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.
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.