Educating Latino Boys: An Asset-Based Approach


David Campos

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: Framing the Scope and Purpose of the Book

    Part II: Circumstances of Contemporary Latino Boys

    Part IV: Teachers and Schools Can Enhance Latino Boys' Success

  • Dedication

    To my father, Agapito D. Campos, who dreamed his sons would work far from the crop fields in which he once labored


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    A Few Words Before Starting

    My father was fond of classic cars. In his lifetime he acquired a 1939 Ford pickup, a 1940 Ford coupe, a Model A, a 1955 Chevy Bellaire hardtop, and 1956 Ford pickup. I never gave much thought to his hobby of refurbishing and collecting old cars. But one early spring morning, I made an interesting observation that would lead me to write this book. I had traveled from Chicago to visit home (in San Antonio, Texas) when my father asked me to join him on a run to Pick-n-Pull. For readers who are unfamiliar with Pick-n-Pull, it is known as a self-service auto and truck dismantler. Basically, it is a salvage yard of vehicles where customers purchase and disassemble used parts from cars. In other words, a customer locates the part he needs among hundreds of cars and trucks that are neatly organized within a multi-acre compound. The customer then makes his way to the vehicle to disassemble the part. Using one's own labor makes the part far more economical than buying it new, which is why some people choose this route rather than purchasing auto parts from a store. My father needed my help that morning to remove the steering column from a 1978 Chevy van, which as it turns out, can be used in a Model A.

    What I noticed that fateful day was that there were so many Latino men with the same goal in mind: to save money fixing their cars. They might not have thought much about the task at hand, but I noted their incredible strength and talent. After all, they were fixing their cars themselves with parts they found themselves; they had disassembled the parts themselves; and they were going to reassemble the parts in their own cars themselves. Not one man—including my father—had a manual on hand to guide him through the process; they were all using their mechanical instincts.

    This observation got me thinking about the talent that rests in the pool of Latino men I know: they are diesel truck mechanics, long-haul truckers who maneuver 60-foot tractor-trailers with ease in the tightest predicament, welders who make artistic-like iron fences for wealthy clients, carpenters who build residential homes and commercial buildings, and so forth, and all of them are jacks-of-all-trades in their respective homes. Of course, I know Latino men who are executives, CPAs, attorneys, doctors, teachers, and the like, but my attention that day was focused on the Latino men who I believe did not excel at school (since they did not graduate from high school, go to college, and earn a degree), because they are rarely recognized or honored for their abilities.

    I began to think about their school experiences and wondered how many Latino men had school leaders and teachers who appraised them from a deficit point of view and deemed them untalented, unmotivated, deficient, unworthy, and so forth. I pondered what effect this might have had on their outlook on school and their future, and how different their lives might be if they had been regarded with an asset frame of reference. If their school teachers and school leaders had approached them with their strengths and talents in mind, would their lives be much different (and better) today? I easily recognize that many of those men could have become engineers, broadcast journalists, scientists, and so forth because they have inherent talents; they just needed better educational opportunities.

    I altered my train of thought that morning and began to contemplate Latino boys who are in school today. I wondered whether some school personnel still make appraisals about them from a deficit perspective. And, if so, why? Then it dawned on me: Latino boys are often appraised from a deficit perspective because school leaders and teachers appraise students of color using the middle-class, dominant-culture frame of reference, which often fails to recognize students' circumstances, cultural background, and the unique strengths they bring to the classroom. I don't think that school professionals are aware that they are appraising Latino boys in such a fashion because all teachers have the best intentions for their students, care deeply about their success, and want to help them achieve. But such appraisals materialize because their own cultural heritage and lifetime experiences have shaped the assumptions, expectations, and values they have about schooling and they expect Latino boys to have similar ones as well. We all have beliefs, including biases and prejudices, about how students should approach school. Yet, quite often, students of color have a very different understanding of school than we do (Grant, 2009).

    To illustrate this point a little further, try this simple exercise, which is found in the book Common Bonds: Anti-Bias Teaching in a Diverse Society (Byrnes & Kiger, 2005). Take a moment to think about the ideal boy student. Write a list of the qualities he has and contemplate: How does that ideal student approach learning in the classroom? How does he approach learning at home? How does he behave in the classroom? How involved is he at school? If you use adjectives such as polite, respectful, and the like, define these further.

    After a few minutes, reflect on how many of the qualities this ideal student has that are similar to your own. Most of the qualities on your list likely reflect the middle-class, dominant-culture frame of reference, and these are likely the very qualities you expect students to have. Of course, there are standards that students are expected to meet, and being civil is a universal quality, but if you described your ideal student with terms like these—”He is quiet in class,” “He sits in his seat,” “He raises his hand,” “He does homework,” “He does class work,” and “He never talks back to me”—these are middle-class, dominant-culture values, and many students may not fully understand the nuances of your classroom expectations because these are defined by the middle-class, dominant culture (Fenning & Rose, 2007). When you appraise a student from this frame of reference and he falls short of meeting those expectations, there is a great chance that he will be appraised in the deficit.

    You have to exercise due caution not to perceive a student as having all sorts of inadequacies because your perceptions will influence your attitudes and behaviors toward that student. Pedro Noguera (2003, 2008) and Angela Valenzuela (1999), who have individually studied the performance of Latino and African American students in schools, propose that school cultures have to transform the standard way in which teachers and leadership teams appraise students of color. That transformation involves recognizing that when school personnel emphasize middle-class, dominant-culture values, there are bound to be cultural clashes at school. Efforts have to be made to bridge the gap that exists between students' cultures and that of the school. I focus on Latino boys because I was one, I work with them, I think I know—to some extent—their way of life, and I have grown increasingly concerned about their academic achievement. However, any student of color is deeply affected by an appraisal made from such a frame of reference.

    Below are some teachers' comments about specific Latino boys, followed by an interpretation of the appraisal and the explanation for the boy's underperformance. As you read, take a moment to reflect on how each teacher's behavior toward the student might affect his performance:

    • The comment: “He doesn't ‘get it’ in my class.”

      The appraisal: Something is cognitively wrong with him. There is nothing wrong with my teaching.

      The explanation: He needs explicit academic English instruction in the specific content area so that he can “get it.”

    • The comment: “He's lazy.”

      The appraisal: He's not motivated to succeed. He doesn't want to get ahead in life.

      The explanation: He has grown dissatisfied in class because his teacher's instruction is focused on remediation. None of the lessons are engaging or meaningful.

    • The comment: “He doesn't care about school.”

      The appraisal: Students who care about school participate in class, do their work, get involved in extracurricular activities, and the like. The explanation: He does not have a sense of belonging at school because he feels excluded.

    • The comment: “He's always touching me. He's so needy.”

      The appraisal: By adolescence, students should be independent and should not seek out a teacher's affection. The explanation: He has a closer personal space and is in the habit of touching adults when he talks to them. He is demonstrating the cultural value personalismo.

    • The comment: “He was giving his friends the answers to the test! Can you believe that? How wretched can you get?”

      The appraisal: Shameful. What cheaters!

      The explanation: He was demonstrating the cultural value famili-aismo and wanted others to succeed with him.

    These examples illustrate how some teachers do not consider the Latino boys' point of view and how their appraisal of the boys is from a middle-class, dominant-culture perspective. In these instances, the teachers had the belief that only the student's actions influence his academic outcomes; however, the school culture (which includes how teachers relate to students, their instructional practices, the physical environment, routines, and activities that result in socializing, to name a few) can play a significant role in a student's outcomes. On the one hand, certain characteristics of the Latino boy's life (for example, parents with no formal schooling, speaking little English at home, having siblings who have dropped out) can put him “at risk” for inferior academic performance, but on the other hand, characteristics of the school can place him “at risk,” too.

    In fact, many Latino boys are disillusioned with school because they are being forced to conform their ways to fit into the middle-class, dominant-culture way of life with little or no consideration for who they are, what they bring to the classroom, how they solve problems (academically and socially), and how they perceive the world. Many Latino boys feel disenfranchised because

    • learning is not meaningful to them (instruction is focused largely on remediation rather than being relevant to their lives);
    • they have a poor sense of belonging (they think they are not essential at school and that they do not matter to teachers, students, and leaders);
    • they have a history of poor performance, which affects the expectations their teachers have of them; and
    • their school culture seems too restrictive (their environments seem so controlled that they have absolutely no freedom).

    One way to avoid contributing to a Latino boy's disengagement from his schooling is to reflect regularly, “How do I, others at school, and the school culture contribute to his becoming dissatisfied with school?” Another way is to adapt instructional practices so that they harmonize with the students' language, culture, and funds of knowledge. This book aims to help you understand the Latino culture and the circumstances that influence Latino boys so that you can do just that. The overarching goal is to help you more effectively (1) build connections between your students' backgrounds and experiences and your academic goals, and (2) plan for activities that build on what your students know and can do outside of school (Guzman, 2007).

    The driving force behind this book is my desire to help school and youth-serving personnel better understand the sociocultural context of the Latino boys they serve and, in turn, be able to reach out to them, support their learning, increase their competencies and efficacy, and thereby increase their success in school. I want readers to always appraise Latino boys in a positive, favorable light (with their assets and strengths in mind) and to believe that, as a critical agent in their students' lives, they can support Latino boys to engender a future that is desirable.

    To that end, this book is structured in eight chapters divided into four parts:

    • Part I, Framing the Scope and Purpose of the Book, explains why Latino boys need our attention;
    • Part II, Circumstances of Contemporary Latino Boys, discusses trends associated with Latino boys and provides an orientation to their cultural background;
    • Part III, Social Forces That Affect Latino Boys' School Performance, explains the role that capital, stresses, and schools play in the fate of their achievement and education; and
    • Part IV, Teachers and Schools Can Enhance Latino Boys' Success, offers some strategies for the classroom and school, and presents general information about some programs that serve Latino youth.

    Educating Latino Boys is a little different from other books that I have written in that it is intended for readers who want to reflect on their circumstances and explore solutions that can help their unique population of Latino boy students. A series of questions are embedded in the text (“Making Connections”) that guide readers to do so. Much of the book offers background material to strengthen readers' understanding of why some Latino boys behave the way they do. Cases and vignettes spanning prekindergarten through twelfth grade give readers a context for what some Latino boys experience. Some readers might find these cases extreme or implausible, but many of them originate from the real experiences of Latinos I know; only their names have been changed. If you were to ask Latino boys about their schooling and lived experiences, you may very well find that they have had similar experiences. Finally, the strategies embedded in this book are associated with quality instruction and can benefit students at all grade levels across the content areas. However, the key here is to use the strategies effectively, given your newly gained understanding of Latino boys. There are no quick, easy, magical solutions for all Latino boys, because such wide variation exists among them. Instead, the best way to meet Latino boys' needs rests with you, through genuine introspection, because solutions quite often come into sight through deep understanding of our own challenges.

    I appreciate that you are taking this journey to better serve Latino boys, and my hope is that you make a long-lasting difference in their lives.

  • Final Thoughts

    While I was writing this book I received an email from a former student of mine, Adam. I met him when he was a senior in high school and I was working a college fair at his high school. He came by my table with his mother in tow and expressed interest in becoming a teacher. I was thrilled; it's rare that I see a young man—a Latino, no less—express interest in teaching middle school math. I gave him some information about our program, asked him about his GPA, and explained that he would be eligible for one of our university scholarships. As he proceeded to visit another table, I told his mother to make sure he applied for the scholarship and to encourage him to go to college even if he didn't pursue our program. She had that look of hope in her eye, and it was apparent that she wanted the best for him.

    What I didn't know at the time was that Adam, despite being a good Chicago public school student, had been in trouble with the law right about the time we met. He decided to get drunk and high to celebrate his friend's eighteenth birthday. He and his friend had marked three residential garages with graffiti and broke into a fourth when one of the homeowners pulled a gun on the two friends and was about to shoot. If not for his wife pleading that he not kill the boys, Adam's life would have been cut short. Adam's email to me explained, “I was arrested that night and was charged with one felony and three misdemeanors. I was charged as an adult since I was already eighteen. I will never forget the feeling of those cold handcuffs, sitting in the back seat of the squad car, being fingerprinted, photographed and the Miranda rights read to me. I will never forget being processed in Cook County Jail next to murderers, drug dealers, gang bangers, and there I was right in the middle of them all.” In his words, his parents were upset, scared, and disappointed and were struggling with a plan to get him out and get him on the right track.

    I never knew any of this.

    About that time, I went to visit Adam's high school. I ran into his teacher Mrs. P—a kind, warm-hearted teacher beyond words—and gave her the university's scholarship application. I emphasized that Adam had to fill it out and send it in. In due time, he applied and was selected for an interview with the scholarship committee. Ironically, his interview took place on the same day of one of his court trials. Adam was accepted to the university, earned a scholarship, and started our program. Right about the time he was a college junior and starting his field experiences (I was his professor for a course or two), I was offered another job and left the university. On occasion, Adam would email me to let me know how he was doing and to tell me when he graduated. I didn't hear from him, though, for nearly seven years until I got his email as I was finalizing this book.

    I learned that after his graduation, Adam got a job teaching middle school math at the same Chicago public school that he attended as a youth, which is located in a Latino neighborhood. In his email he wrote, “I take tremendous pride in the fact that not only have I taught at the same inner-city school for the past seven years, but it was the same elementary school that I graduated from in 1995. I also live in that same community and see reflections of myself—good, bad, and otherwise—in the kids that pass through the halls and in front of my house every day.” I always knew that Adam would go right back to his roots to serve, to mentor, to help; that's just the kind of man that he is.

    He let me know that he had just earned his master's degree from DePaul University. I congratulated him and encouraged him to pursue a doctorate. Of course, I couldn't let pass by the opportunity to ask him about his experiences with educating Latino boys. I knew his insight would be valuable; after all he is a product of and a practicing teacher in an inner-city school. Here are the questions that I asked, with some of his responses:

    What do you wish teachers would have done for you when you were a student?

    • I wish teachers would have reached out more to me. I only recall two, maybe three, who did so, and they were new teachers.
    • It would have been nice to be motivated and encouraged once in a while.
    • Perhaps if my teachers taught a curriculum that reflected me and where I came from, I might have done my homework more often and been motivated. Even though I'm a math teacher, I try to incorporate my students' culture in the curriculum.
    • I wish some teachers would have respected me and the other students. Many times conflict emerges in the classroom because of disrespect, and most of the time the teacher does not see how he or she disrespected the students first. I heard teachers scream and swear at students (saying things like, “Get the f*** out of my classroom!” and “If you don't like it, you can kiss my ass!”). How can teachers expect students to respect them when they don't respect the students?

    What misunderstandings or misperceptions of you did they have?

    • I was not challenged enough in school. I think the attitude “My students can't do that” prevailed in my teachers' minds. Had I been challenged, I might have risen to the occasion.
    • I think they thought that my parents didn't care or they couldn't communicate with them. My parents cared a great deal. … Both of my parents wanted the best for me and would have talked to my teachers had they tried to connect to them.

    What have you noticed about Latino boys in your school and community?

    • I honestly don't notice the stereotypes of Latinos that many teachers might have. Before the school year begins there are times when my mind is full of stereotypes about the students. A fear grows in me especially when I hear other teachers talk negatively about the students. Sometimes I believe the negative talk. Then, the students walk in to my room. They are nothing like I thought they would be. There have been students who have been suspended and when they are with me, they “change” for the better. I'm not saying I am a magician and that I can reach every student, but I have reached some.
    • I see reflections of myself in my students. We have all types of students: advanced, at level, and below level. It's easy to work with students who are advanced and at level. The hardest part is working with students below level. You soon realize these students lack motivation. This is the hardest part of the job.

    I also asked Adam what keeps him going, especially in the face of adversity, and he responded,

    I have an opportunity and an obligation to change students' lives. All I have to do is show them that I believe in them, when no one else can get through to them. All I have to do is talk to them, when no one else wants to. All I have to do is love them, when it seems to them no one else does. What a fortune that I have that I can feed their potential, and change their lives.

    He reminds me how teachers are fortunate to have the opportunity to change students' lives. I hope this book has given readers a better understanding for using Latino boys' background and experiences and their funds of knowledge and assets as a bridge to academic goals and the curriculum. And, if I had to sum up the top ten things that you can do to “feed”—as Adam expressed—Latino boys' (and all students') potential, I would say the following:

    • Recognize that each one is uniquely intelligent.
    • Convey your appreciation for what they can do and bring to the classroom.
    • Explore ways to include the Latino culture in your teaching.
    • Create opportunities for students to work together.
    • Communicate with their parents and families and convey ways that they can become involved.
    • Create a classroom that conveys support, care, and safety to be who they are.
    • Expect that your students can learn complex material and skills that can benefit them well into adulthood.
    • Find ways to support them with school and homework, as through a tutoring program.
    • Find ways to help them feel that they belong in the learning community.
    • Ensure that your instruction is challenging and meaningful. If you constantly focus on remediation or test taking, you increase your chances of driving them away.

    By exercising these instructional practices regularly, Latino boys have a brighter future, indeed.


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    About the Author

    David Campos began his education career more than twenty years ago when he started teaching second grade. He later entered graduate school, taught ESL, and worked in corporate training and development. In 1996, he earned his Ph.D. at The University of Texas at Austin specializing in learning disabilities and behavior disorders. His first job in academia was at Roosevelt University (Chicago, IL), where he was an assistant professor in the College of Education. There he also served as director of the Metropolitan Institute for Teaching and Learning and was acting assistant dean of academic affairs. After earning rank and tenure, he accepted an associate professor of education position at the University of the Incarnate Word (San Antonio, TX). He has written three books grounded in youth sexuality:Sex, Youth, and Sex Education; Diverse Sexuality in Schools; and Understanding Gay and Lesbian Youth. His most recent books—Expanding Waistlines: An Educator's Guide to Childhood Obesity and Jump Start Health! Practical Ideas to Promote Wellness to Kids of All Ages—educate readers about childhood health. He coauthored Practical Ideas That Really Work for English Language Learners, a resource text and evaluation instrument for teachers of English language learners; and also co-authored Reaching Out to Latino Parents of English Language Learners. His peer-reviewed articles focus on constructivist teaching and authentic assessment by way of African American visionaries. David spends his time between San Antonio, Austin, and his parents' lake home outside of Marble Falls, Texas.


    I am thankful to so many wonderful people for their support. Words cannot express the deepest gratitude that I have for my parents. They have always been the heart of my own education. My father, Agapito, gave me unwavering love, strength, and encouragement throughout my life. He wanted so much for me and worked tirelessly so that I could earn an education and live a life finer than his own. I am equally blessed to have such a loving mother, Guadalupe, who believes in me and supports me wholeheartedly. Profound thanks go to my brothers, Ernie and John, who always cheer me on. Their unyielding support and insight is invaluable.

    I acknowledge the treasure I have in my friends. I am privileged to know Simon Chow, Alex Clemenzi, Bobby Coronado, Koran Kanaifu, and Ericka Knudson. A special thank you goes to my colleague Dr. Kenneth Allen Perez—a friend beyond words—for his counsel and clinical insight.

    My editor, Dan Alpert, deserves thanks for his outstanding attention to this book. Dan's wisdom, expert guidance, and confidence on this topic encouraged me—no doubt, but also helped me frame the issues of Latino boys. I also offer my personal gratitude to the editorial staff at Corwin, especially Megan Bedell, Heidi Arndt, Cassandra Seibel, and Amy Marks for the broad range of expertise they devoted to this project.

    Finally, I would like to convey my deepest gratitude to Dr. Denise Doyle, the chancellor of my university, whose former office (she was provost then) awarded me a sabbatical to complete the book. I am fortunate to work in a wonderful academic environment.

    Publisher's Acknowledgments

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    • Blanca L. Campillo
    • Professional Development Specialist
    • Chicago Public Schools, Area 9
    • Chicago, IL
    • Bonnie Davis
    • Educational Consultant
    • Educating for Change
    • Kirkwood, MO
    • Concha Delgado Gaitan
    • Educational Writer and Consultant
    • El Cerrito, CA
    • Glen Ishiwata
    • Superintendent (Retired)
    • Moreland School District
    • San Jose, CA
    • Rachel Juarez-Torres
    • Acting Dean and Associate Professor
    • The University of Texas of the Permian Basin,
    • School of Education Odessa, TX
    • Ellen Kelly-Chio
    • Former Teacher
    • Chicago Public Schools
    • Chicago, IL
    • Amy Mares
    • Coordinator for Bilingual/ESL
    • Region One Education Service Center
    • Edinburg, TX
    • Alicia Moore
    • Associate Professor of Education
    • Southwestern University
    • Georgetown, TX
    • Jen Paul
    • ELL Assessment Consultant
    • Michigan Department of Education
    • Lansing, MI
    • Leigh Schleicher
    • Supervisor, Consolidated Federal Programs
    • Minnesota Department of Education
    • Roseville, MN

    CORWIN: A SAGE Company

    The Corwin logo—a raven striding across an open book—represents the union of courage and learning. Corwin is committed to improving education for all learners by publishing books and other professional development resources for those serving the field of PreK–12 education. By providing practical, hands-on materials, Corwin continues to carry out the promise of its motto: “Helping Educators Do TheirWork Better.”

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