Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Wednesday Issue: Hispanic Achievement and Acting White

Inspired by Eduwonkette's recent analysis of the "Acting White" theory, I've decided to do a small spin-off here. Although much attention has been paid to "acting white" within the Black community, there has been little discussion of how this mentality affects Hispanic students' academic achievement.

In his 2006 study, Harvard economist Roland Fryer and his colleague Paul Torelli released a study which showed that minority students' social popularity suffered when it was known that they were academic high-achievers. The researchers found that for Black students, popularity began to decline once students achieved a 3.5 GPA or higher, but for Hispanic students, the bar was even lower. Latino students began to lose standing with their peers once they attained a 2.0 GPA. This data led to the conclusion that minority students deliberately under-perform in school to avoid "acting white" and keep their social standing intact.

Below is Fryer's graph of how a GPA affects students' popularity (thanks to the Hoover Institution):

Roland and Fryer make no hypotheses about why Hispanic students' popularity decline begins so much earlier than that of Black students. Thankfully, this leaves room for our further inquiry.

The following questions are important ones that need to be raised in our analysis of Hispanic student culture. They do not yet have answers, but are sure to result in important knowledge about attitudes towards academic achievement in Hispanic culture(s).

1.) Do Latino immigrant children and native-born Latinos share the same attitude towards academic achievement?

According to John Ogbu's theory, recently emigrated individuals - called voluntary minorities - often have more optimistic attitudes towards America and its various opportunities. They value education and hard work highly and therefore, are more likely to trust and do well within the school system. Therefore, it should follow that Latino immigrants are more academically successful than native-born Latinos. But is this true?

2.) To what extent does the "acting white" stigma affect low-income, middle class, and wealthy Latinos? Does one group experience more pressure than others to under-perform?

3.) For immigrant Latinos, does the desire to assimilate into American culture have positive or negative effects on academic achievement?

There are a number of ways to assimilate into this culture: on the one hand, Latino students could swing towards the "acting white" mindset. On the other hand, they could swing to the other side (see above: voluntary minorities). Which actually plays out in real life?

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