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Study of the 'New Immigrants' Urged

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Boston--In 1981, immigrants and refugees accounted for nearly half the growth of the United States population. But unlike their predecessors, mostly Europeans, the new immigrants are likely to come from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean nations--cultures that differ significantly from that of mainstream America.

The influx of "new immigrants" is affecting schools' curricula in various ways--by increasing the need for bilingual-education programs, for example. But according to speakers at the annual meeting of the National Council of Social Studies (ncss) here, there are other ways in which schools should acknowledge the arrival of the new immigrants--by teaching about their cultures and by recognizing that the recent shifts in immigration are historically significant.

"Bilingual education is not enough," said Charles F. Smith Jr., associate professor of education at Boston College. "That tends to allow the regular teacher to get off the hook. I maintain that all teachers are responsible."

Including material on the history and culture of the new immigrants is important for several reasons, according to Jesus Garcia, associate professor of education at Texas A&M University and chairman of the ncss committee on racism and social justice.

Teaching about various cultures helps new immigrants feel comfortable in their schools, he suggested.

For the immigrant children, hearing about their own culture in the classroom adds "a sense of relevancy" that may otherwise be lacking, Mr. Garcia said.

Historically, he pointed out, many Hispanic children have done poorly in school. But studies have shown that a multicultural curriculum does "ease the transition" and help Hispanic children succeed, he said.

"We're not advocating a separatism, as some maintain, but a way to enhance success," Mr. Garcia said. "We advocate using what we traditionally use, taking advantage of pluralism to promote the transition" for the immigrant children.

Exposure to the cultures of their new classmates is also important for American-born children, Mr. Garcia said. Teachers who include culturally diverse material in their classes can help to reduce stereotypes, such as the notion that all Hispanics are farmworkers, he said. Talking about a Hispanic doctor or businessman provides a good role model for both groups of students.

"Ethnically pluralistic material enhances the commonalities among the groups and promotes cohesiveness," said Mr. Garcia.

Reducing Tensions

Such teaching can also help reduce the tensions that frequently arise when groups of new immigrants arrive in a community, said Mr. Smith of Boston College.

"Many times, the kids find that they're being harassed by other kids. Schools ought to become very much aware that they are being harassed," Mr. Smith said.

Teachers play a crucial role in helping the immigrant child, often rejected by other children, become acclimated to the school, Mr. Smith said. "Teachers have to avoid a trap that is very easy to fall into--the trap of disliking a kid that the rest of the class is rejecting," he said.

The biggest barrier to multicultural education, Mr. Garcia suggested, is that too few teachers infuse it into the curriculum. "What is used is used superficially. It isn't legitimized by being used daily," he said.

Another problem, he said, is that because few textbooks make note of recent immigrants, teachers must seek outside sources of information. "Asking teachers to deviate from the text is asking them to take more time," he said.

Mr. Garcia and others argued that the textbooks now available have largely ignored the new immigrants. But interviews with publishers at the meeting and an informal survey of the American history textbooks on exhibit suggest that many new textbooks do include material on events such as the 1980 "Freedom Flotilla" that brought thousands of Cubans to the U.S.

And in some cases, publishers say, they either have not had time to incorporate the new trends into their texts or are not convinced that textbooks should so quickly add detailed descriptions of them.

"No text can replace a current- events program," said Stan Christodlous, executive editor for social studies for Silver Burdett Company, publisher of the most widely adopted elementary-level social-studies materials. "The textbooks are the beginning of the stimuli. That's where the teachers should come in with the current events."

Educators who want to present more extensive material on recent immigration trends can find ways to supplement textbooks, several speakers at the meeting suggested. One way, they said, is to make use of local citizens who come from different ethnic backgrounds.

"With very few exceptions, every community is an ethnic community," said James B. Kracht of Texas A&M University. "You may have to probe to find the ethnic roots."

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