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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 4/20/16

Activism Channeled Through Public Schools

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School district and state support of ESL and other programs serving minorities have allowed upward mobility for minorities in California and this has lead to high levels of acceptance at the University of California system. The activists seek to give minorities access to government services that created the white middle class. They push programs that even out educational disparities between children from different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. These programs also hire people from local communities and provide an avenue to the middle class for their employees. This has been beneficial for minorities at times, as these programs made to assist disenfranchised racial/ethnic groups also hire many people from those groups. The educational system has long served as a jobs program that expands the middle class, and California in its early embrace of ESL and bilingual education has moved ahead of other states in incorporating minorities into the middle class.

California used education as a jobs program to deal with the rapidly increasing numbers of Latinos and Asians. The civil rights laws lead to the Hart-Cellar act, which abolished the quotas favoring European immigrants to the US. Once the US was opened up, the number of Asian and Hispanic immigrants rapidly increased. This lead to huge new populations of children who were non English speakers. The public school systems and the state of California had to deal with these matters. Community activists fought for bilingual education and ESL programs in their local districts. They hired teachers from the communities who spoke either Spanish or Chinese to teach those languages. These teachers were not credentialed. Later on the educational bureaucracy instituted requirements for bilingual education and ESL, but by then other major changes relating to the inclusion of minority teachers took place. Activists in California lead the charge for the creation of ethnic studies at universities. This was meant to not only promote ethnic pride, but to provide employment for Latinos and Asians. It helped lay the foundation for the creation of a Latino and Asian middle class. California's innovation in bilingual education and ESL, plus support of Adult ESL via local school districts helped more immigrant families move up socioeconomically.

Another example of how hiring and training local members of a minority population created socioeconomic mobility occurred in Mississippi. The headstart program in Mississippi from the 1960s called CDGM was formed by a coalition of local and Northern activists. They trained local women with middle school education to work as head start teachers. Around this point Black Mississippians had low rates of literacy and large numbers of them worked in the agricultural sector or as domestics. The headstart program gave many Black women in Mississippi their first formal employment and job training. Many of them were able to move forward to get college and even graduate educations. The headstart program in addition to teaching Black children literacy, sought to counteract the negative stereotypes that had been ingrained in Black people due to extreme oppression. The programs sought to prepare children for a world in which they would have to fight for their rights and for the ability to move up socioeconomically. In Wisconsin a dynamic closer to California occurred with migrants Blacks from the South. As migrant Blacks joined expanding impoverished communities, activists such as William Kelly fought for local school authorities to hire Black teachers.

Efforts to increase minority enrollments have paid off in California. In California as the economy continues to recover the UC system has increased the number of residents it accepts. During the recession the UC system accepted more out of state and international students to make up for the budget shortfalls as they received reduced state subsidies. With both university and state finances recovered, the UC system offered admission to 15% more Californians. The Los Angeles Times reports that the numbers of Latinos admitted to the UC system grew from 16, 608 to 22, 704, representing 32% of the total class admitted. Overall the UC system admitted 66, 123 freshmen to the system. The number of Blacks grew from 2,337 to 3,083, representing 4.7%. Whites and Asian Americans represent 25% and 34.3% percent respectively. California is a minority majority state and the UC system is now reflecting that. The minority students accepted into UCLA mentioned programs from the nonprofit sector and from the UC system itself as playing major roles in guiding them to the proper courses to take in order to be competitive college applications. Research has indicated that bilingual education has long term cognitive benefits. The National Institute of Health states that bilinguals have better attention spans, increased task switching abilities, increased adaptiveness to environmental changes, and less cognitive decline in old age. There are a number of bilingual character schools in California. Charter schools are fulfilling a function of their mission by being innovative in bilingual education. The programs that California has that help minorities are not limited to those under age 18. Local school districts and the state also fund adult ESL.

Other factors aside from changes in education policy that have lead to increased minority college enrollment in California. The students interviewed in the aforementioned Los Angeles Times articles mentioned all the hard work that they put in to do well in school. And surely the parents of these students supported them both emotionally and financially. No doubt individual and family responsibility as at play in these cases and plays a major role. This doesn't negate the fact good public policy in the form of drawing educators from these communities helped open up the pathways for these minority students to enter the UC system in record numbers. The increased enrollment of California residents as well as growing Latino and Asian population were obviously factors in the increased minority enrollments. However one should keep in mind that in the 1960s ESL students were placed in classes for mentally retarded children and had extremely high dropout rates. Clearly the creation of programs serving linguistic minorities and the cessation of discriminatory practices towards linguistic minorities made huge differences in the educational outcomes of California then and California now.

California is an example of how hiring more minority educators increases the number of middle class minorities and provides pathways for others to pursue their higher education. More effort need to be made to hire minority teachers from the communities that have issues with teacher shortages. In hiring locals from these communities there is a clear pathway out of poverty for those who are hired as jobs in education are stable with good benefits. In 2016 New York City announced that it would recruit 1000 minority men from CUNY to teach in NYC public schools. This program needs to be expanded. Now that NYC has universal pre-k those teachers too should be hired from local NYC communities that they will be teaching it. These initiatives need to be expanded on a national level. The programs that assisted those underrepresented minorities in California in becoming competitive students for the UC system need to be created or expanded in other states.

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Screenwriter. Historian. BA in History and certificate in Latin American studies from Cornell University. MA in English Education from Columbia University. Very interested in public policy.

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