The Learning Swerve
By Alex Distefano
With all the problems facing the nation—the economy, the environment, the healthcare system—now Latinos can add yet another dilemma to the ever growing list. According to Cal State San Bernardino professor Enrique Murillo, Latinos in the United States are in the middle of an educational “crisis.”
“The competitive strength of the U.S. in a global economy depends, and will continue to depend, to a large extent on the positive educational outcomes of Latino students at all levels,” Murillo tells the Weekly. “Latinos have emerged as the largest minority in the U.S.”
According to Murillo, public education is failing the younger generation of Latino Americans seeking higher education. Latinos attend public schools with fewer resources; while those who do graduate high school have a low college enrollment rate, he says. Latinos also score among the lowest on achievement tests and continue to have some of the highest dropout rates.
“Education is the economic imperative of our time, and the civil rights issue of our generation,” Murillo proclaims. “Latino students disproportionately bear the crux, or burden of this educational crisis and this is where the greatest improvements and most fundamental changes must be fared as we represent a significant portion of this country’s future strength.”
“We must achieve a dramatic and powerful change in our communities.”
Murillo—whose areas of research include critical ethnography, educational anthropology and cultural studies—insists that it is in this country’s interests to have a well-educated and equipped Latino citizenry to compete in the global economy and shape the political landscape through voting and civic engagement; a “pool of linguistic and cultural talent that would serve to strengthen ties with Mexico and Latin America.”
Murillo, who’s taught at CSUSB since 1999 and is the professor for the school’s Educational Research Methods and Foundations in Education position, has also served as a community organizer, translator, social-service worker, consultant in various community-based projects and editor/researcher for several academic journals. The 2011 edition of The Journal of Latinos and Education showed that on average, out of every 100 Latino children the school system, 56 will graduate from high school, 27 will enroll in college, 10 will earn a bachelor’s degree and two will earn a graduate degree.
But there are other factors.
“A significant amount, perhaps as high as 70 percent, of Latino children do not have access to pre-K programs, and this makes a huge difference,” Murillo says. “In terms of high school, over 50 percent of Latino students, in general nationwide do not graduate.”
“And we find that barely six percent of Latino high school students are eligible for the UC system and 16 percent for the CSU system,” he adds.
So what’s the solution? Murillo says the secret lies in teachers and creating a sense of community among family, students and educators. “We need to create qualified teachers that have specialized knowledge and skills in language acquisition, bi-literacy and cross-cultural learning,” he says. “It would be great to build ‘grow your own’ teacher recruitment and education programs, with candidates who have organic linkages to the communities in which they intend to serve.”
Help must also come at the state and local level, Murillo says.
“Short of a constitutional mandate for schooling at the federal level . . . fundamentally, significant educational action is historically conducted at the level of states and our localities; thus, where much of our attentions should remain.”
For those that are college bound, Murillo highlights the upcoming Feria Educativa College & Career Fair, a free event scheduled at the university for Oct. 1.
“The objective of the Education Fair is to promote a broad-based awareness of the crisis in Latino education and to enhance the intellectual, cultural and personal development of our community’s students, parents, educators, administrators and leaders,” he says.
“We need to improve education for Latino children, and unless we do a better job of educating Latino children today, we are putting at risk this country’s economic success tomorrow. Education is a right, not a privilege.”