Latino Kids Face Uphill Battles in School

School life isn’t a walk in the park for any school-age kid, but things seem to be even harder for Latino children in our school. Academics are challenging enough, as they should be, but it’s the social pressure and the institutional biases that really bear down on our kids and jeopardize their success.


Latino boy raises hand to ask a question at school.

Schools should challenge students academically, not by setting social and intitutional barriers.


Working with parents and their school kids through the Latino Leadership Council, we continually come up against a school system that not only has lower expectations of our kids, but one that also make assumptionsthat Hispanic children are already trouble.

Not too long ago at a local high school, a group of Latino kids got in trouble for wearing the “wrong” colors. While we can make an argument that the color of one’s clothes does not dictate whether a child is well-behaved or a trouble-maker, we’ll set that discussion aside for now. After all, a school has the prerogative to set and enforce rules they deem necessary. However, as it was in this case, when the rules are applied exclusively to one group of people and not others, that’s where there’s evidence of institutional bias.


Latino students were punished for wearing what the school considered to be gang colors. Yet no non-minority students were reprimanded for the same behavior. The assumption, or bias, the school was demonstrating was that only Latinos could be in gangs and that any Latino wearing those colors were gang members.


Students have very little, if any, recourse in resolving the matter. Schools set the rules, and even if the rule is unequally enforced, students are left to fight a large institution in order to affect any change.


But it’s not only the enforcement of dress codes that is in question. Over and over again we work with parents whose kids are facing disciplinary action at school. We see instances where the Hispanic child is assaulted by a non-minority student, yet the Latino kid still faces disciplinary action. Often times we see the process play out without consideration from some of the schools for the parents’ and even the student’s difficulty with the English language. No communication is done in Spanish nor are efforts made to ensure that the parents and students understand the process or rights that they may have.


We also experience the biases in some teachers’ low expectations of Latino students. It’s almost as though they expect our children to fail. We hear from our students that they are set aside, help is often not extended and some teachers even treat them as though they are inferior. At times we hear about some teachers who don’t invest the time with Hispanic students because they believe the students are undocumented and therefore won’t amount to anything anyways. With those pressures and uneven treatment, it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophesy—teachers’ belief that the students will fail actually leads to the students failing.


The most recent census found that Hispanic kids make up more than 50% of the student population in California schools. Yet some schools continue to be ill-prepared or even unwilling to make efforts to work with what is now the majority of its students. We’re not asking for special treatment for our children…we’re asking for equal treatment and opportunity. Don’t look for excuses to punish our students or enforce rules unevenly. Provide ample opportunities for meaningful parent and student involvement, even though it may mean accommodating for language barriers. Believe in the individual child, regardless of their background, ethnicity or legal status.


Success is hard enough for kids, even without some schools and some of their teachers working against them.


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2 Comments for Latino Kids Face Uphill Battles in School

  1. Maria Cordova says:

    Everybody should read Pedagogy Of the Oppressed by Pablo Freire. Everyone can learn if given an opportunity to learn in education that is relevant to to student. If we have such a large number of drop-out students, shouldn’t we be looking for solutions ? Let’s look at some teachers that are doing it right! What you think about , you bring about! What is your perception? We are part of the problem or part of the solution.

  2. Reyes Ortega says:

    Great advice! I’ve read Pedagogy of the Oppressed and have kept it on the shelf of my personal library since 1972. I might add that Paulo Friere’s “Banking Concept of Education” is required reading for our students in the Puente program at Sierra College as well.

    What is most disheartening is the knowledge that the condition of Latino student underrepresentation, in terms of academic success, has been in place for many generations for the very same reasons that you have outlined. It has been much easier for educators to identify external factors as a way to understand and help resolve this dilema. In my opinion, this approach promotes the practice of blaming the victim (Latino students) for their condition of non-academic success, i.e., language, culture, economic status, family support, etc.

    On the other hand, the greatest rewards can be found when educators experience a process of identifying internal factors that might be contributing to the construction of institutional barriers. Adopting an approach of “internal examination” can very well lead to a greater understanding of ourselves and our unintentional contribution to an academic legacy of historical underrepresentation among Latino students.

    – Dr. Reyes Ortega

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