School enjoys a commanding position in the American dream of social mobility and economic freedom. However, the modern school has faced the issue of low educational attainment of representatives of ethnic minorities and immigrants’ children. This phenomenon is so universal and egregious that no one even tries to deny it, and all efforts are reduced to only finding its explanation. Conchas states that “children of immigrants now account for nearly one in five of all U.S. school-children” (475). Most of their parents are immigrants from Asia and Latin America. Children of ethnic minorities, as well as African Americans, learn much worse than their white peers across the country in all age groups, regardless of the financial position of their parents, the extent of assistance from the local and federal authorities, and the demographic situation. Moreover, these students have a negative perception of education process. There are particular factors that can impact students’ academic achievements and their attitude to school, but almost all of them are related to racial identity. Along with ethnicity, that is considered to be an important factor in academic performance, a number of other influences have a substantial effect on school learning. Students’ identities influence their perception of school and their academic achievements due to their ethnicity features and culture, as well as the general attitude towards them.
There are a number of attempts to clarify the reasons for negative attitude towards school and poor academic performance of children from ethnic minorities. Discrimination, unequal opportunities, as well as ethnic identity’s features are the main reasons for this phenomenon.
Some researchers link the low academic performance among the immigrants with neglect and segregation in the modern society that is characterized by racial stratification (Conchas 476). In particular, Conchas argued that representatives of low-income minorities face poor-equipped and unpleasant learning environment, ineffective teachers, inadequate instructional materials, and provocative peer subcultures (476).
In addition, an institutional racism can also serve as an explanation for the low performance and negative perception of school by the minority students. Cruel discrimination of ethnic minorities throughout the country's history perverted Americans’ outlook. The prejudice against blacks and Latinos, as well as immigrants from Asia, rooted into every pore of society, including perception on a subconscious level. Thus, white Americans systematically negatively treat their black compatriots. Such an attitude often occurs on an unconscious level. This prejudice is so ingrained that it is almost impossible to get rid of it. As a result, minority students study badly due to a lack of resources, money, good teachers, the fact that no one expects high performance from them, and the dominance of negative stereotypes.
It has been suggested that a number of school problems, which representatives of minority cultures faced, were associated with sociolinguistic interference. In particular, some of minority students can be unresponsive, as they have no will or ability to answer the questions. In such classrooms, teachers face an issue, since their ability to transform content deals with serious difficulties, which are caused by the lack of positive feedback.
Moreover, students are affected by the absence of speech production that results in their learning opportunities. Due to such conditions, the effectiveness and efficiency of education can be dramatically reduced (Au 91). Ogbu found that difficulties with school achievements among Asian-American and Mexican-American students are caused by “limited proficiency in the English language” (315). The decrease of academic performance can be also explained by cognitive changes, which are caused by the culture shock.
In 18-19th centuries, there was no single school language policy in the United States. The decisions regarding the language were made at the local level. There was no official language. It was believed that a free choice of language was in conformity with democratic ideals. Immigrants of different nationalities settled in different parts of the country. In settlements, church service was conducted in the native language of the locals. In some schools, English was studied as a second language. To attract children from the minority communities, some schools introduced bilingual programs. This liberal attitude towards languages and linguistic minorities existed until the First World War. At the beginning of the 20th century, the United States pursued a policy of assimilation in relation to the various language groups. It was based on the ideology of monolingualism. From the point of view of the policy of assimilation, the growing linguistic diversity poses a threat to national unity and is treated as an important social problem. It was believed that a large number of languages divided the country because the commitment of immigrants to their native languages and cultures could be a serious obstacle to their linguistic and cultural assimilation in the host country. However, students who belonged to minority linguistic groups did not receive any extra help in learning English.
Along with language difficulties, inappropriate context for education contributes to the poor school performance among minority children through decreasing the amount of presented context (Au 92). Thus, children from minority cultures are provided with less material than other children during school careers. Ogbu stated that schools have been characterized by factors that operated against minority students’ academic performance. In particular, the author considered “the lowered expectation of teachers and administrators” as one of such mechanisms (319). The teachers’ failure to respect and understand the representatives of a minority causes conflicts that result in obstructing children’s learning and adjustment.
Along with an impact on academic performance, students’ identity has a great influence on students’ perception of the school. Thus, in some cases, low academic performance is a natural product of a specific black culture. Thus, racial identity has a great impact on school performance. In particular, minority children have low school performance because high performance is seen as something reprehensible, as an unworthy attempt to imitate whites in the conventional scale of values of the African-American community. Those of black students who want to study well or take difficult subjects are at risk of incurring the accusation of racial treason. The desire to learn well in this environment is equivalent to trying to be like whites. The school curriculum in their eyes is an attempt to impose alien values, and the school itself is an instrument by which whites seek to establish their superiority over blacks. Afro-American collective identity actually requires not only indifference, but even a certain degree of hostility towards the school. The most well-intentioned white educators make a significant contribution to such a perception. For the blacks, high school graduates standards for admission to higher education institutions are greatly facilitated.
Thus, ethnic identity can be considered as a risk factor for a lowered academic engagement. Since immigration and the life of minorities in the United States are accompanied by opportunity constraints and oppression, their representatives developed a group identity, which rejected institutions that were dominated in the oppressive culture. Because of negative perception of the dominated culture, a sense of exclusion, as well as a lack of identity, students reject all spheres of American culture, including education.
Moreover, rejection of education among students from the minority cultures is caused not only by peer’s pressure. Another, even involuntary, source of this hostility to school is often the parents. The lack of parents’ education and the circumstances under which the child is not talking in English at home contribute to the low marks in racial and ethnic groups. Cultural differences, the ability to acquire knowledge, and of course, parental attitudes towards education play a significant role too. In many cases, parents who are passionately rooting for their children almost completely withdrew from school affairs. With rare exceptions, they do not participate in parent-teacher associations, shun all other public events in the school and, in general, do not consider themselves active participants in the learning process. Parents are not interested in how things are going at school, do not watch whether their children are doing lessons, do not ask what they were doing in the classroom and what mark they received. Parental participation is a key factor in receiving academic success. Therefore, environment outside the school acts as a determinant for academic achievements.
As a result of such differences in academic achievements between minority students and their peers, many children are characterized by appearing skepticism about the value of a matriculation certificate and to academic success in general. Instead, they show an increased attention to more pleasant and less burdensome pursuits such as sports and music, which are considered by them as an alternative strategy for achieving success in life.
In the US and Canada, racial problems in education are officially recognized. Strong pressure on the official education policy in the United States is made by organizations that fight for the civil rights of national minorities, especially the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. They advocate ensuring of racial equality in schools. In Canada, a special role in a multicultural upbringing is performed by the so-called heritage classes for immigrants, which attach students to the culture and language of their historical homeland. In addition, the problem of multicultural education is solved through bilingual education, which is aimed at helping children to understand the cultural and ethnic identity.
Lew states that, due to the systematic racism and limited opportunities, children of immigrants require the protection of immigrant networks in order to increase academic achievement (303). However, it is not sufficient to provide only the support of immigrants’ centers in order to achieve some progress in changing the situation. It is crucial to change the perception of minority children among their peers and teachers, to provide more language training for improving their speaking and writing skills, and to force parents to reconsider their attitude to the learning process.
In conclusion, students’ perceptions of school and their academic performance are influenced by particular features of children’s identities. The effects of identity and culture on academic achievements and school perception have been supported by various explanations. While some researchers suggest that parental impact is a predictor of the future success, others argue that a sense of identity directly influences school performance and students’ perception of schooling. There are also other factors that contribute to the formation of negative attitude to school and children’s achievements: teacher expectations, environment effects, stereotypes, etc. Besides the fact that this situation offends the sense of justice, which is inherent to most people, it is contrary to the public interest. America has entered the post-industrial era, when competitiveness in the labor market depends primarily on the level of academic training and expertise. If the gap in school performance is not liquidated, the minority will never be able to stand on a par with Native Americans, being on the sidelines of life as a permanent underclass. Therefore, it is important to provide support for children from ethnic minorities in the United States in order to change their negative attitude towards education and school as a whole, which will provide positive results in their academic performance.