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Mexican and Indian Ethnic Groups in America

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Mexican Americans

Recent research on Mexican Americans has investigated specifically some of the factors influencing school performance which we discussed above with particular reference to the Spanish speaking groups in New York City. Several of these studies address the issue of values and attitudes-of students, parents, and school-from which we might draw conclusions about the nature of ethnicity which may have implications for educational practice.

Schwartz (1971) emphasizes that ethnicity must be defined by variables in addition to simple nationality labels. Her study compared Mexican American and Anglo secondary school age children. She found high expectations of school attendance for both groups but a higher generalized faith in mankind and more optimistic orientation toward the future among Anglos than among Mexican Americans. These variables were also related to achievement. More important, she showed that within the Mexican American group these values were not distributed evenly, and that Mexican American pupils of higher socioeconomic status were more similar to Anglos.

Evans and Anderson (1973), while not examining variations within the Mexican American group as did Schwartz, did find that stereotypes about this group held by educators and used to explain their relation to failure are seriously in error. Mexican American students, in comparison to Anglos, did have lower self concepts of ability, experienced less democratic parental independence training, had fatalistic present time orientations, had a high striving orientation, and lower educational aspirations; however, simple minded linkages to school attitudes do not work. The Mexican Americans were also found to come from homes where education was valued and stressed. Parental encouragement of schooling was linked to values and experiences which the authors attribute to a "culture of poverty."



Madsen and Kagan (1973) report a study of experimental situations in a small Mexican town and among Anglos in Los Angeles. Mothers of both groups rewarded their children for success, but Mexican mothers more often gave rewards for failure than did Anglo mothers. Anglo mothers chose higher and more difficult achievement goals for their children. Does this matter? Yes, but again not in the simple way one might expect-high achievement goals producing better performance. Madsen's 1971 study of cooperative-competitive behavior in the same populations as those in the preceding study shows a higher level of cooperation among Mexican than among Anglo American children. There are also increases in non-adaptive competition with age for the Anglo group.

The United States Commission on Civil Rights (1971) examined "the degree to which schools in the Southwest are succeeding in educating their students, particularly minority students." Using five measures of achievement-school holding power (the ability of the school to retain students until completion of course of study), reading achievement, grade repetition, overageness, and participation in extracurricular activities-the Commission concludes that there are great discrepancies in the outcomes of students of different ethnic groups. In all measures Mexican Americans achieve at a markedly lower rate than Anglo Americans. The United States Commission on Civil Rights (1972) deals with the issue of assimilation. It sketches the conflict between the emphasis on Anglo culture (and language) in the schools and a distinct Mexican American cultural pattern. This report addresses three aspects of cultural exclusion as practiced in schools: (1) exclusion of the Spanish language; (2) exclusion of the Mexican heritage; and (3) exclusion of the Mexican American community from full participation in school affairs.

Clearly then, we are not doing an adequate job of educating Mexican American children. It may be that positive identification with one's culture or ethnicity is a powerful motivation for tested achievement. Feeling of self worth seems adaptive in the face of benign neglect of the school for one's group, but how is it acquired in the face of everyday pressures?

American Indians


Studies of American Indians present a special case to the psychological anthropologist concerned with determining the factors which contribute to a definition of ethnicity of these peoples, and resultant implications for education. A great deal of anthropological research was carried out more than twenty years ago because North American Indian cultures provided an easily accessible "laboratory" for the study of acculturation. Some recent studies have focused on the phenomena occurring as these peoples, perhaps the most removed from mainstream culture, are brought up against urban life. However, recent studies sometimes lose sight of the differences among the groups that fall under the label American Indians. These differences, in addition to obvious tribal distinctions, involve all the variables listed in our earlier discussion of ethnicity, and the reader should not lose sight of them. Some of the problems that have been noted in our discussions of other ethnic groups-values and value conflict, ethnic identity and community, the perspective from which to view a cultural group-are demonstrated in studies of American Indians, as well as acculturation difficulties unique to these peoples.

Graves (1970) has written with eloquence about the Indians for whom urban migration is chosen as a result of inadequate economic opportunities on the reservation, and who then find the economic role of the migrant in the city to be only marginal (Sanday, 1973, has gone so far as to call them culturally marginal). To this economic insecurity he attributes, in large part, their extremely high rate of arrest in Denver for drinking and drinking related offenses. His ten year study of 259 Navajo male migrants reveals the economic, social and psychological pressures and constraints.

Trible (1969) has compared the psycho-social characteristics of employed and unemployed western Oklahoma male Indians representing nineteen tribes. Several salient differences were found which reinforce Graves' thesis: while level of training and education were unrelated to employment status, self concept variables were clearly linked.

Robbins (1973) describes an increase in interpersonal conflict as a concomitant of economic change. He describes the drinking behaviors of the Naskapi Indians of Quebec and claims an increase in frequencies of identity struggles and the development of ritualized or formalized social interactions which serve as identity resolving forums. He concludes (Robbins 1971) that drinking behaviors provide an arena in which individuals can make status claims. Those who are successful wage earners (a status formerly achieved through hunting) make such claims by gift giving. Those who are failures make status claims through aggressive behavior. Robbins argues then that aggressive drinking behavior provides the Naskapi with a means for taking an identity he has not been able to achieve through the new economic channels. This research is a cut above the usual studies of the linkages between stress and alcoholism because of its analysis of the behaviors associated with drinking rather than drinking per se.

Savard (1969) concludes that the Navajo alcoholic seems to use alcohol not as an escape but as a means of entree into social relationships. Group fellowship among drinkers' is seen as countering an inability to function in as large a variety of social groups as non-alcoholics function in. Explanations of culturally sanctioned responses for dealing with stresses of acculturation are congruent with the description in Whiting et al. (1966) of culturally sanctioned defense mechanisms for handling a failure to live up to cultural norms. A considerable promise for future research in this area can be assured.

Of course not all cultures succeed in establishing such cultural defenses, and individual expressions of stress-induced anger are possible. For example, Ackerman (1971) relates juvenile delinquency among Nez Perce Indians to marital instability, loss of communal discipline, loss of patri-locality, and sex role definition changes. Levy and Kunitz (1971), studying the Navajo, argue that feelings of anomie are not responses to acculturation but should be seen rather as persisting elements of Navajo culture. And Boag (1970) feels that the social problems faced by Arctic natives resemble those of underprivileged minorities elsewhere. While traditional patterns of psychopathology are obscured by social change, they are replaced by familiar identity and family disorganization pathologies. It is worth noting that we have heard this debate before. To make the linkage clear, for some theorists stress reactions are Indian culture-specific, for others they represent reactions to new role demands made by the larger Anglo society, and for others they represent yet another manifestation of a culture shared by poor minorities elsewhere. Again, more data are needed to adequately sort out for which areas of life these processes operate.

More directly relating cultural attributes of American Indians to education, Fuchs and Havighurst (1972) examined data on Indian residents of Chicago. In the last twenty years Chicago has experienced a surge of Indian migration. The authors claim that although approximately seven thousand Indians reside in Chicago only 237 Indian children were found in attendance at the schools located in the area of highest Indian concentration. They assert that urban life has not suppressed indigenous values of these native people and attribute the educational isolation to feelings on the part of Indian youth that schools are punitively directed against them, to their unfamiliarity with educational prerequisites to careers and socioeconomic success, to their isolation from the mainstream, and to influence of peers. The authors conclude:

Indian education is an essential part of the complete process by which the Indian peoples make progress toward their own goals as individuals and as social groups. For this, they must secure a higher material standard of living, and more real options for themselves as individuals, families, and tribes.

However, how are Indians to achieve these options and change their pattern of underdevelopment? The authors suggest that the "dominant society [will] act in good faith, mainly through the Federal Government." This is hardly likely in the light of history and their own ethnographic evidence.
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