Education of Students of Minority Religions

During the nineteenth century, the Irish Catholics were despised by the Protestant majority for many reasons, including religion and job issues. They were treated hostilely in the schools, were required to read texts that were dominated by Protestant values and contained anti Catholic material, and were compelled to read from the Protestant Bible.

The Catholic community wanted changes in the curriculum, but the powerful Protestant culture ignored their complaints. The Catholics asked for money from the common school fund to fund their own schools, but they were turned down and as a community decided to fund private schools that accepted their culture. Because they were not willing to send their children to schools in which their culture and religion were devalued, Catholics were doubly taxed, first to pay for the common school fund through taxes, and secondly to pay for their own schools where another religion was not pushed on their children. Even into the 20th century, “many Catholics would refer to public schools as Protestant schools” (Spring, 2005, p.108).

Education of African American Students

During times of slavery in the South, there was little formal attempt to teach slaves coming from Africa to speak English, though this of course happened eventually. Some learned to read and write, but in most cases this was done covertly. Slaves had to hide their attempts to learn to read, or their ability to read, from their masters or other whites. It was actually illegal to teach a slave to read. Many slaves were punished severely if it was found out that they had learned to read. At the start of the Civil War, about “5 percent of slaves had learned how to read” (Spring, 2005, p. 114). Abolitionist societies that worked to end slavery also worked to educate the slaves who had been freed.

In the late 1700s, communities in Massachusetts were required to provide grammar school to children. No law said black children could not attend, but many were unable to for economic reasons (they were needed at home to work and help provide for the family). The children who did go were mistreated in the schools by whites. Black parents, in order to protect their children, actually tried to get a separate (segregated) school system for their children. This dream was made a reality with the help of white philanthropists. By the 1820’s, African Americans realized that an inferior education was the consequence of segregation. Public schools created their own version of the segregated school on the premise that this school would be more equal to that of white children.  Abolitionist David Walker argued that “the inferior education blacks received in schools was designed to keep them at a low level of education” (Spring, 2005, p.113).

Until 1954, schools were segregated by race. Separate but equal conditions created schools that were not actually equally funded. They did, though, provide African American students with African American teachers who understood their needs and provided role models from their culture (Spring, 2005).

During the 1960s, the civil rights movement prompted a review of the existing reading texts for racist content (Monaghan et al., 2002). There were recommendations to print texts in African American English. There has been controversy in the professional community over the validity of Ebonics, or African American English (LeMoine, 2002). There are three different theories about the origins of this dialect. First, English-origin theorists propose that African American English is a natural dialect of English, and uses the same grammar structure as English. The second theory is that of the Creolists, who suggest that the origins of African American English come from the simplified languages used to communicate by enslaved persons in West Africa and the Caribbean (LeMoine, p. 167). Lastly, African- origin theories suggest that African American English is not a dialect of English at all, but rather derived from African languages from the Niger and Congo areas. African- origin theorists stipulate that the underlying grammatical structures of African American English are from these African languages, and not English. “…All three perspectives agree that Ebonics is governed by a system of linguistic rules (grammatical, syntactical, morphological, pragmatic, and semantic)…features” (LeMoine, 167), making it a valid language however one believes it developed.

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African American English is a different dialect than the Standard English that is spoken in most American schools, and this can cause difficulties for students trying to traverse back and forth between their home and school dialects. Though there have been many increases in the opportunities for education for African Americans in recent years, these students are still struggling to be recognized for their full potential. Hosp and Reschly (2004) report information from a previous study that shows that, at least for African American and Hispanic students, differences in achievement between these groups and Caucasian students show themselves as early as kindergarten. They are overrepresented in special education and underrepresented in gifted and talented programs (Elhoweris, Mutua, Alsheikh, and Holloway, 2005).

Education of Native American Students

Early treaties with Native American peoples provided accommodations for the schooling of Native children. The education provided attempted to transform the culture of the Indians into the mainstream culture of the United States. Educators tried to teach the children to stop being nomadic and instead become farmers. This was an attempt to civilize the native people, which to whites meant to make the Indians’ cultures more like their own (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p.31). There were schools for Cherokee people that taught women to sew and men to use farm equipment. Thomas Jefferson and many others thought that to get Indians to assimilate to the dominant culture, it was “important to teach Indians a desire for the accumulation of property and to extinguish the practice of cultural sharing” (Spring, 2005, p.116).

Following the Civilization Act of 1819, schools were formed to educate Native American children. Under the guidance of Superintendent of Indian Trade Thomas L McKenney, attempts were made to convert the Native culture of these students into the Protestant mainstream in only one generation. “These Presbyterians could accept nothing less than the total rejection of the tribal past, and the total transformation of each individual Indian” (Spring, 2005, p.124).

Sequoyah, a Cherokee Indian, created a Cherokee alphabet that he wanted to use to help preserve Cherokee culture. Missionaries had only seen this as a way to transfer Indians into Anglo culture. Sequoyah’s alphabet had 86 symbols that all represented a sound from the oral language of the Cherokees. It was somewhat easy to learn, because these symbols represented all the sounds in their spoken language. Using this Alphabet, the Cherokee nation put out a written newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, in 1928 (Spring, 2005, p.126). They were able to use the alphabet, a concept they had learned from settlers and missionaries, to maintain their own culture.

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In the late 18th and early 19th Century “Both Choctaw and Cherokee classroom materials were written in English and the Native languages…Students in the Choctaw and Cherokee schools demonstrated literacy rates approaching nearly 100% and many youths attended colleges in the east” (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p.31). According to Spring(2005), the high literacy rates were much higher than whites in Texas and Arkansas (p.129). This threatened many whites, since language was being used in the context of Native culture and was not being used to translate ideas and transition the Native culture to Anglo American.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Native American children were removed from their families and sent to boarding schools where they were stripped of their culture and language. Isolation from their families removed the connection to tribal customs and culture, while teaching English and Anglo customs was emphasized in this removed context.  Students were punished for speaking in their native tongue.  Spring(2005) called these “acts of cultural and linguistic genocide” (p.189). Students were also forced to study and practice Christianity, and forbidden from practicing their native religion or spiritual practices (Wikipedia, 2006).

The Puritan ideals that these schools were run on were almost directly opposite those of Native Americans.

The list of these Puritan ideals included respect for authority; postponing immediate gratification; neatness; punctuality; responsibility for one’s own work; honesty, patriotism, and loyalty; striving for personal achievement; competition; repression of aggression and overt sexual expression; respect for the rights and property of others; and obeying rules and regulations. These principles were anomalies for native peoples who lived in communal settings and had practiced skills for cooperative survival on this continent for thousands of years. (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p.30)

To this day, many Native Americans do not trust public schools, referring to it as the white man’s education. There is a negative attitude about these schools in the Native community (Klug and Whitfield, 2003).

After the verdict was handed down in the case of Brown vs. The Board of Education in 1954, children living on reservations were able to attend public schools off the reservation. Here Native children were a minority and their needs were largely ignored in these schools. Many children were placed in classes for mentally retarded children, because their language, not their ability, targeted them as unable to learn (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p.40). Native American children are still disproportionately placed into special education.

During and after World War I, intelligence tests were used to place students.

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According to Spring(2005), these tests “seemed to confirm the racial superiority of the English and Germans. Also, they seemed to confirm to Anglo- Americans that Native Americans and African Americans were inferior races” (p.298). These tests were not culturally sensitive in any way. By giving everyone the same test, which was normed for Anglo Americans, “IQ testing became a new way of segregating students in public schools, this time on the basis of ‘intellectual ability’” (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p.40). According to Delpit (1995), “when a significant difference exists between the students’ culture and the school’s culture, teachers can easily misread students’ aptitudes, intent, or abilities as a result of the difference in styles of language use and interactional patterns”(p.167).

After conquering territory in the southwest after the Mexican American War, Anglo pioneers made many attempts to dominate and subjugate Mexicans who remained in the area. In 1855, California decided that all classes would be taught in English.

According to Valenzuela(1999), schooling has traditionally been a subtractive process. The transition of students into English from their native language, or English as a second language (ESL) “neither reinforce[s] their native language skills nor their cultural identities” (p.26). The tradition of these types of English only or ESL programs has failed to appreciate Spanish from the start, and continues to undervalue it today.

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States. Before voting to become a commonwealth in 1951, many Puerto Rican’s resisted the control of the United States, especially in the schools. In the early 20th century, Americanization policies were enacted in the schools, requiring texts and curriculum to represent the United States’ culture rather than the local culture, and requiring all classes be taught in English. Teachers who could not speak English, or who did not use it to instruct, were fired (Spring, 2005, p.237).  Instead of using the language abilities and capitalizing on their cultural resources, the attempt was made to transition the culture of the students into mainstream American culture from their native Puerto Rican culture. After becoming a commonwealth, Spanish was restored as the official language of the schools (Spring).

Education of Asian Pacific American Students

In the beginning, it was not that Asian Pacific Americans’(APA) culture as not respected in schools, the problem was that they were not allowed to attend schools at all. In 1884, San Francisco passed a resolution prohibiting schools from accepting APA students. The Supreme Court ruled in 1885 that schools must provide education for APA students, and segregated schools were established.

Assumptions by teachers have also hurt APA students. Many Asian Pacific American students are assumed to be exceptionally smart and successful in school. Even when they do not display these characteristics, the teacher may not even notice because they often quietly do their work. This is a stereotype that causes many APA students to not get the support they need in the classroom. The teacher assumes the students are doing well instead of really making it his or her business to know if this is true (Delpit, 1995, p. 170-171).