Minority Parents Should Know More about School Culture and Its Impact on Their Children's Education

By Vang, Christopher T. | Multicultural Education, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Minority Parents Should Know More about School Culture and Its Impact on Their Children's Education


Vang, Christopher T., Multicultural Education


As a refugee child, I encountered many difficulties and challenges in the public schools. Today, a generation later, many, many children face the same problems. As a result, countless bilingual and limited- English-proficient students are lagging behind their peers. Minority students are being labeled and treated differently from their classmates. Although equally capable, they are receiving a second-class education. The reason is the hidden curriculum in the current American educational system.

What is a hidden curriculum? Posner (1995) defined a hidden curriculum as instructional norms and values not openly acknowledged by teachers or school officials. That curriculum generally is concerned with "issues of gender, class and race, and authority" as well as "which children can succeed at various kinds of knowledge" (Giroux & Purpel, 1983, cited in Posner, p.12). A hidden curriculum is also known as the informal or implicit curriculum.

Most people would not even think that schools could have hidden agendas. But there is something called "school culture," which is a hegemonic value system under which schools operate. For instance, in 2005, the Education Trust-West studied the largest school districts in California and found that the schools serving black, Latino, and poor minority students spend as estimated $3,000 less per teacher. In other words, these schools only recruit underpaid, less experienced, and newer teachers to teach minority students.

Parents usually think that the American public education system is so wonderful when they learn that their students are getting "As" or "Bs" and have perfect citizenship marks. Most parents, especially bilingual, immigrant, and refugee parents, do not ask about the curriculum or the instructional schemes the teachers use. Parents tend to be more concerned about the grades and behaviors of their children than what or how they are learning. In some cultures, receiving good grades means every thing to students, their families, and their parents. For the most part, parents trust teachers and highly respect them as authority figures.

However, for far too many children, having good grades does not mean that students know how to read and write or that they have mastered any content knowledge or academic skills needed for success. This academic deficiency is due to a hidden curriculum that parents need to be aware of if their children are to succeed in school academically. Parents should keep in mind that academic grades must reflect the quality of education that their children received; otherwise, receiving good grades is part of the covert social promotion used by schools that will inhibit minority students' academic potential in the future.

Sheltered Instruction Is a Curricular By-Product

The hidden curriculum is an underlying agenda that affects students of low socioeconomic status, particularly language- minority students. It is based on the attitude that non-English-speaking students are not capable of the same academic achievement as native speakers. English language learners (ELLs)-students whose first language is not English-are classified as either limited-English-pro- ficient (LEP) or fluent-English-proficient (FEP). LEP students are generally placed in bilingual classrooms and FEP students in regular courses of studies.

The 1974 case of Lau v. Nicholas established the premise that public schools should give non-native students extra assistance to help them excel in school. But the court did not specify what public schools should do to help English language learners excel academically. Public schools, faced with the challenge of teaching ELL students, developed the LEP curricula.

Today's LEP curricula conform to legal mandates, but the implementation of curricular programs is somewhat capricious. Proposition 227, "English Only Instruction," has neither proved or disproved English proficiency of ELL students, nor has there been a development of methods and sensible programs to assist teachers in teaching English to ELL students to narrow the gap. …

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