Conflicts Between Assimilation and Education

March 30, 2009

Some sociological research suggests a major function of education is “mainstreaming” or social assimilation. Social assimilation refers to the process of teaching a host society’s values, norms, and other beliefs to people. In this paradigm, school would be charged not only with the responsibilities of teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic—but also values such as democracy, rule of law, monogamous marriage, social compromise, respect for authority, English language, and patriotism in American society.

In her New York Times article “Where Education and Assimilation Collide,” Ginger Thompson notes such expectations can cause problems. Administration and faculty in some schools are conflicted as to how to properly “educate” their immigrant students. For example, Thompson notes Cecil D. Hylton High School in Washington D.C. enjoys high test scores and graduation rates. The school has a large immigrant population and tensions can run high. Thompson offered the case of an American flag being ripped off a wall by immigrant students and black students suggesting they return to their own country.

Many sociologists note such patterns of in-migration are not uncommon in American history. They can cite influxes of Irish, Scottish, Jewish, Greek, German, and Chinese immigrants as examples. In all these cases, similar instances of strain have been recorded during the assimilation process. Other social researchers have noted that while America has a history of large in-migration phases, the nature of these migrations and their impact on American society have varied. Thus, it might be an error to assume all immigration is either “good” or “bad” for American society. Like most social phenomena, sociologists could argue each manifestation should be analyzed before it is categorized.

Would you like to respond to this posting? If so, select one of the topics below and respond to it or to another student’s comments.

1) Do you think schools should be responsible for assimilating immigrant students into American society or do you think our schools are already over burdened? If schools are not viewed as a major assimilation agent, who or what do you think should perform such a function?

2) What social function do you think immigration serves in American society? What negative ramifications do you think there would be if we curtailed immigration levels?

3) How would you determine whether particular waves of immigration are good or bad for America? What factors would you use (for example, assimilation rates, pre-existing cultural values, region of occurrence, size of immigrant population, education levels of immigrants, etc.) and why? How could you reach such conclusions based upon generalities, good or bad, without being susceptible to charges of racism, xenophobia, or ethnocentrism?

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One comment

  1. I don’t think schools should be responsible for assimilating immigrants into American society because there are way too many languages and if we use just one language we would have to use all of them. Also, if you go to school in a different country than your own language, they do not teach in your language, you have to learn their language. Since schools should not make the assimilation, I think that they should get help from outside school to help them learn English.

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