispanics will make up more of the labor pool in the future, so you can see the problem. I mean, do the math…

Oh, wait. Maybe you can’t do the math, because you’re not into STEM. Damn, this is ironic… and awkward.

Well, you’ll just have to trust me.

 


Dropping Back In

Whenever some data point or statistic about Latinos in America gets published, it is most likely grim. Whether you’re talking about household income, unemployment rate, educational status, media representation, or some other indicator of societal pull, it probably is bad news for Hispanics.

Well, there is some good news for once. In a sign of hope, the nation had its lowest high school dropout numbers last year, and in large part this was because of a steep decline in the dropout rate among Latino students.

graduation

The Latino dropout rate reached a record low of 14% in 2013. As recently as 2000, it was 32%. For you non-mathematically inclined, this means that just over a decade ago, about one out of every three Hispanic kids didn’t graduate. That is beyond abysmal. It is pandemic.

So while the dropout rate for Latinos is still double the overall rate of 7%, this is a positive development. And the surge is even more significant since the number of Hispanic students has increased steadily over the years. Yes, in terms of pure numbers, more Latinos than ever are graduating from high school and enrolling in college.

So don’t tell me I never have something positive to tell you.

 


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