Latino High School Education: A Nation’s Priority
by Manuel Hernández
There has been a lot of talk about the “President's New High School Initiative, Other Proposed Programs Tackle Issues Important to Hispanics”. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s February 23rd Press Release, the President's budget focuses on high dropout rate, teacher quality and college aid. There is no doubt that the November 2nd elections defined Latinos as the vote that defined the new administration’s priorities in education. The initiative proposes to increase funding to make sure that every high school student reaches high standards, including Latino teens.
The issue of Latino education is key to the Bush administration. Statistics have confirmed that Latino teens are likely to receive a quality education than most other Americans. The “New High School Initiative” is a proclamation to enable high school students to prepare to graduate with the skills they need to succeed. The national Latino high school dropout rate has not improved in the last thirty years, 27 percent in 2001 (February 23rd Press Release). Despite the fact, Latinos have recently made some major gains, disparities still exist in academic performance between Latinos and non- Latino White students.
Now that we all know that the Latino high school education is a priority, where do we go from here? Carlsen and Sherill (1988) have collected reading autobiographies from teachers and have shared excerpts in a book titled, Voices of Readers, an interesting collection of testimonies about reading habits. Generally, most respondents stated their love for reading occurred in spite of what was done in schools. Some developed their appreciation of literature in school, but it usually did not occur until very late in high school or even in college. It seems that schools have accomplished just the opposite of what they intend to do: they have turned students off from reading. If we are to motivate Latino teens to develop interest in reading, an alternative may be the integration of Latino/a Literature in the English classroom.
Latino/a literature exposes students to issues such as language, education, family, values, sex, self-esteem, self-acceptance, conflicts in identity, varied approaches to race, domestic violence and the preservation of culture and art which provoke students to make their own reactions and responses to literature. Latino/a literature in the English classroom is an alternative to the teaching of literature and a tool that will prepare students for reading and writing in high school and beyond.
In the English classroom, students feel a lack of personal involvement, especially with isolated writing assignments. Latino/a Literature is filled with contemporary issues, common events, characters and situations and establishes the bridge between reading and writing which connects students to ideas and themes. Recently arrivals will see themselves in a mirror and assess what, where, how and why they are, who they are while they develop reading and writing skills necessary to enter and succeed in college. How can students interact with their writing when their choices of literature are far away from their every day reality? Latino teens need a jump off point before they are introduced to the American and British classics. It is time to take advantage of the initiative by proposing specific strategies to make sure that every high school student reaches high standards, including Latino teens.