Laying blame

Teachers aren’t “culturally responsive” to Latino students, said the professional development consultant, who told Mr. McNamar of the Daily Grind and his colleagues they’d blamed students or their parents for Latino students’ “struggle to graduate from high school in four years.”

Later, one of Mr. McNamar’s classes discussed reasons why they struggle with school. The students, all Latino, concluded:

* Puerto Rican kids don’t care
* Parents don’t punish us
* Parents didn’t graduate
* Too many teenage moms raising them
* Latinos are not smart
* Latinos don’t care about education
* In Puerto Rico we just skip school all day
* We have trouble with the language
* The Puerto Rican teachers here can’t teach good
* Teachers don’t help Latino students and the White kids don’t need help

The students are culturally insensitive too!

About Joanne


  1. Yeah. I teach many Latino students, and the difficulties they face differ as much as they do.

    Some are legal residents/citizens; some are not.

    They come from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, etc.

    Some have had good to excellent educations, either in this country or another. Some are relatively uneducated, and lack many English and math skills.

    Some are gifted. Some are not.

    There is no one-fix-for-all strategy that will work for such a diverse population.

    Unfortunately, some of the more English-fluent students in my classes have a focus on using Spanish in class; they consider it a right. What is does is slow down the efforts of the non-fluent to pick up English – if they are in my class, they have some familiarity with English. I am willing to work with them to improve their English (I have dictionaries, and often help with science terms by providing the definition in Spanish), but the strugglers won’t improve their fluency without daily practice, particularly in conversation.

    I know – I took my college requirement in foreign language in summer school. Day after day, we spoke, read, and wrote only in Spanish. After about 8 weeks of immersion, I could read a newspaper, carry on a conversation, listen to the TV and comprehend (although, to be fair, when the talk gets very idiomatic, I lose out). If we had been able to use English, we would have slowed our progress.

  2. Margo/Mom says:


    But did you learn much science in your summer immersion program? I am not at all opposed to immersion. My daughter learned a second language from kindergarten in an immersion program. But, it was truly an immersion program–no “code switching,” or providing kids with the English equivalent to Spanish words as related to math or science. And it was acknowledged that in the early grades kids were likely to lag about a year behind in reading in English–and the kids had to be tested in content areas in English.

    I have done some reading on this in the international arena, and it appears that (like many things) high quality immersion programs are effective, low quality, not so much. For this reason, Hong Kong has worked to move away from English instruction–except in cases where it can be done well. Where not done well (due to a lack of language proficient teachers, texts, etc), the content tended to get lost–watered down to make it easier to understand by students who were weak in the second language. Finland also has opted for students whenever possible to be taught in their “mother tongue” with the addition of a second (national) language beginning at early elementary grades. They (as well as Singapore) are raising bilingual students–with a third language available at high school, where we typically would be adding a first “foreign language.”

    But, in either case, there is an acknowledged value to maintaining the “mother tongue,” which is something that we don’t even consider. We are still living under the shadow of an earlier era in which those who spoke languages other than English were considered to be defective (in fact there was faulty research to indicate that bilingual students were deprived of cognitive development–based on tests that were heavily language dependent, in English). Our approach has typically been (and in earlier decades this was sometimes pretty ugly) to stomp out a student’s native language in order to assure that they learn English. So–I guess I would tend to side with your students who assert a right to their native language. This ought not mean that students should not all learn English. And I am aware that US policy is not terribly supportive of teaching non-native English speakers content in their mother-tongue. But, our English-only mind set is just another example of how we refuse to acknowledge the rest of the world that we live in.

    So–is it surprising that the adolescents McNamar spoke to have taken on the attitudes of the majority (or non-majority but powerful) culture–even to their own detriment? No, it’s not. But it doesn’t help anything.

  3. Bill Leonard says:

    Learning your mother tongue is fine and dandy. My wife has shirt-tail relatives who still speak wholly or largely in Pennsylvania Deutsch at home — even though the two original progenitors in this land came here in 1749.

    And that’s nice — but the language here is English; in fact the international language of almost everything is English. That’s why there are more people working to learn English in mainland china than there are native or second-language speakers of English in the US. And the plain fact is, every family that insists on speaking the native (first) language at home ultimately is only doing a disservice to the kids in the family.

    That’s also why a close family friend’s parents spoke Italian only when immigrant grandma (who lived with them) was present. And that’s why the friend stopped speaking Italian when, at friend’s age 6, grandma died (i.e., they then spoke English full time.) Yes, our friend still can speak some Italian; she said it took only about four days in Italy to get conversationally fleuent again.

    The overriding importance of English also is why my son’s in-laws, native Columbians until his wife’s generation, believe in immersion. (In fairness, his mother-in-law is something of an anomaly. She is thoroughly fluent in four languages and conversationally fluent in a fifth.)

    I suspect the real bottom line is, those who insist on clinging to their native language and customs, indeed, exalting them to the exclusion of others, as we have seen lately in the May Day “immigrant rights” celebrations, have a lot of reasons for doing so, reasons that long-term, only harm them.

    My post, my opinions…;-)


  4. Dick Eagleson says:

    This subject seems to be like a New England potato field; no matter how many times it has been plowed, the same old rocks keep turning up.


    If Hong Kong is indeed moving away from English instruction I suspect that Beijing’s desire to erase the former Crown Colony’s English – political as well as linguistic – past is more a motivation than any concerns about the quality of instruction. The means an authoritarian police state employs to accomplish this may even be, dare one say it – “sometimes pretty ugly.”

    As to the “value” of a “mother tongue” to children who will spend their future lives in the U.S., I’ll confess it rather escapes me. No one can, in any case, be deprived of a language he already knows. But the U.S. has immigrants from 200+ countries who speak several times that many languages and dialects. The obvious least-effort approach to integration of new arrivals into American culture is that of having just immigrants learn a single new language – English – which allows them to speak with one another as well as with native-born Americans. Far from “refus[ing] to acknowledge the rest of the world that we live in,” a policy of aggressively assimilating immigrants to American cultural norms – especially the speaking of English – is simply a minimum necessity to ensure such people enjoy maximum opportunity in their new country.

  5. momof4 says:

    I’m absolutely for assimilation and immersion is the fastest route. I can’t see much excuse for early elementary students not being fluent in English within a year. The standard should be the Asian model; English at school and Chinese/Korean/ etc. programs on the weekends. Those kids are succeeding in many of the same schools where Spanish speakers (and others) are failing.

    Problems occur in the immersion model where there are so many kids speaking the same foreign language that there is little interaction with native English speakers, which I understand is the case in many schools along the Mexican border. That is an assimilation problem, especially since the numbers of Spanish-speakers keeps increasing and there is much mobility from school to school.

    However, for me the bottom line is the desirability of a common language and shared civic values, which used to be explicitly taught in both public and private schools. If maintenance of another language and culture, on a full-time basis, is desired, we don’t prevent anyone from leaving the country. Unassimilated enclaves are an increasing problem in Europe and we don’t need the problem here. Efforts should be directed toward assimilation.

  6. Margo/Mom says:

    This subject seems to be like a New England potato field; no matter how many times it has been plowed, the same old rocks keep turning up.”

    Right you are there Dick. If you look back to the times when the immigrant population was largely European, and in many cases German, the exact same discussions were floated. And yet the mythology has always been that all former generations have assimilated–and were more than happy to do so. World War I was significant in tipping the efforts in the direction of denying all things German–including poets and playwrights, the changing of park and street namesm, and even family names.

  7. Dick Eagleson says:


    Yes, there were efforts, some official, some informal, to “suppress German culture” during WW1. Said efforts lasted for pretty much the duration of American involvement in said war – roughly 18 months – and then ceased. Nor did said efforts appear to be lastingly successful as there were plenty of German-Americans a generation later marching around in Nazi uniforms with swastika banners at torchlit rallies of the German-American Bundt in places like Milwaukee.

    Please explain what any of this has to do with the academic difficulties of children of Puerto Rican extraction in 2009. It’s been 111 years since the U.S. was even technically at war with Puerto Rico – “hardly a man is now alive” and all that sort of thing.

    If there are elements of Puerto Rican culture that genuinely inhibit the academic success of students who are products of that culture, then – gee – maybe a little “suppression” might actually be – you know – helpful here and there. D’ya think?

  8. momof4 says:

    How can culture be irrelevant when kids are tagged as traitors to their race/ethnic group by doing well at school and aspiring to higher education? How can it be irrelevant when certain Asian groups do very well, despite having to learn English, in the same schools where many native-born English-speaking kids fail?

    I now live in an area where there is a significant and long-established German community which speaks German at home and whose kids are (privately) educated in that language. However, they recieve enough enough English instruction in those schools that EVERYONE speaks fluent, correct, idiomatic English. They are also notably hard-working and economically successful, in the Puritan work ethic tradition. No one describes their community as unassimilated, in terms of acceptance of traditional civic values.

  9. You can be yourself and be assimilated into the bigger whole all at the same time. The two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive. Heck, that’s the beauty of the federal system set forth in the U.S. Constitution – it’s a personification of this idea! (i.e., Texas is still Texas, and part of the USA at the same time) Why are some subcultures so averse to the idea?