(MintPress) – For the first time in U.S. history, the number of non-white children born in 2010 superseded the number of caucasian babies entering the world. The statistics represent the growing cultural diversity in the nation, yet public education literature continues to portray American society as prominently white.
The University of Wisconsin has been compiling statistics on the ethnicity of childhood literature authors and the representation of various cultures in such books.
In 2002, the cooperative reviewed 3,150 children’s books published that year throughout the country — 94 of those were about or included Latinos. That means roughly 3 percent of all books published in 2002 represented the Hispanic population, as noted in a recent article in the New York Times.
Yet Hispanic children represent one-quarter of those enrolled in public schools nationwide, according to the Pew Research Center. In states like Arizona and Texas, where Hispanic populations account for more than 30 percent of the total population, numbers are even higher.
Efforts by lawmakers and educators in Texas and Arizona to accommodate and acknowledge the growing diversification in the classroom have been met with resistance by Republican education boards and legislators — and rules have been put into motion that actively attempt to stop such efforts.
It’s as if lawmakers are attempting to keep Hispanic influence out of the education system, despite the fact that such students are increasingly becoming more prevalent.
Laws of resistance
Attempts to change textbooks to accurately reflect the composition of America’s culture have been stifled, at least in Texas, where 38 percent of the population is of Hispanic or Latino origin, according to Census data. In 2011, non-Hispanics made up just 45 percent of the population.
In 2010, the Texas Board of Education voted 10-5 in favor of a curriculum that favors textbooks portraying U.S. history and current events in a conservative light. It was during this textbook battle that Hispanic board members attempted to push for the inclusion of Latino figures to reflect the population — that was a motion met with clear defeat.
“They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist,” Latino board member Mary Helen Berlanga said following the vote, according to coverage form the New York Times.
The vote cements the obligation of textbook companies to present their work to the board for approval. The content — and illustrations — must match their criteria in order to receive the rubber stamp of approval.
Educators throughout the nation took note of the move, claiming that Texas’ buying power would influence textbooks throughout the nation. Companies are not likely to create varying textbooks to meet each state’s liking.
That influence is seen today, two years later.
“No matter where you live, if your children go to public schools, the textbooks they use were very possibly written under Texas influence,” writes Gail Collins, in a June piece published in the New York Review of Books. “If they graduated with a reflexive suspicion of the concept of separation of church and state an an unexpected interest in the contributions of the National Rifle Association to American history, you know who to blame.”
Recognizing Arizona’s changing demographic? Not really
Texas isn’t the only state dealing with the issue of Latino population recognition. Arizona passed HB 2281 legislation into law in May, setting into a motion a rule that outlaws schools adopting a curriculum that advocates ethnic solidarity, encourages the overthrow of the government or incites racial resentment.
The broad definition of each banned element in Arizona education led to the elimination of an entire program aimed at recognizing Hispanics’ growing presence and history in the state and nation.
The state’s Mexican-American studies program was cut — completely. Following this, the Tuscan School District removed books associated with the program from its classroom. The books included: “500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures,” “Chicano! A History of Chicanos” and “Critical Race Theory,” among others.
In 2011, Hispanic and Latinos made up 30 percent of Arizona’s population, compared to 57 percent identified as non-Hispanic, according to Census data.
Tom Horne, superintendent at the time, claimed the removal of the Mexican-American studies program was intended to eliminate racial divisions in the state.
“Traditionally, the American public school system has brought together students from different backgrounds and taught them to be Americans and treat each other as individuals, and not on the basis of their ethnic backgrounds,” he said in a press release. “This is consistent with the fundamental American value that we are all individuals, not exemplars of whatever ethnic groups we were born into. Ethnic studies programs teach the opposite, and are designed to promote ethnic chauvinism.”
Phasing out Latino studies is just one way the education system is resisting recognition of the changing demographic.
Elementary students’ lack of exposure to literature that represents the society in which they live in is another issue professionals are concerned with. The question now being asked by psychologists is whether this has an impact on non-white children, and how that will shape the cultural of America’s future.
“Kids do have a different kind of connection when they see a character that looks like them or they experience a plot or a theme that relates to something they’ve experienced in their lives,” assistant professor for Erikson Institute, Jane Fleming, said in an interview with the New York Times.
Concern over the psychological well being of Hispanic students in states that have passed controversial immigration legislation has already been addressed by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Alabama, for example, was addressed by the DOJ over an atmosphere of tension and bullying within the state’s school system.
The DOJ asserted in a letter to the state’s Department of Education that students were taking the state’s environment with them into the classroom, resulting in an lower overall performance and attendance among Hispanic students, allegedly caused by stress associated with immigration status and an atmosphere of racial division and hostility among students in the classroom.
Meanwhile, a California legislative inquiry found that 1 out of 4 African-American boys in the state’s public school system is convinced failure is imminent. The issue, according to the report, is a response linked to poverty and trauma, highlighting the psychological impact on a student’s educational success.
The finding lends to the belief that the way a student sees the ethnic group to which they belong matters — and has the possibility to shape their educational experience.
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