Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mexicans Are Not Dumb: The Schools Fail by Rudy Acuña

Rough Draft

Mexicans Are Not Dumb: The Schools Fail


Rodolfo F. Acuña

The great American educator, John Dewey, repeatedly made the case that
students did not fail, schools failed students. This principle is one of
the canons of Chicana/o or La Raza Studies. For the most part, the
American public schools wrote them off as failures, blaming it on their
culture—called them culturally deprived or culturally disadvantaged.
Mexican American journalist Ruben Salazar, killed by Los Angeles Sheriff
deputies while covering the Chicano Moratorium of August 29, 1970,
reacting to educators calling Mexicans “culturally deprived,” wrote in
1963, “Presumably they want to save these poor people terrible void by
giving them culture…What they don’t seem to realize is that Mexican
Americans have a culture…”

Two years later the National Education Association came out with a
study, _The Invisible Minority,_ part of its findings were based on a
survey of the Tucson Schools. Aside from the teaching of bilingual
education, the report recommended the building of pride in Mexican
American students. It quotes an essay of a 13-year old eighth grade
Chicana: “To begin with, I am a Mexican. That sentence has a scent of
bitterness as it is written. I feel if it weren’t for my nationality I
would accomplish more. My being a Mexican has brought about my lack of
initiative. No matter what I attempt to do, my dark skin always makes me
feel that I will fail. Another thing that “gripes” me is that I am such
a coward. I absolutely will not fight for something even if I know I’m
right. I do not have the vocabulary that it would take to express myself
strongly enough.”

The report wanted to ameliorate the high dropout rate among Mexican
Americans. The solution was not to Americanize them and take their
identity away from them. It asks the question: “Is there something
inherent in our system of public schooling that impedes the education of
the Mexican-American child—that, indeed drives him to drop out?” The NEA
report found that it did, Mexican-Americans were schooled to fit a
stereotype. It ingrained a negative self-image that produced the
haunting words “I feel if it weren’t for my nationality I would
accomplish more.”

Increasingly, during the sixties an emerging Mexican American
Middle-Class challenged the premise that “Mexicans are dumb.” World War
II and the Korean War had shined a bright light on the high price that
they had paid for denied equality. Arizona State University Chicana/o
Studies Professor Carlos Vélez-Ibañez writes that “80% of Marine Reserve
Easy Company … were Mexicans and Mexican Americans from Tucson, Arizona.
Some at seventeen and still in high school were called up in June of
1950 and with very limited training fought valiantly through the Inchon
invasion, the battle for the City of Seoul, and to the Yalu River
bordering China. Some returned to graduate from Tucson High School, many
wounded and all suffering from different levels of battle shock. Some
Marine officers in Korea derided units with many Mexican Americans as
only ‘Mexican Marines’ but were defended hotly by fists and hearts by
other Marine officers like Captain Herbert Oxnam.” Mexican Americans
were awarded six Medals of Honor.

The 1960 U.S. Census drove home the points that Mexican Americans
despite these sacrifices were not equal and one of the reasons was that
they are getting an inferior education. Without a minimum education,
they did not qualify for college and were unable to take advantage of
the educational benefits other veterans enjoyed.

By 1968, Pueblo and Sunnyside High Schools were almost half Mexican
American. Students such as Salvador Baldenegro chafed at the high
dropout rate and the premise that “Mexicans are dumb.” Baldenegro called
attention to the failure of the schools and in March 1969 he along with
other Chicano studies led walkouts at Tucson and Pueblo high schools.
The grievances were that there were not enough Mexican American teachers
in the schools, that Mexican cultures were dismissed, the lack of
bilingual education and discrimination. Baldenegro said, "These students
feel that education might be the key to break the whole cycle of
poverty." In September 1969, Baldenegro led a boycott of Mexican
American studies program at the University of Arizona. He and Raul
Grijalva, president of the MALC, accused the administration of tokenism.
They wanted a quality education. This idealism attracted students such
as Guadalupe Castillo, Isabel García and others who knew Mexicans were
not dumb.

These events merged with other streams throughout the Southwest, Midwest
and Northwest, in calling for pedagogy to address the high dropout rate
and stop the schools from failing them. The pedagogy consisted of
building positives image and knowing more about the development of
people of Mexican extraction in the United States. It employed the
multi-disciplines to study the corpus of knowledge that had been
accumulated in areas such as history, sociology, education, the arts and
humanities. And just like there were specialists in Asian, Latin
American, American and European Studies, higher education and that
teachers in particular should know the Mexican American student and not
make they feel like “My being a Mexican has brought about my lack of
initiative. No matter what I attempt to do, my dark skin always makes me
feel that I will fail.”

La Raza or Chicana/o Studies has left a rich heritage. It has addressed
the problem the National Education Association described as the
“Invisible Minority.” It has called attention to the presence of Latinos
nationally and exposed idiotic suppositions such as “Mexicans are dumb.”
Through building pride in themselves many Latinos have succeeded in
higher education. Their dark skin doesn’t make them feel inferior, they
are not cowards and will fight for what they believe in. In Tucson, La
Raza Studies proves _que si se puede_ and for once the schools are not
failing them.

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