Immigration and Education
in the United States
Education has been central to immigrant experience in the United States and fundamental to the creation of the American nation. Education broadly understood is the whole manner in which the young are inducted into the society and enculturated to its norms, habits, and values. For the children of immigrants, this could be a very complex and conflicted experience which involved a variety of sometimes competing formal and informal institutions and organizations—family and other relatives, church, work, peers, sports, clubs, and, in the modern period, expressions of popular entertainment, such as music, movies, television, the Internet, and mall culture. For the purposes of this article, however, our attention will be limited to the education of immigrants at and through school and I will address these other matters only as they intersect with schooling.
Similarly, it can be argued that all European and African migrants to those parts of North America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that became the United States were immigrants. This would include the colonizers of Spanish and French America, and African slaves, as well as the British settlers of the East Coast. I will not be using this expansive definition in this essay, but will instead restrict myself to those peoples who freely came to the United States after the establishment of the union articulated by the Constitution in 1789. This is not intended to deny the immigrant nature of those early settlers. It is rather to clarify the ways in which schooling, which did not exist as a nationbuilding enterprise until after the formation of the permanent union, was an expression of national goals and purposes, and to distinguish immigrants who came freely from slaves who did not. Indeed, in the American context, schooling and immigration are two profoundly interconnected elements in the process of creating a nation in a society that, unlike other societies, could not draw upon common history and memory, rituals, or language toward this end.