The Inequalities Facing Non-English Speaking Students in U.S. Schools

This past semester, I volunteered at Hillcrest Elementary School. I worked as a volunteer with first grade students who did not speak English as their first language. At the beginning of the semester, I spent most of my time at Hillcrest working with two girls who had recently moved from predominately Spanish-speaking countries. One of the girls knew a fair amount of English while the other girl knew little to no English. I only volunteered at Hillcrest once a week for about an hour with the girls, and I never felt that I made a dent when trying to teach them English through reading and writing activities. However, about halfway through the semester, the two girls began to work with a language specialist. They would go off privately with the specialist teacher and I wouldn’t see them at all for some of my visits. Though I missed working with them, I counted this as a victory for them because I am not at all qualified to teach children how to read and write, let alone children who don’t even speak the language they are trying to learn. While I had not directly advocated for these students through protests or reaching out to a higher authority (I acted more as a passive activist) , the fact that the school needed volunteers (such as myself) at all showed that these students were prevalent enough that a specialist had to be brought in to help them catch up to the other students in their age group. This action of bringing in special English teachers is an important stride for the non-English speaking students in U.S. schools. It illustrates that teachers and parents have been heard and are receiving the scholastic help that is necessary for their children to succeed academically and eventually in the work-force.

Nevertheless, there are still issues that arise with this new form of aiding students who do not speak English as their first language. The students are still not advancing as much as they should be with their language skills with the special English teacher. About a month and a half after the two first grade-age girls had started working with the specialist, I again spent some time with them, playing a letter association game. Neither of the girls had improved very much since the beginning of the semester. The girl that spoke English fairly well was doing well with the letters (but still missing a few of them like at the beginning of the semester), yet the girl that knew no English at the beginning of the semester still could not tell me the majority of the letters. She couldn’t even form a full sentence in English to talk to me. I soon learned why she still was not improving her language skills when the teaching assistant asked the girl who knew more English to translate for this girl who barely knew English. While the girls must have long sessions with the specialist everyday, they were not retaining the knowledge they learned because their own teachers were not enforcing it at school, and I do not believe they spoke English at home either. In order for there to be an effective school system for these non-English speaking students, the lessons they learn at school must be implemented during all parts of the school day and even at home, if possible. Hillcrest actually has many online resources for Spanish-speaking students that may be helpful for students and parents alike to learn English together. Without a more vigorous approach to helping these students learn English, they will not only fall behind in their language skills but also academically in other subjects and in making friends who predominately speak English.

Reflecting back on my volunteering and passive activism at Hillcrest this last semester, I am a bit disappointed in the lack of change I enacted at my service site. While I know I helped the teacher of the class I worked in, I feel that the two girls that are learning English will face many challenges in the future in both their academics as well as their social lives because they are not learning English quickly or effectively. I am not satisfied with my passive activist approach and I wish to do more to help these girls. Next time, I would most likely still volunteer because then I would have hands-on experiences with the children and see where the improvement to the current curriculum is needed. However, I would also work with families and students outside of the classroom by providing more resources for children and parents to learn English. There is only so much learning that the school could fit in a school day, so I would probably push for an after-school program for the students who need the most help or just want to improve their language skills. Lastly, I would also call educators and state legislators to tailor the curriculum so it can fit the student and provide him or her with the best possible education for them.

Photo Credit:

“Hillcrest Elementary.” Home – Hillcrest Elementary, hillcrestes.ss3.sharpschool.com/.

Colonization and Slavery Leads to Reproductive Sterilization

In the three year period from 1973 to 1976, 3,406 American Indian women were surgically sterilized (Staats 1976). Hysterectomies have occurred as young as eleven-years-old for American Indian girls (Carpio 2004). These non-consenting sterilizations of marginalized groups such as American Indian, African American, Mexican, and Puerto Rican women in America have been happening for years, but became well known in the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s (Volscho 2010). Surgical sterilization, also known as tubal ligation, is when the fallopian tubes are cut, tied, or blocked in some way to permanently prevent pregnancy (Mayo Clinic 2018). For minority groups, especially African American and American Indian women, this is thought to occur through coercion (Shreffler et al. 2015). This pressured surgical sterilization of marginalized women originates from several corrupt ideologies such as racism, imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy.

Racism in the Americas (specifically North America) stems from the colonization of the Americas by the Europeans who utilized African people as slaves and forced American Indians out of their land and homes so they could colonize and develop the land of America for themselves (Volscho 2010). African women, when forced into slavery, were also forced to “breed” to produce children who the Europeans could utilize as slaves in the future. The control that slave owners had over the reproduction of African women later led to the mentality that people had when forcing sterilization on African American women (Volscho 2010). There is also speculation that sterilization of African American women originates from images in the media, specifically the Jezebel image of women during slavery (Volscho 2010). This image of promiscuity links to the belief in sterilizers that these women are objects, not people, who need to be controlled. The sterilization of American Indian women stems from the American image of the women in media as Squaw, which is a derogative term insinuating “dirty, subservient, abused, alcoholic, and ugly” (Volscho 2010) women in need of sterilization so not to further contaminate the population in America. This image may have also developed from the Europeans belief that Native Americans were savages in need of taming and segregation from the civilized population. While racism is the main reason that marginalized women are sterilized, several of the aforementioned ideologies also play a role in the twisted reasons why women are coerced into sterilization. Capitalism, industrialization, and patriarchy has increased the interest in prevention of the “lower-class,” or the marginalized groups, from having children (Carpio 2004). Once again colonialism by Europeans of American Indians and enslavement of African people has a correlation with this need for control of American Indian and African American women’s fertility. Therefore, as a result of the colonization of the Americas and the enslavement and segregation of both African and American Indian people, the surgical sterilization of women has become a silent scourge on women of color.

As a result of many of the women being coerced into this permanent surgery, Dr. Connie Uri fought to protest the duress that American Indian women were under when pressured to undergo the sterilization. Dr. Uri brought a case to the attention of the 1976 General Accounting Office (GAO) and Senator James Abourezk of South Dakota where an American Indian woman, at the time 26-years-old and an alcoholic, was given a hysterectomy and sterilized, while the doctor told her she could get a womb transplant when she was ready to have children (Carpio 2004). The GAO reported that there was “no evidence of IHS [Indian Health Services] sterilizing Indians without a patient consent form on file” (Carpio 2004). Carpio points out that a consent form alone is not an adequate way to investigate this allegation; this investigation ignored the possibility of abuse or coercion of women into having this sterilization process (2004). The investigation only looked at documents and did not talk to staff or any of the sterilized women, so this investigation was most likely biased (Carpio 2004). Dr. Uri actually said in a radio interview that many women were medicated when given consent forms, many didn’t know that tubal ligation was irreversible, and many were afraid to argue with the doctor and were not advised on other birth control methods (KPFK 1974). Dr. Uri therefore organized a protest outside the hospital with the nurses, which eventually helped lead to more stringent laws regarding tubal ligation surgeries (KPFK 1974).

In conclusion, racism, which stemmed from the colonization of the Americas and enslavement of African and American Indian people, led to the reproductive surgical sterilization of marginalized women. Dr. Connie Uri helped to fight against this injustice by protesting the coercion of patient consent forms to perform this surgery. Ultimately, though sterilization of marginalized women still occurs (Reuters 2013), through the activism of Dr. Uri and the nurses of that hospital, there are more resources to help prevent coerced surgical sterilization from happening.

Works Cited

Carpio, M. (2004). The Lost Generation: American Indian Women and Sterilization Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/29768273.pdf?refreqid=excelsior:80c6f1b81cd21325444eeb758113dd4eb

Indians and medicine : Sterilization and genocide / Dr. Connie Uri ; interviewed by Jim Berland. (1974, September 25). Los Angeles, California: KPFK Pacifica Radio.

“Ligation Images.” Shutterstock, http://www.shutterstock.com/search/ligation.

Reuters. “California Bans Sterilization of Female Inmates Without Consent.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 9 July 2013, http://www.nbcnews.com/health/womens-health/california-bans-sterilization-female-inmates-without-consent-n212256.

Shreffler et al. (2015). Surgical sterilization, regret, and race: contemporary patterns. Social Science Research. 50, 31-45.

Staats, E.B. (1976). Report to Senator James Abourezk. Investigation of Allegations Concerning Indian Health Service. Released November 23. Washington, D.C.: General Accounting Office.

“Tubal Ligation.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 29 Mar. 2018, http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/tubal-ligation/about/pac-20388360.

Volscho, T. W. (2010). Sterilization Racism and Pan-Ethnic Disparities of the Past Decade: The Continued Encroachment on Reproductive Rights. Retrieved from https://muse.jhu.edu/article/380293/pdf