Tuesday Reading List: Immigrants, First-Generation College Students, and Millenial Politics

Welcome back from the long Labor Day weekend! As kids head back to school, check out this story from Breanna Edwards in The Root, about a school for the gifted, founded by a Black family:

“Having a school like this that appropriately challenges and creates opportunities for gifted students of color is essential and timely. Black families, in particular, raising gifted children nationwide are disenfranchised from traditional gifted-education programs and lack equitable access to programs like the one provided here,” Joy Lawson Davis, a board member with the National Association for Gifted Children, said of the AGA ... Teachers often expect less of black and brown students. Black students are nearly four times as likely as their white counterparts to be suspended ... By extension, black children are often not thought of as gifted or tested for giftedness. And a lot of gifted children, Anderson notes, are often mislabeled because of the tendency of gifted individuals to exhibit behaviors similar to those of individuals with special needs.

Many of my views on giftedness in schooling come from my mother, who was both a special- and gifted- education teacher in public schools. She believed, as do the founders of this school, that unique abilities are part of a spectrum, and that when we rush to label students as having "special needs," we can miss out on their extraordinary abilities. I wrote a long piece last year about another school in Massachusetts that focuses on upending traditional notions of giftedness; when we add the complexities of race and class to the mix, it gets even harder to sort out a genuine determination of giftedness that is not biased.

Tara García Mathewson has a piece in the Hechniger Report, looking at the electoral issues that affect immigrant students:

... the contrast between two presidential candidates on immigration policy has quite possibly never been so stark. Immigrants have grown from just 4.7 percent of the U.S. population in 1970 to an estimated 13.3 percent in 2014, according to Census data, and the number of immigrant students has grown accordingly. Both the actions and the possible inaction of the next president will have far-reaching consequences on these students in U.S. schools. The next president will have a say in how unaccompanied minors are treated once they get to this country, how the federal government handles deportation or combats civil rights violations against immigrant students, and how much federal funding will be given to support 4.5 million English language learners — a growing portion of the student body that has been served with nearly flat federal funding for years.

It goes without saying that young children of immigrants - whether their status in this country is documented or not - had little to no influence over their families' decisions to immigrate. We can have a debate about immigration, but whatever we do, we must serve the children who live on American soil and depend on our schools. Mathewson goes on to describe the fact that the President of the United States has some extraordinary authorities vis-a-vis enforcing immigration rules around children, which should give everyone pause at the ballot box.

Immigrant students, if they go to college, almost always will be the first in their families to do so. Donald Earl Collins has a piece in The Atlantic describing why pricing isn't the only higher education issue that affects first generation college students:

In addition to financial challenges, first-generation students are navigating a system that is new to them, that taxes them experientially, psychologically, and emotionally. Yet even when they make it a priority, schools struggle to develop programs to help these students. One reason is that defining who first-generation students are and are not is in itself a challenge. Broadly, they are the first in their immediate or extended families to apply to and enroll in a college or university. First-generation students frequently come from families with incomes less than $24,000 per year, today’s poverty line. While first-generation students are disproportionately low-income and students of color, 50 percent of all first-generation students are white and of low-income backgrounds. Some first-generation students have served in the military, and a large minority are over the age of 24, making them adult learners.

Many first-generation college students need to be full-time wage earners for their families, on top of being full-time college students. Not to mention the fact that, whereas most college students turn to their families in times of crisis, if you're the first in your family to attend college, your parents and siblings are unlikely to be solid sources of either information or financial support. Collins unpacks these issues and more, but what if your culture doesn't even think you belong in college? Ginia Bellafante in the New York Times looks at Hasidic women in Brooklyn who want to get a college education:

Among the Satmar [Hasidic Jewish community] in Brooklyn, use of the internet is condemned and secular education is considered of little use. In recent years, though, it became the fashion among some Satmar women to pursue special-education degrees after high school, typically online or through religious colleges. The women often go to work not in philosophically suspect places like Greenwich Village, but in schools within their community. Now, even that minor advance has been rolled back; some Satmar leaders issued a decree proclaiming that the practice would no longer be tolerated ... A history of pandering to the ultra-Orthodox in Brooklyn goes back at least to the days of Mario M. Cuomo. Politicians who might otherwise feel free to lecture black and Hispanic communities on the importance of grit, self-reliance and the sacred path of higher learning express remarkably little outrage over the habits of a group that essentially enshrines its own dependency on the system.

There are a million intersecting issues here, from religious identity, to feminism, to basic human rights. I'm Jewish, and I'm disgusted by the Satmar's treatment of women and girls.

Finally, Audrey Kim, a self-described millenial, has some words of caution for older education reformers, particularly conservative ones:

Education reform needs to attract and retain new recruits if it wants to remain a vibrant movement, and it cannot afford to alienate itself from young people, including young liberals, if it hopes to outlive its current generation of leaders. While some believe that schools should remain completely separate from the world of politics, I’d argue that the melding of politics, social activism, and education isn’t a passing fancy. Millennials stand on the opposite side of a generational gap; on “this” side, politics are completely interwoven with our everyday lives. Reformers would be wise to keep this in mind.

The demographic argument is the strongest one; neither a movement or a political party can survive the next generation of American life by catering to the grievances of a shrinking, White minority, and that's what the political right is destined to continue doing without a complete overhaul. Education reform's right-wing merely reflects that broader truth.

Have a great day!