By Alonzo Campos
Growing up in a city that prides itself on cultural competency — having schools named after civil rights leaders like Fred Korematsu, César Chávez and Frances Harper, and being home to a world-class public university — I was disappointed after reading the recent front-page article, “South Davis parents sound off on schools,” because it reminded me of my academic experiences.
It is a clear reminder that many Davis parents fear for their student to learn with the other. I survived being Latino in Davis classrooms that had hostile environments. For example, my eighth-grade U.S. history teacher at Holmes Junior High once told me that I was “fear of failure” and my Latina classmate was “fear of success”; this still has an impact 13 years later.
Despite holding a bachelor’s degree from UCLA, and currently being a master’s degree candidate at San José State University, I was a low-performing student in the classroom. I was one of many students in the shadows of academic achievement.
I am college-educated by choice, and use my privilege to go against people like the 65 percent of Davis parents who would consider leaving a school that has been “stable” for more than 50 years. Advocacy needs be present when discussing possible solutions of the so-called achievement gap.
Are Davis families worried about learning with the other? The answer appears to be yes. Do low-income, working-class Latina/o students have an impact on high-achieving student performance? The answer is no.
What the school board members have done is to allow public deficit discourse to take place against low-achieving Latina/o students. This will impact all students in the classroom and is problematic. I am disappointed and that is why I am advocating against the deficit discourse that has taken place in my hometown.
Last week, many news outlets shared a recent report from the Department of Education that stated black and Latino students were punished more harshly than white students when it came to discipline in school. The findings came from a national collection of civil rights data in 2009-10 at more than 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of the nation.
I speak not only from the experiences I had in Davis, but also from education research. The link I make with this recent study and discourse that has taken place in Davis is simple: If parents fear for their student to learn with the other, then there is no progress for equality in the classroom. This creates more barriers between all students, teachers and community members.
Linking low performance to student discipline also suggests that administration and community members point fingers at low-performing students instead of at the system.
Davis parents who do not want their student to learn with low-performing, low-income students suggests that Latina/o students cannot achieve high academic performance, and will continue only to perpetuate the negative views of low-income, low-performing students. The school board needs to explore and acknowledge the implications of this.
Also, for any kind of poll to be accurate, it must include the perspective of everyone, not just an affluent population. Presenting a poll with one perspective suggests that other perspectives are not important. Go back and ask everyone.
Maybe the school board should have an educational workshop and use the documentary “From the Community to the Classroom” (2010) to critically understand what students say about their experiences in the classroom.
Moving forward, one solution to end such negative discourse is for community members to support outreach after-school programs like those of the Davis Bridge Educational Foundation. By doing so, one will critically understand the positive impacts outreach programs can have on low-performing students.
I worry about my friends’ children, my young cousins and my nieces, all of whom attend Davis public schools. Will they all be looked down at because they may be low-performing or because they are Latina/o?
As a public intellectual, it is my responsibility to speak out against such injustices. Starting with my own hometown is bittersweet, but appropriate.
— Alonzo Campos attended Spanish Immersion programs at North Davis and West Davis Elementary schools, and later transferred to Pioneer Elementary. He continued on to Holmes Junior High and graduated from Davis High School in 2004. A master’s degree candidate in the Mexican American studies department at San Jose State University, he is passionate about exploring the impacts that college-going cultural environments have on low-income students of color.