Assimilationist practices: An ethnographic study of the sociocultural context of a Latino transitional bilingual education program in Crystal City, Connecticut

Date of Completion

January 2000


Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Anthropology, Cultural|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies




Statistical social indicators and empirical studies paint a pervasive negative picture of schooling for Latinos over the course of more than a century where their graduation rate varies between 50 and 60 percent. By age 25 about 50 percent have completed high school compared to 70 percent for Whites. ^ The purpose of this ethnographic study was to examine the sociocultural context of a Latino transitional bilingual education (TBE) program situated in a colonial post-industrial New England town. It is a large inner city school with over 2,500 students representing diverse ethnic communities. ^ To learn the beliefs, perceptions, and feelings of actors relative to the bilingual program, the researcher employed ethnographic techniques as participant observation, theoretical sampling, informal and semi-structured interviews, two surveys (teachers and students), and analysis of documents. ^ Respondents to a Teacher Survey (TS) indicate that mainstream teachers at CCHS are relatively homogenous. The majority are of Euro-American heritage and attained their Bachelor's degree in Connecticut (53%) and New England (20%). The staff is a veteran group with close to 25 percent assigned at the high school for 21 years or more. ^ A picture emerges from the analyses of the TS and interviews of more than 40 staff members that strongly suggests that the faculty adheres to, and is imbued with assimilationist tenets of the myth of the Melting Pot. They value the early-exit TBE program (3 years or less) principally as a way to Americanize Latino students. They deeply believe Latinos have to learn English “as quickly as possible” and adjust to the “American culture.” ^ Less than 50% believe that Latinos are as capable in their academics as their non-bilingual peers. Some question the value or effectiveness of academic tracking. The researcher expresses concern for Latinos' overall cognitive, psychological, and emotional welfare because empirical studies suggest that assimilationist practices pressure Latinos to choose between cultures; devalue their culture and language; advantage White middle-class students; and disadvantage Latinos' academic achievement. Ninety-eight percent believe that “[L]ack of English literacy skills is a major source of academic difficulties for mainstreamed BE students.” ^