The Latino Agenda in the Upcoming Elections: Education
By Manuel Hernandez
There has been a lot of talk that Latinos are now the largest minority in the United States. According to recent projections, close to half of the population will be Latino by half of the 21st Century. Hispanic Magazine describes the phenomenon as the “Minority Nation.” The Latino population growth has surpassed all predictions and continues to baffle census specialists. There are many Latino issues on top of the electoral table, but the following seem to be the most relevant: home ownership, immigration, health insurance, economic growth, security and education. As a hard-core believer in the power of education, all of the issues served on the electoral table are appetizers of a quality education.
It was in 1967 with the publication of "Down These Mean Streets" that the legendary pioneer of Latino letters, Piri Thomas, made “El Barrio” in Manhattan a household name. The classic autobiography portrayed and depicted the issues of the late 1960's: identity, survival and racism.
But in 2004, the climactic point in the Latino drama is education. With an approximate 25 percent high school dropout rate average and merely 6 percent registration rate at the graduate level in colleges and universities across America, the numbers speak for themselves and have been thrust around at will by those who have all kinds of interests.
Despite the good intentions coming from one party and another, a sound and solid based educational plan has yet to be designed and created. How will the National Latino high school dropout rate be attended? What academic plan will be drawn to ensure that Latino teens entering high school in 2004-2005 will not drop out tomorrow? How will those young adults graduating from high school receive motivation, information and support to pursue graduate studies? The answers to these and other educational questions remain tied up in the “language of ideas” discussed by politicians at all corners of the electoral table.
Under President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Law, there is renewed accountability, enhanced flexibility and community control. At the same time, there is an emphasis on teaching strategies that have worked in the past. But there are no specific, concise and detailed suggestions on how states should tackle the desired educational outcomes. Senator Kerry’s people are talking about providing quality education and recognizing that “children need good schools” (Hispanic Magazine, page 84). The good intentions are undeniable, but the ideas do not fulfill the academic demands of a population that continues to impact, influence and redefine America.
The academic demands cannot be taken lightly and should provide immediate intervention, pre-planned prevention and long-term planning. The highest high school dropout rate amongst minorities is preventing Latinos to attain a higher education degree. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a college graduate will earn more over a lifetime period than a high school graduate. However, in the traditional age group, only 25 percent of foreign-born Latinos who graduated high school are enrolled in an undergraduate institution. On the other hand, 40 percent of second generation Latino high school graduates attend college.
If Latinos are less likely to graduate from high school but continue to grow in population, the United States has an economic situation that needs serious attention. Why not make it a national priority to work with states to develop a vision in tune with the necessities of the Latino teen?
Latino teens are scoring poorly in city, state and national testing requirements. Teens have difficulties reacting and responding to literature that is far away from their immigrant experience. The literary text possesses no fixed and final meaning or value; there is no one "correct" meaning. According to Louise Rosenblatt, a poem is "what the reader lives through under the guidance of the text." If Latino teens cannot make a connection with the text, there will be little possibility of an interpretation. As a consequence, the possibilities of better scores in these exams are reduced to a minimum.
Latino teens today are open to options. It is the responsibility of government, teachers, administrators, parents and educational advocates to provide them with the keys to their educational experience. I strongly believe that education should be highlighted as the core issue once and for all -- not only by Bush and Kerry but by Latino leaders and academics alike. There are so many of us, but we have not decided on the best interest of our future generations: education.
Manuel Hernández contributes education essays to Puerto Rico Sun. He is the author of Latino/a Literature in The English Classroom. If you would like to publish the article in your local newspaper, call his editor at 787-355-0099. Feel free to visit his page at www.puertoricans.com.