Two generations ago, when I was growing up, Depression-era (read “working class”) parents felt a good education meant everything, particularly not having to “work as hard” as they did. Finances were more of a factor in the 1950s and 1960s than now, simply because of our present proliferation of colleges, particularly community colleges, plus scholarship and grant money is more readily available. That’s not to mention the creation of a more well-defined and large middle class.
CULTURAL divides were by practice, and sometimes by law, more rigid and more regressive for non-whites. Some cultural divides existed then because of economics, and that included poor whites as well as African-Americans and Hispanics. If your family was “above the laboring class,” the likelihood of a college education was enhanced greatly.
The “separate but equal” fallacy in the South kept African-Americans in poor, segregated schools, and while Hispanics were “allowed” to attend white schools, the percentage of the total Texas population was so minor, a Hispanic student in a white school was a novelty rather than nearing a majority as is the case today.
In 1940s and 1950s public schools, there was no kindergarten. It was a private school thing until the mid- to late-1960s. Now, all public school students must attend kindergarten and pre-K, and early childhood development programs are prevalent in most school districts.
Despite this 4-decade-plus growth of pre-first grade education, there are still some cultural anomalies reflected in a 2003 national study by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). The report pointed out that six percent of Hispanic-American kindergarten students grow up to earn a 4-year college degree. ASCD calculated that 16 percent of African-Americans, 30 percent of Anglos and 49 percent of Asian-American kindergartners get bachelor’s degrees.
ANOTHER FACTOR, sense of family, has differing effects depending somewhat on the cultural group.
While the Asian population in the U.S.is not growing nearly as rapidly as Hispanics, there are some “familial” reasons for a high percentage of college attainment. If you ever go into a Chinese restaurant that is as much frequented by Orientals as it is Occidentals, you’ll note that there are no “tables for two.” All tables are for at least four persons and it is common to see several generations of an Oriental family dining together. Plus, a large percentage of Asian-Americans are financially able to afford a college education.
Working class folks in any U.S. cultural group, especially in one-parent homes, have less time for family activities than those who are more financially secure.
Hispanics are also very family-oriented, but often the influences for that mode are as much financial as anything. For instance, circumstances and culture often dictate that every member of the family who is able must contribute to the support of the family. That often means youngsters of college age are working instead of going to school.
THERE IS much discussion today of illegal immigration and the need to curb it. There is no easy answer but someone has to find answers and they must be reasonable and sensible, then enforced.
However, we in this state must still contend with educating those who attend our schools to prevent Texas from developing a large, and permanent, underclass. One very telling bad result from lack of education and resulting poverty is that members of that group tend to depend on many forms of public assistance, such as flooding hospital emergency rooms, which raises the cost of services to all.
Education is, and always has been, the key factor to developing a better life, of not having to work as “hard” as our parents. If we are going to continue to develop and grow business in Texas, it is mandatory that we have a properly educated work force.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.