English Argumentation
May 5, 1995

Worries Facing Minority Education

The development of literacy education among minorities has
not been thorough. Literacy is not a uniformly shared skill in the
United States and literacy education is not reaching the entire
population. It is generally accepted that ethnic minorities lag behind
members of the dominant groups in the acquisition of literacy. Many
explanations have been given as to why this is happening. Experts
want to question reasons concerning different social class
backgrounds; they also question the work incentives of the
minorities versus the white population. There is concern over the
extent of the problem and what solutions have been offered to solve

The "Reading Report Card for the Nation and the States,: which
tests almost 140,000 students found that, on average, white students
achieved higher reading scores than hispanic and black students
(Sharpe). The National Assessment Governing Board performed tests
on writing achievement. The tests found that the average writing
scores for whites in the eighth grade was higher than those for
blacks and hispanics in the 12th grade. The tests also found that as a
whole, the population spends very little time writing and reading
both in the classroom and at home (DeParle)

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) also
gives a report on the state of literacy in America. The Nation's
Report Card produced data on students at grade levels of 4, 8,11, and
Young Adult. The results showed that black and hispanic students
read and write for less well than their white classmates. Black and
hispanic students are well behind white students by grade 4 and the
difference is not made up even for those who attend college
(Applebee 9-12). At eleventh grade, the average writing
achievement for minority students did not equal the achievement
demonstrated by eighth-grade white students. In spite of some
marked improvements over the past decade, the average reading
ability of black and hispanic 17 year olds was only slightly higher
than that of white 13 year olds (Herman 127).

John Ogbu writes about the state of social class background
with respect to performance of minorities and white students. In a
study of the performance of eighth-grade students in California on
the California Assessment Program Survey of Basic Skills it was
found that the gap between black students those whose parents were
highly educated and those whose parents had little formal education
was only about half as great as the gap between such groups among
white students. It was also found that black students whose parents
had advanced degrees scored, on average, below white students
whose parents had completed only high school education (Ogbu 143).
Ogbu draws the conclusion that minority children do not do as well
as their white counterparts.

There is a belief that cultural differences may be the cause of
inferior minority test scores. Cultural conflicts occur when non-
Western children attend Western-type schools. The conflict may be
in communication, cognition, cognitive style, social interaction, values,
or teaching and learning techniques. Studies; however, suggest that
the persistent disproportionate school failure rates of blacks and
similar minorities are not caused simply by conflicts in cognitive,
communication, social interaction, teaching, and learning styles (Ogbu

Ogbu classifies cultural and language differences of various
minorities with that of white American culture and language into two
categories. Primary cultural differences are those that existed before
two specific populations came into contact. The developed methods
of learning of these various cultures vary from those of Western
education. When the different cultures are introduced, difficulties
arise in adapting to the new learning environment. The other
category is secondary cultural and language differences. These arise
after two populations have come into contact, or after members of
one population have begun to participate in an institution controlled
by members of another. Cultural differences emerge reflecting the
way the minorities are treated by the dominant group and the way
they have come to perceive, interpret, and respond to that treatment.
Minorities may claim other forms of behavior, events, symbols, and
meanings as more appropriate precisely because they are not
characteristic of members of the dominant group (Ogbu 146-148).

In the United States the various segments of the society tend to
have specific cultural models, understandings of their status, of how
American society works and their place in that working order. The
cultural models of minorities are shaped by the initial terms of their
incorporation in American society, and their subsequent treatment
by white Americans (Ogbu 149-150).

Ogbu classifies minority groups into two categories.
"Voluntary" minorities came to the Unites States expecting to
improve their status through participation in such American
institutions as the education system. "Involuntary" minorities were
incorporated into American society against their will. An example of
this would be the introduction of black slaves into primarily the
southern United States.

Voluntary minorities came to America with expectation of
certain economic, political, and social benefits. While anticipating
that such benefits might come at some cost, the immigrants did not
measure their success or failure primarily by the standards of other
white Americans, but by the standards of their homelands. The
effects of discrimination were not ingrained in their culture. Even
when they were restricted to menial labor, they did not consider
themselves to be occupying the lowest rung of the American status
system. They saw their situation as temporary (Ogbu 150).
Educational and social opportunities were available almost
instantly for immigrants. These made it possible for voluntary
minorities to want to gain an education and to gain skills and
contacts in order to make it into the mainstream of the society
(Herman 19).

Voluntary minorities were more motivated to strive for
education in the United States. Since they weren't subjected to the
will-breaking conditions that involuntary minorities were often
experiencing they were more likely to condition themselves to the
hardships they may have faced in trying to receive literacy
Voluntary minorities interpret the economic, political, and
social barriers set against them as a more or less temporary problem
that the can overcome with time through hard work and education.
They believe that they enjoy greater opportunities in the United
States for themselves or for their children. Even if they are
permitted only marginal jobs, they see themselves as better off than
in their homelands. Among such immigrants, schooling, knowledge,
and individual effort emerge as the primary avenues for getting
ahead. Volunteer minorities develop survival or alternative
strategies to cope with their problems. The survival strategies
include the option of returning to their former homelands or
emigrating to yet another place (Ogbu 150-152).

For involuntary minorities, there were no expectations of
economic, political, and social benefits. They resented their initial
incorporation by force and saw their future as grim in the absence of
collective struggle. Resenting exclusion from a status system
available to whites, they felt the power of white domination in
almost every domain (Ogbu 150).

In the case of the involuntary minorities being black slaves
there was no future. No matter how hard they worked, the
achievement was for the master, not their family or group. They
were in a condition of forced dependency. Food, clothing, shelter,
and all of the basic needs were provided by an outside force, the
master. Such conditions provided little opportunity for educational
improvement (Herman 19-20).

Involuntary minorities do not interpret the economic, social,
and political barriers against them as temporary. They do not find
solace in their menial jobs and low wages because they do not have a
"homeland" to compare with the situation in the United States.
Recognizing that they belong to a subordinate minority, they
compare their situation with that of their white American peers.
They tend to realize that it requires more than education and effort
to overcome the barriers set up against them. They develop survival
strategies to eliminate, lower, or circumvent specific barriers in
securing desirable jobs and in advancing in other ways (Ogbu 150-

Generations of black Americans were regularly denied equal
employment opportunity through a job ceiling. Blacks with school
credentials comparable to those of their white peers were not hired
for similar jobs, were not paid equal wages, were not permitted to
advance on the basis of education and ability. By denying minorities
equal opportunity to enter the labor force, American society
discouraged whole generations, especially involuntary minorities,
from investing time and effort in education to maximize their
educational accomplishments. This may have discouraged such
minorities from developing a strong tradition of striving for academic
achievement (Ogbu 155-156).

Teachers' low expectation may also account for minority
children's inferior education. Many minority children are also
treated as having educational "handicaps." A large number of these
students are channeled into "special education" where they probably
will receive inferior education. The failure of school personnel to
understand the cultural behaviors of minority children often results
in conflicts that affect the children's capacity to adjust and learn
(Ogbu 156-157). The inability for teachers to fully understand
minority abilities and channel them into the right educational
programs promotes the problem of inferior literacy education in

Minorities may be led to channel their time and efforts into
nonacademic activities, particularly as the children become older.
There is evidence, that among young black Americans, many see
sports and entertainment, rather than education as a way to get
ahead. Their perceptions are reinforced by the realities they
observe in the community as represented by the media. The media
glorifies highly paid athletes and entertainers rather than black
lawyers, doctors, engineers, or scientists. Black parents, imagining
that such activities will lead to careers in professional sports, might
encourage their children's athletic activities (Ogbu 159-160).

There is a widespread agreement that our education system is
not serving the nation well, particularly when it comes to teaching
minorities. There has hundreds of reports on education reform
which include literally thousands of proposals to improve the
schooling system (Blandin 183).

Ogbu proposes that to promote a greater degree of school
success among the less academically successful minorities, it is
essential to recognize and remove certain obstacles from the larger
society, but also from within the schools. The obstacles with the
minority communities need also to be acknowledged, which manifest
themselves in specific perceptions and strategies of schooling (Ogbu

Herman recommends instruction focused on students needs
and abilities. Teachers must also understand the culture of minority
students to improve their education. The school climate must be
adjusted to encompass minority needs. That encourages high
expectations, quality relationships among and between teachers and
students, order, articulated goals and equity. Minority parents and
significant others in the child's life must get involved in the
education process. Concrete plans of action for individual schools and
school systems need to be established, the systematically monitored
and evaluated for both summative and formative purposes (Herman

Voluntary minorities are seen to be greater prepared to cope
with the problems facing them in literacy education than involuntary
minorities. Reforms in literacy education for both voluntary and
involuntary minorities will help them to overcome economic, social,
and political barriers. Concern over the inability of educators to
recognize and cope with these problems is well deserved. Literacy
education must be formed without regard to the primary and
secondary cultural differences of the population.