Self-Fulfilling Prophecies in the US Education System

I wrote this post back in 2014 for a blog that was part of a class. The recent “revelations” of elaborated schemes allowing rich parents to bribe and cheat their children’s way into prestigious universities reminded me of it. What are you supposed to do when they don’t even need to be half as good as you to get it all? When they can dictate the price and buy it cash? What else is there to do when the plan is to “educate” you to not even want it at all, to encourage you to dream small and become what they already decided for you (which is nothing)? Tchuiiipss!

I woke up this morning to an email from the blog informing me that joonparkucf posted this video. As I watched it, I couldn’t stop some tears. The story told by the young man in the video sounded very familiar.

On January 12, 2010, my life completely changed. It was the day of the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that ravaged my country of heritage, Haiti. Three weeks later, I uprooted my life, leaving my parents, friends, and childhood home behind to go to a different country, with a different language and culture, to live with strangers.

Two days after I moved, I went to Boynton Beach High School to get evaluated to be placed at the appropriate grade level. Even though I was fifteen years old, I was placed in the second half of eleventh grade. At first, I was excited that I would finish two years earlier than expected. But then, I found out about how the school was organized.

The school was highly segregated. It was heavily populated by Haitians and hispanics from Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Anyone who came from those regions and Haiti was placed in ESOL classes and did NOT leave. It didn’t matter how proficient they became, all of their classes were taught by ESOL teachers: math, sciences, history, english, etc. I met students who had been in the ESOL program since ninth grade, but the counselors consistently refused to place them in “regular” classes, let alone Advanced Placement or Honors.

During my time at Boynton Beach (only stayed for the rest of eleventh grade), we were not once approached by college recruiters. The “regular” students were getting catered to by all types of institutions across Florida and the nation at large. However, all that was expected of us was to pass the FCAT, graduate, and maybe, just maybe, attend the local community college. I’m not sure if anyone on staff was familiar with the phenomenon of self-fulfilling prophecy. The only “college talk” I had was from my white American History teacher, complaining about the fact that HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) did not try to recruit white students at the school, and how the simple idea of HBCUs was puzzling her. I’m going to let that sink in: an AMERICAN HISTORY teacher who could not understand the very real need for HBCUs back then, and still today. But I digress. 

I started at Boynton Beach High School during the first week of February. By mid-March and beginning of April, I was administered the FCAT, ACT, and SAT. As the young man in the aforementioned video stated, school was the only stable thing in my life. So I was focused, (or depressed and isolated, you pick) and I worked to get above average scores in all of them.

My determination and my upbringing helped me out of the hole that is the ESOL education system in the United States. When I moved and began my last year of high school in Pembroke Pines, FL, all of my classes were Honors (though I was still bored to death). All those on staff at Boynton Beach HS did not have any expectations for us. It didn’t matter that we already spoke two languages and were rhetorical masters at navigating two distinct cultures. It didn’t matter that by the second half of our first year, we were translating for newcomers. It didn’t matter that we were literally begging to be taken seriously, to be taught, or to simply be seen. We all became a huge glob of “others”. English is what mattered, being a “typical american teenager” was the goal. I’m certain that at one point, we all started to be the same at the eyes of the faculty.

We spend the time discussing literacy in foreign societies and how we can help increase it. We sometimes forget that those countries already have their own literacies and their own literacy practices. This relates to why when students come from those foreign countries, we are unable to appreciate the value of their “differences.”

Being a multilingual and multicultural student in America means to constantly hear that your culture and background don’t matter and have to be erased or ignored in order to be taken seriously. God forbid you have a strong accent and have to watch both your classmates and teacher wince because you “mispronounced” a word, as if they didn’t understand you perfectly, as if your message or question was any less important because a word sounded differently coming from you. The more “American” you become, the smarter or “better” the impression of you becomes. I’ve had countless people congratulate me on the fact that I almost completely lost my accent, as if the less I can remind them of my “otherness”, the better I am for it.

I often say that I am one of those who made it out of ESOL. It’s not at all funny that something that is supposed to be used as a bridge between my native language and my acquisition of a new one is instead seen and used as yet another obstacle to surmount. It’s detrimental to everyone that being able to speak two languages is seen as less instead of more in an educational setting simply because one of them is not English. The current ESOL system rips multilingual students of their identity and their ability to express themselves. It is yet another demonstration of America’s fast decline towards standardization and it’s causing our society to lose on some absolutely brilliant minds.

As we look to other countries to see how well we’re doing, maybe we ought to look within our own system to see how truly wrong we are.

Dont forget to check out my other posts!

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