Tag: school

All an Act

Yes, it’s a unique issue for ethnic minorities. Questions about authenticity hound, pester, poke, and prod us.

You see, many of us constantly face accusations of whether we are Latino enough, or black enough, or truly Asian, or a real Native American. I’m pretty sure nobody ever asks if someone is white enough… unless of course, there is an Aryan Nations initiation rite going on.

For nerdy ethnic minorities, the problem can be even more pressing. After all, we know full well that African American students who academically excel are ostracized for “acting white” — right?

Well, it turns out that we don’t know that.

A recent study has debunked this myth, showing “there’s no research that explicitly supports a relationship between race, beliefs about ‘acting white,’ social stigma, and academic outcomes.”

In fact, “studies suggest that the highest-achieving black students are actually more popular than the lowest-achieving ones” and that “black students have more positive attitudes about education than white students.”

Well, that’s a plot twist.

Now, the study didn’t examine whether Latino students are mocked for “acting white” if they get good grades. However, from my personal experience, I can answer this question.

And the answer is…

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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.

 


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