Cultural Group Essay

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Culture/Traditions

By now, it is pretty much common knowledge that Latinos comprise the nation’s largest minority group, both as a percentage of the population (17.6 percent) and as a percentage of school-age students (25 percent). That is, one in four K–12 students in the United States are Latino or Latina. While the related challenges are often overemphasized, the tremendous assets these young people bring with them are often overlooked. While most Latino children in the United States were born here and enjoy the full rights of citizenship, many have at least one parent born outside this country. That means these children often must deal with the troubled history that can accompany migration—leaving homes and loved ones behind— and can traumatize families. Moreover, some members of these families are not citizens and lack legal status. While no exact number is available, best estimates suggest that more than one in four Latino students live with at least one undocumented parent. The underperformance of Latino children has frequently been attributed to the fact that so many grow up in homes and neighborhoods where Spanish is the primary language. In fact, this notion has largely driven language education policy, which has pushed schools to adopt English-only instruction to reclassify their English learners to English-proficient status as quickly as possible.

Plenty of challenges remain in closing achievement gaps for Latino students. But these students represent enormous assets for our nation. Given that most Latino students are the children of immigrants (and to a much lesser degree immigrant themselves), I have outlined five ways these students are primed for “deeper learning,” a pedagogy that has been heralded as fostering the kinds of skills that best serve 21st-century challenges. That is, an emphasis on critical thinking, analysis, cooperative learning, and teamwork. The five characteristics that are typical of many immigrant students are a collaborative orientation to learning, resilience, immigrant optimism, multicultural perspectives, and multilingualism.

One of the most distressing things about the Latino education gap is that we know how to narrow it, and perhaps even close it. We simply do not act on this knowledge. For example, while schools don’t have the power to eradicate poverty, they can use proven strategies to counter its effects, including providing “wraparound” services for students and families living in poverty. Significant evidence shows that making social and medical services available to families and students in need helps reduce absenteeism (a major correlates with low achievement.) and increase student engagement in school. And while the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides for the use of such services, the funds available hardly cover the tremendous need that exists.
We also know that preschool works. Early childhood education introduces Latino children to the expectations of schooling and exposes them to English. Based on national data, researchers found that the Latino-white achievement gap narrows by about one-third during the first two years of schooling, but then remains constant over the next several years, suggesting that early intervention can be especially effective.

Another bulwark against the effects of poverty is desegregation. In recent years, education reformers have claimed that equity in education could be achieved within racially and economically segregated schools. Yet the desegregation movement of the 1960s and 1970s were supported by research that showed how segregation fueled achievement gaps among racial and ethnic groups. The primary finding in Brown v. Board of Education was that separate could not be equal.
Effective desegregation has become increasingly difficult, as the racial and ethnic composition of the nation’s schools has shifted dramatically. Nonetheless, segregation by class, race, and language can be improved through strong magnet programs and, in the case of Latinos especially, through two-way dual immersion programs. These programs have a goal of enrolling equal numbers of English speakers and English learners so that both groups become bilingual, bi-literate, and culturally immersed.

An abundance of evidence suggests the effectiveness of these programs in both raising academic achievement and desegregating students. While the demand for these programs is increasing, they require strong bilingual personnel. Although there has been scant support for the recruitment and development of teachers to sustain these programs, states can use funds from ESSA to hire more bilingual teachers.

Where two-way programs that enroll both English speakers and English learners are not always feasible because of local demographics, bilingual programs that allow Latino English learners to access the regular curriculum in Spanish as they learn English also show strong results for Latino students. But they too require bilingual teachers.

Mexicans believe that any important decision in the family should be taken only after consulting all the members of the family. All relatives from both sides, the father's and the mother's, are considered as part of the family. Relatives and grandparents take active part in raising children. It is not uncommon to have dozens of uncles, aunts, and cousins in large extended Latino families.

 Instead of just focusing on their own financial development, Mexicans give more emphasis on uplifting the status of their entire clan. Social status does not matter much to them; it's all about the sustenance of all extended family members.

For a Mexican, family is the most important social institution. They have large, close-knit families, and different generations live together. The Mexicans truly believe that unity is strength. The most support and help each other through difficulties and are always there for each other for family reunions, celebrations and holidays.

When possible, entire family settles geographically close to each other. Sometimes, generations of a family live together. It is the role of the family to provide each other material and moral support. They help each other in times of crisis. Families are more like clans, giving emotional support as well as practical guidance to each other. The children are given lot of attention, as parents and grandparents usually spend a lot of time with them. Obedience and respect towards all the elders of the family is expected from younger generations.

 A Mexican family has gender-specific roles. The father is most often the bread-winning member of the home, whereas, women take care of the household and children. Machismo or strong sense of masculine pride is very prominent in Mexican families. All the important economic decisions are generally made by the men of the house.

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