Michael Rose's 'Lives on the Boundary'
Dreamers Belong Here
In his literacy narrative, Lives on the Boundary, Michael Rose writes on the inadequacies that the American Education system has when dealing with students from vastly different backgrounds. This idea has been incorporated, not only to the localities of the public schools or higher education institutions, but also on the political landscape that is currently happening in the United States. In many cases, such as Khasru’s case in Alex Moore’s Khasru's English Lesson: Ethnocentricity and Response to Student Writing and the Mexican immigrant’s case that Josh Cuevas focuses on in his article Hispanic Acculturation in the U.S.: Examining the Relationship between Americans' Ethnocentricity and Education, the political landscape that American politicians and its citizens create, profoundly influence the views that educators in America have against students who develop from different backgrounds. Rose observes many educators judging students due to their preconceptions, the political landscape of America and American values:
American meritocracy is validated and sustained by the deep-rooted belief in equal opportunity. But can we really say that kids like those I taught have equal access to America’s educational resources? Consider not only the economic and political barriers they face, but the fact, too, that judgments about their ability are made at a very young age, and those judgments, accurate or not, affect the curriculum they receive, their place in the school, the way they’re defined institutionally. (128)
Rose, when observing educators in his public schools, questions the real essence of why America pushes education so heavily on underprepared students, giving them the promise of economic mobility, but never really fulfilling the students dreams of that promise. Instead of creating an equal playing field and giving these students a safe space to improve their literacy skills, it creates a hostile environment that affects these underprepared students to which Rose refers. This type of environment creates a racist system that puts immigrant students at a disadvantage. This type of environment promotes ethnocentricity. This type of environment gives permission for educators to discriminate and have bigoted views against these immigrant students, and it creates a self-fulfilling cycle that creates learners’ apathy in these immigrant students. Rose writes “The insidious part of this drama is that, in the observance of the breach, students unwittingly play right into the assessments. Even as they rebel, they confirm the school’s decision” (128). Rose notes this prophecy and sees that the students are put between a rock and a hard place, forcing them to believe that there isn’t anything to be done to improve their status, temporarily killing (if not permanently killing) their faith in the American dream. The death of their faith questions their definition of what American values are and questions the idea that there is a meritocracy in America.
Not all educators in America fall into this trap. Rose notes one such individual named Rosalie. Rose writes “Teachers like Rosalie see through this behavioral smokescreen to the pain and fear underneath, but class load, bureaucratic protocol, the sheer weight of the child’s record, the difficulty of reversing established institutional perceptions, and a dozen other factors make it very hard to act fully on their teacherly instincts” (128). Those educators who try to do right by these students are overworked and spread too thin to make an impact on the course of these students’ lives. They, alone, are unable to implement change and so the system goes unchanged. The system breaks down another student’s dream. The system breaks down another educator hope, and the cycle continues.
The circle gets redrawn to be less inclusive and accepting when political discourse comes to reveal an aspect of America that has a deeply rooted bias against another culture. Currently, we are at a time where two groups specifically have been the target of a lot of hate from the current politics that are invading the education system. These two groups are immigrants who have a predominantly Muslim upbringing and Hispanic immigrants. These two groups are the target of hate speech and they are also the victims of a lot of new policies that affect target these immigrants. The overturning of DACA and the enforcement of the Travel ban are two relevant things that make it hard to be an immigrant student in America and grasp the ability to have economic freedom. Life for these students become difficult and increasingly so when dealing with ethnocentric educators whose views become strengthened because of these new policies. These new policies give ethnocentric educators false affirmation that their ethnocentric views are correct. This affirmation strengthens the ethnocentric ideas which, in turn, strengthens the bias against these immigrant students, and that strengthens the self-fulfilling cycle.
Josh Cuevas hones in on this prominent culture in America by exploring the relationship between American citizens’ views of Hispanic immigrants and the citizens’ education level. In Cuevas’s Hispanic Acculturation in the U.S.: Examining the Relationship between Americans' Ethnocentricity and Education he notes the bias that many Hispanic immigrants are the unfortunate victims of. Cuevas writes:
There is a good reason to infer that Hispanics’ distrust towards American society is largely due to intolerance they experience as they attempt to assimilate. The purpose of this study was to measure the relationship between Americans’ education levels and their ethnocentricity towards Hispanic immigrants. (. . .) If a link were to be found between Americans’ levels of education and the bias they show towards Hispanics, it may help explain why Hispanics are more likely to choose not to identify themselves as Americans and why they tend to remain skeptical about their social prospects in the U.S. even after learning the language and integrating economically. (315-316)
This observation that Cuevas makes is a huge step in discovering why many Hispanic immigrants so often fail and dismiss their dreams of becoming economically successful and acquiring economic mobility in the United States of America. The constant barrage of racism and prejudice forces the alienation of these Hispanic immigrant students. They feel looked down upon, and when seeing those who have become what Americans define as literate and still seeing those who ‘succeed’ never being accepted, it makes them disillusioned with the American dream. So instead of continuing on with their belief in the American dream they drop it and focus on doing the work, not for the fulfillment of their own American dream, but for their family. Hispanic immigrant students remain skeptical about American culture and the ability for educators to separate their personal views and objectively teach all students with the same relative enthusiasm and drive.
Another group of students that are the victims of prejudice in American education is those immigrants that have a Muslim upbringing. In Alex Moore’s Khasru's English Lesson: Ethnocentricity and Response to Student Writing we see the plight of Khasru and the difficulties that he faces when receiving feedback from his English teacher in school. Khasru’s first language is Bengali. He speaks it at home and is formally educated in his native country. When he emigrated to America, Khasru had a culture shock. When handing in essays, Khasru would receive confusing feedback. The feedback that would explain what is needed but not why they are necessary nor how to avoid the mistakes next time. These comments, such as “I think that sounds a bit more grown-up” (Moore 2), make no sense to Khasru. His teacher assumes that he would eventually get it not understanding that Khasru needs more than cryptic notes in the margin of his essay to explain to him the conventions of proper English grammar. This stems from the ethnocentricity that this teacher has when defining what literacy is. The teacher has no idea of the cultural differences that separate American education, from Sylheti education. This forces Khasru to fend for himself when learning English. He teaches himself and though his self-teaching he receives an understanding of the differences between the two education systems he is exposed to and he doesn’t like the American education system. This causes him to fail and never become literate the way that Americans define it. His failure in the American education system reinforces the self-fulfilling cycle that Rose defines in his narrative and reinforces the loss that Khasru faces when trying to understand the modern conventions of English. This educator, while not biased, mirrors Rosalie in that they want to help Khasru but are spread too thin to do any good. So Khasru falls through the sieve that is tailored to keep non-immigrant students afloat.
The American education system suffers from a deep-rooted racism that leaves immigrant students underprepared and illiterate. The changing political landscape further increases the bias and prejudice towards these students and these students have a difficult time finding careers because of this system that leaves them unprepared for life outside of academia. They are more economically immobile than they were before and that is a system that needs to be right. Everyone has a right to try and pursue the American dream. Education is supposed to be the equalizer, so why isn’t it?
About StageScene Magazine
StageScene Magazine is a literature arm of multimedia production studio M. StageScene Communications (founded in 1991 by Prince Royale & Susan Garcia; incorporated in 2020). The company is currently helmed by a plethora of artisans and creators from diverse communities around New York City, including Saint Albans, Harlem, Ozone Park, Prospect Park, South Bronx and Hell's Kitchen. Members of M. StageScene Communications comprise of alumni from prestigious arts education programs such as Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, Pace University, Queens College, Brooklyn College, SUNY Purchase and many, many more.
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