Schools are important sociopolitical entities within American communities. As such, they are a key arena where conflicting views about immigrants regarding identity, linguistic and cultural diversity, assimilation, accommodation, and other issues play themselves out. Many issues remain unresolved, and new issues continue to surface as the ever-changing landscape of immigration superimposes itself over the education systems of the United States.
Formal and informal education has always been important to immigrants as they have entered the United States, adjusted to the U.S. culture and way of life, and sought to advance their personal and family goals. Throughout the long history of the United States, educational institutions and public and immigrant attitudes toward education have adapted to reflect the economic and political changes of each era.
The period from the Revolutionary era of the late eighteenth century through the early nineteenth century witnessed a diverse set of institutions and means by which Americans were educated. Most education was informal during this period and was undertaken principally by males within the context of occupational apprenticeships. The bulk of Americans possessed only rudimentary literacy skills, such as the ability to sign their own names and read a few simple words. European American families who were well-to-do hired tutors to teach their children; more advanced formal education was reserved for young men. Formal schools were rare, and only the privileged were eligible and able to attend them. Many of the early schools operated only intermittently, as they depended upon the uncertain availability of teachers. Books were treasured by the literate class but were both expensive and in short supply. Only a few people in colonial times, such as Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson, could accumulate libraries that could command respect from visiting well-heeled Europeans.
The second wave of immigration, from 1820 to 1860, saw immigrants primarily from Ireland and Germany. These Europeans brought with them books and literacy skills that they were eager to pass on to their children. Upon settling into new territories in the movement westward, as well as taking up abode within the small cities of the growing nation, they quickly established schools with their own languages as the media of instruction.
Within that same time period,
As the nineteenth century unfolded, the numbers of immigrants continued to increase. In 1850 alone. some 2.2 million foreign-born immigrants entered the United States. At midcentury, foreign-born residents constituted 9.7 percent of the nation’s total population. In 1849, the president of Middlebury College speculated that the huge mass of humanity arriving on America’s shores could foreshadow the downfall of the nation, just as Huns and Goths had settled within the confines of the Roman Empire and ultimately weakened it because of their failure to assimilate and become “true” Romans.
Mann, Barnard, and others argued that schools were the ideal
Young Chinese immigrant students in New York City, 1910.
This notion was seriously challenged by the unfolding tragedy of the
Biculturalism was seen as distinctly un-American. There
Immigration to the United States increased rapidly after the Civil War. The years between 1860 and 1914 saw the majority of new immigrants arriving from southern and eastern Europe, in contrast to the mostly British and northern European immigrants of earlier periods. Chinese and Japanese immigrants also began arriving on the West Coast, as the rulers of both those Asian nations finally gave in to pressure from the United States and other Western nations to permit their subjects to emigrate. Farming and railroads associated with the opening of the West provided ideal conditions for the United States to accommodate the large number of new arrivals and for these immigrants to have a major role in opening up the region to settlement. Wealthy
The pattern of Japanese immigrants’ assimilation into American society was distinctly different than that of the Chinese, in part because of the emperor’s embracing of Western ways, including American science and technology. Japanese students were far likelier to attend American schools than their Chinese counterparts. At the same time, events unfolding in Asia through this period had a substantial impact in how these two cultures interacted with each other in their new nation, as well as with other cultures. For example, the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, Russo-Japanese War of 1905, Japanese invasion and annexation of Korea in 1910, and conflicts between China and Japan that continued through World War II, all affected relationships and rivalries among these groups, especially in the western United States.
Meanwhile, in the cities of the eastern United States, and to a much lesser degree in the South, poor immigrants arriving from southern and eastern Europe presented new challenges to the process of Americanization. Public officials commented openly about the depravity, defiance, and criminal tendencies that these immigrants allegedly manifested. Worries about the political radicalism of immigrants led to a sharp suppression of dissent, and immigrants were schooled in the ways of American democracy.
In response to a perceived need, many schools began opening their doors to the community for evening adult classes in English, government, vocational education, and the naturalization process during the later nineteenth century. By 1906, the U.S. government was requiring English competency as part of the process of naturalization and citizenship procedures. Schools were becoming de facto social centers and homogenization sites for urban U.S.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress was becoming increasingly interested in the process of immigration and its impact on the nation. In December of 1908, investigators for the U.S. Senate’s committee on immigration compiled statistics for thirty-seven cities across the United States. They documented the presence of sixty separate nationalities and found that within cities, huge percentages of residents had fathers who were born abroad.
Vast numbers of immigrant
•British, 10.8 percent
•German, 15 percent
•Russian, 16 percent
•Irish, 0.1 percent
Although immigrants and others needed enough education to hold jobs in the developing industrial economy, few immigrants attained the higher levels of literacy, math ability, or advanced subject matter knowledge that would become the norm after the mid-twentieth century. World War I (1914-1918) highlighted even more starkly for Americans the importance of forging an American identity for all immigrants, as ethnic groups attacked one another with a vengeance across Europe in a war that would ultimately involve the United States. There was considerable concern at the time that these deep European rivalries would erupt into violence on U.S. city streets.
After World War I, many U.S. states
A major wave of immigration that began in 1965 has continued to the present in the twenty-first century. Most of these new immigrants have been persons of Hispanic and Asian ancestry. In 2007, slightly more than one in five of all school-age children in America spoke a language other than English at home. Of these children, one in four reported having difficulty in speaking English.
Many immigrant children in schools have parents who engage in seasonal work or are members of families that move frequently because of rising rents or changing sociopolitical situations in their homelands. Indeed, high rates of student mobility among many immigrant school populations present considerable challenges to the ability of schools to provide adequate educations. Transnational migration, sojourning workers, and
The metaphor of the melting pot has given way to a new metaphor of the “salad bowl” that suggests an essential unity in the midst of considerable diversity.
During the same period, some other states, including
The special challenges presented by education of a diversity of immigrant peoples have contributed significantly to American education generally. For example, addressing immigrant needs has helped to promote the expansion of kindergartens, vocational education, civics education, adult education programs, summer schools, compulsory attendance laws, and an expansion of foreign-language courses in school systems.
Donato, Rubén. Mexicans and Hispanos in Colorado Schools and Communities, 1920-1960. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007. Historical examination of the descendants of Spanish troops and Mexicans in Colorado with special attention to the role of the schools over the period. Feliciano, Cynthia. Unequal Origins: Immigrant Selection and the Education of the Second Generation. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2006. Sociological study that demonstrates Asians are the most highly educated group of immigrants entering the United States. Gándara, Patricia, and M. Cecilia Gómez. “Language Policy in Education.” In Handbook of Education Policy Research, edited by Gary Sykes, Barbara Schneider, and David N. Plank. New York: Routledge, 2009. Overview of the various issues in this complex arena by two leading authorities. Jeynes, William H. American Educational History: School, Society, and the Common Good. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 2007. Standard history of American education that sets immigration issues within a larger framework of changes within schools and American society. Portes, Alejandro, and Rubén G. Rumbaut. Legacies: The Stories of the Immigrant Second Generation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Results of a large research study of second-generation immigrant children in Miami and San Diego including family and school life, language, identity, and achievement. Rong, Xue Lan, and Judith Preissle. Educating Immigrant Students in the Twenty-first Century: What Educators Need to Know. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, 2009. Wide-ranging guide for teachers and others regarding factors influencing learning, successful transitions, working with families, and appropriate teaching and assessment strategies. Suárez-Orozco, Carola, and Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco. Learning in a New Land: Immigrant Students in American Society. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2008. Study of four hundred recently arrived immigrant children from the Caribbean, China, Central America, and Mexico over five years. Full of poignant stories, challenges, and differentiated outcomes. Sudem, Garth, Jan Krieger, and Kristi Pikiewicz. Ten Languages You’ll Need Most in the Classroom: A Guide to Communicating with English Language Learners and Their Families. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, 2008. Highly specific information and suggestions for teaching immigrant children whose first languages are Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Arabic, Tagalog, Haitian Creole, Navajo, Hmong, Cantonese, or Korean.
Bilingual Education Act of 1968
English as a second language
Foreign exchange students
Hayakawa, S. I.
Lau v. Nichols
Plyler v. Doe