When we think about what kinds of conditions our K-12 Chicano/a students need to succeed in our public schools, I wonder if we shouldn’t be looking into educating as many Chicano/a adults as possible to teach— especially in districts where there are a large numbers of K-12 students of Mexican descent. Does this make sense? Might having at least 50% of the teachers in buildings be Chicano/a, help Chicano/a students? Would that be an important and useful experiment to undertake? Especially when the demographics (and the availability) of certificated Chicano/a teachers would allow it? In addition, we would have to be careful to abide by all anti-discrimination laws in employment.
Keep one thing in mind, however, that such an experiment would be done only in school buildings in which at least 50% of the students were of Mexican descent (i.e., Chicano/a). Furthermore, we do not want our Chicano/a students to be educated only by Chicano/a teachers, either. You see, we want our Chicano/a students to also be exposed to teachers from other ethnicities and cultural backgrounds (as part of their preparation to live in a diverse pluralistic society). In other words, what if with K-12 Chicano/a students, we could duplicate the Jaime Escalante story, not just in the teaching of high school math, but in all K-12 subjects? Escalante was a Spanish-speaking immigrant to the U.S., and a movie was made about him called “Stand and Deliver,” starring Edward James Olmos. In addition a PBS series for television came out called “Futures 1 and 2 with Jaime Escalante.” Is Escalante’s success testimony as to how a smart Spanish-speaking teacher can make a major impact in the motivation and self-actualization of Chicano/a students? In all grades? In all subjects? In all buildings?
I would like to find out, and even moreso, I would like to propose a way to proceed in doing so. First of all, I would like such school settings to abide by what I previously recommended in Parts I, II, III, & IV of the series called “In Search of Being Chicano,” which preceded this article. Secondly, I would like such schools to also consider what I am proposing herein this paper. Am I being too much of a dreamer when I say these things? Well, according to educational psychologists, “motivation is a key component of the American Psychological Association’s learner-centered psychological principles. Indeed, motivation is a critical aspect of teaching and learning. Unmotivated students won’t expend the necessary effort to learn. As Jaime Escalante’s Teaching Story shows, highly motivated students are eager to come to school and are absorbed in the learning process.” (Santrock, John W. 2007)
First of all let us examine the issue of teacher demographics as a factor in the conditions which Chicano/a students will find in their K-12 buildings. According to research reported by Santrock (Ibid.) on conditions in schools which motivate learning, “Students in schools with caring and supportive interpersonal relationships have more positive academic attitudes and values and are more satisfied with school.” (Noddings, 2007) Will K-12 Chicano/a students be motivated by the presence of at least 50% of their teachers being Chicano/a? Well, that may very well occur, because research has revealed that “a key factor in students’ motivation and achievement was their perception of whether they had a positive relationship with the teacher.” (McCombs, 2001) In addition, according to other research, “the value that middle school students assigned to math increased when they had a teacher whom they perceived to be high in support.” (Eccles, 1993). Will the presence of so many Chicano/a teachers create such relationships and support? I for one think it will.
The operational question then has to be: Will having sufficient numbers of Chicano/a teachers teaching sufficient numbers of Chicano/a students in schools have a positive impact and outcome in Chicano/a student achievement? The fact of “sufficient numbers” of Chicano/a teachers cannot be expected to be the only variable to consider. Yet, I believe Chicano/a students having such a large number of “like me” ethnic role models will aid them in having a positive view of themselves as Chicano/as, i.e., having teachers of the same ethnicity could prove very influential to the students. Keep in mind that this is expected to occur but that it is not a guarantee to occur, moreso if the Chicano/a teachers do not measure up to being positive role models. But here is one of the most important points to consider: The message to the Chicano/a students in their particular school building will be obvious, i.e., the students will see that adult brown-skinned Spanish-surnamed adults have risen to the level of teachers. In my opinion, that in and of itself should be motivate the students and will impact positively on student achievement.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the Chicano/a students’ capacity for personal growth, self-determination, and their positive interaction with others. These issues are addressed to a large extent by the research and writings of Abraham Maslow (1954,1971). He put together what he called a Hierarchy of Needs for all learners. His premise was that before a student can learn, the learning environment has to satisfy the needs of students starting with the most basic needs then moving on to the highest level of needs, which include high academic achievement and self-actualization.
Maslow based his claims through findings that the individual needs of students in schools must be met in the sequence of the hierarchy of human needs, which in order of priority were: 1) physiological needs, 2) safety needs, 3) love and belongingness needs, 4) esteem needs, and finally, 5) self-actualization. For example, what Jaime Escalante attained with the Chicano/a students that he nurtured, was that he took them to the level of self-actualization, which is the motivation to develop to one’s full potential. Duly noted also is that such was done within the environment which Escalante created at Garfield High School in East L.A. But critical to that environment were, in my opinion, some other important factors. What were some of those factors? Maslow theorized the following:
First of all, something has to be done at each those buildings to make sure Chicano/a students in those schools have their basic human needs of hunger, thirst, and sleep met. The hard part about this very important basic need is that the factors for meeting this need are usually controlled at home. So schools may need to coordinate with the parents of those students to monitor if these basic needs are being met. This aspect then brings up the issue of hiring sufficient counseling staff at each of those buildings to assist in monitoring this aspect of the students’ lives. In addition, schools, if need be, can set up “before school” breakfast programs for Chicano/a students. In addition, why can’t students be allowed to quench their thirst as often as they need via easy access to water fountains and/or bottled water? For example, should teachers be allowed to keep a refrigerator full of bottled water in their classrooms? Finally, the monitoring of the sleep needs of students (especially in early childhood and during adolescence) should be a chief concern of the schools. Any student, regardless of age, grade, or gender, complaining of not having enough sleep, should be taken seriously, and a remedy should be found for it. Remember: This is a Maslowvian School!
Name calling, bullying, physical violence, and/or criminal behavior in the schools will not be tolerated! Furthermore, ethnic slurs against being Chicano/a (or any other ethnicity) will be dealt with immediately and most effectively. No student in the school will suffer from fear for their safety nor from fear that something will NOT be done about their safety if it is threatened. Another factor of such a school is that the carrying of anything which could in even the slightest way be considered a weapon will be prohibited. Another thing that this school will closely monitor (if need be), is child abuse from the home if evidence of such is found. Social workers at those schools will be needed, to deal with any detected violence from the home. Another thing that is important to monitor for violence against K-12 students is any violence that may occur against them on the way to and from their homes, either while walking or taking the bus. The school will tolerate no type of violence, either intentional or unintentional, verbal or physical, internal or external against any student for any reason at any time anywhere! Remember: This is a Maslowvian School!
Love and Belongingness Needs
Students at these schools will be allowed, encouraged, and praised for speaking, reading, and writing in Spanish (as well as doing so in English). Positive feedback to the students will be an iron-clad rule for ALL students in the school. In addition, the school will not forget that many times the language that Chicano/a students use at home is Spanish or Spanglish, and any derivatives of them, and as such, teachers will allow the students to speak in either Spanish of English (whether in and out of the classroom). All school personnel, in fact, will be encouraged to be bilingual and to model bilingualism and biculturalism at all times. Students will also be shown “PROPER” affection at all times by school personnel. Furthermore, school personnel will carefully monitor if a student does not appear (or seem to think) that they are not loved and welcomed in the school (for whatever reason), and this will be reported to the counselor and/or the social worker.
Another thing that will be stressed in the school is that students will be encouraged to know about, to praise, and to admire role models from Chicano or Mexican ancestry or cultures, such a political figures, movie stars, writers, singers, entertainers, and/or just well-liked family members. Students will be encouraged to learn about their family trees and find out if they are connected to well-known persons or peoples from the past. In addition, students at no time will be criticized for pointing out affection or admiration for positive cultural icons (whether Chicano/a or not). Because Chicano/a children from poor or abusive homes are less likely to achieve in school, the “less well-off” students will be a priority in monitoring for their sense of “belongingness” in the building, in the community, and in the U.S. As many reminders as necessary will be on display for students about their history and culture. Remember: This is a Maslowvian School!
The famous poet William Wordsworth has been credited as writing: True dignity abides with him alone/ Who in the silent hour of inward thought/ Can still suspect, and still revere himself/ In loneliness of heart.” Such will be the goal of the school. It can probably said that without feeling good about yourself, there can occur very little or no learning. In addition, not feeling good about oneself can lead to maladaptive behavior (Greenberg, et al, 1986). Looking out for the self-esteem needs of Chicano/a children in K-12 schools, therefore, may be the most important thing that schools can do. In his 1954 book, called Motivation and Learning, Maslow stressed that the most basic level of needs must be met before a person has the desire to (or be motivated to) reach secondary and higher level needs. So schools can forget about teaching the ABC’s and the 3R’s unless we protect the self-esteem of Chicano/a learners.
One thing that schools with goodly numbers of Chicano/a students can do, therefore, is to have all of the instructors (both Chicano/a or non-Chicano/a) take in-service training on how to develop, maintain, and protect the self-esteem needs of the children with whom they work. In the early grades, the self-esteem needs of the kids (who can’t always reason as well as older kids) differ from the self-esteem needs of more mature students with whom teachers can reason. But, the fact still remains, that a student who gets mostly excessive negative feedback from peers, parents, or teachers will not perform as well academically, and sometimes socially, as compared to a student whose self-esteem is high from well-earned praise and recognition. And so that is why the profession of teaching is so important—we need persons who can help in this regard. We as a society need to train teachers to know how to make students feel good about themselves, regardless of their ethnicity, and sometimes also because of their ethnicity. Students can receive such self-esteem from teacher every day in numerous ways, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. Remember: This is a Maslowvian School!
According to Santrock (2007), self-actualization is the highest and most elusive of Maslow’s needs because theoretically it “is the motivation to develop one’s full potential as a human being. In Maslow’s view, self-actualization is possible only after the lower needs have been met. Maslow cautions that most people stop maturing after they have developed a high level of esteem and therefore never become self-actualized. Some characteristics of self-actualized individuals include being spontaneous, problem-centered, rather than self-centered, and creative.” And the other thing that we have to keep in mind is that self-actualization is different at different ages for different skills or aptitudes. One of the things that self-actualized individuals display is higher order functioning, skills, functioning, and/or creativity.
When we think of how self-actualized at calculus Chicano/a students at Garfield High School in East L.A. achieved, we have to remember that it took lots of time and devotion to learning, sometimes failing, and then learning again to succeed. And what Jaime Escalante attained with the Chicano/a students he nurtured took years–yet, he took them to a high level of self-actualization, which is the motivation to develop to one’s full potential. “Escalante’s persistent, challenging, and inspiring teaching raised Garfield High, a school plagued by poor funding, violence, and inferior working conditions, to seventh place among U.S. schools in calculus.” (Sandrock, 2007). But what we want for all K-12 Chicano/a students, is to attain self-actualization in every school subject, in every grade, and in every school building. That is a major undertaking, so we need to consider some additional things that need to be done to achieve our Maslowvian school.
There is something else that will be very critical to motivating Chicano/a students to self-actualize in all subjects in all K-12 grades. There has to take place frequent and appropriate in-service training of the teachers and staff working with them—for both Chicano/a and non-Chicano/a personnel. In addition, while the teachers go about the business of being teachers per grade and/or per subject matter, they also have to be supported by such things as classroom teacher aides, on-site teacher coaches, skills strengthening workshops, and feedback mechanisms that provide them the awareness of how well they are doing (besides test results and grades on report cards). Well-known fact: Teachers that get positive feedback for teaching, subsequently teach positive feedback to their students. As such, teachers need frequent on-going information that is relevant to how well students are doing. And I would not rule out regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences and/or parent-teacher meetings as needed throughout the school year.
As an example, in a recently announced federally funded initiative to improve schooling for Spanish-surnamed students throughout the U.S., the following things were recommended to have:
• Quality: Ask yourself—I s my child getting a great education?
• Reading for Success: Will my child be prepared to succeed in whatever comes next?
• Safe & Healthy: Is my child safe and cared for at school?
• Great Teachers: Is my child engaged and learning every day?
• Equity & Fairness: Does my child, and every child at my child’s school or program, have the opportunity to succeed and be treated fairly?
• Set high expectations for your child;
• Make sure your child is in school every day and on time;
• Work collaboratively with your child’s teachers and talk to them about goals and expectations for your child;
• Talk to your child each day about what he or she is doing in school and discuss what he or she learned;
• Encourage your child to complete assignments and see that he or she finishes them;
• Attend parent-teacher conferences; and
• Participate in family engagement and volunteer opportunities.
Can we make our schools and education in general more Maslowvian? I think the answer is a resounding “Yes!” And furthermore, if at first we don’t succeed we have to do what Escalante would tell his students, which was to try and try again until you get it right!
Copyright by Margarito J. Garcia III, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Photos of Latino students and Garfield High School copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions, inc. All other photos are in the public domain.