Monday, 4 November 2013

Why Parents Move Their Children Away From Schools With Immigrants?

There are bad parents and "monsters", of course, among all parents.

But most parents always want the best for their children. Parents act according to their belief systems and ideologies, and this shapes their efforts to help and guide their offspring. Only in extremely rare instances parents willingly choose not to give the best reasonable option to their children.

In many countries, parents go to a lot of trouble to put their children to a ‘better’ school. Usually it also means avoiding a school with lots of immigrants, or choosing a school with only a few immigrants. A 2007 government report in Dublin, Ireland found that ‘since 2003, more than half of students were leaving Dublin 15 schools before reaching age 12, when they would normally transfer to secondary schools in the district’ presumably due to the high percentage of immigrants in the schools.

Researchers in Copenhagen, Denmark have even found a quantifiable limit of immigrant population (35%), for parent’s choice of schools. If the proportion of immigrants is lower, the parents may consider keeping their children there. Significantly, immigrants who speak fluent Danish at home and have assimilated rather well, also exhibit similar behaviour (Rangvid, 2009).

Too Much Maths is Bad For Some Children

Geeky kids from Asian backgrounds excel in maths, while others don’t – this is a common stereotype in USA.

Parents (from non-Asian backgrounds) in California’s Silicon Valley move their kids away from high schools because they think that the schools are “too academically driven and too narrowly invested in subjects such as maths and science at the expense of liberal arts and extracurricular activities like sports and other personal interests” (Hwang, Suein. 2005).

Are Schools With More Immigrants Bad Schools?

Parents who take their children away from schools with many immigrants believe they are. Are the parents wrong?

How do we know if a school is good or bad?

Formally, schools are assessed differently in different countries. Whether countries test samples of students at selected points or over time or take part in international assessment systems such as PISA, the effectiveness of learning outcomes is a common factor of school evaluation. The OECD Review of Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving Schools gives five challenges in evaluating schools:
  1. Governance and Implementation
  2. Student Assessment
  3. Teacher Evaluation
  4. School Evaluation
  5. System Evaluation.

Parents, of course, cannot use such sophisticated methods, but usually rely on reputation of school, how students get places in higher education, rumours and anecdotes from other parents. One factor in such discussions may be the unquestioned perception that a high number of immigrants overburden teachers and school administration resulting in a deterioration of overall school performance.

All over the world, immigrant children are found more in large urban areas than in villages. The Urban Institute of USA claimed that in 2000, 68% of the total number of immigrant children lived in urban areas in six ‘major destination’ states.  

It is widely assumed that children of immigrants, as they have not ‘assimilated’ well enough and as their social and economic environment is not on the same level as the natives, are more at risk of failing in school and becoming delinquents.

Research has proved this assumption wrong. According to Brown University, USA researchers Evelyn Hu-DeHart and Cynthia Garcia Coll many children of first generation immigrants outperform natives and even second and third generation immigrants in school performance and significantly rate higher in attitudes and ‘out-of-school positive behaviors’. This immigrant paradox is a very contested phenomenon and seems to apply to some age groups and settings better (Crosnoe, 2011).

But, this issue is infinitely more complicated with too many incipient factors to draw any simple conclusions. Consider the following findings:
  • Maths scores of Mexican-heritage children in USA decline from the first to the third generation, though their English skills increase (Hernandez, 1999).
  • Violence and substance abuse increased from first to third generation for Mexican-Heritage children but not for children of Chinese descent (Zehr, 2009, p.12).

Immigrant children acculturate and learn better English in USA, some (not all) “buy into the notion of minorities here that even if you work hard and play hard discrimination is going to get at you (and presumably discourage you from trying harder) and even start learning from peers who are gang members” (Zehr, 2009, p.12).

So, perception of school quality and how children benefit from school depends on many factors. Schools with more immigrants are not automatically bad schools.

Do immigrant children lower the quality of native education?
  • “Poorly educated immigrants’ kids drag everyone else down.”
  • “Oh you know, their parents can’t assimilate here and are not good role models and they learn all the bad things and our kids also become bad.”
  • “What can the poor teachers do to control those unruly children of immigrants who are disadvantaged and don’t fit in? Our kids suffer from this kind of bad role models.”
These are some not-politically correct opinions I have heard. 

Is it true that immigrants’ children drag native children down?
The answer depends on whom you ask. Research by OECD (2012), Schnepf (2007) and Dustmann et al. (2011) claim large performance gaps between native and immigrant students.
In schools with large number of immigrants and natives in the same classes, some teachers may slow the pace of instruction so that no one falls behind due to language or previous education handicaps and teachers may also lower expectations for all the students. There is some research evidence from Texas, USA (Chin et al., 2012) to support this.
So, rather than something being inherently wrong about immigrants’ ethnicities, factors causing immigrant disadvantage, according to (Dronkers et al., 2012), can be:
  • Language problems
  • The characteristics of origin and host countries’ educational systems and cultural differences
What about the opposite evidence that immigrants do not affect native’s school performance negatively?
Geay et al, (2013) have found that in the UK, findings rule out any negative effects of non-native speakers of English in the classroom and on pupil performance. This difference in educational achievement carries onto later life as well. The share of the foreign born population with tertiary education exceeds that of the native-borns by a whopping 16.1 percentage points in the UK (Dustmann and Glitz, 2011).

Do Immigrant Children Actually Have an Advantage Over Non-Immigrant Kids?

Yes, sometimes. Lingxin Hao and Han S. Woo of Johns Hopkins University (2012) suggest the following factors that provide advantage for Hispanic 1.5 generation (people who immigrate to a new country before or during their early teens) children in USA over natives. So, what gives immigrant children an edge?
  1. Family
  2. Tight-knit interaction within immigrant communities
  3. Ability to benefit from ‘dual-culture’ heritage by combining the best of both cultures

Data from the Labor Department’s American Time Use Surveys from 2003 to 2010 shows that teenagers whose parents were immigrants spent an average of 26 minutes more per day on education-related activities than their counterparts with native-born parents.

If native children ‘suffer’ from immigrants, does it tell more about them and their abilities than about the immigrants?

Research from Italy shows that natives from low socio-economic background may ‘suffer’ more from a large number of immigrant children but children from a higher socio-economic background do not suffer and even seem to benefit.

Though I teach adults and not children, I appreciate immigrants or visiting non-native students in my teaching situations. Why? They tend to be more curious and ask questions. This always generates more learning than silent absorption. Many people consider education as fact- or knowledge gathering. This assumption of mind being an empty vessel is a poor man’s (or woman’s) paradigm. Plutarch (Roman historian, 46-120 AD) was cutting edge modern when he said, The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”

  • Chin, Aimee, N Meltem Daysal and Scott A Imberman (2012), “Impact of Bilingual Education Programs on Limited English Proficient Students and Their Peers: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from Texas”, IZA Discussion Paper, 6694.
  • Contini, Dalit. Immigrant background peer effect in Italian schools. Social Science Research. Volume 42, Issue 4, July 2013, Pages 1122-1142.
  • Crosnoe, Robert. “Diversity in the Immigrant Paradox in the Mexican-Origin Population,” in The Immigrant Paradox in Children and Adolescents: Is Becoming an American a Development Risk? Eds. Cynthia Garcia-Coll and Amy Marks. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2011: 61-76.
  • Dronkers, J.M., de Heus M., Levels M. 2012. “Immigrant Pupils’ Scientific Performance: the Influence of Educational System Features of Countries of Origin and Destination”. European University Institute Working Paper
  • Dustmann, C., Frattini T., Lanzara G. 2011. “Educational Achievement of Second Generation Immigrants: An International Comparison.” Centro Studi Luca D’Agliano Development Studies WP, 314.
  • Dustmann, Christian & Glitz, Albrecht. 2011. “Migration and Education,” Norface Discussion Paper Series 2011011, Norface Research Programme on Migration, Department of Economics, University College London.
  • Geay, Charlotte, McNally Sandra and Shqiponja Telhaj (2013), ”Non-native Speakers of English in the Classroom: What are the Effects on Pupil Performance?”, Economic Journal, August 2013.
  • Rangvid, B. S. (2009). “School Choice, Universal Vouchers and Native Flight from Local Schools”. European Sociological Review 26 (3): 319–335.
  • Hernandez, Donald J. and Katherine Darke (1999), “Socioeconomic and Demographic Risk Factors and Resources among Children in Immigrant and Native-Born Families: 1910, 1960, and 1990”. Pp. 19-125 in Donald J. Hernandez (ed.), Children of Immigrants: Health, Adjustment, and Public Assistance, Washington, DC: National Academy Press
  • Hwang, Suein (November 19, 2005). “The New White Flight”. The Wall Street Journal. (subscription required) (or, see
  • Mary Ann Zehr, “Scholars Mull the ‘Paradox’ of Immigrants: Academic Success Declines From 1st to 3rd Generation,” Education Week, vol. 28, no. 25, March 18, 2009, pp. 1 and 12.
  • OECD. 2012. “Untapped Skills. Realizing the potential of immigrant students”, OECD
  • Schnepf, S. V. 2007. “Immigrants’ Educational Disadvantage: an Examination across Ten Countries and Three Surveys.” Journal of Population Economics 20:527-545

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Living sane - Is the Unexamined Life Really Not Worth Living?

The unexamined life is not worth living.” This saying of Socrates (470-399 B.C.) has been around for quite a while and is quoted often. One modern author has produced a counter-statement for it. 

The unexamined life is surely worth living, but is the unlived life worth examining?” 

This is how the psychoanalytic writer Adam Phillip begins his book Missing Out.

Examine, what does that really mean? Is it self-reflection, a vision quest or a sweat-lodge ceremony, or is it psychoanalysis conducted by another person using analytical tools of a commonly agreed upon methodology? Either way, such a process is a lengthy undertaking and usually one lifetime does not seem long enough. 

Within the modern Western approaches, Lacanian psychoanalysis (named after the French Freudian Jacques Lacan 1901-81) has a unique approach to the length of the analysis. Instead of the clock, what the patient says determines the length of the session from five minutes to ninety minutes.

The why of such rigorous analysis, self or the lying on the couch kind, needs a fairly strong justification.

What do I get if I examine my life? Psychology, or any approach for that matter, cannot guarantee a certain pre-determined outcome for a process of self-discovery, which is never easy. Whoever gives guarantees such as “Get to know yourself, and you will be happy” or “Know yourself and all your dreams will come true” better be prepared for being sued heavily.

In physical illnesses, ‘cure’ is generally understood as the (almost) complete eradication of symptoms, pain, suffering, restrictions and inconvenience associated with the condition. In the cases of the psyche, usually cure aims to place or restore the human being to a state that s/he can function and be beneficially involved in society without serious hindrance and thus live and enjoy a satisfactory life.

How Does One Examine One’s Life?

The social-psychology theory of self-verification claims that people want to be known and understood by others in the same way as they feel and believe about themselves. 

Self-concept (answer to Who am I?) and self-esteem (Own beliefs e.g., I am worthy or I am competent) are part of this self-view.

A Google search of the terms “Methods of self-examination” gives more than 13 million hits. The majority of them are about breast cancer and how to examine the breasts to detect cancer. Here also self-examination has to be related to the opinions and experience of other people. 

This reveals a pattern of self-examination: it is always in relation to other people and can never be a stand-alone act.

Whether we choose to consult the I-Ching oracle, read tealeaves or Tarot cards or use modern psychoanalysis, we can never escape constantly reflecting our actions, experiences, emotions, views and beliefs with those of others. 

L’enfer, c’est les autres (Hell is other people), the most misinterpreted quote by the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-80) describes the ceaseless ontological struggle as one is forced to see oneself as an object within the world of another consciousness.

How to Live an Unexamined Life
  •  “I don’t have time for such idle thoughts”
  • “What’s the use of thinking what I could’ve become!”
  • "Can't you see I'm making a living for my family!"

These are some typical sentiments busy and often not so busy people give as reasons why they shouldn’t examine their lives.  

Yesterday at our local grocery shop, a Muslim lady wearing a veil, possibly from Somalia, was shopping. She was not accustomed to walking (at least not inside a convenience store with narrow corridors) and moving around was slow and cumbersome. At the checkout, she had problems opening her Louis Vuitton handbag to pay for her purchases. Then her phone rang out loud. She stopped paying for her purchases and produced her state-of-the-art smartphone and began fumbling with it. This took a while and resulted in people in the queue fidgeting nervously but not shouting as no one in Finland wants to be caught "harassing" minorities and being called a racist

Now, from her unease, we could deduce that she was not used to shopping in a modern city store, which surely is different from her native environment and thus requires different skillsets. We do not know how much anxiety this caused the person, but surely quite a deal. But I wondered what was the motivation for acquiring a Louis Vuitton luxury bag, which she found to be cumbersome, and a state-of-the-art smartphone she couldn’t use (yes, we all use only a handful of their ample features and fumble sometimes). 

Was it self-examination that had prompted her, after arriving in a new country, probably as an asylum-seeker, to promptly acquire the luxury bag and the smartphone so that she would blend in or feel equal?

Marketing makes us believe that we need certain products in order to be acceptable. Is the ultimate motive of such self-examination of perceived status through acquired symbols essentially different from that of rigorous psychoanalysis? 

Buy this and you will be happy!” is the mantra used by all marketing while “Do this and you will be happy” is the mantra of analysis, shamanism or any other method of self-improvement. The disclaimer that you may become less happy than before is never uttered.

Spick and span, busy, ultra-efficient, prosperous and shining Singapore ranks rather high in the United Nations Human Development Index, above France, Finland and Liechtenstein yet paradoxically Singaporeans are rather unhappy. Singapore ranks first at 46% as the lowest positive emotions worldwide.

In Singapore, at 27% of all deaths, cancer is the number one killer. There is a lot of research to support the idea that repressed anger, hate and resentment are the root emotional causes leading to cancer. The US Adult Mental Illness Surveillance Report shocks by saying that 25% of Americans have mental illnesses while 50% are predicted to suffer from mental illnesses during their lifetime, according to US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Photo source:

Does it then mean that while pursuing their glamorous and affluent lives, Singaporeans do not examine their lives or live as they would like to and it makes them unhappy and then cancer kills them or that trying to live the American dream Americans are getting slightly mad?

The recipe for living an unexamined life is vast and endless. One doesn’t require very much imagination to get caught up in the game of being busy, sick, tired, angry, miserable, unloved, cheated, abused, deprived, victim of injustice or racism. The list of ways how life gives us an unfair hand is longer that all the rivers of the world combined.

If we really wanted to live life fully, we wouldn’t really have to do much. It’s not a shortage of information. We have all the information, instructions and teaching we ever need all around us. But we need to work with ourselves. Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, the Persian mystic (1207-1273) provokes us.

"Do not be satisfied with the stories that come before you. Unfold your own myth."

No government, no parent, teacher, spouse, boss or guru can make us examine or live our lives if we do not want to. Only we can begin living our lives fully. 

It would be very healthy and useful to realise that examining and living our lives with authenticity are not mutually exclusive. Rumi puts it elegantly.

"Why should I stay at the bottom of a well, when a strong rope is in my hand?"

  • Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life by Adam Phillips
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 
ISBN: 978-0374281113  
224 pages
  • Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi quotes from