Immigration: Quand le multiculturalisme promeut la déculturation (Teaching to the tests: the latest twist in the dumbing down of US schools)

Brown (Richard Rodriguez)Le multiculturalisme promeut donc la déculturation. Ivan Rioufol
L’expérience a été faite de tourner ces entretiens en vidéo pour ensuite en présenter les images aux candidats, aux employeurs, aux enseignants. Les résultats sont éloquents. Nombre de jeunes, par crainte ou par un sentiment de fatalité, arrivent en retard, habillés en jogging la casquette sur la tête, poussant la porte sans frapper, s’asseyant sans saluer sur le bord de la chaise le corps renversé comme pour regarder la télé, ne posant aucune question sur le travail mais en en rajoutant sur le salaire et les vacances (…) Lorsque la scène est rediffusée aux protagonistes, les jeunes sont étonnés de leur « look » et sont les premiers à dire que s’ils étaient employeurs « ils ne se prendraient pas ». Jacqueline Costa-Lascoux (membre du Haut Conseil à l’Intégration, à propos des refus d’embauches ou de stages, dans son livre « L’humiliation : les jeunes dans la crise politique »)
Avant, on nous disait qu’il ne fallait pas enseigner par rapport aux examens. Maintenant, c’est ce que tout le monde nous dit, depuis les administrateurs de l’état jusqu’en bas de la hiérarchie. Ginette Cain (directrice d’un programme d’enseignement de l’anglais pour enfants étrangers, Hylton high school, près de Washington)
Les défenseurs de l’éducation bilingue disent qu’il est important d’ enseigner un enfant dans la langue de sa famille. Moi, je dis qu’on ne peut pas utiliser la langue familiale dans la classe – la nature même de la classe exige que vous vous serviez de la langue d’une manière publique. (…) L’intimité n’a rien à faire dans les salles de classe. Richard Rodriguez
Il n’y a rien de surprenant qu’au moment où les universités américaines se sont engagées sérieusement dans la diversité, elles soient devenues des prisons de la pensée. Personne ne parle de la diversité d’aucune manière véritable. On ne parle que de versions brune, noire et blanche de la même idéologie politique. Il est très curieux qu’aux Etats-Unis comme au Canada on réduit la diversité à la race et à l’appartenance ethnique. On ne pense jamais que ça pourrait aussi signifier plus de nazis ou plus de baptistes du sud. Ca aussi, c’est la diversité, vous savez. Pour moi, la diversité n’est pas une valeur. La diversité, c’est l’Irlande du Nord. La diversité, c’est Beyrouth. La diversité, c’est le frère qui massacre son frère. Là où la diversité est partagée – où je partage avec vous ma différence – celle-ci peut avoir une valeur. Mais le simple fait que nous sommes différents est une notion terrifiante. Richard Rodriguez

La France serait-elle éternellement condamnée à n’emprunter une voie qu’au moment où celle-ci se voit désavouée par les Etats-Unis?

A l’heure où, dans une France qui prend en marche le train de la diversité, « la culture générale et la langue sont désormais considérées comme des obstacles à la promotion des minorités »…

Alors que, dans une Amérique où on les enferme à grand frais dans de véritables écoles dans l’école et une sous-culture de l’examen, l’on s’interroge sur l’intégration d’un nombre toujours plus grand d’enfants d’immigrés clandestins …

Retour sur les aberrations du multiculturalisme et du politiquement correct avec quelqu’un qui a le mérite de ne pas avoir sa langue dans sa poche, à savoir le célèbre auteur américain d’origine mexicaine Richard Rodriguez …

Morceaux choisis :

The notion that you go to a public institution in order to learn private information about yourself is absurd. We used to understand that when students went to universities, they would become cosmopolitan. They were leaving their neighborhoods. Now we have this idea that, not only do you go to first grade to learn your family’s language, but you go to a university to learn about the person you were before you left home. So, rather than becoming multicultural, rather than becoming a person of several languages, rather than becoming confident in your knowledge of the world, you become just the opposite. You end up in college having to apologize for the fact that you no longer speak your native language.

It’s no surprise that at the same time that American universities have engaged in a serious commitment to diversity, they have been thought-prisons. We are not talking about diversity in any real way. We are talking about brown, black, white versions of the same political ideology. It is very curious that the United States and Canada both assume that diversity means only race and ethnicity. They never assume it might mean more Nazis, or more Southern Baptists. That’s diversity too, you know.

There was a point in my life when affirmative action would have meant something to me — when my family was working-class, and we were struggling. But very early in life I became part of the majority culture and now don’t think of myself as a minority. Yet the university said I was one. Anybody who has met a real minority — in the economic sense, not the numerical sense — would understand how ridiculous it is to describe a young man who is already at the university, already well into his studies in Italian and English Renaissance literature, as a minority. Affirmative action ignores our society’s real minorities — members of the disadvantaged classes, no matter what their race. We have this ludicrous bureaucratic sense that certain racial groups, regardless of class, are minorities. So what happens is those « minorities » at the very top of the ladder get chosen for everything.

I think race-based affirmative action is crude and absolutely mistaken.

I think the universities have co-opted the intellectual, by and large. But there is an emerging intellectual set coming out of Washington think tanks now. There are people who are leaving the universities and working for the government or in think tanks, simply looking for freedom. The university has become so stultified since the sixties. There is so much you can’t do at the university. You can’t say this, you can’t do that, you can’t think this, and so forth. In many ways, I’m free to range as widely as I do intellectually precisely because I’m not at a university.

I’ve recently gotten in trouble with certain gay activists because I’m not gay enough! I am a morose homosexual. I’m melancholy. Gay is the last adjective I would use to describe myself. The idea of being gay, like a little sparkler, never occurs to me. So if you ask me if I’m gay, I say no.

After the second chapter of Days of Obligation, which is about the death of a friend of mine from AIDS, was published in Harper’s, I got this rather angry letter from a gay-and-lesbian group that was organizing a protest against the magazine. It was the same old problem: political groups have almost no sense of irony. For them, language has to say exactly what it means. « Why aren’t you proud of being gay? » they wanted to know. « Why are you so dark? Why are you so morbid? Why are you so sad? Don’t you realize, we’re all okay? Let’s celebrate that fact. » But that is not what writers do. We don’t celebrate being « okay. » If you want to be okay, take an aspirin.

in my middle-class Mexican family indio was a bad word, one my parents shy away from to this day. That’s one of the reasons, of course, why I always insist, in my bratty way, on saying, Soy indio! — « I am an Indian! » I think it’s an important thing for a Mexican to say, especially now with the rebellion in Chiapas. Mexico has to confront her Indian face, and yet she refuses to do so. When you turn on Mexican television, it’s like watching Swedish TV: everyone is blond.

I keep trying to tell people that Los Angeles is already the largest Indian city in the U.S., that there are Toltecs playing Little League baseball in Pasadena, Mayans making beds at the Marriott in Westwood, and Chichimecs driving buses in L.A. Los Angeles is a majority-Indian city. Of course, since we don’t see the Indian as a living figure — having turned the Indian into a kind of mascot for the ecology movement, a symbol of prehistory — we can’t see the Indian among us. But what really terrifies Americans right now is the prospect that the Indian is very much alive, that the Indian is having nine babies in Guatemala, and that those nine babies are headed this way. This is one reason why Americans hold on so dearly to the myth of the dead Indian.

Suddenly the land is haunted by all these dead Indians. There is this new fascination with the Southwest, with places like Santa Fe, New Mexico, where people come down from New York and Boston and dress up as Indians. When I go to Santa Fe, I find real Indians living there, but they are not involved in the earth worship that the American environmentalists are so taken by. Many of these Indians are interested, rather, in becoming Evangelical Christians.

Those people who say that America is finite are some sense right. The environmental movement, for example, has a great wisdom to it: we need to protect, to preserve, to shelter as much as we need to develop. But I think this always has to be juxtaposed against the optimism of old, which is now represented in part by immigrants. I would like to see America achieve a kind of balance between optimism and tragedy, between possibility and skepticism.

The fact that we’re all hyphenating our names suggests that we are afraid of being assimilated. I was talking on the BBC recently, and this woman introduced me as being « in favor of assimilation. » I said, « I’m not in favor of assimilation. » I am no more in favor of assimilation than I am in favor of the Pacific Ocean. Assimilation is not something to oppose or favor — it just happens.

There is much about Canada that I find admirable — the treatment of immigrants, for example, particularly those from Central America during the recent civil wars there. But there is confusion too: I know of Croatian Nazis who are subsidized by the Canadian government to maintain their racist culture. There is Canada, trying to sustain diversity without knowing exactly what it’s doing.

After the L.A. riots in 1992, my sense was not that the city was dying, as the expert opinion had it, but that the city was being formed. What was dying was the idea that L.A. was a city of separate suburbs and freeway exits. What burned in that riot was the idea that the east side was far away from the west side. People went to bed that first night watching television, watching neighborhoods they had never seen before, streets they had never been on, and they were chagrined and horrified by what they saw. Sometime in the middle of the night they could hear the sirens and smell the smoke, and realized that the fire was coming toward them — that the street they lived on, the boulevard they used everyday, was in fact connected to a part of town where they had never been before, and that part of town was now a part of their lives. That moment of fear, of terror, of sleeplessness, was not a death, but the birth of the idea that L.A. is a single city, a single metropolitan area.

We’re looking at complexity. We’re looking at blond kids in Beverley Hills who can speak Spanish because they have been raised by Guatemalan nannies. We’re looking at Evangelicals coming up from Latin America to convert the U.S. at the same time that L.A. movie stars are taking up Indian pantheism. We’re looking at such enormous complexity and variety that it makes a mockery of « celebrating diversity. » In the L.A. of the future, no one will need to say, « Let’s celebrate diversity. » Diversity is going to be a fundamental part of our lives. That’s what it’s going to mean to be modern.

A view from the melting pot
A conversation with Richard Rodriguez
Scott London

Related Audio Clip: Scott London talks with Richard Rodriguez about cultural identity in a world of porous borders and blurring boundaries (from the radio series « Insight & Outlook »)

When Richard Rodriguez entered first grade at Sacred Heart School in Sacramento, California, his English vocabulary consisted of barely fifty words. All his classmates were white. He kept quiet, listening to the sounds of middle-class American speech, and feeling alone. After school he would return home to the pleasing, soothing sounds of his family’s Spanish.

When his English showed little sign of improvement, the nuns at his school asked Rodriguez’s parents to speak more English at home. Eager to help their son, his mother and father complied. « Ahora, speak to us en inglés, » they would say. Their effort to bring him into the linguistic mainstream had far-reaching results. Rodriguez went on to earn a degree in English at Stanford and one in philosophy at Columbia. He then pursued a doctorate in English Renaissance literature at Berkeley and spent a year in London on a Fulbright scholarship.

Though Rodriguez had his sights set on a career in academia, in 1976 he abruptly went his own way, supporting himself through freelance writing and various temporary jobs. He spent the next five years coming to terms with how education had irrevocably altered his life. His first book The Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, published in 1982, was a searching account of his journey from being a « socially disadvantaged child » to becoming a fully assimilated American, from the Spanish-speaking world of his family to the wider, presumably freer, public world of English. But the journey was not without costs: his American identity was only achieved after a painful separation from his past, his family, and his culture. « Americans like to talk about the importance of family values, » says Rodriguez. « But America isn’t a country of family values; Mexico is a country of family values. This is a country of people who leave home. »

While the book received widespread critical acclaim and won several literary awards, it also stirred resentment because of Rodriguez’s strong stands against bilingual education and affirmative action. Some Mexican Americans called him pocho — traitor — accusing him of betraying himself and his people. Others called him a « coconut » — brown on the outside, white on the inside. He calls himself « a comic victim of two cultures. »

Rodriguez explored the dilemmas of ethnicity and cultural identity more directly in his second book, Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father. « The best metaphor of America remains the dreadful metaphor [of] the Melting Pot, » he wrote. The America that he described is a new cross-fertilizing culture, a culture of half-breeds, blurred boundaries, and bizarre extremes.

Rodriguez has been compared with such literary figures as Albert Camus and James Baldwin. He is an editor for the Pacific News Service in San Francisco and a contributing editor of Harper’s and the Sunday « Opinion » section of the Los Angeles Times. His essays also appear on public television’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

I spent a morning with Rodriguez following a university lecture he gave in Santa Barbara, California. Our conversation began with the controversial subject of bilingual education — the practice of teaching immigrant children in the language of their families.
*

Scott London: In Hunger of Memory, you suggest that supporters of bilingual education are misguided. You write, « What they don’t seem to recognize is that, as a socially disadvantaged child, I considered Spanish to be a private language. » In what way was Spanish a private language for you?

Richard Rodriguez: In some countries, of course, Spanish is the language spoken in public. But for many American children whose families speak Spanish at home, it becomes a private language. They use it to keep the English-speaking world at bay.

Bilingual-education advocates say it’s important to teach a child in his or her family’s language. I say you can’t use family language in the classroom — the very nature of the classroom requires that you use language publicly. When the Irish nun said to me, « Speak your name loud and clear so that all the boys and girls can hear you, » she was asking me to use language publicly, with strangers. That’s the appropriate instruction for a teacher to give. If she were to say to me, « We are going to speak now in Spanish, just like you do at home. You can whisper anything you want to me, and I am going to call you by a nickname, just like your mother does, » that would be inappropriate. Intimacy is not what classrooms are about.

London: Some would argue that students are stripped of their cultural identity by being instructed in the dominant language. Isn’t there some truth to that?

Rodriguez: My grandmother would always tell me that I was hers, that I was Mexican. That was her role. It was not my teacher’s role to tell me I was Mexican. It was my teacher’s role to tell me I was an American. The notion that you go to a public institution in order to learn private information about yourself is absurd. We used to understand that when students went to universities, they would become cosmopolitan. They were leaving their neighborhoods. Now we have this idea that, not only do you go to first grade to learn your family’s language, but you go to a university to learn about the person you were before you left home. So, rather than becoming multicultural, rather than becoming a person of several languages, rather than becoming confident in your knowledge of the world, you become just the opposite. You end up in college having to apologize for the fact that you no longer speak your native language.

I worry these days that Latinos in California speak neither Spanish nor English very well. They are in a kind of linguistic limbo between the two. They don’t really have a language, and are, in some deep sense, homeless.

London: Many people feel that the call for diversity and multiculturalism is one reason the American educational system is in such dire trouble.

Rodriguez: It’s no surprise that at the same time that American universities have engaged in a serious commitment to diversity, they have been thought-prisons. We are not talking about diversity in any real way. We are talking about brown, black, white versions of the same political ideology. It is very curious that the United States and Canada both assume that diversity means only race and ethnicity. They never assume it might mean more Nazis, or more Southern Baptists. That’s diversity too, you know.

London: So how would you define diversity?

Rodriguez: For me, diversity is not a value. Diversity is what you find in Northern Ireland. Diversity is Beirut. Diversity is brother killing brother. Where diversity is shared — where I share with you my difference — that can be valuable. But the simple fact that we are unlike each other is a terrifying notion. I have often found myself in foreign settings where I became suddenly aware that I was not like the people around me. That, to me, is not a pleasant discovery.

London: You’ve said that it’s tough in America to lead an intellectual life outside the universities. Yet you made a very conscious decision to leave academia.

Rodriguez: My decision was sparked by affirmative action. There was a point in my life when affirmative action would have meant something to me — when my family was working-class, and we were struggling. But very early in life I became part of the majority culture and now don’t think of myself as a minority. Yet the university said I was one. Anybody who has met a real minority — in the economic sense, not the numerical sense — would understand how ridiculous it is to describe a young man who is already at the university, already well into his studies in Italian and English Renaissance literature, as a minority. Affirmative action ignores our society’s real minorities — members of the disadvantaged classes, no matter what their race. We have this ludicrous bureaucratic sense that certain racial groups, regardless of class, are minorities. So what happens is those « minorities » at the very top of the ladder get chosen for everything.

London: Is that what happened to you?

Rodriguez: Well, when it came time for me to look for jobs, the jobs came looking for me. I had teaching offers from the best universities in the country. I was about to accept one from Yale when the whole thing collapsed on me.

London: What do you mean?

Rodriguez: I had all this anxiety about what it meant to be a minority. My professors — the same men who taught me the intricacies of language — just shied away from the issue. They didn’t want to talk about it, other than to suggest I could be a « role model » to other Hispanics — when I went back to my barrio, I suppose. I came from a white middle class neighborhood. Was I expected to go back there and teach the woman next door about Renaissance sonnets? The embarrassing truth of the matter was that I was being chosen because Yale University had some peculiar idea about what my skin color or ethnicity signified. Who knows what Yale thought it was getting when it hired Richard Rodriguez? The people who offered me the job thought there was nothing wrong with that. I thought there was something very wrong. I still do. I think race-based affirmative action is crude and absolutely mistaken.

London: I noticed that some university students put up a poster outside the lecture hall where you spoke the other night. It said « Richard Rodriguez is a disgrace to the Chicano community. »

Rodriguez: I sort of like that. I don’t think writers should be convenient examples. I don’t think we should make people feel settled. I don’t try to be a gadfly, but I do think that real ideas are troublesome. There should be something about my work that leaves the reader unsettled. I intend that. The notion of the writer as a kind of sociological sample of a community is ludicrous. Even worse is the notion that writers should provide an example of how to live. Virginia Woolf ended her life by putting a rock in her sweater one day and walking into a lake. She is not a model of how I want to live my life. On the other hand, the bravery of her syntax, of her sentences, written during her deepest depression, is a kind of example for me. But I do not want to become Virginia Woolf. That is not why I read her.

London: What’s wrong with being a role model?

Rodriguez: The popular idea of a role model implies that an adult’s influence on a child is primarily occupational, and that all a black child needs is to see a black doctor, and then this child will think, « Oh, I can become a doctor too. » I have a good black friend who is a doctor, but he didn’t become a doctor because he saw other black men who were doctors. He became a doctor because his mother cleaned office buildings at night, and because she loved her children. She grew bowlegged from cleaning office buildings at night, and in the process she taught him something about courage and bravery and dedication to others. I became a writer not because my father was one — my father made false teeth for a living. I became a writer because the Irish nuns who educated me taught me something about bravery with their willingness to give so much to me.

London: There used to be a category for writers and thinkers and intellectuals — « the intelligentsia. » But not anymore.

Rodriguez: No, I think the universities have co-opted the intellectual, by and large. But there is an emerging intellectual set coming out of Washington think tanks now. There are people who are leaving the universities and working for the government or in think tanks, simply looking for freedom. The university has become so stultified since the sixties. There is so much you can’t do at the university. You can’t say this, you can’t do that, you can’t think this, and so forth. In many ways, I’m free to range as widely as I do intellectually precisely because I’m not at a university. The tiresome Chicanos would be after me all the time. You know: « We saw your piece yesterday, and we didn’t like what you said, » or, « You didn’t sound happy enough, » or, « You didn’t sound proud enough. »

London: You’ve drawn similar responses from the gay community, I understand.

Rodriguez: Yes, I’ve recently gotten in trouble with certain gay activists because I’m not gay enough! I am a morose homosexual. I’m melancholy. Gay is the last adjective I would use to describe myself. The idea of being gay, like a little sparkler, never occurs to me. So if you ask me if I’m gay, I say no.

After the second chapter of Days of Obligation, which is about the death of a friend of mine from AIDS, was published in Harper’s, I got this rather angry letter from a gay-and-lesbian group that was organizing a protest against the magazine. It was the same old problem: political groups have almost no sense of irony. For them, language has to say exactly what it means. « Why aren’t you proud of being gay? » they wanted to know. « Why are you so dark? Why are you so morbid? Why are you so sad? Don’t you realize, we’re all okay? Let’s celebrate that fact. » But that is not what writers do. We don’t celebrate being « okay. » If you want to be okay, take an aspirin.

London: Do you consider yourself more Mexican or more American?

Rodriguez: In some ways I consider myself more Chinese, because I live in San Francisco, which is becoming a predominantly Asian city. I avoid falling into the black-and-white dialectic in which most of America still seems trapped. I have always recognized that, as an American, I am in relationship with other parts of the world; that I have to measure myself against the Pacific, against Asia. Having to think of myself in relationship to that horizon has liberated me from the black-and-white checkerboard.

London: Do you think of yourself as an Indian?

Rodriguez: Yes, although it was something I did not know about as a child. I had an Indian face, but I never saw it as Indian, in part because in America the Indian was dead. The Indian had been killed in cowboy movies, or was playing bingo in Oklahoma. Also, in my middle-class Mexican family indio was a bad word, one my parents shy away from to this day. That’s one of the reasons, of course, why I always insist, in my bratty way, on saying, Soy indio! — « I am an Indian! » I think it’s an important thing for a Mexican to say, especially now with the rebellion in Chiapas. Mexico has to confront her Indian face, and yet she refuses to do so. When you turn on Mexican television, it’s like watching Swedish TV: everyone is blond.

London: That’s true in the U.S. as well. What you see on television is a very distorted picture of American life.

Rodriguez: That’s right. I don’t deny people their fantasy life, but I do think that we desperately need to start realizing just how complicated our reality is in America. Sitcoms just don’t show us that. I keep trying to tell people that Los Angeles is already the largest Indian city in the U.S., that there are Toltecs playing Little League baseball in Pasadena, Mayans making beds at the Marriott in Westwood, and Chichimecs driving buses in L.A. Los Angeles is a majority-Indian city. Of course, since we don’t see the Indian as a living figure — having turned the Indian into a kind of mascot for the ecology movement, a symbol of prehistory — we can’t see the Indian among us. But what really terrifies Americans right now is the prospect that the Indian is very much alive, that the Indian is having nine babies in Guatemala, and that those nine babies are headed this way. This is one reason why Americans hold on so dearly to the myth of the dead Indian.

London: At the same time, we turn our backs on real Indians.

Rodriguez: Yes. The myth of the dead Indian goes back to the Protestant settlement of the U.S. The Pilgrims wanted to start a new life in America. They wanted to believe that in some sense they had come to a new Eden and that they could leave history behind in Europe. So they convinced themselves that this land had no history, that this was « virgin » land. This made the Indians’ presence inconvenient. The Indians had to be either killed, or herded into reservations, which were essentially concentration camps, and forgotten. Their history had to be absolutely obliterated so that we could believe that we were living on virgin soil.

London: Another place the Indian turns up today is in books about spirituality and native wisdom.

Rodriguez: Suddenly the land is haunted by all these dead Indians. There is this new fascination with the Southwest, with places like Santa Fe, New Mexico, where people come down from New York and Boston and dress up as Indians. When I go to Santa Fe, I find real Indians living there, but they are not involved in the earth worship that the American environmentalists are so taken by. Many of these Indians are interested, rather, in becoming Evangelical Christians.

London: In Days of Obligation you write about spending a week in the « twin cities » of Tijuana and San Diego. It occurs to me that, if you take the two cities as one, the combination offers a glimpse of what America might look like in another generation or two.

Rodriguez: Absolutely. Of course, San Diego chooses not to regard the two cities as one. Talk about alter ego: Tijuana was created by the lust of San Diego. Everything that was illegal in San Diego was permitted in Tijuana. When boxing was illegal in San Diego, there were boxing matches in Tijuana; when gambling was illegal, there was always Tijuana. Mexicans would say, « We’re not responsible for Tijuana; it’s the Americans who created it. » And there was some justification for that. But, in fact, the whore was a Mexican, the bartender a Mexican. Tijuana was this lovely meeting of Protestant hypocrisy with Catholic cynicism: the two cities went to bed and both denied it in the morning.

To this day, you will see American teenagers going to Mexico on Saturday nights to get drunk. Mexico gives them permission. The old Southern Catholic tradition gives permission to the Northern Protestant culture to misbehave. But what has happened in the last generation is that Tijuana has become a new Third World capital — much to the chagrin of Mexico City, which is more and more aware of how little it controls Tijuana politically and culturally. In addition to whorehouses and discos, Tijuana now has Korean factories and Japanese industrialists and Central American refugees, and a new Mexican bourgeoisie that takes its lessons from cable television.

And then there is San Diego — this retirement village, with its prim petticoat, that doesn’t want to get too near the water. San Diego worries about all the turds washing up on the lovely, pristine beaches of La Jolla. San Diego wishes Mexico would have fewer babies. And San Diego, like the rest of America, is growing middle-aged. The average age in the U.S. is now thirty-three, whereas Mexico gets younger and younger, retreats deeper and deeper into adolescence. Mexico is fifteen. Mexico is wearing a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt and wandering around Tijuana looking for a job, for a date, for something to put on her face to take care of the acne.

It is not simply that these two cities are perched side by side at the edge of the Pacific; it is that adolescence sits next to middle age, and they don’t know how to relate to each other. In a way, these two cities exist in different centuries. San Diego is a post-industrial city talking about settling down, slowing down, building clean industry. Tijuana is a preindustrial city talking about changing, moving forward, growing. Yet they form a single metropolitan area.

London: In the U.S. we always hear a lot of rhetoric about « restoring the American Dream. » But the American Dream seems alive and well in Tijuana.

Rodriguez: Very much so. Maybe the American Dream is too rich for us now in the U.S. Maybe we’re losing it because we are not like our Swedish grandmother who came across the plains, hacked down the trees, and took the Spanish words she encountered and made them hers. Now her great-great-grandchildren sit terrified, wondering what to do with all these Mexicans. The American Dream is an impossible affirmation of possibility. And maybe native-born Americans don’t have it anymore. Maybe it has run through their fingers.

Those people who say that America is finite are some sense right. The environmental movement, for example, has a great wisdom to it: we need to protect, to preserve, to shelter as much as we need to develop. But I think this always has to be juxtaposed against the optimism of old, which is now represented in part by immigrants. I would like to see America achieve a kind of balance between optimism and tragedy, between possibility and skepticism.

London: Why do we always talk about race in this country strictly in terms of black and white?

Rodriguez: America has never had a very wide vocabulary for miscegenation. We say we like diversity, but we don’t like the idea that our Hispanic neighbor is going to marry our daughter. America has nothing like the Spanish vocabulary for miscegenation. Mulatto, mestizo, Creole — these Spanish and French terms suggest, by their use, that miscegenation is a fact of life. America has only black and white. In eighteenth-century America, if you had any drop of African blood in you, you were black.

After the O.J. Simpson trial there was talk about how the country was splitting in two — one part black, one part white. It was ludicrous: typical gringo arrogance. It’s as though whites and blacks can imagine America only in terms of each other. It’s mostly white arrogance, in that it places whites always at the center of the racial equation. But lots of emerging racial tensions in California have nothing to do with whites: Filipinos and Samoans are fighting it out in San Francisco high schools. Merced is becoming majority Mexican and Cambodian. They may be fighting in gangs right now, but I bet they are also learning each other’s language. Cultures, when they meet, influence one another, whether people like it or not. But Americans don’t have any way of describing this secret that has been going on for more than two hundred years. The intermarriage of the Indian and the African in America, for example, has been constant and thorough. Colin Powell tells us in his autobiography that he is Scotch, Irish, African, Indian, and British, but all we hear is that he is African.

London: Census figures show that two-thirds of children who are the products of a union between a black and a white call themselves black.

Rodriguez: The Census Bureau is thinking of creating a new category because so many kids don’t know how to describe themselves using the existing categories. I call these kids the « Keanu Reeves Generation, » after the actor who has a Hawaiian father and a Welsh mother. Most American Hispanics don’t belong to one race, either. I keep telling kids that, when filling out forms, they should put « yes » to everything — yes, I am Chinese; yes, I am African; yes, I am white; yes, I am a Pacific Islander; yes, yes, yes — just to befuddle the bureaucrats who think we live separately from one another.

London: There is a lot of talk today about the « hyphenating » of America. We no longer speak of ourselves as just Americans — now we’re Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, even Anglo-Americans.

Rodriguez: The fact that we’re all hyphenating our names suggests that we are afraid of being assimilated. I was talking on the BBC recently, and this woman introduced me as being « in favor of assimilation. » I said, « I’m not in favor of assimilation. » I am no more in favor of assimilation than I am in favor of the Pacific Ocean. Assimilation is not something to oppose or favor — it just happens.

London: Time magazine did a special issue on the global village a couple of years ago. The cover photo was a computer composite of different faces from around the world. It was a stunning picture — neither man nor woman, black nor white. This is the kind of assimilation that many worry about — the loss of things that make us separate and unique.

Rodriguez: Jose Vasconcelos, Mexico’s great federalist and apologist, has coined a wonderful term, la raza cósmica, « the cosmic race, » a new people having not one race but many in their blood.

But Mexicans who come to America today end up opposing assimilation. They say they are « holding on to their culture. » To them, I say, « If you really wanted to hold on to your culture, you would be in favor of assimilation. You would be fearless about swallowing English and about becoming Americanized. You would be much more positive about the future, and much less afraid. That’s what it means to be Mexican.

I’m constantly depressed by the Mexican gang members I meet in East L.A. who essentially live their lives inside five or six blocks. They are caught in some tiny ghetto of the mind that limits them to these five blocks because, they say, « I’m Mexican. I live here. » And I say, « What do you mean you live here — five blocks? Your granny, your abualita, walked two thousand miles to get here. She violated borders, moved from one language to another, moved from a sixteenth-century village to a twenty-first-century city, and you live within five blocks? You don’t know Mexico, man. You have trivialized Mexico. You are a fool about Mexico if you think that Mexico is five blocks. That is not Mexico; that is some crude Americanism you have absorbed. »

London: You mentioned Canada a moment ago, and now Mexico, and it reminds me of a comparison someone made between the countries of North America and Sigmund Freud’s three levels of mind: Canada represents the superego, or the higher self; the United States is akin to the ego, or the personality self; and Mexico, of course, is the id, or unconscious self.

Rodriguez: Yes, that’s quite accurate. And isn’t it curious how it corresponds to the topography of the body, too? Mexico is sex and Canada is mind. There is much about Canada that I find admirable — the treatment of immigrants, for example, particularly those from Central America during the recent civil wars there. But there is confusion too: I know of Croatian Nazis who are subsidized by the Canadian government to maintain their racist culture. There is Canada, trying to sustain diversity without knowing exactly what it’s doing.

London: You have described Los Angeles as the « symbolic capital » of the United States.

Rodriguez: I find L.A. very interesting, partly because I think something new is forming there, but not in a moment of good fellowship as you might think from all this « diversity » claptrap. It’s not as if we’ll all go down to the Civic Center in our ethnic costumes and dance around.

After the L.A. riots in 1992, my sense was not that the city was dying, as the expert opinion had it, but that the city was being formed. What was dying was the idea that L.A. was a city of separate suburbs and freeway exits. What burned in that riot was the idea that the east side was far away from the west side. People went to bed that first night watching television, watching neighborhoods they had never seen before, streets they had never been on, and they were chagrined and horrified by what they saw. Sometime in the middle of the night they could hear the sirens and smell the smoke, and realized that the fire was coming toward them — that the street they lived on, the boulevard they used everyday, was in fact connected to a part of town where they had never been before, and that part of town was now a part of their lives.

That moment of fear, of terror, of sleeplessness, was not a death, but the birth of the idea that L.A. is a single city, a single metropolitan area.

What we have seen in the last three or four years is, if not optimistic, at least something very young and full of possibility. Women have been telling men forever that childbirth is painful, that life begins with a scream, not with little butterflies and little tweeting birds; life begins with a scream. In 1992, L.A. came to life with a scream.

London: If L.A. represents the future, does that mean we’re looking at more riots?

Rodriguez: We’re looking at complexity. We’re looking at blond kids in Beverley Hills who can speak Spanish because they have been raised by Guatemalan nannies. We’re looking at Evangelicals coming up from Latin America to convert the U.S. at the same time that L.A. movie stars are taking up Indian pantheism. We’re looking at such enormous complexity and variety that it makes a mockery of « celebrating diversity. » In the L.A. of the future, no one will need to say, « Let’s celebrate diversity. » Diversity is going to be a fundamental part of our lives. That’s what it’s going to mean to be modern.

If you want to live in Tennessee, God bless you, I wish for you a long life and starry evenings. But that is not where I want to live my life. I want to live my life in Carthage, in Athens. I want to live my life in Rome. I want to live my life in the center of the world. I want to live my life in Los Angeles.

This interview was adapted from the radio series Insight & Outlook. It appeared in the August 1997 issue of The Sun magazine under the title « Crossing Borders. » Portions of it also appeared in the December 1997 issue of The Witness magazine. In addition, it has been reprinted in several books, including The Writer’s Presence, edited by Donald McQuade and Robert Atwan (Bedford/St. Martins Press, 2003), and, most recently, the Eleventh Edition of The Little, Brown Reader, edited by Marcia Stubbs, Sylvan Barnet and William E. Cain (forthcoming from Longman/Prentice Hall, 2009).

« If you see a question about Bolsheviks on the test, the answer is probably Red Scare. »

« This is not your country. You are in America now. teacher

spends most of her school day speaking Spanish with other students, and then with her parents at home,

It means she has had little access to peers and networks that might help her learn to better navigate her new country, apply for scholarships, make her own MySpace page or drive a car. She lives an hour’s drive from Washington, but has visited only once, on a field trip with other immigrant students.

segregated classes have handicapped students by isolating them and « dumbing down » the curriculum.

illegal immigrants °X an estimated 30 percent

5 percent of the school budget, to provide additional services to students with limited English last year, for example.

Education experts estimate that it takes the average learner of English at least two years of study to hold conversations, and five to seven years to write essays, understand a novel or explain scientific processes at the level of their English-speaking peers.

High schools, the last stop between adolescence and adulthood, do not have that kind of time. Getting students to graduation often means catching them up to a field that has a 15-year head start.

Voir encore:

Where education and assimilation collide
Ginger Thompson
International Herald Tribune
March 14, 2009

WOODBRIDGE, Virginia: Walking the halls of Cecil Hylton High School outside Washington, it is hard to detect any trace of the divisions that once seemed fixtures in American society.

Two girls, a Muslim in a headscarf and a strawberry blonde in tight jeans, stroll arm in arm. A Hispanic boy wearing a Barack Obama T-shirt gives a high-five to a black student with glasses and an Afro. The lanky homecoming queen, part Filipino and part Honduran, runs past on her way to band practice. The student body president, a son of Laotian refugees, hangs fliers about a bake sale.

But as old divisions vanish, waves of immigration have fueled new ones between those who speak English and those who are learning how.

Walk with immigrant students, and the rest of Hylton feels a world apart. By design, they attend classes almost exclusively with one another. They take separate field trips. And they organize separate clubs.

« I am thankful to my teachers because the little bit of English I am able to speak, I speak because of them, » Amalia Raymundo, from Guatemala, said during a break between classes. But, she added, « I feel they hold me back by isolating me. »

Her best friend, Jhosselin Guevara, also from Guatemala, joined in. « Maybe the teachers are trying to protect us, » she said. « There are people who do not want us here at all. »

In the last decade, record numbers of immigrants, both legal and illegal, have fueled the greatest growth in public schools since the baby boom. The influx has strained many districts’ budgets and resources and put classrooms on the front lines of America’s battles over whether and how to assimilate the newcomers and their children.

Inside schools, which are required to enroll students regardless of their immigration status and are prohibited from even asking about it, the debate has turned to how best to educate them.

Hylton High, where a reporter for The New York Times spent much of the past year, is a vivid laboratory. Like thousands of other schools across the country, it has responded to the surge of immigrants by channeling them into a school within a school. It is, in effect, a contemporary form of segregation that provides students learning English intensive support to meet rising academic standards °X and it also helps keep the peace.

In a nation where most students learning English lag behind other groups by almost every measure, Hylton’s program stands out for its students’ high test scores and graduation rates. However, at this ordinary American high school, in an ordinary American suburb at a time of extraordinary upheaval, those achievements come with considerable costs.

The calm in the hallways belies resentments simmering among students who barely know one another. They readily label one another « stupid » or « racist. » The tensions have at times erupted into walkouts and cafeteria fights, including one in which immigrant students tore an American flag off the wall and black students responded by shouting, « Go back to your own country! »

Hylton’s faculty has been torn over how to educate its immigrant population. Some say the students are unfairly coddled and should be forced more quickly into the mainstream. And even those who support segregating students admit to soul-searching over whether the program serves the school’s needs at the expense of immigrant students, who are relentlessly drilled and tutored on material that appears on state tests but get rare exposure to the kinds of courses, demands or experiences that might better prepare them to move up in American society.

« This is hard for us, » said Carolyn Custard, Hylton’s principal. « I’m not completely convinced we’re right. I don’t want them to be separated, but at the same time, I want them to succeed. »

Education officials classify some 5.1 million students in the United States °X 1 in 10 of all those enrolled in public schools °X as English language learners, a 60 percent increase from 1995 to 2005.

Researchers give many causes for the gaps between them and other groups. Perhaps most paradoxical, they say, is that a nation that prides itself on being a melting pot has yet to reach agreement on the best way to teach immigrant students.

In recent years, students learning English have flooded into small towns and suburban school districts that have little experience with international diversity. Meanwhile, teachers and administrators have come under increasing pressure to meet the requirements of the U.S. government No Child Left Behind Act, which links every school’s financing and its teachers’ jobs to student performance on standardized tests.

The challenges have only intensified with a souring economy and deepening anger over illegal immigration, provoking many Americans to question whether those living here unlawfully should be educated at all.

Political Responses

Across the country, politics is never far from the schoolhouse door. Arizona, California and Massachusetts adopted English-only education policies that limited bilingual services. By contrast, school districts in Georgia and Utah have recruited teachers from Mexico to work with their swelling Latin American populations.

Near Washington, officials in Frederick County, Maryland, floated the idea of challenging U.S. law by requiring students to disclose whether they are in the country legally, an idea also proposed by the authorities in Culpeper County, Virginia

Then there is Hylton High School’s home county, Prince William. What was once a mostly white, middle-class suburb 35 miles southwest of the nation’s capital has been transformed by a construction boom into a traffic-choked sprawl of townhouses and strip malls where Latinos are the fastest-growing group.

Neighborhood disputes led the county to enact laws intended to drive illegal immigrants away. White and black families with the means to buy their way out of the turmoil escaped to more affluent areas. Hispanic families, feeling threatened or just plain unwelcome, were torn between those who had legal status and those who did not. Many fled.

By last March, educators reported that at least 759 immigrant students had dropped out of county schools. Hylton, whose 2,200 student population is almost equal parts white, black and Latino and comes from working-class apartment complexes and upscale housing developments, was one of the hardest hit.

The school’s program for English learners °X a predominantly Latino group that includes students from 32 countries who speak 25 languages °X is directed by Ginette Cain, 61, who says she was inspired to teach immigrant students because she was once one herself.

Petite with a shock of red hair, the daughter of a lumberjack and a cook, Cain was the first in her French-Canadian family to master English when they arrived in Vermont in the 1950s. She served as a bridge between her parents and their new homeland, helping them in meetings with landlords, teachers, doctors and bill collectors.

The hostilities that today’s immigrants face, Cain said, have shaken her faith in bridges.

« I used to tell my students that they had to stay in school, » Cain said, « because eventually the laws would change, they would become citizens of this country, and they needed their diplomas so they could make something of themselves as Americans. »

« I don’t tell them that anymore, » she continued. « Now I tell them they need to get their diplomas because an education will help them no matter what side of the border they’re on. »

A Crash Program

It was crunch time at Hylton High: 10 minutes until the bell, two weeks before state standardized tests, and a classroom full of blank stares suggesting that Cain still had a lot of history to cover to get her students ready.

The question hanging in the air: « What is the name for a time of paranoia in the United States that was sparked by the Bolshevik Revolution? »

« What’s that? » Delmy Gomez, a junior from El Salvador, said with a grimace that caused his classmates to burst into laughter.

The question might have stumped plenty of high school students. But for Cain’s pupils, it might as well have been nuclear physics.

Freda Conteh had missed long stretches of school in war-torn Sierra Leone. Noemi Caballero, from Mexico, filled notebooks with short stories and poetry in Spanish, but struggled to compose simple sentences in English.

Nuwan Gamage, from Sri Lanka, was distracted by working two jobs to support himself because he found it difficult to live with his mother and her American husband after spending most of his life apart from her. And Edvin Estrada, a Guatemalan, worried about a brother in the Marines, headed off for duty in some undisclosed hot spot.

Few of these students had heard of the Pilgrims, much less the history of Thanksgiving. Idioms like « easy as pie » and « melting pot » were lost on them. They knew little of the American Revolution, much less the Bolshevik.

« American students come to school with a lot of cultural knowledge that other teachers assume they don’t have to explain because their kids get it from growing up in this country, watching television or surfing the Internet, » Cain said. « I can’t assume any of that. »

Education experts estimate that it takes the average learner of English at least two years of study to hold conversations, and five to seven years to write essays, understand a novel or explain scientific processes at the level of their English-speaking peers.

High schools, the last stop between adolescence and adulthood, do not have that kind of time. Getting students to graduation often means catching them up to a field that has a 15-year head start.

In recent decades, some degree of segregation has often been involved in teaching immigrants. Through the 1980s, schools generally pulled them out of the mainstream for at least an hour or two each day for « English as a Second Language » courses that were largely focused on basic English and vocational training.

As national education standards were adopted in 1989, some school districts established dual-language programs that allowed students learning English to study core subjects in their native languages until they were able to move into mainstream classes. Other districts, hit by the largest waves of immigrants, established so-called newcomer schools, where immigrants were clustered to help them adapt to their new surroundings and develop their English skills before moving on to regular schools.

When significant numbers of immigrants began arriving in Prince William County, the school district, like others across the country, essentially created newcomer schools-within-schools, where students learning English are placed for all but a few electives like art, ROTC or auto mechanics. The goal, educators say, is to give them intensive attention until they are ready to join mainstream classes.

The reality, experts acknowledge, is that only a few high school students ever make that jump.

« I would love nothing better than to have my kids in classes all over the building, » Cain said. « But you know what would happen to them? They’d move to the back of the class, then they’d fail, and then they’d drop out. »

She began building her program °X known formally as English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL °X in 2001, when she enlisted a colleague to teach a separate world history class for those learning English.

Cain sat in to learn the information, then taught a review class so her students understood the material well enough to pass state tests.

The following years, she set up similar pairs of classes in earth science, biology and American history. A Peruvian teacher, who made fun of his own thick accent so the students would be less self-conscious about theirs, began teaching algebra and geometry. And the head of the English department agreed to teach a class that would help students complete a required research paper.

The curriculum for those learning English covers most of the same material taught in mainstream classes, except that teachers move more slowly and rely more on visual aids. Students in Cain’s program generally outperform other English learners in the state on standardized tests, and do as well or better than Hylton’s mainstream students. Last year, for example, all of the English learners passed Virginia’s writing exam; by comparison, 97 percent of the general population passed. In math, 91 percent of Hylton’s ESOL students passed the exam, the same percentage as other students. And 89 percent of the English learners passed the history exam, compared with 91 percent of the others.

Teaching to Tests

The consistently good scores turned out by Hylton’s English learners gave rise to suspicions of cheating a few years ago, which a state audit concluded were unfounded. But watching the program up close reveals that certain tricks and shortcuts are built in.

Sample tests are published on the Internet, for example. Cain studies them and uses them as guides. « It used to be that we were told not to teach to the test, » she said. « Now, that’s what everyone tells us, from state administrators on down. »

« Teachers know what’s going to be on the test, » she added. « And if you only have a limited amount of time, that’s what you’re going to teach. »

Compared with mainstream students, the average English learner at Hylton spends twice the time with twice the number of teachers on core subjects needed to graduate. Their classes are light on lectures and heavy on drills, games and worksheets intended to help them memorize facts about topics as varied as European monarchies, rock formation and the workings of the human heart.

At Hylton, freshmen finish Shakespeare’s « Romeo and Juliet » in a month, while immigrants pore over it for an entire semester. Most mainstream students take tests with essay questions on the phases of the water cycle; the English learners have the option to draw posters, like one by a Bolivian-born boy who depicted himself as a water molecule rising from an ice cube, drifting into a cloud and raining over his homeland.

The immigrant students are given less homework and rarely get failing grades if they demonstrate good-faith efforts. They are given more credit for showing what they know in class participation than on written assignments. And on state standardized tests, they are offered accommodations unavailable to other students.

Teachers, for example, are allowed to read test questions to them. In some cases, the students are permitted to respond orally while teachers record their answers.

In Cain’s 90-minute history review classes, which can touch on topics from the reign of Marie Antoinette to the Iraq war, getting ready for tests often seems the sole objective. Cain routinely interrupts discussions to emphasize potential questions.

« Write this down, » she told a class one day. « There’s always a question about Huguenots. »

Significant historical episodes are often reduced to little more than sound bites. « You don’t really need to know anything more about the Battle of Britain, except that it was an air strike, » Cain told one class. « If you see a question about the Battle of Britain on the test, look for an answer that refers to air strikes. »

Often, she manages to combine her test tips with comparisons to historical struggles and the ones her students face today. That is how she taught them about the aftershocks of the Bolshevik Revolution. The period of paranoia that gripped the United States, she told students, was known as the Red Scare.

« If you see a question about Bolsheviks on the test, » Cain said, « the answer is probably Red Scare. »

Unsatisfied, Delmy asked whether Americans were right to have been afraid of a Communist invasion.

« This kind of fear has happened a few times in our history, » Cain said. « You know, where we blame foreigners for our problems, for wrecking the economy, for stealing our jobs. You see where I’m going? »

Melting Pot/Pressure Cooker

Like so many other suburban communities transformed by immigration, Prince William County was overwhelmed as much by the pace of the change as by its scale.

In a blink of history’s eye, this commuter community became one of the 12 fastest-growing counties in the country, with a Hispanic population that surged to 19 percent from 2 percent, far outpacing growth by any other group since 1980. The enrollment of children with limited proficiency in English grew 219 percent. The county, the scene of some of the first skirmishes of the Civil War, became a battleground again.

Corey Stewart, chairman of the all-white, predominantly Republican Board of Supervisors, led the cause of those who argued that illegal immigrants °X an estimated 30 percent of all those moving into the county °X were an undue burden on taxpayers. It cost Prince William $40.2 million, about 5 percent of the school budget, to provide additional services to students with limited English last year, for example.

Stewart ordered his staff to identify services the county could deny to illegal immigrants. And he was a co-author of an ordinance that would have allowed the county police to check the immigration status of anyone they stopped whom they also suspected of living in the country illegally. (The authorities later backed off, limiting the police to checking the status of anyone arrested.)

« We didn’t set out to pass a law addressing immigration, » Stewart said in an interview. « We wanted to address issues involving problems in housing, in hospitals, in schools and with crime. And we found that when we looked at all those areas, illegal immigration was driving a lot of the problems. »

In neighborhoods, however, many people did not make distinctions between legal and illegal immigrants. Some residents complained of a « foreign invasion. » Constructive dialogue was often drowned out by hate-filled blogs, headlines and protests. And school boundaries were bitterly contested, with some families moving their children into schools with lower populations of immigrants, and others flexing their political influence to try to keep the immigrants out.

Many parents worried that the Latino influx strained schools’ resources, eroding the quality of their children’s education.

« I have no problem with immigrants, » said Lori Bauckman-Moore, a mother of five who said her mother came through Ellis Island. « But so many of these kids don’t speak English. I’m talking fourth, fifth and sixth grades, where half of the kids don’t understand what their teachers are telling them. How can my child learn when teachers have to spend most of their time focused on the kids who cannot keep up with the curriculum? »

At Hylton, Cain’s school-within-a-school began to feel like a bunker. Two brothers from El Salvador vented in class about always having to look over their shoulders, and then stopped coming to school. A boy from Mexico disappeared, calling a month later to ask Cain to send his transcripts to Houston.

Eventually the tumult threatened the teacher’s pet: Jorge Rosales, a shy, strapping Mexican who wore gel in his hair and a medallion of the Virgin of Guadalupe around his neck.

When Jorge arrived at Hylton his sophomore year, he was reading at a sixth-grade level and failing most classes. Two years later, he was playing on the soccer team and on his way to graduating with honors.

But early last year, six months from getting his diploma, Jorge told Cain his father had lost his construction job, his parents had fallen behind in their mortgage payments, and, since no one in the Rosales family was in the country legally, his mother lived in fear that a minor traffic infraction could lead to deportation.

Cain called each member of the County Board of Supervisors and told them the crackdown was infringing on immigrant students’ rights to an education. « They told me I was the only person calling to complain, » she said. « All their other calls were from people who supported what they were doing. »

Before long, the polarization outside Hylton reinforced the divide between the two groups of students inside the school.

Teachers set the tone. In their classrooms, some tiptoed around the immigration debate or avoided it altogether. Advisers to student groups created to examine pressing issues °X including the school newspaper, the Model United Nations and the World of Difference Club °X similarly ignored the matter. And the teachers for those learning English made little effort to organize activities that would bring them and mainstream students together.

« To create a positive environment for my kids, » Cain said, « I’ve had to control who they’re exposed to. »

The silence and separation fueled an us-versus-them dynamic. The president of Hylton’s parent-teacher-student organization recalled her daughter complaining about an immigrant student wearing a T-shirt that said, « They Can’t Deport Us All. » A Peruvian mother remembered her son coming home and asking, « Are we legal? »

When asked why they did not have any friends among the immigrant students, some mainstream students responded by mentioning a worker who did not finish a job their parents had paid for, or a line of pregnant women at the clinic where their mother works, or a gang member who stole a friend’s books.

« I identify with the people I hang around with, » said an editor of the student newspaper, who is not named because she spoke without her parents’ permission. « My friends’ parents are not cashiers or people who wash dishes. »

When Cain’s students are asked why they have not made friends outside their group, they often tell stories about a customer who cursed at them while they were working at McDonald’s, or an employer who cheated their father of his wages, or a student who told them to stop speaking Spanish on the school bus.

Romina Benitez Aguero said that a neighbor greeted her cheerfully on the street, but that the woman’s daughters °X both Hylton students °X snubbed her.

And Francisco Espinal, from Honduras, said a teacher once shouted at him for running in the halls. « This is not your country, » he recalled the teacher saying. « You are in America now. »

Costs Versus Benefits

The more Amalia Raymundo goes to school, the more she feels her options narrowing. She was a rising star in her remote village in Guatemala, the region’s beauty queen and a candidate for college scholarships. But she came to this country two years ago to get to know a mother she had not seen since she was a baby, with the belief that an American education would help her fulfill her dreams of « becoming someone. »

She works hard to make all A’s. But this year, she started to wonder whether the work was worth it, and she nearly dropped out.

Amalia’s classes are all in English. Still, Amalia, 19, worries that because she spends most of her school day speaking Spanish with other students, and then with her parents at home, it could be years before she is able to speak, read and write English fluently enough to compete for college.

It means she has had little access to peers and networks that might help her learn to better navigate her new country, apply for scholarships, make her own MySpace page or drive a car. She lives an hour’s drive from Washington, but has visited only once, on a field trip with other immigrant students.

« If I am going to end up cleaning houses with my mother, » Amalia said to explain why she almost quit Hylton, « why go to high school? »

Hylton’s program has become a source of pride for helping immigrant students succeed in school, but also a target of criticism that segregated classes have handicapped students by isolating them and « dumbing down » the curriculum.

« High schools have to make a pragmatic choice when it comes to these kids, » said Peter Bedford, a history teacher who supports the program. « Are you going to focus on educating them, or socially integrating them? »

« This school has made the choice to focus on education, » he added. « The best tools we can give them to function in this society are their diplomas. »

But Amy Weiler, an assistant principal, worried whether the program had turned high school into more of an end than a beginning. « If you ask whether our program is successful at getting our students to pass tests, the data would indicate that it is, » Weiler said. « But if you ask whether we are helping our students to assimilate, there’s no data to answer that question. »

« My fear, » she added, « is that if we take a look at where our ESOL students are 10 years from now, we’re going to be disappointed. »

Studies suggest that English learners in separate, so-called sheltered classrooms perform better in school than do the majority of their peers who are immersed in the mainstream with little or no language support. There has been no systematic tracking, however, of English learners beyond graduation to determine whether schools are leveling playing fields or perpetuating the inequalities of a stratified society.

Some students, of course, successfully climb into the middle class and beyond, as generations of immigrants before them have. But Hispanic college graduation rates °X 16 percent of 25- to 29-year-old Hispanics born in the United States hold a college degree, compared with 34 percent of whites and 62 percent of Asian-Americans °X suggest that many recent immigrants and their children are not going to college.

Cain’s anecdotal evidence bears that out. A handful of her students go on to four-year colleges, while others enroll in community colleges or join the armed services. The majority, however, eventually move into the same low-skilled jobs as their parents.

« I love hearing from my students, » Cain said. « But then again, I don’t, because I usually don’t hear what I had hoped. »

Those hopes, for example, had propelled Cain’s star student, Jorge, to graduation. After his family moved to Alexandria, she adjusted his schedule so his mother could drive him the hour to school.

He loved Hylton, he recalled in an interview. « It is the only place where everybody has the same chance, » he said. But now, without enough money for college °X and English skills still so weak that completing community college seems a much more daunting prospect °X he installs drywall with his father.

He still remembers the architectural design class he took at Hylton and the ambitions to become a foreman it inspired. « Sometimes when I see the floor plans, » he said wistfully, « I think about high school. »

Amalia, who once thought about becoming a doctor, has also learned to adjust her sights.

« When I came to this country, I had my bags packed with dreams, » she said. « Now I see my dreams are limited. »

Voir enfin:

The Case Against Bilingual Education

Why even Latino parents are rejecting a program designed for their children’s benefit

Rosalie Pedalino Porter

The Atlantic

May 1, 1998

Bilingual education is a classic example of an experiment that was begun with the best of humanitarian intentions but has turned out to be terribly wrongheaded. To understand this experiment, we need to look back to the mid-1960s, when the civil-rights movement for African-Americans was at its height and Latino activists began to protest the damaging circumstances that led to unacceptably high proportions of school dropouts among Spanish-speaking children—more than 50 percent nationwide. Latino leaders borrowed the strategies of the civil-rights movement, calling for legislation to address the needs of Spanish-speaking children—Cubans in Florida, Mexicans along the southern border, Puerto Ricans in the Northeast. In 1968 Congress approved a bill filed by Senator Ralph Yarborough, of Texas, aimed at removing the language barrier to an equal education. The Bilingual Education Act was a modestly funded ($7.5 million for the first year) amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, intended to help poor Mexican-American children learn English. At the time, the goal was « not to keep any specific language alive, » Yarborough said. « It is not the purpose of the bill to create pockets of different languages through the country … but just to try to make those children fully literate in English. »

English was not always the language of instruction in American schools. During the eighteenth century classes were conducted in German, Dutch, French, and Swedish in some schools in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. From the mid nineteenth to the early twentieth century, classes were taught in German in several cities across the Midwest. For many years French was taught and spoken in Louisiana schools, Greek in Pittsburgh. Only after the First World War, when German was proscribed, did public sentiment swing against teaching in any language but English.

These earlier decisions on education policy were made in school, church, city, or state. Local conditions determined local school policy. But in 1968, for the first time, the federal government essentially dictated how non-English-speaking children should be educated. That action spawned state laws and legal decisions in venues all the way up to the Supreme Court. No end of money and effort was poured into a program that has since become the most controversial arena in public education.

In simplest terms, bilingual education is a special effort to help immigrant children learn English so that they can do regular schoolwork with their English-speaking classmates and receive an equal educational opportunity. But what it is in the letter and the spirit of the law is not what it has become in practice. Some experts decided early on that children should be taught for a time in their native languages, so that they would continue to learn other subjects while learning English. It was expected that the transition would take a child three years.

From this untried experimental idea grew an education industry that expanded far beyond its original mission to teach English and resulted in the extended segregation of non-English-speaking students. In practice, many bilingual programs became more concerned with teaching in the native language and maintaining the ethnic culture of the family than with teaching children English in three years.

Beginning in the 1970s several notions were put forward to provide a rationale, after the fact, for the bilingual-teaching experiment. José Cárdenas, the director emeritus of the Intercultural Development Research Association, in San Antonio, and Blandina Cárdenas (no relation), an associate professor of educational administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio, published their « theory of incompatibilities. » According to this theory, Mexican-American children in the United States are so different from « majority » children that they must be given bilingual and bicultural instruction in order to achieve academic success. Educators were convinced of the soundness of the idea—an urgent need for special teaching for non-English-speaking children—and judges handed down court decisions on the basis of it.

Jim Cummins, a bilingual-education theorist and a professor of education at the University of Toronto, contributed two hypotheses. His « developmental interdependence » hypothesis suggests that learning to read in one’s native language facilitates reading in a second language. His « threshold » hypothesis suggests that children’s achievement in the second language depends on the level of their mastery of their native language and that the most-positive cognitive effects occur when both languages are highly developed. Cummins’s hypotheses were interpreted to mean that a solid foundation in native-language literacy and subject-matter learning would best prepare students for learning in English. In practice these notions work against the goals of bilingual education—English-language mastery and academic achievement in English in mainstream classrooms.

Bilingual education has heightened awareness of the needs of immigrant, migrant, and refugee children. The public accepts that these children are entitled to special help; we know that the economic well-being of our society depends on maintaining a literate population with the academic competence for higher education and skilled jobs. The typical complaint heard years ago, « My grandfather came from Greece [or Sicily or Poland] and they didn’t do anything special for him, and he did okay, » no longer figures in the public discussion.

Bilingual education has brought in extra funding to hire and train paraprofessionals, often the parents of bilingual children, as classroom aides. Career programs in several school districts, among them an excellent one in Seattle that was in operation through early 1996, pay college tuition for paraprofessionals so that they may qualify as teachers, thus attracting more teachers from immigrant communities to the schools. Large school districts such as those in New York and Los Angeles have long had bilingual professionals on their staffs of psychologists, speech therapists, social workers, and other specialists.

Promoting parental understanding of American schools and encouraging parental involvement in school activities are also by-products of bilingual education. Workshops and training sessions for all educators on the historical and cultural backgrounds of the rapidly growing and varied ethnic communities in their districts result in greater understanding of and respect for non-English-speaking children and their families. These days teachers and school administrators make an effort to communicate with parents who have a limited command of English, by sending letters and school information to them at home in their native languages and by employing interpreters when necessary for parent-teacher conferences. In all these ways bilingual education has done some good.

But has it produced the desired results in the classroom? The accumulated research of the past thirty years reveals almost no justification for teaching children in their native languages to help them learn either English or other subjects—and these are the chief objectives of all legislation and judicial decisions in this field. Self-esteem is not higher among limited-English students who are taught in their native languages, and stress is not higher among children who are introduced to English from the first day of school—though self-esteem and stress are the factors most often cited by advocates of bilingual teaching.

The final report of the Hispanic Dropout Project (issued in February) states,

While the dropout rate for other school-aged populations has declined, more or less steadily, over the last 25 years, the overall Hispanic dropout rate started higher and has remained between 30 and 35 percent during that same time period … 2.5 times the rate for blacks and 3.5 times the rate for white non-Hispanics.

About one out of every five Latino children never enters a U.S. school, which inflates the Latino dropout rate. According to a 1995 report on the dropout situation from the National Center on Education Statistics, speaking Spanish at home does not correlate strongly with dropping out of high school; what does correlate is having failed to acquire English-language ability. The NCES report states,

For those youths that spoke Spanish at home, English speaking ability was related to their success in school…. The status dropout rate for young Hispanics reported to speak English ‘well’ or ‘very well’ was … 19.2 percent, a rate similar to the 17.5 percent status dropout rate observed for enrolled Hispanic youths that spoke only English at home.

In the past ten years several national surveys of the parents of limited-English schoolchildren have shown that a large majority consider learning English and having other subjects taught in English to be of much greater importance than receiving instruction in the native language or about the native culture. In 1988 the Educational Testing Service conducted a national Parent Preference Study among 2,900 Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Asian parents with children in U.S. public schools. Although most of the parents said they wanted special help for their children in learning English and other subjects, they differed on whether their children should be taught in their native languages. Asian parents were the most heavily opposed to the use of native languages in the schools. Among Latino groups, the Puerto Rican parents were most in favor, the Mexicans somewhat less, and the Cubans least of all. A large majority of the parents felt that it is the family’s duty, not the school’s, to teach children about the history and traditions of their ancestors. When Mexican parents were asked if they wanted the school to teach reading and writing in Spanish and English, 70 percent answered yes. But when they were asked if they wanted Spanish taught in school if it meant less time for teaching English, only 12 percent were in favor.

In the most recent national survey of Latino parents, published by the Center for Equal Opportunity, in Washington, D.C., 600 Latino parents of school-age children were interviewed (in Spanish or English) in five U.S. cities—Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Antonio. A strong majority favored learning English as the first order of business for their children, considering it more important than learning other subjects, and much more important than reading and writing in Spanish.

Having begun quietly in the 1980s and gained momentum in the 1990s, Latino opposition to native-language teaching programs is now publicly apparent. Two actions by communities of Latino parents demonstrate this turn of events.

A hundred and fifty parents with children in Brooklyn public schools filed a lawsuit in September of 1995, charging that because their children routinely remained segregated in bilingual programs in excess of three years, and in some cases in excess of six years, contrary to section 3204 (2) of the State Education Law, these children were not receiving adequate instruction in English, « the crucial skill that leads to equal opportunity in schooling, jobs, and public life in the United States. »

New York State law limits participation in a bilingual program to three years, but an extension can be granted for up to three years more if an individual review of the student’s progress seems to warrant it. And here is the nub of the lawsuit: thousands of students are routinely kept in native-language classrooms for six years or longer without even the pretense of individual progress reviews.

Unfortunately, even with the help of a strong champion of their cause, Sister Kathy Maire, and the pro bono services of a prestigious New York law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, the parents lost their case. Under New York law these parents in fact have the right not to enroll their children in bilingual classes, or to remove them from bilingual classes, but in practice pressure from school personnel is almost impossible to overcome. Teachers and principals tell parents that their children will fail in English-language classrooms. They play on ethnic pride, asserting that children of a Latino background need to be taught in Spanish to improve their self-esteem.

In May of last year the Court of Appeals of the State of New York ruled that there could be no further appeals. But the publicity attracted by the case may encourage other Latino parents to take action on behalf of their children. And one concrete improvement has already occurred: the New York City Board of Education announced an end in 1996 to the automatic testing for English-language skills that children with Spanish surnames had undergone when they started school.

On the other coast an equally irate group of Latino parents moved against the Ninth Street School in Los Angeles. Seventy families of mostly Mexican garment workers planned the protest through Las Familias del Pueblo, a community organization that provides after-school child care. Typical of the protesters are Selena and Carlos (I have changed their names, because they are undocumented immigrants), who left the poverty of a rural Mexican village in 1985 to come to work in Los Angeles. Their children were born in Los Angeles, but the school insisted that they not be taught in English until they had learned to read and write in Spanish, by the fourth or fifth grade. The parents complained to the school for years that children who lived in Spanish-speaking homes and neighborhoods needed to study in English in the primary grades, when children find it easier to learn a language than they will later on.

Persistent stonewalling by administrators finally moved the parents to keep their children out of school for nearly two weeks in February of 1996, a boycott that made national news. The parents demanded that their children be placed in English-language classes, a demand that has since been met. The school administrators waited too long to make this change: the previous spring only six students (about one percent of enrollment) had been deemed sufficiently fluent in English to « graduate » to regular classrooms in the next school year.

In the early 1970s almost all the students in bilingual classes spoke Spanish. Today, of the three million limited-English students in U.S. public schools, more than 70 percent speak Spanish at home; the rest speak any of 327 other languages. California alone enrolls 1.4 million limited-English children in its schools—one of every four students in the state. According to the 1990 U.S. census, 70 percent of limited-English students are concentrated in California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

Controversy over native-language education is at the boil in California. In our most multicultural state, where minorities now constitute 46 percent of the population, a revolution is brewing. In 1987 the California legislature failed to reauthorize the Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act, allowing it to expire. However, the California Department of Education immediately notified all school districts that even without the state law the same requirements would be enforced and bilingual programs continued. In July of 1995 the state Board of Education announced two major policy changes: the « preference » for native-language programs would henceforth be revoked and school districts would be given as much flexibility as possible in choosing their own programs; and school districts were ordered to be more diligent in recording evidence of student achievement than in describing the teaching methods used.

Yet in two years only four school districts have succeeded in obtaining waivers from the department, permitting them to initiate English-language programs for limited-English students. Why should schools have to seek waivers when no state or federal law, no court decision, no state policy, bars them from teaching in English? The most important case to date is that of the Orange Unified School District, with 7,000 limited-English students.

Orange Unified applied in early May of last year for permission to focus on English-language teaching in kindergarten through sixth grade while using a small amount of Spanish. The Department of Education strongly opposed the district, as did the California Association for Bilingual Education, California Rural Legal Assistance, and the organization Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy (META). Local Latino activists publicly criticized the district’s change of plan, and some bilingual teachers resigned.

Nevertheless, the Board of Education last July granted Orange permission to try an English-language program for one year. A lawsuit was filed, and a temporary restraining order granted. But last September, U.S. District Court Judge William B. Shubb lifted the restraining order. In his seventeen-page decision the judge wrote, « The court will not second-guess the educational policy choices made by educational authorities. » And he added a ruling with much broader application:

It is clear that « appropriate action » does not require « bilingual education. » … The alleged difference between two sound LEP [Limited-English Proficient] educational theories—ESL [English as a Second Language] and bilingual instruction—is inadequate to demonstrate irreparable harm.

The federal court ruling allowed Orange to proceed with its English-language program. But the case was returned to Sacramento County Superior Court, where Judge Ronald B. Robie ruled that nothing in California state law requires primary-language instruction, and therefore no waiver is needed for a district to provide an English-language program; and that federal law permits educational programs not to include native-language instruction. Soon after Robie’s ruling the Board of Education rescinded the policy that schools must obtain waivers in order to eliminate bilingual programs. Although the court decision may be appealed, these two actions signal a victory for Orange Unified and have implications for other California districts as well. The legal battle has already cost the Orange district $300,000, which no doubt would have been better spent on students. It is estimated that the new program will cost an additional $60,000 the first year, but the superintendent of Orange Unified schools, Robert French, says, « We’re not doing this to save money. We’re doing this to save kids. »

Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has long been concerned about the California education system’s failures, especially as they affect its 1.4 million limited-English students. He has decided to put his time, energy, and money into an initiative— »English for the Children »—meant to give all California voters a say on the language of public education. If the initiative passes, in elections to be held on June 2, it will give « preference » to English-language programs for immigrant children, reduce the length of time children may remain in special programs, and make the state spend $50 million a year to teach English to adults. Bilingual programs will be allowed only in localities where parents actually request native-language teaching for their children.

Last November, Unz and the co-chairman of the drive, Gloria Matta Tuchman, submitted more than 700,000 signatures to put the petition on the California ballot. The drive has the support of several Latino leaders in California, most notably Jaime Escalante, who is its honorary chairman. Escalante is the Los Angeles high school teacher whose success in teaching his Latino students advanced calculus gained him national fame in the film Stand and Deliver.

Though some opponents characterize the petition as « anti-immigrant, » Unz and Matta Tuchman have strong pro-immigrant credentials. In 1994 Unz ran against the incumbent Pete Wilson in the Republican primary for governor and forcefully opposed the referendum to deny schooling and health benefits to illegal immigrants—a referendum that passed with Wilson’s support. Matta Tuchman is a recognized Latina advocate for improved schooling for all immigrant children, but especially Spanish-speakers. The measure is likely to pass, some believe with strong ethnic support. A Los Angeles Times poll last October found Latino voters backing the initiative by 84 percent, and Anglos by 80 percent. A more recent survey showed a reduced amount of support—66 percent of respondents, and 46 percent of Latinos, in favor. But whether or not the initiative passes, bilingual education has had a sufficient trial period to be pronounced a failure. It is time finally to welcome immigrant children into our society by adding to the language they already know a full degree of competency in the common language of their new country—to give these children the very best educational opportunity for inclusion.

Rosalie Pedalino Porter is the director of the Institute for Research in English Acquisition and Development (READ), in Amherst, Massachusetts, and the editor of READ Perspectives.

One Response to Immigration: Quand le multiculturalisme promeut la déculturation (Teaching to the tests: the latest twist in the dumbing down of US schools)

  1. jcdurbant dit :

    DON’T STUDY TOO HARD (Lack of social life and extracurricular activities can actually keep lower class students from elite schools and jobs)

    Whether intentionally or not, elite parents expose their children to different experiences and styles of interacting that are useful for getting ahead in society. Many of these are taken for granted in upper and upper-middle class circles, such as how to prepare a college application (and having cultivated the right types of accomplishments to impress admissions officers), how to network in a business setting in a way that seems natural, and how to develop rapport with teachers, interviewers, and other gatekeepers to get things you want from those in power. Basically, if we think of economic inequality as a sporting competition, elite parents give their kids a leg up, not only by being able to afford the equipment necessary to play but also by teaching them the rules of the game and giving them insider tips on how to win.

    Working and lower-middle-class children are less likely to participate in structured extracurricular activities than their more privileged peers while growing up (and when they do, they tend to participate in fewer of them). This hurts their job prospects in two ways. First, it affects the types of schools students attend. Elite universities weigh extracurricular activities heavily in admissions decisions. Given that these employers—which offer some of the highest-paying entry-level jobs in the country—recruit almost exclusively at top schools, many students who focus purely on their studies will be out of the game long before they ever apply to firms. Second, employers also use extracurricular activities, especially those that are driven by “passion” rather than academic or professional interest and require large investments of time and money over many years, to screen résumés. But participation in these activities while in college or graduate school is not a luxury that all can afford, especially if someone needs to work long hours to pay the bills or take care of family members. Essentially, extracurriculars end up being a double filter on social class that disadvantages job applicants from more modest means both in entering the recruiting pipeline and succeeding within it.

    Quite simply, we like people who are similar to ourselves. Ask anyone what constitutes a good driver, leader, or parent, and chances are they will describe someone like themselves. The same is true for how people think of merit in the working world. Most employees in these firms are graduates of highly elite undergraduate or graduate programs and believe that’s where talent really resides. In addition, given how segregated our society has become socioeconomically, people who grow up in upper-middle or upper-class communities where college attendance is the norm may not realize structural factors that influence educational pathways and erroneously view university prestige as a reflection of ability alone. Finally, national rankings matter. Rankings provide an easily quantifiable, presumably “scientific” way of making sense of the myriad of educational institutions out there. They both reinforce beliefs that school prestige equals student quality (even though things having nothing to do with students’ abilities factor into a university’s rank) and serve as a convenient justification for limiting recruitment to a small number of elite schools with strong alumni ties to firms.

    The purpose of the book was to reveal how taken-for-granted ideas about what merit is and how best to measure it contribute to class inequalities at the top of the U.S. economic ladder. I certainly did not intend for the book to be interpreted as a how-to manual. However, given rising levels of anxiety about class position among the relatively advantaged and the high stakes of getting jobs in these firms, I’m not entirely surprised that some people are using it as a tool to try to game the system. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it can help groups currently disadvantaged in the hiring process, such as working class students and racial minorities, break into these jobs. On the other hand, it can benefit the already advantaged and reinforce the types of inequalities documented in the book. My hope, however, is that the research will open employees’ eyes about inequities and inefficiencies in the way hiring is currently done in these firms and motivate change in a positive direction.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/09/23/why-are-working-class-kids-less-likely-to-get-elite-jobs-they-study-too-hard-at-college/

    J'aime

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