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Chicano Education in the Era of Segregation

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Chicano Education in the Era of Segregation analyzes the socioeconomic origins of the theory and practice of segregated schooling for Mexican-Americans from 1910 to 1950. Gilbert G. Gonzalez links the various aspects of the segregated school experience, discussing Americanization, testing, tracking, industrial education, and migrant education as parts of a single system designed for the processing of the Mexican child as a source of cheap labor. The movement for integration began slowly, reaching a peak in the 1940s and 1950s. The 1947 Mendez v. Westminster case was the first federal court decision and the first application of the Fourteenth Amendment to overturn segregation based on the "separate but equal" doctrine. This paperback features an extensive new Preface by the author discussing new developments in the history of segregated schooling. "[Gonzalez] successfully identifies the socioeconomic and political roots of the inequality of education of Chicanos. . . . It is an important historical and policy source for understanding current and future issues affecting the education of Chicanos."—Dennis J. Bixler-Marquez, International Migration Review

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1. Culture and Language

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Chapter 1

During the segregation period, Americanization was the prime objective of the education of Mexican children. Authorities reorganized schooling administration and practices whenever the Mexican population rose to significant numbers in a community and whenever Mexican children because increasingly visible on the school registers. This reorganization established special programs, including Americanization classes, and applied to both children and adults in urban and rural schools and communities. The desired effect was the political socialization and acculturation of the Mexican community, as well as, ironically, the maintenance of those social and economic relations existing between Anglos and Mexicans. Indeed, more than anything else, Americanization tended to preserve the political and economic subordination of the Mexican community. Moreover, Americanization merged smoothly with the general educational methodology developed to solve the “Mexican educational problem,” as it went hand in hand with testing, tracking, and the emphasis upon vocational education.

 

Chapter 1: Culture and Language

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Social Theory and Americanization

Americanization was the practical form of the general sociological theory of assimilation, and assimilation was the specific application of the general theory of the organic society to the problem of immigrants and ethnicity in modern industrialized societies.1 Consequently, Americanization corresponded in most respects with the dominant social theory at the turn of the century. Organic theory arose as a response to emerging social conditions of advanced capitalist countries in the late nineteenth century and focused upon problems of social order in a complex, urban industrial environment. It offered a critique of Social

Darwinism and subsequently replaced it with a view of society as governed primarily by social, not uncontrollable natural or biological, forces. Society was perceived as a single entity, organic, that is, without critical internal contradictions, with a life of its own, composed of interrelated and interdependent parts, each functioning as part of a single whole. An early proponent of organic theory and pioneer in American sociology, Charles H. Cooley, defined society as “a complex of forms and processes each of which is living and growing by interaction with the others, the whole being so unified that what takes place in one part affects all the rest. It is a vast tissue of reciprocal activity.”2

 

Chapter 2: The Americanization of the Mexican Family

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industrial work sites, day classes for mothers, and naturalization classes.

Indeed, this was a comprehensive program designed to completely eliminate Mexican culture in the United States.

Although a significant chapter in the educational history of the

Chicano community,2 historians, hitherto, have overlooked the Americanization of the family. The insightful and important study by historian

Richard Griswold del Castillo, for example, does not delve into the role of the public educational system in the evolution of the Mexican family,3 and while Ricardo Romo’s excellent history of eastern Los Angeles briefly discusses Americanization in the segregated schools, it does not recognize its impact on women.4 Maxine Seller’s essay on the education of immigrant women recognizes the Americanization emphasis of schooling and includes a discussion of Mexican women,5 but, like Romo’s account, does not link the two. The Americanization of Mexican children went beyond, however, the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic or allegiance to the country and its institutions. It involved separating children from home and family in such a way that they would come to desire a home and family of a different kind. Educators perceived the

 

2. The Americanization of the Mexican Family

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Chapter 2

The target of Americanization extended beyond the Mexican child in the classroom to include the adults in the colonia or barrio. For example, in many communities of the Southwest, classes for women included English, nutrition, child rearing, hygiene, homemaking, and sewing. While the men also took courses in English, Americanization training for them also included various vocational subjects. Often public schools financed programs that provided teachers who taught English in factories and in agricultural labor camps, especially in the citrus-growing areas of California. In southern California, some teachers lived in the camps (performing a role not unlike today’s Peace Corps volunteers). Others, called “Home Teachers,” traveled into the urban barrios to offer classes.

The broad sweep of Americanization touched every member of many communities. The Los Angeles city schools’ Americanization classes aimed no less than to offer Americanization “to the individual from birth to old age or death.”1 The Los Angeles program reached into nurseries, elementary, junior and senior high schools, adult evening schools, industrial work sites, day classes for mothers, and naturalization classes. Indeed, this was a comprehensive program designed to completely eliminate Mexican culture in the United States.

 

3. Intelligence Testing and the Mexican Child

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Chapter 3

Studies of the intellectual abilities and educational achievement of Mexicans in relation to other races and nationalities in the United States between 1915 and 1950 showed the Mexican child scoring consistently lower than the normal range and the average for the Anglo population. The authors of no fewer than sixteen studies, most dating to the twenties and early thirties, concluded that heredity intellectually handicapped the Mexican. Another seventeen articles attributed the low average scores mainly to environmental, cultural, or language factors. Some studies straddled both positions, and a few argued for neither. Nevertheless, whether the research leaned toward nature or nurture, the findings revealed that Mexican children consistently failed to do as well as Anglo children on one of the key educational tools of the twentieth century: the intelligence test.

Although the concept of intelligence developed apart from the concept of the organic society, testing psychologists and proponents of organic social theory had much in common. Both sought to maintain the social order as an efficient, harmonious, and cooperative organization. One might even say that the theory of the organic society laid out the long-range objectives and the concept of intelligence in its practical form, the IQ test, facilitated the realization of those objectives. Thus, a principal contribution gained from the extensive application of IQ testing among minorities, Mexicans in particular, involved the efficient social, political, and economic organization of society. The public school provided the main arena for the testing of individuals and for the changing of various cultural acts, beliefs, and sentiments.

 

Chapter 3: Intelligence Testing and the Mexican Child

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might even say that the theory of the organic society laid out the longrange objectives and the concept of intelligence in its practical form, the

IQ test, facilitated the realization of those objectives. Thus, a principal contribution gained from the extensive application of IQ testing among minorities, Mexicans in particular, involved the efficient social, political, and economic organization of society. The public school provided the main arena for the testing of individuals and for the changing of various cultural acts, beliefs, and sentiments.

The adherents of testing, whether proponents of nature or of nurture, generally agreed that the educational process could be centered upon the concept intelligence. Thus, in the case of research and debate on the nature of the intelligence of Mexican people the question of education became the overriding concern.

The Development of the Concept of Intelligence and

Nature versus Nurture

The concept of intelligence, a late nineteenth-century theoretical departure from classical mental theory, became the core of twentieth-century educational practice. According to the classical thought emanating from the Enlightenment, the mind of each individual consisted of abilities or faculties that were similar if not identical within any given population. The zeal, industriousness, labor, or education of the individuals accounted for the differentiation within the population in terms of productivity, talents, abilities, or social standing. Thus, the mind did not determine the range of abilities or social distinctions; the class order developed as a consequence of the nature of the interaction between the individual and the environment. Thus, the classical methods for “getting ahead” included hard work and education, the key elements in the progress of the individual.

 

4. Training for Occupational Efficiency

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Chapter 4

The educational program of the segregated school featured vocational education as the curricular track suited to the particular needs of the Mexican community. Teachers, administrators, researchers, and boards of education functioned as a single mind when it came to planning such educational programs for Mexican children. These programs placed such a pronounced emphasis on vocational, non-academic education that quite often the Mexican school became known as the industrial or vocational school of the district.

Vocational education not only applied to the Mexican community, but in theory and practice its proponents specified its usage for students of inferior mental ability as well. A strong tendency of academics and the general public emphasized vocational training for the working classes as a means out of poverty and as a move up the social scale. However, the theory behind vocational education stipulated that, in the main, those identified as the intellectually slower student should be so placed so that in a “normal” population only about 20 percent would be labeled slow to mentally retarded. Thus, vocational education included both Anglo and Mexican children; however, the disproportional enrollment of Mexican children determines the issue here. For practically all Mexican children found themselves performing vocational course work in the schools.

 

Chapter 4: Training for Occupational Efficiency

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mentally retarded. Thus, vocational education included both Anglo and

Mexican children; however, the disproportional enrollment of Mexican children determines the issue here. For practically all Mexican children found themselves performing vocational course work in the schools.

As in the case of the research upon the intelligence of Mexican children, an examination of the emphasis upon vocational education must begin with the national economic and social changes occurring in the late nineteenth century.

The School as Industrial Training Agency

As mass compulsory education gradually expanded at the turn of the century, schools incorporated the productive training functions formerly reserved for the family, community, or apprentice system.1 This earlier training system corresponded to that era of capitalist production when the owners of capital were also, by and large, the direct producers of commodities. Gradually, technology developed that separated the owners from direct production, so that two social categories emerged: (1) the owners of capital, or the employing class, and (2) the nonpropertied labor, or direct producers. The later nineteenth century also witnessed the economy emerge as a system of corporate industrial production based largely upon socialized labor. This meant that the producers of commodities were not, as was the case in the early nineteenth century, owners of the means of production.

 

5. The Education of Migrant Children

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Chapter 5

This chapter explores and analyzes an ignored yet crucial topic: the education of Mexican migrant children. In general, most educational historiography has lumped the education of the urban resident child with that of the migrant child.1 It is important to recognize the variation within the educational experience of the Mexican community. We will provide a comprehensive view of the education of Mexican migrant children based upon materials published during the segregation period.

Within the educational history of the Mexican community at least three main patterns emerge and take shape according to the regional economy patterns in which educational services are rendered: the urban working class, the occasional migrant class, and the truly migratory class. The first includes the urban working class child whose family integrates him into an industrial, manufacturing, or service economy. This pattern, found in the larger urban centers such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and El Paso, was characterized by a permanency of residence. At the opposite extreme, the migratory pattern involved family integration into a seasonal agricultural economy, and permanency or impermanency of residence. Within these two poles lived a semiurban, largely permanent but occasionally migrant community. Although this community existed within an agricultural area, its members also participated in light industrial, manufacturing, or service enterprises. Within these three patterns (each instance influenced by the regional economy), are three noticeably distinct educational experiences. By and large, the urban, permanent resident child experienced segregation in neighborhood schools. Moreover, authorities enforced compulsory education laws as well as policies allowing open entry of Mexican children into secondary schooling.

 

Chapter 5: The Education of Migrant Children

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residence. Within these two poles lived a semiurban, largely permanent but occasionally migrant community. Although this community existed within an agricultural area, its members also participated in light industrial, manufacturing, or service enterprises. Within these three patterns

(each instance influenced by the regional economy), are three noticeably distinct educational experiences. By and large, the urban, permanent resident child experienced segregation in neighborhood schools. Moreover, authorities enforced compulsory education laws as well as policies allowing open entry of Mexican children into secondary schooling.

By contrast, the migrant child very often faced exclusion from schooling, both by the policy of Boards of Education and by survival needs emanating from their participation in agricultural production organized on the basis of family labor. The migrant child generally attended an inferior and segregated school with emphasis on Americanization and vocational education. Rarely did the migrant child progress as far as the fifth grade.

 

6. Inter-American and Intercultural Education

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Chapter 6

The problem of inequality in educational resources and achievement has long been a source of conflict between the Mexican community and the Anglo-dominated educational system. Analysts on all sides have generally interpreted the problem as stemming from either local, regional, or national contexts. No one has, however, offered an analysis incorporating two critical conditions affecting educational policy beginning in 1940. The first condition originated as an impact of the international context, a context defined by the struggle for world power by the United States; the second emerged as the increasingly apparent potential for independent political action held by minorities,1 especially blacks and Mexicans. I argue that in the minds of domestic and foreign policy officials these two conditions interconnected and beginning in 1940, government officials formulated federal domestic policy affecting minorities in relation to wartime and, later, cold war objectives. This federal activity represented indeed a new political relationship destined to affect the political behavior of the Mexican people, and this relationship became clearly established in formal and informal educational policy affecting the Mexican community.

 

Chapter 6: Inter-American and Intercultural Education

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clearly established in formal and informal educational policy affecting the Mexican community.

In the historical accounts of Rodolfo Acuna,2 Thomas P. Carter,3 Meyer

Weinberg,4 Charles Wollenberg,5 and Carey McWilliams,6 little or no discussion takes place concerning the international dimension as a critical factor in Chicano educational history. In addition, although historians have focused much attention on World War II as a historical watershed in the development of Mexican political consciousness and activity, little research has focused upon those programs applied by the federal government that affected the Mexican community during that same period. McWilliams’s modest analysis of the State Department’s Office of

Inter-American Affairs in North from Mexico, probably makes the major statement on the role of the federal government in the educational and political experience of the Mexican community. Yet McWilliams downplays the significance of the international factor as well as the significance of the federal intervention into the Mexican community. Wollenberg includes some discussion of the effect of World War II upon social science thought and the practice of segregation, but does not emphasize sufficiently the international question, nor the role of the federal government in regional education.

 

7. De Jure Segregation

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Chapter 7

The practice of segregation created its political opposition, and although this study has focused on the action of segregation, the social movement to end segregation is of critical importance to understanding the era of segregation. Furthermore, we cannot fully appreciate the process of desegregating American society without recognizing the role of the Mexican community acting through the Mendez case within the legal system. The historical accounts that have addressed the Mendez case, such as Francisco Balderrama,1 Charles Wollenberg,2 and Thomas P. Carter and Robert D. Segura,3 have not engaged in any discussion of the actions taken by the Mexican-American parents, community, and community organizations that led to that successful desegregation court case. The case proved significant by itself, but its legal ramifications alone did not make the case a historical landmark. Also, the plaintiffs and the local community breathed life into the legal system as a result of the case as they brought it to bear upon the desegregation of California schools. I shall now examine and document this aspect of this important legal juncture. In doing so, I will highlight the political behavior of the Mexican community as a key factor in this case. The legal arguments and their consequences did not provide the only lessons from this case. The actions of the community also figured decisively in the termination of de jure segregation.

 

Chapter 7: De Jure Segregation

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Chapter 7

De Jure Segregation

Its Rise and Fall in the Southwest

The practice of segregation created its political opposition, and although this study has focused on the action of segregation, the social movement to end segregation is of critical importance to understanding the era of segregation. Furthermore, we cannot fully appreciate the process of desegregating American society without recognizing the role of the Mexican community acting through the Mendez case within the legal system. The historical accounts that have addressed the Mendez case, such as Francisco Balderrama,1 Charles Wollenberg,2 and Thomas

P. Carter and Robert D. Segura,3 have not engaged in any discussion of the actions taken by the Mexican-American parents, community, and community organizations that led to that successful desegregation court case. The case proved significant by itself, but its legal ramifications alone did not make the case a historical landmark. Also, the plaintiffs and the local community breathed life into the legal system as a result of the case as they brought it to bear upon the desegregation of California schools. I shall now examine and document this aspect of this important legal juncture. In doing so, I will highlight the political behavior of the

 

Conclusion: The Education of Chicano Children

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mentally retarded classes, provided the internal machinery that made segregation an effective tool.

Fashioned by the emerging social scientists and reformers in the early period of the century, various theoretical constructions legitimized the use of these educational techniques. These ideas generally coincided with the manner in which wealth, power, capital, and labor was divided in society. The social function of one key institution appearing in this century, mass compulsory education, to a large extent, originated in social science thought. The general application of the functionalist theory of the organic society established the overall guidelines for the educational establishment. The universal use of IQ testing, for example, and its educational consequences, had their roots in the social science concept of intelligence, which corresponded with organic theory.

Americanization was extensively applied, and it was based on assimilation theory, which also was linked closely with organic theory. Consequently, in order to understand the nature of the segregated schooling period, the “hidden” aspect, social science theory, must be appreciated for its significance upon educational practice in the Mexican community.

 

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