When the Pew Research Center published results of a recent survey, some were surprised that immigration was not the top issue for US Hispanics. What was the issue more Latinos deemed a top priority for the new administration and Congress? It was the improvement of our educational system. Hispanic adults long for excellent neighborhood schools that offer all children access to quality education. Latino culture is focused on faith and on family, so nothing is more important to us than ensuring the next generation has the education and opportunity to excel.
Unfortunately, there is much work to be done before every child graduates from high school with the skills needed to succeed in college or a career. Low standards have particularly affected low-income and minority families. We must end this inequity if we are to honor the imago dei (image of God) in every child and every student. Our Christian faith in particular compels us to equip and support all young people if they are to meet their God-given potential. It’s also in the best interest of the United States to better prepare a growing Hispanic community that will soon outnumber all others.
My own childhood is an example of how education standards can vary for students of color. I grew up attending public school in Pennsylvania, an eager student with a knack for math and science. Yet as many wealthier and non-Hispanic students in my district were expected to excel and attend college, those high expectations did not apply to me or my friends. We lived in a challenging neighborhood, and our educational standards corresponded with our zip code. Though I had been identified for the gifted program and was taking honors classes, I will never forget how the guidance counselor explained that “kids like me” go to vocational or technical schools. This was —undeniably— discrimination. My future options were limited in her eyes as she spelled it out clearly, “Do you want to focus on electrical or auto mechanic?” No one at my school expected me to attend college, much less lead the nation’s largest Hispanic Christian organization. You’ve heard of a glass ceiling with regard to the wage gap, well there’s also a Hispanic ceiling with regard to the education gap. Our children deserve more.
Thankfully, my parents possessed great spiritual fortitude and wisdom. Though they were not college educated, they helped me channel the racism I experienced into a determination to prove that guidance counselor wrong. Despite being the youngest in my family, I became the first to graduate from college. I returned to that same high school as a teacher and made sure I treated my students differently than I was treated. Their success proved that all students could excel—if they were given the right support and held to high expectations.
Decades have passed since my own public school experience, yet, many minority students, especially the poor and immigrants, are still held to lower standards. Hispanic high school students are graduating at a rate more than 10 percent lower than their white peers, and for those who graduate from high school they sometimes find their diplomas an empty promise. Far too many students are told they were on track, only to discover they are not prepared for college-level work. This is one reason why Hispanic students are more likely than their peers to require remedial courses in their first year of college.
We can do better for this generation, and I invite all Hispanic Christians to consider how they can support the children in their homes and communities. Here are three practical suggestions:
1. Cast a vision for academic success.You can help the children in your family prepare for high standards and testing. Talk about the importance of doing their best work in class every day. Create a time and place for completing homework. Attend parent-teacher meetings and school events. You can visit LearningHeroes.org to find resources to help students prepare for end-of year-testing, and more.
2. Cast a vision for life after high school graduation. Talk with your children and grandchildren about attending college. Take them on college campus visits, and encourage them to take college-credit classes in high school. More information is available in the College Guide produced by Christianity Today and the NHCLC.
3. Join the Faith and Education Coalition and attend the NHCLC annual conference(May 16-17, 2017). Our annual conference connects church leaders and members with the staff of the Faith and Education Coalition. Plus, we’ll introduce you to resources, such as college scholarships, offered to Hispanic families and students.
Our nation’s future leaders are being raised all across this country, in every zip code, with skin of every shade, and each one must be held to high expectations so they can flourish and lead. The US has always been the land of opportunity. Hispanic Americans must help ensure our children are no longer excluded.
Dr. Samuel Rodriguez is President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.