LatinaLista — By now, it's been accepted in most circles that the United States still suffers from overt and systemic racism. A brief review of President Obama's first term clearly underscores how some people still feel a person's skin color gives license to be disrespectful (Rep. Joe Wilson screams "You lie" to Obama during address to Congres), treat them differently (For first time history, a political party took nation to brink of default and challenged a president by raising objections to passing the debt ceiling), make extreme assumptions and allegations (Birther movement) and create challenges rather than work for cooperation (GOP vows to make Obama a one-term President).
Behavior such as this, as witnessed from Congress these last four years, only serves one purpose — it emboldens those with like-minded narrow views of people of other ethnicities to pass off their private opinions as facts. That is the case of University of Texas law professor Lino Graglia.
For a recent BBC radio program, Gaglia was asked by the host the reasons why so few black students were admitted to UT Austin after racial discrimination ended. Rather than stick with just the facts, Graglia declared that both "black and Hispanic students were failing academically because they have been raised in single parent homes usually by females."
Mr. Graglia, is the A. W. Walker Centennial Chair in Law, at the Austin campus. According to his bio, he "has written widely in constitutional law--especially on judicial review, constitutional interpretation, race discrimination, and affirmative action…He is the author of Disaster by Decree: The Supreme Court Decisions on Race and the Schools (Cornell, 1976) and many articles…"
It's obvious from his bio that Mr. Graglia would feel himself to be an expert on people of other ethnicities. Yet, it's one thing to be an expert on how people of other ethnicities do academically and quite another to draw assumptions as to the cause of their academic outcomes without proper study or documentation.
But such a triviality — citing fact or opinion as fact — has never bothered Graglia. In 1997, he told a conservative student group that black and Mexican-American cultures 'set children up for failure'. He said: "They have a culture that seems not to encourage achievement."
During his BBC interview, Graglia was thrown for a loop when his interviewer revealed that he was black and had been raised by a single mother. "Are you saying I'm not smart?" the interviewer asked. The next few minutes Graglia indelicately tries to extricate himself from the web of absurdity he had spun himself into.
Outrage at Graglia's remarks have been swift and loud. But denouncing Graglia's comments simply because they are offensive is not enough these days. It takes something more than what even Graglia could offer to support his racist assumptions — academic research.
Thanks to new research published recently by the University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA, it is now known that while it's true there are educational challenges faced by Latino children, coming from a poor or single parent household is not one of them.
Researchers found that Mexican American toddlers between ages 2 and 3 displayed language and cognitive skills about eight months behind those of their white peers, whether assessed in English or Spanish. This gap persisted through ages 4 and 5, with Mexican American children entering kindergarten already behind.
The researchers came to the conclusion that it wasn't the fault of the children as much as a variety of reasons in the home that lead to the children being read to once a week or less by their parents. Yet, the researchers discovered something else that surprised them, and which they noted in their report.
"Researchers have long assumed that poor parents display poor parenting," said UC Berkeley sociologist and study co-author Bruce Fuller. "But we find robust cultural strengths in Mexican American homes when it comes to raising eager and socially mature preschoolers.”
These findings support other recent research based on different data that revealed weak literacy practices, but warm and healthy mothering practices, inside Mexican American homes.
The newest results also corroborate earlier empirical indications that most Mexican American parents nurture socially agile children – whether judged by their parents or teachers – despite being raised in impoverished households and independent of weak literacy traditions in the home.
“But until now, we have not had such a large national sample of Mexican American children and parents to pin down this claim,” Guerrero said.
Thirty-seven percent of Mexican American families in the sample lived below the federal poverty line, compared with 10 percent of white families. Just 12 percent of all Mexican American households reported earning more than $50,000 per year in 2003 or 2004, compared with 57 percent of white households.
While this new research does nothing to dispute the fact that Latino children do encounter educational challenges, it does set the record straight as to assuming that all Latino households are as what Mr. Graglia described.
If this new study is indicative of anything, it exemplifies that children come into the educational system with different strengths and weaknesses and it's the role of educators to help those students succeed — not tear them down and say that something out of their control is what will doom them for life.