Effects of Teacher Assimilationist Philosophy on Mexican American Students

By: Tsahai H. London Sandrock

Assimilationist philosophy is akin to the melting pot ideal. According to this view, children are taught Anglo middle class values that comprise the frame of reference for subject matter and also to generate assessments. School is viewed as a central homogenizing force geared at giving all children the same education in the same way, without regard to the background or diversity. The curriculum itself particularly accents Anglo history, culture, and frames of reference. Designed as having what is relevant for a complete educational experience, such a curriculum blandly ignores or de-emphasizes ontributions by and about non European scholars.

Assimilationists view the primary task of education as proselytizing children for various backgrounds into the Anglo concept of culture. It is the Anglo norms that are seen as the prototype for all children to follow, and no distinction is made for those of different ancestries. Fostering a common culture is their aim, and children are taught to focus the lenses of their judgment using White middle-class norms.

Assimilationists justify their stance because they have a built-in notion that children coming from minority backgrounds are already at a disadvantage. They consider them already retarded in their ability to properly conceptualize and develop cognitive and verbal skills. Besides, their home language itself, or peculiar language pattern may be retardants to the learning process.

Not surprisingly,therefore,teachers adhering to an assimilationist philosophy would tend to demonstrate biased attitudes toward students coming non European groups. The majority of teachers have themselves been drawn from the middle class culture. Despite their own racial or ethnic background, they have systematically acquired middle-class values and status through their own educational acculturation. These teachers have learned the vast perspectives of the middle-class group. They find it difficult to accept the legitimacy of alternative perspectives.

Sometimes, teachers respond negatively to non English speaking students.Such negative response mirrors their perception of the social status of the group in question. Already in 1978,researcher Lastra de Suarez alluded to negative attitides of many Anglo- Americans against Mexican Americans being nursed in sociolinguistic chambers. Relatively low socieoeconomic status of Hispanics has contributed to Spanish language being regarded in dim light.Frequently their language are paired. When they are liked or respected, their language gets positive response, and the converse is true.

Thus, some teachers treat Spanish speaking students in a manner which singularly suggests that they need corrective or remedial work. Having to focus on the content matter plus language problems, teachers become effectually frustrated. Students are also frustrated because they cannot understand the lesson taught in English. Mutual understanding is difficult, at best.

In the classroom the teacher is key. Philosophical views translate into attitudes and behaviors which impact students positively or negatively. Of such potential impact, teachers should be most cognizant.

Larabee, D. Public goods, private goods: the American struggle over educational goals. American Educational Research Journal. Spring 1997, vol. 34, No. 1, pp.
LASTRA DE SUAREZ, Yolanda. 1978. Nahuatl dialect survey. Some preliminary findings. Presentation to the Sixth Annual Friends of uto-Aztecan Working Conference, June 23-24, Reno, Nevada

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