Cultural education should be part of American schooling system

According to the Pew Research Center, there are around 20 million second generation Americans currently living in the United States. With current immigration trends, the nation’s “immigration stock” (meaning both first- and second-generation immigrants) is expected to rise from 76 million to more than 160 million, or 37 percent of the U.S. population. Numbers like these force us to redefine what it means to be American and to look more closely at the immense cultural identification process second-generation immigrants must go through to fully assimilate. Many of the issues second-generation immigrants experience are due to the difficult task of maintaining the fine balance of integration and preservation of heritage. For example, although nearly nine in 10 second-generation Asian American immigrants speak English proficiently, only about four in 10 are able to speak their mother tongue.

The main problem with integration does not lie with the second-generation immigrant who fails to understand American culture, but with the third- or fourth-generation immigrants who are not given the tools from a young age to interact in a sensitive manner with the plethora of cultures present in a typical community. Although diversity courses are implemented into curriculums and some cultures are given the opportunity in a school setting to be celebrated, there is no existing framework that teaches students to understand fully what it means to live in such a diverse environment. This is a detriment to all young people, as they inevitably miss out on the perspectives others have to offer. Schools should not only celebrate culture, but also teach students how to understand and tolerate multiple belief systems without compromising their own through courses designed to foster acceptance of different cultural practices.

The term “cultural integration” in respect to a student’s experience refers to three components of one’s life: academic, social and cultural. Instead of measuring how assimilated a student is by how much of their culture has been lost in transition, we should look at integration as how much of a student’s heritage is reflected in their academic, social and cultural spheres in America. That is the only true testament to integration — the amalgamation of two cultures and strengthening of each through daily activity and experience.

When asked to self-identify their cultural heritage, only 20 percent of second-generation Hispanic immigrants identified with their family’s country of origin. The same held true with Asian American second-generation immigrants: Only 23 percent identified with their parents’ homeland. In one sense, this means many second-generation immigrants think of themselves as Americans and have essentially fully assimilated. However, at what cost is this integration being achieved?

If one’s educational experience emphasized the importance of retaining each respective culture instead of focusing on automatically molding to the “standard” American prototype, immigrants could become fully integrated instead of losing out on one culture to satisfy the rigorous demands of another. As young people, we are shaped so much by our peers, educators and school environment. Curriculum should reflect the diversity we see around us each and every day. We must remember that the respect and understanding of cultures that may be vastly different than ours is not an innate ability every child is born with. It is a skill that is fostered, nourished and can only grow through daily practice — a perfect opportunity for this sort of framework to thrive in.

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