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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 2, no. 8 (May 16, 1994).
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c May 16, 1994
Choosing higher education : educationally ambitious Chicanos and the path to social mobility / Patricia Gandara.
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1 of 43 Education Policy Analysis ArchivesVolume 2 Number 8May 16, 1994ISSN 1068-2341A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal. Editor: Gene V Glass,Glass@ASU.EDU. College of Educ ation, Arizona State University,Tempe AZ 85287-2411 Copyright 1994, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES.Permission is hereby granted to copy any a rticle provided that EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES is credited and copies are not sold.Choosing Higher Education: Educationally Ambitious Chicanos and the Path to So cial Mobility Patricia Gandara University of California-Davis Abstract: This is a study of high academic achievement found in the most unlikely places: among low-income Mexican Americans from homes with little formal education. It examines the backgrounds of 50 persons, male and female from one age cohort, who met most of the predictors for school failure or "dropping out." Al l came from families in which neither parent completed high school or held a job higher than ski lled labor; the average father finished grade four and most were sons and daughters of farmworker s and other unskilled laborers. Most began school with Spanish as their primary language, yet all completed doctoral-level educations from the country's most prestigious institutions. This s tudy investigates the forces that conspire to create such anomalies. Its aim is to suggest how su ch outcomes might be the product of design rather than accident.Introduction High academic achievement among low-income Mexican Americans is anomalous in our society. While Mexican American students have been shown to aspire to the same high levels of achievement as their non-Chicano peers (Rumberger, 1983; Delgado-Gaitan, 1988), few actually realize these aspirations. This paper reports on a study of some of that small percentage of Chicano students, coming from backgrounds of povert y and low education, who carve out a place for themselves in higher education. It is an examin ation of the forces that conspire to create such anomalies, and its aim is to suggest how such outco mes might be the product of design rather than accident. The paper that follows is excerpted from a book ent itled Over the Ivy Walls, to be


2 of 43published in 1995. Many issues that are not dealt w ith here are included in that longer work. Gender differences in experience is a particularly compelling issue that is barely touched on in this article, because it was too important to deal with in a cursory fashion. That issue, too, is addressed in the book and in a separate article to be released later this year. Hence, I beg the reader's indulgence for seeming to skirt important topics; perhaps the choices I have made for what to include and what to leave out are different than the choices others would have made. If that is the case, I apologize in advance, and exten d an invitation to read the longer work.The Context of Education for Hispanics Hispanics are the least educated major population g roup in the United States (Chapa, 1991). They are the least likely to graduate from h igh school, enroll in college, and receive a college degree (Carter and Wilson, 1993). For examp le, in California and Texas, where more than one-third of the college age population is His panic, only 11 to 13 percent are enrolled in four year colleges. The disproportionately low representation of Hispan ics in four year colleges and universities throughout the nation is the product o f several circumstances: extremely high drop out rates in high school, inadequate preparation fo r continued study, and the failure of four year institutions to attract many qualified Hispanic can didates (California Postsecondary Education Commission, 1986; Rumberger, 1991). Most Chicano st udents who do commit to postsecondary education, begin and end their college careers in t wo year institutions without obtaining a degree. This low level of education for Hispanics is relate d to their poor performance in the American economy, with nearly 40 percent of Hispanic childre n living in poverty (Chapa, 1991). Given that ten percent of the nation's labor force will be His panic by the year 2000, their undereducation portends potentially grave consequences for the eco nomy and social structure of the United States, and especially the American Southwest where most Hispanics reside and where they comprise the largest single population group in a n umber of urban areas. This study focuses on the educational mobility of o ne Hispanic group, the most numerous: Mexican Americans or Chicanos. Already established in the American Southwest before the territory was ceded to the United States, Chicanos have a legacy distinct from other Hispanics, which has resulted in different patterns of opportu nity and achievement. Of all the Hispanic groups, Mexican Americans experience the greatest e ducational risk (De la Rosa and Maw, 1990), making their situation all the more urgent. Whether the educational situation has been improvin g or deteriorating for Chicano students over the past several years remains a deba table issue. One measure of academic progress is statewide achievement scores. Between 1987 and 1 990, results from the California Assessment Program (CAP) show a widening in the gap between th e scores of Hispanics and those for the state as a whole (PACE, 1991). However, some schola rs have contended that the number of years of education completed increases substantially with each successive generation for Mexican Americans, and that educational statistics can be m isleading because of high levels of immigration of poor and undereducated Mexicans (McC arthy and Valdez, 1986). On the other hand, another scholar compares rates of immigration against trends in achievement and concludes that the data do not support high levels of immigration as a plausible explanation for the achievement gap between Mexican Americans and n on-Hispanic whites (Chapa, 1991). Whether or not things are improving for Mexican Ame ricans in school generally, there is widespread agreement that a ceiling remains on coll ege-going behavior, which has not yielded substantially to various intervention strategies (G andara, 1986a; McCarthy and Valdez, 1986). Although education is not the only road to social m obility, it has become increasingly important as the primary avenue into the middle cla ss for underrepresented groups. Meanwhile, qualifications inflation has placed more and more j obs out of the reach of individuals who lack


3 of 43appropriate academic credentials (Rumberger, 1981; McCarthy and Valdez, 1986). In areas where a large percentage of the student population is Mexican American, the significant underachievement of this group constitutes an impen ding crisis. Moreover, it has become abundantly clear that real educational reform and i mprovement are likely to remain illusive until all population groups can be drawn into the mainstr eam of educational achievement. How to meet this challenge, however, continues to be an un answered question for education policymakers. Research on Chicano School Failure Since the 1960s, when specific data began to be col lected on Mexican American school performance, a host of studies have focused on the causes of school failure for Chicanos. Their presumption is that by understanding why some stude nts fail, changes can be made in the system, or the student, that will result in improved educat ional outcomes. The literature on Chicano school failure can be described as having evolved t hrough several stages, roughly paralleling the ethos of the past several decades. During the 1960s, which saw the most impressive gai ns in the history of civil rights for minorities, the scholarly literature focused on dep rivation theories and ways to ameliorate disadvantage. Minorities, such as Mexican Americans were viewed as having fundamental deficits which schools and government could overcom e through special interventions such as Headstart (Hess and Shipman, 1965; Valentine, 1968) As these efforts appeared to meet with only limited success, and failed to change the fund amental relationships of students to schools, the focus shifted in the 1970s to a cultural differ ence model. The cultural difference model suggested that minori ties were not so much deprived of important cultural experiences as they were partici pants in a different set of experiences that, while worthy in themselves, did not meet the expect ations of schools (Carter and Segura, 1979; Buenning and Tollefson, 1987). This is commonly ref erred to as the "mismatch theory." One of the chief cultural differences between lower-income and middle-class students identified by researchers was speech style (Hymes, 1974). This fo cus on speech and language differences was especially apt for Chicanos because of the obvious differences between the home and school languages which, coupled with other cultural differ ences between home and school, came to explain academic failure. The major educational res ponse to this theory of failure was bilingual/bicultural education. Bilingual education has proved to be an important e ducational reform for many language minority groups, and particularly for Hispanics (Fe rnandez and Neilsen, 1986; Merino, 1991). It has established a template for providing limited-En glish-proficient students with access to the core curriculum and has demonstrated that LEP stude nts do not have to remain on the periphery of schooling until their English skills are suffici ent to join the mainstream. Although the potential effect of bilingual education on long-term educatio nal outcomes for Hispanic students has never been finally determined because of the very limited way in which this reform has been implemented and studied (Gandara, 1986b), language differences apparently do not fully explain the achievement gap between Mexican Americans and o thers. Evidence for this lies in the fact that most Mexican Americans are English speakers, y et educational attainment for these students has remained low. The 1980s saw the rise of more powerful and complex explanatory theories of school failure for Mexican Americans. Ogbu (1987), Trueba (1988) and others have suggested that educational failure is a socially constructed pheno menon resulting from social rules designed to screen out "outsiders," and from fixed notions abou t the abilities and appropriate roles for certain minority groups. According to Ogbu (1987), Mexican Americans can be classified as "involuntary" minorities in that their minority sta tus derives initially from the American conquest


4 of 43of Mexican land, which transformed them, literally overnight, into a disenfranchised class. Ogbu contrasts Native American and African American peop les with what he calls "voluntary" minorities such as Asians, who left their countries of origin voluntarily in search of a better life in the U.S. Mexican Americans, in contrast to "volu ntary" minority groups that have immigrated more recently to the U.S., are viewed by themselves and others as lacking the drive, skills, and cultural and social capital (Matute-Bianchi, 1986; Lareau, 1987) to succeed educationally. To address this view of the problem of Hispanic undera chievement, some researchers have suggested that the central strategy must be empower ment: empowering parents to advocate for their children (Delgado-Gaitan, 1990); empowering c ommunities to change their schools (Trueba, 1988); and empowering students to reconcep tualize their own self-image (Gandara, 1992). The important element missing from most of this res earch, however, has been the insights that can be gained from understanding how student s who don't fail manage to escape that fate, despite adverse circumstances. With few exceptions (e.g., Gibson, 1987; Suarez-Orozco, 1987), the research has failed to address this other compe lling question. This paper explores the characteristics and experie nces of Chicanos who survive poverty and disadvantage to become academic achievers. In s o doing, it also attempts to integrate some of the large body of research on academic achieveme nt into a coherent understanding of how low-income Chicanos may find rewards in school.The Study Data collection for this study has spanned more tha n a decade and focuses on the lives of fifty people 30 men and 20 women who met a very str ingent criterion for academic accomplishment: an MD, PhD, or JD degree conferred from a highly regarded American university of national stature. This is not a study about "successful" individuals, however, but about people who chose education as a vehicle for s ocial and economic mobility or personal fulfillment. No judgment has been made about how su ccessful they are as a result of this choice. I make this point because other studies of "success ful" individuals from all kinds of backgrounds (Goertzel, Goertzel, and Goertzel, 1978; Pincus, El liott, and Schlacter, 1981) have done little to illuminate the social context of aspiration because their focus is invariably on personality variables that influence achievement behavior. That is, the focus has been on extraodinary people, rather than extraodinary outcomes for peopl e from ordinary circumstances. It is of no importance, ultimately, if these individuals view t hemselves or are viewed by others as "successful"; it is sufficient that they chose to p ursue education as a means to some particular end, were able to reflect on how that decision came to be made and find the resources to realize their ambitions. All subjects are Mexican Americans from the "baby b oom" generation, born during the 1940s to the early 1950s. This is the first documen ted large cohort of Mexican Americans to complete doctoral-level education and take their pl aces in the professional world (Astin, 1982; Carter and Wilson, 1991). All received their colleg e educations during the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. The majority of the subjects came to t his country as young children or were the first generation of their family to be born in the U.S. A ll came from families in which neither parent had completed a high school education or held a job higher in status than skilled laborer. The average father of these subjects had a fourth-grade education, and the average mother had completed a little less than five years of school. The great majority are the sons and daughters of farmworkers and factory workers. During their years in school they met most of the criteria that are generally acknowledged to be highly predictive of school failure and dropping out: poverty, low levels of parental education, large families, l imited exposure to English at home. To better illustrate the background from which the typical su bject came, some descriptions follow, in their


5 of 43own words. A female biology professor: At the time that we came to the United States [my f ather] was working at a ranch. My father's previous occupation in Mexico had been farmer, stockman, and that was the logical thing for him to do to try to get a job as a ranch hand . that's what he did until I was nine and he had to leave that job s o we could move into town . from then on he was essentially a day laborer . odd jobs, unskilled labor, anything he could get ahold of . he dug holes and cleare d debris left by oil crews . What was your father's highest level of education?I think he had six months in all.And your mother's?I think she went for two or three years, but it did n't make any great dent. She learned to read and write, but she's never been terribly go od at sums . she would take on any and all kinds of jobs, like washing clothes . sewing for people . [she's] very resourceful. A male JD, vice-president of a major corporation: My father was born in Los Angeles but shortly after he was born the family went back to Sonora, and then he came back with his fami ly when he was 10 or so. Both my mother and my father were raised in Brawley . that was their home base and they migrated throughout the year. But they always went back to Brawley. . They picked prunes for about 25 years at one ranch right above the hills of Stanford. And so they were on their way from there down to the Im perial valley and they stopped the caravan there in Madera, threw out a mattress o n the highway, and I was born. After a few days they packed up and came south. . My grandmother delivered me, and she delivered everybody else in my family. How far did your mother go in school? About second grade. And your father? About the third. A female, former chemist, now a professor of literature: My father h ad died, and my mother was pregnant . so my mother told my grandmother she could have me and my grandmother said, "Well, if it's a little girl; I d on't want to have a little boy." My grandmother didn't like boys. But anyway, she said, "If it's a girl, I'll take her," I guess. So when I was born, my mother raised me for about a year . breastfed me . then later on, we moved and my mother stayed at h er house in San Pedro . [My grandmother] worked in the fields. She always worke d in the fields. She worked right alongside my grandfather, whenever and wherev er she could. And she had no formal education? No. And your grandfather's educat ion? He was totally illiterate. He could only write his name, and that was . to get his legal papers, he had to learn to write his name. So he learned to sign his name. He didn't have any education. Demographics of this group are displayed in Tables 1A and 1B.


6 of 43 TABLE 1A Sample Demographics NGeneration Father or Primary Wage Earner's Occupation Immigrant 1st Generation 2nd Generation UnskilledSemiskilledSkilled Total 50 13 (26%) 21 (42%) 16 (32%) 29 (58%) 11 (22%) 10 (22%) Female 20 7 (35%) 8 (40%) 5 (25%) 15 (75%) 3 (15%) 2 (10%) Male 30 6 (20%) 13 (43%) 11 (37%) 14 (47%) 8 (27%) 8 (27%) TABLE 1B SAMPLE DEMOGRAPHICS NMOTHER EMPLOYED?HOME LANGUAGENUMBER OF SIBLINGS YesNoEnglishSpanishBilingualMeans Total 50 36 (72%) 14 (28%) 8 (16%) 26 (52%) 16 (32%) 5.3 Female 20 13 (65%) 7 (65%) 4 (20%) 12 (60%) 4 (20%) 5.5 Male 30 23 (77%) 7 (23%) 4 (13%) 14 (47%) 12 (40%) 5.2Locating the Sample Membership lists from professional organizations, t wo national rosters of Chicano faculty and researchers, and class lists from medical and l aw schools were consulted initially for leads in identifying potential subjects. Although a few subj ects were located in this manner, it was a cumbersome process because such lists provide no cl ue as to individual backgrounds. The most important source of respondents was through a netwo rk sampling procedure, whereby key individuals were contacted at universities and gove rnment offices around the country and asked to nominate potential study subjects. These individ uals, in turn, called upon others to generate names. Personal nomination had the added advantage of providing an initial screen for background characteristics, and frequently provided an introductory phone call that was helpful in securing cooperation. Ultimately, hundreds of po tential subjects were screened, and of these 59 were interviewed. (Nine who deviated slightly fr om the criteria for inclusion were used as pilot subjects.) Hence, the sample is not random, b ut is probably reasonably representative of this cohort of individuals. Only half a dozen of the res pondents were known to the researcher before the study began. However, no one who was contacted and met the criteria for inclusion refused to participate. These individuals were selected because they repres ent known academic successes; as they have already completed their educations, there is n o question about eventual academic outcomes. The cohort was also restricted to a fairly narrow a ge range in order to protect against widely


7 of 43differing social circumstances. That is, the indivi duals were exposed to a similar social climate and similar opportunities with respect to financial aid, recruitment, and competition for college entrance. The cohort does not include the most recent univers ity graduates "those completing their educations since the early 1980s" which leaves open the question of how representative the experiences of this group are compared to more rece nt graduates. To have broadened the sample would have introduced other methodological problems however, related primarily to the changing social climate and opportunities experienc ed by the most recent generation of graduates. There are two compelling reasons for focusing on th is earlier cohort of Chicano achievers. First, the baby boom generation represents a partic ular peak in the college-going behavior of Mexican Americans; more recent data show a proporti onal decline in college enrollment (Carter and Wilson, 1991). Hence, it becomes important to u nderstand the motives behind such behavior during a period of marked expansion. Second, there is great consistency in the literature on achievement motivation for both majority and minori ty populations involving samples of subjects studied over the last several decades; the effects of particular family process and peer variables, for example, do not appear to have chang ed significantly over time.A Note about the Women There are more men than women in the sample. This w as not by design. Finding female subjects was a particular challenge. Most potential women subjects contacted did not meet the background criteria to be included in the study. It became evident in the process of identifying study subjects that it was much more difficult for Chicanas to achieve this level of education without at least one parent breaking into the middl e class before them, most typically a mother who had attained the status of a clerical or secret arial position. The special issues facing women deserve greater attention, and the author has attem pted to address these issues in more depth elsewhere.Methods A retrospective method (described by Garmezy, 1974) was used to gather data through a semistructured interview format. After a fairly exh austive review of the literature on achievement, motivation, and minority schooling, a draft interview was developed that included some closed-ended and many open-ended questions abo ut family background and childrearing practices; schools attended; religious experiences; peer relations; attitudes toward, and experiences in, school; mentoring relationships; an d personal characteristics and achievement attributions. Questions were designed to test a num ber of hypotheses about achievement motivation culled from the literature, but leaving sufficient flexibility for respondents to add things that were important to them and to suggest t heir own hypotheses. The interview was piloted on nine subjects, who met most of the same criteria as the sample subjects, and revised accordingly. The final interview protocol included 119 questions. Interviews were conducted in subjects' homes and pl aces of business, usually by this author, but in some cases by an assistant, througho ut California, Texas, and the Washington, DC area. Interviews ranged in duration from 1 to more than 4 hours and were audiotaped and transcribed. Data were first analyzed quantitatively by question and subgroup (male/female; JD/MD/Ph.D), yielding numerous tables that allowed for a cursory description of similarities and differences between groups, and highlighted areas o f broad commonality. Like a picture, this information created the broad outline of the work; respondents' comments were then grouped and


8 of 43analyzed to fill in the detail, and give the pictur e color, texture and coherence. Often the analysis of respondents' actual comments --and the tone of t heir voices--changed entirely the apparent meaning of a particular finding, as in the subjects interpretations of the roles of their parents in shaping their educational ambitions.Related Research and Study Findings: Family backgro und A substantial literature exists demonstrating that family background accounts for a larger portion of the variance in educational outcomes tha n any other single variable, including the school(s) a student attends (Coleman, et al., 1961; Jencks, et al., 1972). As a result, researchers have devoted a great deal of study to uncovering th e family background variables that make the greatest contributions to students' educational ach ievement. Across racial and ethnic groups, the single most po werful contributor to students' educational outcomes is thought to be socioeconomic status, usually defined as some combination of educational and occupational status of parents (Jencks et al., 1972; Laosa and Henderson, 1991). Because of the highly predictive nature of this variable, the subjects in this study were considered foreordained for school failu re. There is less consensus on the question of why socioeconomic status has such powerful effects. Some have suggested that the social reproduction of status differences between multiple generations of different groups is the direct result of capitalist economic policy (Bowles and Gi ntis, 1976). Others have suggested that it is the more inadvertent result of a culture of poverty (Lewis, 1961; Glazer and Moynihan, 1963), in which maladaptive responses to schooling are transm itted through the generations by parents who were, themselves, ill-suited to school, did poo rly, and failed to learn the skills necessary to propel their progeny through the educational system Other explanations for the powerful correlation bet ween socioeconomic status and achievement behaviors in children include notions o f social and cultural capital (Coleman, 1987; Lareau, 1987;1989). According to this line of resea rch, middle-class parents who have been successful in school understand the "hidden curricu lum" of schooling and know how to coach their children in appropriate responses to the syst em. They also have extensive community resources and networks that allow them to "work the system." Parent-child interactions and teaching strategies Related to this concept are studies that attempt to demonstrate relationships between middle-class communication patterns and social beha viors and the particular demands of classroom interaction. These studies have suggested that the behaviors required for success in school are the same kinds of behaviors that are typ ically transmitted by parents in middle-class homes, and that students who are not exposed to thi s acculturating home experience are at risk in school (Erickson, 1987). One scholar has demonstrated that Mexican American mothers do, indeed, employ different behaviors than non-Hispanic white mothers when teaching specific tasks to their children, and that the behaviors of the white mothe rs are more consonant with the demands of school situations (Laosa, 1978). The white, middleclass mothers used an inquiry approach to teaching tasks, rather than modeling the solutions as the Mexican American mothers tended to do. This approach is more aligned with the requirem ents for independent problem solving that are characteristic of American classrooms. However, Laosa also found that when socioeconomic class was controlled, there was little difference b etween the teaching behaviors of non-Hispanic white and Mexican American mothers. Middle-class Ch icana mothers with higher levels of education also used questioning behaviors more exte nsively than modeling when teaching their children.


9 of 43Psychosocial factors in achievement motivation More generally, the ways in which families help chi ldren acquire the motivation to achieve have been studied extensively by a number of psycho logists. Eminent among these are McClelland et al. (1953), who concluded that motiva tion for achievement could be engendered in children through early training by setting high sta ndards and providing sufficient independence for children to develop a sense of task mastery. In a study employing Mexican American pupils, Anderson and Evans (1976) were also able to demonst rate a positive association between independence training and academic achievement. How ever, the unique nature of interdependence of family members in the Mexican Am erican family (Grebler, Moore, and Guzmn, 1970) calls into question whether independen ce has the same meaning for Chicanos as it may have for other cultural groups. Others, notably Wolf (1963) and Dave (1964), develo ped this line of research further in an investigation of the "achievement press" of the hom e. They contended that certain parental behaviors could combine to create a press for achie vement that would result in higher academic performance. In fact, with non-Hispanic white schoo l-age subjects, Dave and Wolf were able to obtain a .80 correlation between their cluster of h ome environmental process variables that included such things as intellectuality of the home (e.g., availability of books and other educational materials), standards for work habits, and opportunities for language development and academic achievement. Although Marjoribanks (19 72) was able to demonstrate the independence of these variables from socioeconomic status for non-Hispanic white students, Henderson (1966) was unable to establish this same independence for Mexican Americans. Noninstructional influences In a review of the literature on noninstructional i nfluences on student achievement, Steinberg, Brown, Cider, Kaczmarek, and Laaro (1988 ) concluded that "studies of family processes indicate that students perform better whe n they are raised in homes characterized by supportive and demanding parents who are involved i n schooling and who encourage and expect academic achievement" (p.ii). The studies they revi ewed, however, involved few families and students who were not non-Hispanic white. Parental involvement in children's schooling has al so been shown to be positively correlated with higher student achievement. Stevens on and Baker (1987), using a nationally representative sample of elementary and secondary s tudents, demonstrated that attendance at parent-teacher conferences, participation in parent teacher organizations, and influence over their children's selection of courses, were predict ive of academic achievement. Similarly, in a study of different socioeconomic groups, Lareau (19 87) has shown that family "cultural capital," as manifested in parental contact with schools and knowledge of how to "work the system," is associated both with children's academic achievemen t and family socioeconomic status. However, Delgado-Gaitan (1991) has described the wa ys in which lower-income Mexican American parents can effect changes in schools that can result in increased achievement for their children. Nonetheless, in the same article she repo rts that Mexican American parents are frequently characterized as having low rates of par ticipation in school activities (Delgado-Gaitan, 1991). In sum, a large body of literature points to severa l ways in which parents and families of various racial and ethnic backgrounds affect educat ional outcomes for their children: early training in independence, high aspirations and stan dards, encouragement for schooling, creation of an intellectually stimulating environment, and i nvolvement in schools.The Subjects Speak


10 of 43 We now turn to the study sample. Given that the par ents of the study subjects had relatively little experience with schooling themsel ves, and lacked many of the social and economic resources that middle-class parents call u pon in orienting their children toward high educational aspirations, the questions to be answer ed are, Did these parents exhibit the same kinds of behaviors noted in the literature on high achieving students? If so, how, given their limited circumstances, would the parents evidence t hese behaviors?The Nexus of Independence and Hard Work It would be impossible to know, solely on the basis of retrospective interview, what kinds of maternal teaching strategies were used with thes e subjects. This question is unanswerable with the current data. However, about two-thirds of the subjects reported that their parents did stress independence as they were growing up. This meant "d oing things on your own, not asking for help, especially outside of the family, and being a ble to fend for oneself." Often this took the form of accepting large amounts of responsibility w ithin the home, as in the case of the lawyer who recounted the responsibilities thrust on her in late childhood: I learned all the responsibilities of the home. Whe n I was 12 years old, I fixed a Baptismal dinner for my little brother. And babysat five kids while I was making dinner and he was getting baptized at church. So, b y age 12, I had all the housekeeping skills. I could cook dinner, I could c lean, I could take care of children, I could wash. . My mother never even thanked me for anything I did. She just took it as a matter of course . Or, as a male subject recalls: [M]y father . was a butcher, and they taught me the business of the family, at a very young age, and I began practicing some of thes e things at the age of seven. . I was running the business at eight years old. For these individuals, independence and hard work w ere closely related concepts: [T]hey stressed independence, but they did it like . you have to be self-reliant if you want to make it, there's no one to fall back on . if you don't work there's not going to be food on the table. Despite it all I got some good values from my parents. Hard work, and independence, I got those from them. Especially for the farmworker parents, independence was not an abstract concept, but a reality of everyday life. Being independent meant b eing able to fend for yourself in the world of work. As one subject succinctly put it, "when you'r e working in the fields, whether you're picking string beans or fruit, or whatever, everyone carrie s his own load." Lessons in the value of hard work cum independence were sometimes articulated as well. Some parents were very explicit about what they exp ected their children to take from their work experiences: (T)hey encouraged us to be good workers . an at titude that somehow we needed to be efficient, have something, have some skill that people would be willing to pay for, so in that sense we were encouraged in indepen dence. We had to work in the fields everyday, even in elementary school. This training in responsibility and independent beh avior was a natural outgrowth of the


11 of 43parents' own dedication to the work ethic. Virtuall y all the subjects in the study commented on their parents' extraordinary capacity for hard work It should be mentioned that although no question was asked about this, when describing thei r parents the subjects invariably noted that their parents were the hardest-working people they had ever known: My mother was a very hardworking woman, she still w orks hard . she worked all the time. She was a clerk, she still is a clerk . sells shoes . Monday through Saturday . and then on Sunday, she used to go c lean up offices, every Sunday, I remember that because I used to help her sometimes. She worked all the time, all the time. Another subject reflected back on his life and expe riences and offered the following description of his father, a man in whom he found l ittle else to admire: He doesn't stop. Physically he keeps himself busy u ntil he practically goes to sleep. Even if there is nothing to do, he finds something to do. He will knock down a tree and put it up again. The role of hard work "both as a model for behavior that would later translate into the children's work habits at school, as well as a mean s for instilling a sense of independence, taking care of yourself" cannot be overstated. Whereas mor e middle-class parents might structure learning opportunities for their children to emphas ize independent behavior, these parents encouraged independent behavior in a more direct ma nner: Self-reliance was a sort of a learned kind of thing because, like I said before, when my mother left Wilmington, she took her kids [eight children] and she didn't ask for help from anybody. And that was a very vivid lesson to all of us, that is, if you wanted something, you went out and you paid the pri ce for it. One subject, a lawyer, explained how the hard work ethic of his mother translated into a sense of high standards in whatever one does: My mother . would have made All-American in any sport, because if we were picking tomatoes she was the champion of both men a nd women. If we were picking cotton she was the champion. Whatever, she was the outstanding. And it has to do with her athletic ability, but also with her tremen dous sense of wanting to achieve and to win, and I think I learned that from her . and if I came home and said I pitched a one-hitter, she said, "Why didn't you pit ch a no-hitter?" And if I said I got 4 A's and a B, she wanted to know why I didn't get all A's . she just expected us to be at the top, by her example. In a very few cases, this sense of independence was learned because the parents failed to provide positive role models and the children were forced, of necessity, to take on the home responsibilities themselves. A lawyer, whose father was an alcoholic and periodically abandoned the home, recalled how her parents instilled indepe ndence in her: I think it was their irresponsible attitude toward life. I had to fend for myself and learn to fend for my family. I knew at an early age I think all of us knew, no matter what happened it wasn't the end of the world. There was always tomorrow. We'd always get by. It happened so much. Like, my father would leave us, and we'd manage. I guess it gave us sort of a fighting attit ude. We became very competitive in school and we had a very strong survival instinct.


12 of 43 Parental Support and Encouragement The literature on academic achievement motivation i s replete with references to support in the home for academic or intellectual pursuits. Suc h support may take the form of encouragement for performing well in school, helping with homewor k and school assignments, providing stimulating learning experiences in the home, and h elping children set educational goals. To what extent were these parents, overworked, and underedu cated themselves, able to provide these kinds of supports for their children?Mother/father differences Subjects were very emphatic on the topic of parenta l support and encouragement. Most reported that both parents were supportive of educa tional goals, though mothers were substantially more so (see Table 2). TABLE 2 PARENTS' PERCEIVED IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION MOTHER Not Very ImportantModerately ImportantVery Importa ntN Total 4 (8%)3 (6%)43 (86%)50 (100%) Gender Male 1 (3%)1 (3%)28 (94%)30 (100%) Female 3 (15%)2 (10%)15 (75%)20 (100%) Degree J.D. 2 (17%)0 (0%)10 (83%)12 (100%) M.D. 1 (8%)0 (0%)10 (91%)11 (100%) Ph.D. 1 (4%)3 (11%)23 (85%)27 (100%) FATHER Not Very ImportantModerately ImportantVery Importa ntN Total 12 (26%)8 (17%)26 (57%)46 (100%) Gender Male 5 (19%)5 (19%)17 (63%)27 (100%) Female 7 (37%)3 (16%)9 (47%)19 (100%) Degree J.D. 4 (33%)1 (8%)7 (58%)12 (100%) M.D. 3 (30%)2 (20%)5 (50%)10 (100%) Ph.D. 5 (21%)5 (21%)14 (58%)24 (100%) While fathers frequently indicated that they wanted their children to do well in school, they were more ambivalent in the messages they conveyed to their children. One ex-farmworker


13 of 43commented: (M)y father politically and philosophically support s education, but he wanted me to work more . it was difficult for him, he needed me to help pay the bills. A young lawyer whose father was a railroad worker d escribed the lukewarm encouragement she received from him in the followin g way: My dad was very anti-education, especially for wome n. You're going to get married, so I don't see why you need an education . but he never pressured us to quit school . my dad let everybody finish school. So that w as kind of a big accomplishment. In the cases where the father was not fully support ive of the children's educational ambitions, usually the mother would intervene on th eir behalf. A biologist described the dynamics in her family: Once it became clear that I was doing well in schoo l, you know, my father just felt eighth grade education was . a lot of education He had none, so eighth grade was already an educated person and he wanted me to get out and work, just thinking of money. [But] my mother said, "Look, she's doing all right, why don't we just let her go on to high school?" . It was usually her inf luence and her intervention that allowed them to come up with a little extra money t o buy clothes or buy books . and it was her perseverance when it came time to go to college . my father wouldn't sign my National Defense Loan . becaus e he was afraid of the consequences if I weren't able to make it through c ollege, default on the loan. [But] my mother . was always saying, "Oh we'll make i t, she'll make it." Another subject described how his mother provided t he support for schooling that his father lacked: I think it was more of a covert thing, although it was well understood. My dad was more lax, and I'm sure if we had wanted to drop out of school in third grade, and he were the only one around, we would have done it. Bu t, you know, having her there, it was understood that was not to be talked about. It is evident from the numbers in Table 2 that moth ers were most often the guiding force in the home behind the children's powerful educational ambitions. However, the numbers do not reflect the depth of feeling that subjects expresse d about their mothers' encouragement. They rarely hesitated in answering the question, "Which of your parents had the greatest influence on setting your educational goals?" Usually the respon se was swift and emphatic: "my mother." One subject explained what he saw as the apparent contr adiction in the common stereotype of passive, submissive Mexican mothers, and the role they consi stently played in their children's goal-setting: My mother always predominated in my family. That's something that's sort of subtle, that's not brought out within our culture. I think in a lot of the Chicano families, the mother is really the head. The father is more a fig urehead and he ultimately puts down the blows. But the mother is really the one th at controls the father. It's sort of manipulative. Many subjects commented, similarly, that although t he father was the acknowledged head of the household, or "figurehead," the mother was t he one who exerted the greatest influence over


14 of 43their lives, even in everyday decisions. This subje ct's analysis was probably reasonably representative of many of the subjects' homes.Kinds of familial support While parents had few resources and relatively litt le experience with schooling themselves (though many were highly literate), most of what th ey could offer was verbal support and encouragement for their children's schooling, and m ost subjects felt very strongly supported at home. Sometimes parents articulated this support, as did the father of an Ivy League law school graduate, Well, don't be what I am. Don't have to earn your l iving by having to dig ditches and filling them up. Use your brains and use your head. Do something better. Don't be a dummy like me. Finish school and you go out and lea rn yourself something. Other times the support was less directive, but non etheless fully understood by the children. One subject talked about how her mother e ncouraged her without really setting any specific goals: She expected us to do our best and other than that she never directed us, but she always encouraged us. . She really goes out of her way to not bring in her own feelings, to make us feel that we making a decision on our own. "Don't do anything for me," she says. "Do it for yourself." She always supported my decisions, but she never directed them. Apart from verbal encouragement, many subjects reca lled instances of their parents actually helping with schoolwork, to the extent tha t they could, which was usually very limited. A law professor recalled back to his first homework lesson in the third grade: I had to read something and I don't remember it all but it had something to do with reading a story that had something to do with flax. I remember not really knowing what to do and I asked my father. It was late; I ha d waited to do it 'til really, really late and my father stayed up with me and tried to f igure out what I was supposed to do . To make his point about his father's willingness to help his children, even though his own skills were limited, he went on, (O)ne time that was characteristic of the way he wo uld help . my sister was trying to do some homework and she was trying to find the definition of "fortnight" and dad didn't know exactly what it was and couldn't fi nd it in the small dictionary that we had. . (W)e didn't have a telephone in those days, but he went and knocked on doors of people that he thought would have dictiona ries to get them up so they could find a definition of fortnight for him. A physician, whose father died when she was nine, r ecalled his attempts to help her with her homework, and her mother's efforts as well: I remember my father going over my arithmetic with me all the time. They really didn't have that much in the way of resources at al l, the experience that was needed, but they were always there. They were interested in my homework. They helped us.


15 of 43They made us study. I remember them buying us books And I remember my mother taking us to the library, which nobody else's mothe r did. I remember going to the library every Saturday when we moved to Barstow . and her . knowing the librarian, because we went there every Saturday to pick out new books. Another subject's mother, unable to help her buddin g scientist son in any direct way, provided encouragement for his curiosity: When I was in high school, I used to bring a dead c at and dissect it at the [dining room] table. . She thought it was fantastic tha t I knew all the muscles . The law professor, whose father had combed the neig hborhood for a dictionary, recalled the poignant moment when his father, a laborer who had gone to the eighth grade, felt he could no longer help his son: (W)hen I graduated from the eighth grade . he t ook me aside and he said, "Look, you know, from now on you have more education than I do and you know better than I about what you want and what you are suppose d to do. I have been able to help you up till now but I can't help you anymore." So, he was sort of saying he trusted my judgment. Creating the environment for achievement Because of the consensus in the research literature on the importance of providing a rich intellectual environment for stimulating academic a chievement, subjects were asked about the availability of reading material in their homes: wh ether they had in their homes (1) an encyclopedia, (2) a dictionary, (3) a daily newspap er, (4) magazine subscriptions, (5) more than 25 books. It was assumed that most would not have h ad such things in their homes because parental education, time, and financial resources w ere extremely limited. Astonishingly, however, 98 percent of the subjects had at least tw o of the five things, and almost 70 percent had an encyclopedia as they were growing up. Moreover, half of the subjects reported that at least one parent was an avid reader, a fact that is more than a little surprising in light of the low level of formal education of the parents. Most of these parents read in Spanish and shared th is activity with their children. It was therefore not surprising to find that many of the s ubjects, and almost all of the women, were avid readers throughout school, and even credited readin g with being key to their academic success. Reading, however, is not the only form of literacy training, nor was it the only way in which these parents encouraged their children's love of l earning. Vygotsky, the famed Russian psychologist who has revolutionized modern thinking about literacy, contended that written language develops as speech does, in the context of its use, hence the importance for learners to be immersed in language in order for literacy to be easy (Goodman & Goodman, 1990). This is precisely what almost two thirds of the parents of these subjects did. Sixty-two percent of the subjects recounted how discussions of politics and world events were routine topics in their households. Several of the parents held strong view s on social issues, or were well-versed in history or literature and shared this love of inqui ry and ideas with their progeny. There were no differences between the sexes on this factor. The picture that emerges of the home environments o f most of these subjects is one in which a high premium was placed on ideas and inform ation, in spite of the very limited formal education of the parents. One subject, a political science professor, whose father had never attended school and whose mother had less than one year of education, recalled her home environment in the following way:


16 of 43My father is a self-educated man. He was very, very intelligent and really well read, but he did it himself. And my mother too. My mother enjoyed reading . she had read a lot of what we consider classics in Spanish whenever she could get ahold of them and she was an avid reader. . My father . loved music . he knew all the artists and the names of all the operas, the music of all the operas. I remember the old cartoons, they always had classical music in th e background. My father would take us to see those nasty cartoons just to listen to that classical music. . I always thought it was such a terrible combination of those ugly cartoon figures and this beautiful music. My father's dream was always to go to the San Francisco Opera, the opening of the opera in San Francisco. He did get t o go to Los Angeles once, but he never got to go to San Francisco. We were going to take him one day, but then he had cancer and he couldn't walk very well . Similarly, a linguistics professor whose parents ha d dropped out of school before the sixth grade, commented on the early education she receive d in her home, particularly from her father, who became a lay preacher and Sunday school teacher : My father was an exceptional man. Education was ver y important to him . he would give us like statement problems, "What if I b ought this . ." We'd sit there and try to figure it out . then when we started goi ng to church everything was in Spanish, and everybody was supposed to read chapter s and report. So I had a great deal of instruction in the Spanish language without knowing it. Also it sort of set the stage for literature. By the time I went into liter ature, that kind of stuff was not difficult at all. I would simply write in a biblica l style. Foregoing children's economic contributions Most parents, however, were not able to provide thi s kind of intellectual stimulation for their children, and even rudimentary homework lesso ns were beyond their level of academic skill. The children knew that their parents wouldn' t be able to help them. But, the parents were able to show support for their children's education by protecting their time for study and foregoing badly needed financial help. One subject said, My parents pressured me to stay in school and they didn't ask me . since I was the oldest, the natural thing would have been . for me to go out and work full-time and help them with the family. But they didn't [ask me to]. All of the migrant parents (about one-fourth of the subjects) had made the sacrifice of settling down in one place, foregoing their migrant patterns, when they realized it was having a negative effect on their children's schooling. In s ome cases this was a particularly difficult decision for families when there were no guarantees of steady work. Some fathers would leave the family behind while they continued the migrant work on their own. For one subject, the family's decision to settle in the Napa Valley was especially fortuitous. Apparently teachers took note of the family's sacrifice for their son's educ ation and made an extra effort on his behalf: We were one of the only families that stayed. . I was the only [Chicano] who stayed [in school] after the grape picking. So, the teacher took a half hour every day away from the other kids to teach me English. That made a lot of difference. For another subject, who would become a physician, the family's decision to stop migrating was the clear turning point in his educat ional career:


17 of 43(W)hen I was in the seventh grade, they were going to keep me back because I was failing. And my brother had failed the year before and the family didn't want us to fail. That was a major decision that was made, that we no longer migrate during the school year. . [F]rom the seventh to the eighth grade I went from a D and F student to an honor student. Parental aspirations The literature on achievement motivation also sugge sts that the parents of high-performing students usually have high aspirations for their ch ildren and transmit these aspirations to them. This literature, however, is based largely on middl e-class samples. In an analysis of parental goals in a cross-cultural context, LeVine (1974) su ggested that, In populations with relatively scarce or precarious resources for subsistence, parents will have as their overriding conscious concern the child's capacity for future economic self-maintenance (broadly defined), partic ularly after his survival seems assured; and childrearing customs will reflect th is priority (p 231). The experiences of the subjects of this study refle ct this analysis to a large degree. More than half of the subjects believed their parents, b oth mothers and fathers, aspired to nothing higher than a high school education for their child ren (see Table 3). Graduation from high school represented a high goal that these parents believed would assure their children of a reasonable livelihood in the future. When asked, "How far do you think your mother hoped you would go in school?," for exa mple, a physician who grew up in a migrant family responded, High school. She knew that if I graduated from high school, I could get a good job after I got out. Because at that time . she gre w up in a time when high school graduation was the goal to attain, and once you had achieved that . you were really, you know, you were somebody. Interestingly, parents' levels of aspirations for t heir children were relatively similar for both sons and daughters, whether they included high scho ol graduation or extended to a college education. However, somewhat smaller percentages of parents envisioned a graduate or professional education for their daughters. Conside rably more daughters did not know what their fathers envisioned for them, and felt their parents didn't encourage them to become doctors, lawyers, or scientists to the same extent as they e ncouraged their sons. Hence, while overall support for education was relatively similar for bo th males and females within the family, there was some tendency for parents to have higher aspira tions for their sons.


18 of 43 TABLE 3 PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS FOR SUBJECTS' EDUCATION MOTHER Less Than H.S. High Sch. Some Coll. Coll. Grad. Grad. Prof. Tech. Ed. Don't Know Total 2 (2%)17 (38%)3 (7%)11 (22%)8 (13%)0 (0%)9 (18%) Male 1 (3%)12 (40%)2 (7%)5 (17%)6 (20%)0 (0%)5 (13%) Female 1 (5%)5 (25%)1 (5%)6 (30%)2 (10%)0 (0%)4 (15%) J.D. 1 (8%)2 (17%)1 (8%)4 (33%)3 (25%)0 (0%)1 (8%) M.D. 1 (9%)4 (40%)1 (9%)3 (27%)1 (9%)0 (0%)1 (9%) Ph.D. 0 (0%)11 (41%)1 (4%)4 (15%)4 (15%)0 (0%)7 (26%) FATHER Less Than H.S. High Sch. Some Coll. Coll. Grad. Grad. Prof. Tech. Ed. Don't Know Total 7 (15%)13 (33%)2 (5%)9 (21%)5 (10%)0 (0%)9 (15%) Male 4 (16%)8 (32%)2 (8%)4 (16%)3 (12%)0 (0%)5 (16%) Female 3 (16%)5 (26%)0 (0%)5 (26%)2 (11%)0 (0%)4 (21%) J.D. 2 (18%)2 (18%)0 (0%)3 (27%)2 (18%)0 (0%)2 (18%) M.D. 1 (10%)5 (50%)1 (10%)1 (10%)1 (10%)0 (0%)1 (10%) Ph.D. 4 (17%)6 (26%)1 (4%)5 (22%)2 (9%)0 (0%)6 (22%) Sibling support A number of the subjects reported that older brothe rs or sisters played the significant role of transmitting expectations and paving the way to college. One subject talked about the way his older sister, frustrated in her own ambitions, had been instrumental in developing his: My oldest sister . was, I think all along, much sharper and [more] intelligent and academically oriented than I was. . I think I w as very much molded by her influence. . (S)he never completed college. I t hink she could have had a tremendous academic career, but as she was the olde st, she bore most of the brunt of my father's pressure and didn't accomplish as much as I did. . (S)he helped me a lot. One of the important decisions . about whi ch high school to go to, had to do with her. She was the one who encouraged me to take the . alternative. She gave me the reasons why and she recognized at that point that it was important academically for me to do it.


19 of 43 Another subject recounted how the fact that his old er sister had made it to UC Berkeley made it seem possible for the rest of the children of the family, especially for him: My sister was a tremendous influence on me. . I can remember, how many times I used to tell people my sister was at Berkeley. That was sort of a success image, a very important success image aspect of the relation ship. Parent involvement Finally, recent research has turned up consistently high correlations between parent involvement in schools and student academic perform ance. Given the high degree of interest that most of these parents exhibited in their children's education, did they involve themselves in the schools their children attended? None of the 50 sub jects described their parents as being active in their schools. A few mentioned that their parents w ould attend some PTA meetings, but for the most part these parents kept a fair distance from t he schools unless a problem occurred, and this was likely to result in a visit to the school. The following response to the question of whether his parents ever visited his school to check on his pro gress was typical of the way most people interpreted their parents' lack of school involveme nt: [My parents visited] only because they were forced to, I think. They . my mother . would not go, I think mainly because she didn't feel up to presenting herself and trying to communicate with the teachers, whom I gue ss obviously she held in high esteem. And maybe she didn't feel like she would be able to talk to them, although she knew how to speak, although at that time it was probably broken. . I think they were always interested but that held them back. One subject, in describing how his parents never vi sited his schools, save for required parent conferences, expressed how they nonetheless conveyed their high respect for teachers and school: I remember my parents always said to me: Primero Di os, segundo los padres, y tercero los maestros [first God, second parents, an d third teachers]. School was very important to them and they believed we should treat out teachers almost like our parents. While parent involvement in children's schooling is highly desirable from a number of perspectives, not the least of which is that correl ates so well with student achievement, it is important to remind ourselves that correlation does not equal causation. Parents may well be supporting the goals of the schools without ever se tting foot in them. Family stories One phenomenon that appeared unbidden during the in terviews was the recounting of some family "myth" while subjects were describing t heir families' migratory experience. One or the other of the parents, most often the mother, wa s said to have come from a family that was highly esteemed in Mexico. In an earlier study of Mexican Americans, Grebler, Moore, and Guzmn (1970) had found a similar phenomenon: those who were upwardly mobile, who tended to live in "frontier" communities close to Anglo American residential are as, often told stories of lost glory, "a golden past" which they were determined to recover. The re searchers suggested that some kind of myth


20 of 43"might play a role in social mobility." No such question was put directly to subjects in th is study, but fully half of the sample of low-income Chicanos, sons and daughters of farmwork ers and laborers, recounted stories of family wealth and prestige. Following is a small sa mpling of these stories: My grandfather's family-[my mother's] father-we re landowners . and she describes things like how my grandfather used to hi de the jewelry and hide the valuables, and stuff like that . [and] they had orchards . [But] my grandfather was dispossessed of his share . he was an outca st from the family and because of the difference in status between my grandfather and my grandmother . he was never welcome in the family any more. . (T)hat' s when they came here. [My mother told us] how her grandfather was like a multimillionaire type. He was a genius in the mines. And none of that went down to her family because of wills and stuff like that. And they were always very proud be cause her uncles owned a hotel in Aguas Calientes, and that was something nice back t here, even though we don't have it here. [She would say,] "You know you can hold yo ur head up high." And we never believed it. We always thought she was just making it all up. My father, if he had stayed in Mexico . would h ave done a different kind of job. . In their family a cousin has a wine thing. My fat her would have had a different life in Mexico. It would probably have not been labor. . My mother's family, also in Mexico, they were more into the mercantile and they ended up having stores. They have huge stores. That kind of thing . coming h ere . meant labor. When subjects did not describe great wealth, they w ere inclined to comment on how members of their family had achieved great prestige in Mexico, or high levels of education: In her family [mother's], some were farmers, others were politicians and became very high officials in the Mexican government, incl uding one who became a congressman, one became an attorney. These were her brothers. My grandfather was like a sort of judge of the town, [and] my mother's father's brother, therefore her uncle, was mayor of a town in Sonora and was politi cally active. My mother's father was also politically active . he was in the los ing party, so he had to leave town real fast and that's when they came across the border. Whether the family stories are true is probably les s important than that they were so salient, so much a part of the subjects' perception s of themselves, and their families, that they came easily to mind without prodding. Why would the parents have told these stories to their children? It seems logical that this was a way of c onveying that the current impoverished circumstance in which they lived was not one in whi ch they need remain. In fact, one might construe, it was atypical for their family, a fluke of sorts, that could be remedied. The stories seem to point to a great deal of hopefulness in the families of these subjects and a desire to keep alive a dream of what they were, what they could be again. There is little in the literature by which to ancho r such conjectures, but these family stories were recounted so often that the phenomenon cannot be ignored in attempting to explain the origins of the subjects' powerful aspirations.School Factors Three major attributes of schools have been shown t o affect student achievement: the


21 of 43teachers, the students (peer groups), and the curri culum. In the Southwest, as well as in the rest of the country, most public school teachers are white, monolingual, and come from middle class backgrounds (Macias, 1988). This fact suggests that they carry into the classroom a set of cultural experiences and expectations that may differ consid erably from those of their students who do not share their cultural and socioeconomic backgrou nds. Perhaps this phenomenon is related to the very low numbers of students of color who are n ominated for classes for the gifted and talented or for college preparatory courses, and th e high proportion of these students who are clustered in general and vocational education track s (Mehan, 1992). Both the skills of the teachers (Rosenshine, 1986), and the decisions they make about their students' capabilities can have far-reaching consequences for student achievem ent; for example, Oakes (1985) has demonstrated that the curriculum track on which a s tudent is placed can have a major effect on that student's schooling experience, likelihood of dropping out, and future life chances. Coleman (1966) also noted that the largest portion of the variance in achievement attributable to schools can be accounted for by the composition of the student body. Hence, there is considerable evidence that curriculum tracking, which is largely a function of teacher assessments, and peer group composition, which is l argely a function of curriculum tracking, are critical elements of the school that can have a sub stantial effect on student achievement. There is also evidence that minority students who a ttend schools that are racially and ethnically isolated do not perform as well as those who attend more racially integrated schools (Coleman, 1966; Carter, 1970; Orfield and Paul, 198 8). Much of the difference in student achievement in these schools has been attributed to the schools' lower funding and tendency to have less experienced and less able teachers (Carte r, 1970; Carter and Segura, 1979; ETS, 1991). On the other hand, school expenditures have been sh own to have little effect on academic achievement when student background factors are con trolled (Coleman, 1966; Hanushek, 1981; ETS, 1991). The study subjects, in recounting their schooling experiences, offer some insights into how this apparent contradiction may be resolve d. Curriculum tracking Almost all of the study subjects were eventually tr acked into college preparatory courses when they were in high school, although for many it was a battle to get there. Had they not been placed in this track, it is unlikely that they woul d have achieved the level of education they eventually did (Oakes, 1985). These subjects were a stute enough, in most cases, to be painfully aware of this fact, and many complained that they h ad to fight for the right to take college prep courses; the schools frequently did not identify th em as being "college potential." One lawyer, who had come to the United States in th e fourth grade, recounted how difficult it was to get out of a lower track once s he had been placed in one: (W)hen I went to the tenth grade, I took that speci al stupid test they give you and it came out that I would have been a fantastic mechani c . so they tracked me average [again] which precluded me from taking college prep classes, and I had already taken geometry and Spanish and biology and some oth er courses in junior high. Now that I was tracked, and they tracked me secretarial I used to take my electives as college prep courses. It didn't get to the 11th gra de until they finally tracked me into what they called the college prep, that I could tak e the classes that I wanted. So I was taking these stupid homemaking, which I always hate d, typing, which I always hated, courses that I didn't like. Some subjects indicted their high school counselors for placing them in vocational and noncollege preparatory tracks, in spite of their go od achievement in school, interpreting this as an


22 of 43expression of racism: My first day signing up [at high school] . my d ad had been out working in the fields, but he came home early this day to take me so I could get registered . there was a counselor. . And I took my eighth grade d iploma which was straight A's, and I was valedictorian of my eighth grade. . A nd I told him I would like to go to college and could he fit me into college prep class es? And he looked at my grades and everything, and said, well, he wasn't sure I co uld handle it. My dad didn't understand. He was there with me. And this counselo r put me in noncollege prep classes. I remember going home and feeling just ter rible. In some cases, subjects were dogged by test scores or impressions that were very difficult to overcome. The following example illustrates the experiences of a number of individuals in the sample. My counselors didn't come to me and say we are putt ing you on a special tracking upwards because you are doing so well, but rather i t was something I was entitled to and I was aware that I could go in and ask for it. In fact sometimes I had to insist on it and much later I found out why. Apparently one o f the reasons my counselors had such a negative image of me and why they were alway s insisting I was not college material was because I have always done extremely p oorly on IQ exams. And they were totally locked into that IQ . like 94, 95, 96 . and they never explained why I was doing so well academically when my IQ test wa s so low. One subject, who was later to become an acclaimed s cientist, was so disturbed by an encounter with a counselor that he counted the inci dent as perhaps the seminal experience that propelled him to higher education: I was in an accelerated class, I was in the top 10 percent of my high school graduating class. I wasn't dumb, I was pretty good, I thought. She [the counselor] told me, "Well, you should go into vocational schoo l." I got so mad with that woman, and it was primarily based on some damned ex am that I took . and I don't believe in exams anyway. . (S)he was, I think, the one who motivated me to go to university because she told me I shouldn't go. So I thought, "Well, the hell with you!" Once subjects were placed into the college prep tra ck, it had an enormous impact on them, not only because they were able to participate in c lasses that would lead to college, but because of the new peer group it defined for them. In almos t every case, they became one of a small handful of Chicanos (and often they were the only o ne) in their academic peer group. This had a number of consequences. The very Mexican-looking son of farmworkers, who be came student body president of his mostly Anglo school, described his experience at be ing tracked in this way: (T)hey put me in a group that kind of restricted wh o I really hung around with, because it was always the people who were the smart er kids. And the smarter kids were always the people, you know, who were from the higher socioeconomic group . and always, you know, the white kids . the principal's son, another teacher's daughter. And it kind of restricted my association with the other people in my class .. by the courses you take you kind of restrict you rself . who you even communicate with.


23 of 43 Another subject, also the daughter of farmworkers, described the peer group that was created for her by her college prep classes: In high school, I tended to hang around with kids w ho were in my class. And since they had tracking, some of my friends from the migr ant labor camps did not get put into the higher tracks. So, I knew them in the labo r camp, I would talk to them, they were my friends . but I would never see them in my classes, and I would rarely see them, even in school. The ones I hung out with in s chool were the studious ones, most of them in my class. Those are the ones I had homework to discuss with. Peer competition and validation Being tracked into classes with students who were m ostly middle class, white, and who, in the words of one subject, would have been aghast if they knew that my parents were farmworkers and we lived in labor camps, had consequences for h ow these subjects came to see themselves. For many, it required that they constantly defend t hemselves against self-doubt. Many of the male subjects talked about the importan ce of knowing they were doing well against middle-class, non-Chicano classmates. (Curi ously, this was mentioned frequently by males, and rarely by females.) Many pegged their ow n performance against the standard set by particular white, Asian, or Jewish students. They b elieved that if they were competing favorably against these students, they were probably pretty c apable. One subject talked at great length about this phenomenon: (T)hrough high school there was always an identifie d competitor, male or female . it was always like neck and neck. Like a racetrack. In high school the competition got really heavy. There were all these Anglo guys, you know, and they were like geniuses . there was Ronald, red-haired guy, Jo hn, a Jewish guy. Billy, red-haired guy (I never saw red-haired guys in my life before) Steve, big blond guy. All of these were middleclass, you know, they were wellto-do . There were six . And grades would be posted . and we would be se parated by whiskers: 95.2, 95.4, things like that.And where were you?I was usually at the top.In the top three?The top one. I would trade off with Ron, the red-he aded guy. Some subjects felt the challenge to prove they were capable, not against any specific student, but against all the others who were not Ch icano: To myself, I always had to show the Anglo kids, and the teachers, that just because I was Mexican, I wasn't dumb. When I was in school, I always got top awards. Like I got the only English award, in a school that was ma inly Anglo! I thought because I was Mexican that was one thing I could show them, t hat Mexicans could do better than they could. Another subject expressed similar attitudes: I think the one basic attitude that helped me a lot to do well was a very competitive


24 of 43 attitude, especially with the Anglo kids, to be bet ter than them. So I always in my classes loved doing better than them, and I think w hen I really started coming out was in the ninth grade. I started shining higher th an those kids in certain subjects, especially things like social studies. Desegregated schools The study subjects were in a position to be tracked into classes that were typically all-white because they overwhelmingly attended desegregated o r mostly Anglo schools. In both elementary and high school, between 60 and 70 percent of the s ubjects reported that they attended mostly white (and usually middleto upper middle-class) o r mixed schools in which at least half of the students were Anglo (see Table 4). Even at elementa ry school, where school populations more accurately reflect the racial and economic characte r of the local neighborhood, two-thirds attended mostly white schools. TABLE 4 RACE/ETHNICITY OF HIGH SCHOOL All/Almost All Mex-Amer Mostly Mex-Amer. Sig # Anglos Mostly Minor (Black, Mex-Amer, Etc.) Mostly Minority Excluding Mex.-Amer. Mostly Anglo MixedN Total 8 (16%)6 (12%)2 (4%)1 (2%) 24 (42%) 9 (18%) 50 Male 4 (13%)6 (20%)1 (3%)1 (3%) 12 (36%) 6 (20%) 30 Female 4 (20%)0 (0%)1 (5%)0 (0%) 12 (53%) 3 (15%) 20 J.D. 1 (8%)1 (8%)0 (0%)1 (8%)7 (50%) 2 (17%) 12 M.D. 3 (27%)1 (9%)1 (9%)0 (0%)3 (20%) 3 (27%) 11 Ph.D. 4 (15%)4 (15%)1 (4%)0 (0%) 14 (49%) 4 (15%) 27 At least 50% Anglo or more than half of schooling experience took place in mostly Anglo schools. Inasmuch as these subjects came from poor families and lived in poor neighborhoods in the West and Southwest, where segregation of Chican os is typical, what accounted for the fact that they attended the kinds of schools that they d id? One explanation may lie in the conscious choices made by some of the parents to live in the better Mexican communities located on the fringes of white neighborhoods, perhaps realizing t he social and educational advantages that would accrue to their children as a result. Many su bjects, in fact, talked about living on the school boundary line or the other side of the ditch from a really bad neighborhood. A young woman who grew up in southern California spoke for many of the subjects in the following


25 of 43commentary: I went to schools where I wasn't the norm, but we l ived in neighborhoods where we were. In Barstow, where I was districted in a diffe rent, more prosperous, elementary school, I wasn't the norm in school, but I lived in a neighborhood where we were. Even in New Mexico, the same way. A second explanation lies in a fact of life for far mworkers. Their children who attend school often go to the same schools as the well-off sons and daughters of the large landowners for whom their parents work. In the early grades th is results in highly mixed schools, but as the students move into high school large proportions of farmworker children drop out, leaving secondary schools that are often largely white, mid dle-class enclaves. Catholic schools can also provide integrated educat ion for low-income, minority students; about 30 percent of the subjects had attended paroc hial schools for three or more years. There is another explanation for the disproportiona tely large sample of subjects who attended highly integrated and mostly white schools having to do with the students themselves. Several subjects commented that they were acutely a ware of the differences in opportunities that existed between schools and they made the choices a bout which schools to attend. One young man who had lived on the boundary between two very distinct schools explained his choice this way: When I graduated from junior high the big question was which of the two high schools was I going to choose. And the reason why t he choice was important was because Lincoln was predominantly, 95 percent, Mexi can American and that's where most of the kids from my junior high school were go ing. . Franklin, at that time, was 99 percent Anglo. And the choice was very criti cal at that point primarily because it was a choice of following the rest of th e crowd. . I was involved in gangs when I was in junior high school . most o f them had been arrested for one reason or another. . My decision was to go to F ranklin . I knew the only way to escape this was to disassociate myself from all of them by going to a high school where they weren't going. Another subject talked about how his schooling was shaped by his two older brothers who had decided that they wouldn't go to school in the barrio where they lived: My two brothers were trying to do well. They wanted to go to college, that's why they left the barrio, they didn't want to go the sc hools there, the public schools especially. . (T)hey found a Catholic high scho ol through a friend of theirs, and that's where the whole movement started. We used to get out, take the bus across town. When their mother said the Catholic high school was too expensive, she couldn't afford the one they had selected, and suggested couldn't they attend another school?, the boys replied, "It's not good enough, look at all those guys, they 're not going anywhere." They saw the writing on the wall. Pretty perceptive, actuall y. Importance of particular schools Whether by chance or by conscious effort, many of t he subjects commented on how important they felt the particular schools they att ended were in shaping their academic futures.


26 of 43One subject, when asked what was critically differe nt about his background that might have contributed to his high aspirations, replied, That I went to Catholic school. It was head and sho ulders different from public schools. My friends in Catholic school and I, we we re proud of who we were. We had pride. We knew that we were studying hard compa red to all those other guys that don't carry any books home. . We felt like we were doing something. . I don't know what would have happened to me if I'd go ne to public school. Maybe I would have surfaced, maybe, but I don't know. Of course, most subjects did not go to Catholic sch ools. For many of them, their public school experiences were believed to make a differen ce: I have sometimes asked myself . whether or not I would have achieved as much, or even more, if I had gone to . But I don't kn ow. I knew that in going to an Anglo high school I was going to have to overcome everyth ing that I was carrying with me which was going to keep me from achieving it. I did it. Having done it gave me an incredible amount of confidence and completely conv inced me that I could do anything I wanted to. Similarly, a young man whose older sister had invit ed him to live with her and her husband so that he could attend an uppermiddle-class, mos tly white, school, reviewed that experience: I could have stayed at Ravenswood High School, and I would not have gone on to college. And I also think that if I had stayed in t he old neighborhood, I would not have gone on to college. But the experience that I had at Campbell, in particular, sort of began to provide me with that proper tone of wor k, to create a situation in which I could go to college. Another subject, early in his educational career, f ound the change of schools he made to be fortuitous in the way it resulted in a different op inion of himself: I went to Marengo. That was the first school I went to. There I don't remember being at the top of the class . I was kind of right i n the middle, average. When I went to Murchison, all of a sudden I was at the top of the class . and they tested us once and found that about three of us who were transferr ed from this other school . they found we were doing third-grade level. I always tho ught, gee, that was interesting. Here I was in the middle of my class and suddenly a t this school, I'm smart. I'm one of the smart guys. . (Then) I remember going to an Open House and my instructor told my parents that I was "college material" . and it seems from then on, I was their son, "college material." Mentors in school There is little consensus among scholars on the def inition of mentoring or the characteristics of the mentoring relationship. For Muskal and Carlquist (1992), mentoring may range from a single motivating conversation to a li fe-long relationship. Bloom (1985) identifies different types of mentorship, depending on the sta ge of development of the one being mentored; and Gage and Berliner (1991) contend that the mento ring relationship must be one of mutual benefit that takes place in the context of some kin d of work. While differing along several dimensions, these definitions share in common the n otions that the participants' relationship must


27 of 43be one of superior and subordinate and the subordin ate's career is advanced through this relationship. In this study, mentoring was defined as a process b y which a particular individual dramatically affected the subject's orientation to schooling. The mentor was the person who encouraged, showed the way, and nurtured the subjec t's aspirations to pursue higher education. Although most subjects reported that they had posit ive experiences with teachers who encouraged them, only half actually nominated a tea cher or other person outside of the family as a real mentor. An interesting gender difference became evident her e. While all of the female subjects had been good or excellent students throughout their sc hool careers, and teachers and counselors, with a few exceptions, had been generally supportiv e, only 30 percent of the women cited a person outside of the family as having had a major influence on setting and/or achieving educational goals. On the other hand, 60 percent of the male subjects cited a person outside of the family as playing this role in the formation of the ir educational goals. Although a fair number of the males had uneven academic backgrounds, many mor e people stepped forward to be their mentors. In some cases mentoring took the form of an excepti onal interest in the academic nurturing of a subject, even early on. One sociology professo r recounted such an experience with his fifth and sixth grade teacher, whom he credited with bein g the impetus for a lifelong love of learning and a desire to pursue higher education: Well there's no doubt that the most important perso n in probably my whole educational experience was a teacher I had in fifth and sixth grade who I visited last year to tell her I was getting my PhD and that I re ally owed it to her. She was a wonderful woman, an Anglo woman who was from the Mi dwest. She was very religious and she had an old-fashioned attitude tow ard education. She loves her students and she puts out for them. I remember very clearly she bought the World Book Encyclopedia for the class. . Up until the n I could hardly write my name . I could hardly read. She was the kind of person who would take the slowest students and work them the most. . She took me and . and she took this one Anglo boy who was a migrant worker . he used to wear rags to school. . I started doing a lot of book reports and stuff from the World Book E ncyclopedia. She introduced me to libraries and to reading and that's when I reall y started picking up because once I discovered reading it just opened up a whole new wo rld. . In those two years I learned how to learn. For others, like the lawyer whose parents had disco uraged his pursuit of higher education, mentoring meant not only taking him to colleges, bu t helping to convince his family of the importance of an education beyond high school: I had a substitute teacher who took regular interes t in me. . She took it upon herself to start showing me around. And on her own she started taking me to different colleges and universities throughout sout hern California and making appointments with deans and having me talk to them. . She exposed me to possibilities I would not have thought of otherwise . she also became involved with (my father) and kind of educated him on the ne ed to have me relieved of my family obligations and continue my education. All of the subjects' mentors were not found in scho ol, however. Twenty percent cited an older sibling as the person who had been most influ ential in encouraging their higher education and showing them the ropes. These were always older sisters and brothers who had some


28 of 43experience with college themselves. Similarly, wher e the subjects were the oldest child or the oldest of their gender in the family, they played a mentoring role for their siblings; in 60 percent of these cases, all but one of the succeeding child ren also went on to, or were clearly on track for, college. Fifteen percent of the subjects found mentors outsi de of the home and school. This was usually a priest. As a fatherless male psychologist recounts, the priest had provided the encouragement for him to make the decision to go to college: At that time, you see, Father Bernardin was already involved in our family. . He was a real good man. (In an attempt to model him) I l knew that I was going on to further studies and to a monastery. . But he ne ver really tried to encourage me (to become a priest). In fact, I think he thought it wo uld have been a good idea for me to go to college first. Maybe he sensed it. The subject did later enter the seminary, but left before becoming a priest. Peers Considerable data exist to suggest that peers do in fluence achievement behavior, albeit probably to a lesser extent than do parents (Steinb erg et al., 1988). And, although some patterns of influence have been demonstrated to differ by sc hool (Levine, Mitchell and Havighurst, 1970), high academic achievement is usually not a characte ristic that is likely, in and of itself, to catapult a student into the high status group in hi gh school (Coleman, 1961). In fact, in inner-city black schools, Fordham and Ogbu (1986) found high a cademic achievement to be a serious liability in gaining social status. Hence, one migh t surmise that peer influences could tend to work against high achievement for low-income Mexica n Americans. How, then, did this sample of highachieving Chicano students manage to avoid the potentially negative effects of peer pressure? Some did not. As will be discussed later, not all s tudents were uniformly successful throughout school, and some did succumb to peer pre ssure. One subject, who was an outstanding student in elementary school, talked about how the peer pressure changed between elementary and junior high school in his mostly Chicano, South Texas schools: It wasn't vogue to be smart, it wasn't vogue to be number one. And so, you just sort of sat back and [became] your basic C student all t hrough junior high school. And high school?Same thing. I was very turned off by my high school I thought the people who made it (in honor society) were a big farce. I didn't wa nt to have anything to do with it. I really felt like I knew my own potential and I real ly felt like high school was not a place where I need necessarily express it. Another subject talked about the strategy he used t o keep up his grades, and still save face with his friends: Most of us kids were not studious. Most of us were . not too concerned about school. But I always kept it up anyway. I thought i t was fun to talk about not studying, but I did it anyway. . I didn't let o n that I was studying or working hard. I mean you were cool if you didn't study.


29 of 43 Because of the academic tracking that occurred and the fact that 84 percent of the subjects reported that their high schools were either compos ed of a broad mix of ethnicities or were mostly Anglo, the school peer group of most of the sample was white. These were the only kids they came into contact with regularly during the sc hool day. A few maintained a Chicano friendship group at school, however, and in these c ases the friends, though they did poorly themselves, tended to be supportive of the subjects academic achievements. This willingness to be supportive of a friend's aca demic achievement appeared to be tied to feelings that the achiever was still on their side even if he or she performed more like the Anglo kids. One subject who had a crippling case of polio recounted how he was supported by his Chicano peers: There were a lot of Chicanos in the class, and at t he end of the semester, when the teacher read off the grades, all the Chicanos were getting C's and D's and F's, and he got to my name and I got an A. The only Chicano who got an A in the class. And all the Chicanos cheered, "Yayyy!" "Right on." . I was different to the extent that I couldn't work out in the field, and I couldn't get in track, I couldn't wrestle, stuff like that. So what I was doing was getting the grades an d excelling scholastically. And rather than making me different and turning everyon e off, I was the one they cheered on. A young woman, who used her academic skills to help her friends, also found support in her Chicano peer group: We were about six, seven girls . like a clique. But none of them went to college. They got married after high school . worked in factories . (but) then I was very popular because I helped them with their work and w ith school. And actually a lot of people say that bright kids were made fun of and al l that, but in my case, it wasn't the case. It was the opposite. They would look up . and say, "She's so smart," and "She's a brain," and like that. But in a nice way, you know. Most of the study subjects, however, maintained two peer groups, one at school, and one from the neighborhood. Because they were so segrega ted by classes at school, it was easy to keep the two separate. At school, they were free to comp ete academically in the classroom, and when they went home in the afternoon they would assume a very different posture. This subject described the two social worlds in which he lived: In high school . I got involved in all the club s. I was an officer. I got scholarships, I was in all the college prep classes. I was gettin g A's and B's. I was associating with the white kids, but only on a superficial level, as in those clubs. Once out of school, I became a rowdy, a pachuco like the rest. By that ti me I was riding around in cars, drinking and stealing and skipping out of restauran ts. All that kind of stupid thing. Others found peer groups that had different orienta tions, but were not quite so disparate: I hung out in high school with smart, good kids . studious, mostly girls, white girls. . The smart ones, you know, were active and ran the clubs and I was part of that. . So I had two sets of friends, Mexican f riends and my white friends. Outside of school . (we) formed our own band. All Mexic an band. Virtually all of the subjects talked of maintaining two peer groups: one at school and a different one at home. By the time they had graduat ed from high school the subjects had


30 of 43excellent training in moving between two cultures. They knew how to handle themselves with high-achieving Anglos, and they were still equally comfortable in the company of friends who would never leave the fields, the barrios, or go to college. For the most part, they were able to make the jump into the mainstream, without alienati ng the communities from which they came. It is easy to see how this social adaptability coul d become a great advantage later in life, and a major factor in their continued academic success. G ibson (1992) refers to this phenomenon as "additive acculturation" and finds evidence of it i n several ethnic groups: Recent studies show that many first and second gene ration immigrant children are successful not because they relinquish their tradit ional ways but because they draw strength from their home cultures and a positive se nse of their ethnic identity. They distinguish the acquisition of school skills and th e gaining of proficiency in the ways of the mainstream from their own social identificat ion with a particular ethnic group (p. 7).Structured Opportunities All of these subjects came from low-income backgrou nds one of the criteria for inclusion in the study. As a result, all needed financial sup port in order to attend college. They also came from homes in which parents had low levels of educa tion; the mean number of years of education completed by mothers and fathers was between four a nd five. Parents were not in a position to inform their children about college options and opp ortunities; this information came to them through older siblings who had already been to coll ege, through peers, and through the schools. More than half of the subjects (52 percent) attribu ted their college and/or graduate school attendance, at least in part, to recruitment progra ms for Chicanos, which brought both information and financial aid. Onethird of the su bjects used junior colleges as their entry point into higher education, lacking adequate financial s upport to go directly to universities. These subjects attended college during a period whe n opportunities were opening up for minorities. Major civil rights legislation had rece ntly passed and colleges and universities were recruiting minority applicants -and, in many case s, funding their educations. In addition, after 1965 the federal government began to commit large a mounts of aid for students in an effort to stimulate increased participation in higher educati on among lower-income students (Astin, 1982). The importance of the time period for minori ty education cannot be overstated. Only once before in the history of the United States had such extraordinary opportunities opened up for a single category of citizens, and that was the resul t of the post-World War II G.I. Bill, which brought unprecedented numbers of first-time student s into higher education (Olson, 1974). The impact that new opportunities in higher education h ad for some families is illustrated in the comments of one subject, the last born of 10 childr en. Her only other sibling who had successfully completed college obtained a BA as a n un in the Catholic church. Speaking of her siblings, she commented: They're all very bright. Only when they were growin g up, financially it wouldn't have been feasible for them after high school to go to college. They had to work. . I was the last one. If I had been one of the first ones, I would never have gone to college.Why was it more feasible for you?Because of financial aid.If it hadn't been for financial aid, do you think y ou would have gone on?


31 of 43Probably not. . But I graduated at the time whe n minority admissions were being pushed really hard. I was one of the lucky ones tha t got through because of that. I think that was very important. Another subject commented on the difference the ava ilability of financial aid had made for him, as opposed to his older brother: It was 1968, the first or second year that financia l assistance was available. Had that not presented itself, I probably would have gone to city college. That's what my brother did; it took him eight years to get a BA fr om the state university. Availability of financial aid was really, really important. What I got from Harvard was more than my dad earned all year. This subject ended up getting a BA and a law degree from Harvard in less time than it took his brother to complete his undergraduate education working at the same time. Of course, for all of these subjects, finding a mea ns for financing their educations was extremely important, as their families were rarely able to provide financial support. But the climate of the time was also an important factor in their continued education. Many subjects commented that college and university recruiters ma de the difference between possibility and reality in their college aspirations: At that time the Educational Opportunities Program was just being developed. It was the first year that the program was going to go ful ly into effect. . (The recruiter's) first question was, "Do you want to come to UCLA?" And I had never been asked that before. It was more like, "Why should we admit you?" . I spent four hours talking to this guy. It was a very different approa ch and I got so enthusiastic about it, I immediately went home and . decided to go to UCLA. Although the great majority of these subjects were outstanding students and would have been able to gain admission to the universities the y attended under any circumstances, many saw these special minority recruitment programs as key to their higher education. The daughter of cannery workers who had always excelled in school m used, It was a good time to come along in the educational system . there were opportunities and I either reached for them or stum bled on them. . I don't know, I was lucky. If there weren't the opportunities I don 't know if I'd be a doctor. Another subject, who eventually completed medical s chool, talked about his decision to go to college: I went through high school and never really thought of going to college. . I thought I was going to be working with the trucks, with my dad. . But I got a scholarship . and my dad said, "I'm relieving y ou of all responsibilities for helping support the family." He said, "Go to college, but y ou're going to have to do it on your own." So I did. I had three jobs . The role of structured opportunity, whether it was financial aid that became available in large quantity through the federal government or sp ecial recruitment programs, was critical to these subjects. Clearly, they were ambitious, hardw orking, even driven to succeed, and most had outstanding academic records; they were valedictori ans, or in the top 10 percent of their classes. But, many admitted, without someone interceding at the right moment they probably would not have followed the educational paths they did. One c an speculate that because of their ambition


32 of 43 and acculturation to hard work they might well have been even more successful in other endeavors, but the question remains whether they wo uld have been able to make education their vehicle of mobility. Given the declining percentage s of Chicano students going on to college as financial aid has become less available and recruit ment efforts have slowed down (Orfield, 1990; Orfield & Paul, 1988), there is some evidence that they would not. Moreover, Post (1990) has demonstrated, with a more recent sample of Chicano high school seniors, that lack of accurate information about college costs and payment options is a substantial deterrent to college enrollment for Mexican American students.Formulating Educational Goals When did these people first really decide they were going on to college? Table 5 displays the distribution of responses to this question. Sur prisingly, almost equal numbers of individuals decided very early or did not decide until late in high school (generally senior year), and even sometime afterwards, that they would go to college. The numbers who delayed the decision so long might not be so surprising for students who wo uld eventually work their way through an undergraduate degree in local institutions. However these are people who made a major commitment to an academic career and who, in all ca ses, attended prestigious universities, often very distant from their homes. Their decision to co ntinue their education was very much a fork in the road experience. Who decided early and who decided late? Students wh o went on to get PhDs were much more likely than the others to make a late college decision. Similarly, this group was more likely to decide to continue their education to the doctor al level after completing an undergraduate degree. TABLE 5 WHEN SUBJECTS FIRST DECIDED TO GO TO COLLEGE Prior to J.H.J.H.Early H.S.Late H.S.LaterN Total 16 (32%)8 (16%)11 (22%)10 (20%)5 (10%)50 Male 7 (23%)5 (17%)8 (27%)6 (20%)4 (13%)30 Female 9 (45%)3 (15%)3 (15%)4 (20%)1 (5%)20 J.D. 6 (50%)2 (17%)3 (25%)0 (0%)1 (8%)12 M.D. 2 (18%)2 (18%)5 (45%)2 (18%)0 (0%)11 Ph.D. 8 (13%)4 (15%)3 (11%)8 (30%)4 (15%)27 Tables 6 and 7 display information on the academic performance of study subjects up to the point of entering college. Table 6 illustrates whether the subjects had ever done poorly in school or were always good students. In many cases, those who had done poorly at one time attributed this to early difficulty with the Englis h language. Two-thirds of the sample spoke only Spanish or a combination of English and Spanish whe n they began school. The women, however, made a particularly rapid transition to English and quickly began performing well in school, which explains the apparent discrepancy between Tab le 6 and Table 7, which show all of the women reporting that they had always been good stud ents.


33 of 43 TABLE 6 WHETHER SUBJECTS EVER DID POORLY IN SCHOOL PRIOR TO COLLEGE (C's or less) YesNoTotal N Total 24 (48%)26 (52%)50 Male 20 (67%)10 (33%)30 Female 4 (20%)16 (80%)20 J.D. 5 (42%)7 (58%)12 M.D. 6 (55%)5 (45%)11 Ph.D 13 (48%)14 (52%)27 TABLE 7 WHEN SUBJECTS BEGAN TO GET GOOD GRADES (B's or better) Always/ Throughout ElementaryJunior HighHigh School Never Prior to College N Total 36 (73%)8 (16%)1 (2%)4 (8%)1 (2%)50 Male 16 (53%)8 (27%)1 (3%)4 (13%)1 (3%)30 Female 20 (100%)0 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)20 J.D. 10 (83%)1 (8%)0 (0%)1 (8%)0 (0%)12 M.D. 8 (73%)2 (18%)0 (0%)1 (9%)0 (0%)11 Ph.D. 18 (67%)5 (19%)1 (4%)2 (7%)1 (4%)27 The most important feature of Tables 6 and 7 is the fact that five of the subjects, all males, reported that they had not even begun to perform we ll in school until sometime in high school or later, and almost two-thirds reported having a peri od in school in which they did not do well. Unlike the females, several male subjects began the ir elementary school careers performing well, and later, for a variety of reasons, sometimes beca use of peer pressure, performed poorly in school. Thus, the school careers of these exception ally high-achieving Chicano (male) students often were uneven. At different points prior to col lege they undoubtedly looked very much like other Chicano students who did not go on to college The role of ability One might be tempted to conclude that this group of subjects was so academically successful because of their native ability. Convent ional wisdom suggests that people who excel


34 of 43academically are just more intelligent than those w ho do not. However, there is considerable evidence that intellectual ability and academic att ainment are not necessarily highly correlated, especially among minorities (Duran, 1983). Several subjects commented on the role of intellige nce in their own academic accomplishments: I knew I wasn't all that smart. I knew that (if) I hadn't studied, it just (wouldn't) come like that. I had to study for my mind to work. . There were people with more smarts. When people, for example, say to me, "Oh ye ah, you're a real brain, aren't you," I say, "I'm not a brain." I knew I wasn't. I was not a genius. I knew that. All I could do was study hard, that's all. . But I'd always get a good feeling from mastering something. And that's a personal characte ristic. I would get a good feeling from coming out on top of the heap of people who to ok the test. It was real, it just was. It was my own internal reward. Another subject related how his drive to achieve wa s responsible not only for his academic success, but for his success in other endeavors as well: I think that people admired the fact that I worked hard. I think people admired the fact that I was an achiever when I really shouldn't have been. People would look at me and think to themselves, "there is no reason why this guy should be as good as he is in everything." Academically, the counselors wou ld look at me and say, "this guy has an IQ of 95; there is no reason he should be do ing this well." And then I would work hard and I would get A's and I would impress t hem. . The coaches would look at me and say, "Hey, this guy weighs 90 pounds are you kidding? "if you go out on the field, you'll get blown away."I would go out there and I would become the number one, you know, the starting man on the track team, and they would admire me. So that's a quality; maybe stubbornness more th an anything else. One subject best sums up what many others felt. Cle arly, a certain amount of intellectual ability was required for academic success. Although his was not perceived to be extraordinary, it was sufficient to allow other, more salient, qualit ies to develop: Well, in terms of sheer intellectual ability . maybe I am in the top 10 percent, which, with the people I see myself competing with . it's not overwhelming at Stanford; it's not overwhelming in terms of the nat ional leadership, but that gives me enough that I can bring into play things that I thi nk a lot of the 10 percent do not have, which is, number one, a sense of purpose beyo nd the person, which is a great motivator. Because when you run out of motivation f or yourself, and you don't have anything else, you just can't go that extra mile . .Summary Despite serious economic disadvantage, most of thes e subjects' parents were doing the kinds of things reported to be important for instil ling in children the motivation to achieve. For the most part, they supported their children's educ ational goals, set high performance standards, and helped in any way they could. The important dif ference between their strategy and that of more middle-class samples, according to the literat ure, is the parents' modeling of a hard work ethic. Although almost one-third of the sample had lived in the United States for two generations or more, the families behaved very much like recent immigrants in their transmission of a hard-work, education-as-mobility ethic (Duran and W effer, 1992). The tendency for immigrant


35 of 43students to display more achievement-oriented behav ior than other minorities has been noted elsewhere (see, for example, Ogbu, 1987; Suarez-Oro zco, 1987). How does one account for the tremendous press for a chievement that existed in most of these homes? I believe the answer lies, in part, in the family stories. Parents told stories of wealth, prestige, position, to their children to ke ep alive their hopes for a better future. If one ha s always been poor and sees nothing but poverty in on e's environs, it may be easy to conclude that this is one's destiny. But, if one lives with stori es about former exploits, about ancestors who owned their own lands and controlled their own live s, it may be easier to imagine a similar destiny. At the very least, one's family history sh ows that one is capable of a better life. If it is true that cultural myths and fairy tales can affect the achievement orientations of an entire populace (see Simonton, 1987), perhaps family stori es and legends have had an equally powerful effect on the motivation of individual children. Even beyond the effects of their parents' pressure, subjects expressed intense personal drives for achievement, often manifested in vows, i n effect, that they would not live in the kind of poverty into which they had been born. Other stu dies of exceptionally successful individuals have concluded that some of the variation in achiev ement is probably due to genetic inheritance or inherent personality characteristics (Goertzel, Goertzel and Goertzel, 1978; Simonton, 1987). In answering the question, "Why were you so educati onally successful when other Chicanos in your situation are not?," subjects typi cally responded, "Motivation. I wanted it badly. The need creates a will," or "Why me? I think becau se I wanted it more than anybody else." When asked what personal characteristic made it pos sible for the subjects to realize their high aspirations, more than two-thirds thought persisten ce was most important, not innate ability. In fact, ability was ranked third behind persistence a nd hard work as a factor in their achievement. Most people saw themselves, like their parents, as extremely hard workers who would not give up. Similarly, in a review of achieved eminence, Si monton (1987) found that persistence was more powerful than ability by itself. Nonetheless, ability, support, and persistence woul d not have been sufficient without opportunity an area that holds the greatest promise for educational policy initiatives. In all cases, the subjects were exposed to a high-achieving peer group against whom they could realistically test their own skills and validate their performanc e. These peers also helped to keep them on the right academic track, even in the face of competing peer values. The fact that almost all had extensive exposure to middle-class, white students also provided the opportunity to learn to move easily between different cultures and to adapt to widely differing situations. Minority recruitment programs and financial aid tar geted to attracting minorities were critical to the continued education of most of the subjects. Many felt that without the recruitment efforts, they simply would not have known of the op portunities available to them; others contended that without the financial help they coul d not have attended college at all. In a few cases, financial aid meant that the subjects could continue working parttime and still have enough money left over to help their families. This eased the guilt of abandoning their families, who had counted on them for support.Implications for Educational PolicyPolicymakers should take seriously the effect of in tegrated schools and multiethnic peer experiences on the formation of academic goals, and shape state education policy accordingly with respect to the racial/ethnic compo sition of schools. Excellent minority schools may provide students wit h the skills they need to continue their education, but will not provide the validation that comes with competing in an arena that mirrors the society into which they w ill be thrust. During the ongoing debate about abandoning desegregation efforts in areas whe re it has proved difficult to implement, 1.


36 of 43many people have advocated putting resources that m ight otherwise be spent on desegregation efforts into building high-quality, a ll-minority schools, arguing that the critical variable is school excellence, not the stu dents' racial or ethnic mix. The data from this study would point to exercising great caution in that regard, at least with Chicano students. These subjects commented frequently on how their se lf-concept was affected by knowing they could compete successfully against stu dents whom they viewed as models of achievement. Moreover, there is considerable eviden ce that moving back and forth between the two cultures of home and school provide d important adaptive skills that increased their chances of persisting in school.State and local policies should be reviewed with re spect to early identification of high-potential students. There is currently a great emphasis on early interv ention with youth "at risk." Such early intervention strategies often focus on identi fying high-potential students early in their school years in order to provide them with special support to ensure their school success. While this is no doubt helpful to the students who are targeted, many of the subjects of this study, who passed the most stringent criterion for being "high potential," would not have been so identified early in their school careers. T en percent would not have been considered "college material" until their senior ye ar of high school or later. More than half of the sample reported doing poorly in school at so me point. For the women, this occurred early in their schooling and was due to language fa ctors. For the men, however, many had uneven profiles of achievement, doing well during o ne time, then poorly during another. Depending on when the identification is done-and there would have been no consistently good time to do it with this sample-up to half of these proven achievers would have been missed in the screening. For students with stable social and economic backgr ounds who are not dealing with issues of development, discrimination, and stereoty ping, it may be statistically defensible to identify high potential and nurture it early on. But for students with backgrounds similar to those in this study it would be wiser to assume that all have high potential and nurture all equally. 2. There is a need for more analysis of the effects of tracking. This issue is more complex than many educators have acknowledged. Almost all o f these subjects were eventually placed in college preparatory tracks in which they were segregated from their neighborhood peers. For them it worked to their adv antage. Had they not been so placed it is virtually certain that they would not have been eligible for the educational opportunities they were later offered. However, this provides fur ther evidence of the powerful effects of tracking. By being placed in these tracks, students who came from backgrounds which should have been predictive of academic failure wer e able to beat the odds; by being labeled smart they came to believe that they were, and by being grouped with other similarly labeled students they were exposed to a c urriculum and set of standards that made their college educations possible. Also, by being p laced in this track, information and opportunities were made available to them by colleg e recruiters and others that most Chicano students never knew existed. For the lucky few who make it into the college-bound track, the rewards are considerable, but one has to wonder how many were missed along the way. 3. Schools should reduce their reliance on ability mea sures in making educational placement decisions, and find ways to reward persistence. By their own accounts, the study subjects were not the "smartest" students, but they 4.


37 of 43were among the hardest workers. Many more students could be brought into the ranks of achievers if we distributed opportunity (e.g., Gift ed and Talented Education) according to desire to learn and willingness to study, rather th an on the basis of a test score. Although the American educational system is no doub t the most open in the world with respect to providing access, there is somethin g in the American ethos that precludes academic attainment more powerfully than structural barriers. This is the belief, however, unspoken, in the salience of ability over effort, h ence our willingness to turn over the futures of our children to the assumed predictive a bility of standardized tests. Twenty percent of the study subjects reported that they had been placed in noncollege preparatory tracks at some time during h igh school, usually on the basis of an ability or aptitude test that they had been given. Another three subjects (6 percent) recounted how they had to argue on their own behalf to be placed in college-prep classes to which they were not originally scheduled. Even in t he face of high academic achievement, counselors continued to place more faith in the tes t scores than they did in the subjects' performance. The research suggests that these were not isolated cases. Schools of education should incorporate into their curriculum an emphasis on discarding stereotypes about Mexican American students and fam ilies. Such stereotypes include a reliance on fate and a p assive, diminished role for the mother (Carter and Segura, 1979). These high achiev ing subjects reported overwhelmingly that their mothers were either the dominant force i n their homes, or had at least equal influence as the fathers on family decisions. Withi n homes that are achievement-oriented, the critical contact for the school may be the moth er. Her enlistment in the educational enterprise can have a substantially positive effect on the student's academic aspirations. 5. The same enriched curriculum and high standards sho uld be provded in schools serving the barrios as exist in other, more middle-class, areas Many of these subjects made conscious decisions to attend schools they perceived to be better academically. If all schools do not provi de the same opportunities, the evidence here suggests that some of the most ambitious stude nts and their families, regardless of income, will find alternative schools, further erod ing the barrio schools' academic strength and reducing the opportunities for the students who remain. 6.ReferencesAnderson, J. & Evans, F. (1976). Family socializati on and educational achievement in two cultures: Mexican American and Anglo American. Sociometry 39, 209-222. Astin, A.W. (1982). Minorities in American higher education San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Averch, H.A., Carroll, S.J., Donaldson, T.S., Kiesl ing, H.J., & Pincus, J. (1974). How effective is schooling? Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Educational Technology. Bloom, B. (1985). Developing talent in young people NY: Ballentine. Bowles, S. & Gintis, H. (1976). Schooling in capitalist America. New York: Basic Books. Buenning, M. & Tollefson, N. (1987). The cultural g ap hypothesis as an explanation for the achievement patterns of Mexican-American students. Psychology in the Schools 24, 264-272. California Postsecondary Education Commission. (198 6). Enrollment trends in California higher


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42 of 43 Patricia GandaraUniversity of Patricia Gandara is Associate Professor of Educati on at University of California, Davis. She teaches in both Educational Psychology and Educ ational Policy Studies. Formerly, Dr. Gandara was an Associate Social Scientist with the RAND Corp. and diretor of education research in the California Legislature. Her researc h interests include academic achievement of limited English proficient, and other minority stud ents and school reform. She is the author of Over the Ivy Walls (SUNY, 1995), and is currently working on a book e ntitled The Dimension of Time and the Challenge of School Reform .Copyright 1994 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesEPAA can be accessed either by visiting one of its seve ral archived forms or by subscribing to the LISTSERV known as EPAA at (To sub scribe, send an email letter to whose sole contents are SUB EPAA y our-name.) As articles are published by the Archives they are sent immediately to the EPAA subscribers and simultaneously archived in three forms. Articles ar e archived on EPAA as individual files under the name of the author and the Volume and article number. For e xample, the article by Stephen Kemmis in Volume 1, Number 1 of the Archives can be retrieved by sending an e-mail letter to LI and making the single line in the letter read GET KEMMIS V1N1 F=MAIL. For a table of contents of the entire ARCHIVES, send the following e-mail message to LIST INDEX EPAA F=MAIL, that is, send an e-mail letter and make its single line read INDEX EPAA F=MAIL. The World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is To receive a publication guide for submitting artic les, see the EPAA World Wide Web site or send an e-mail letter to and include the single l ine GET EPAA PUBGUIDE F=MAIL. It will be sent to you by return e-mail. General questions about ap propriateness of topics or particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, or reach him at College of Education, Arizona Sta te University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2411. (602-965-2692)Editorial Board John Andrew Coulson Alan Davis Mark E. Thomas F. Alison I. Arlen Gullickson Ernest R. Aimee Craig B. Howley u56e3@wvnvm.bitnet William Richard M. Jaeger


43 of 43Benjamin Thomas Dewayne Mary P. Les Susan Bobbitt Anne L. Hugh G. Richard C. Anthony G. Rud Dennis Jay Robert Robert T.