Assimilating America’s new emerging majority-minority population

Within a century white Americans will have fallen to 43% of the overall population. We need to make sure emerging classes have an understanding of our values and history

Citizenship ceremony - Courtesy
Citizenship ceremony - Courtesy

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2015 – The United States is rapidly moving toward becoming a majority-minority country, where no racial or ethnic group is in the majority.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2042 so-called racial minority groups will make up the majority of the U.S. population. The Pew Research Center recently released an extensive study showing that within a century (from 1960 to 2060) white Americans will have gone from making up 85 percent of the population to comprising 43 percent.

The number of Hispanic and black Americans will have grown substantially over that time period, together making up 45 percent of the 2060 population.

Illegal Immigrants today, American patriots tomorrow

A significant impetus for these shifting demographics is immigration. Since 1965, the U.S. has welcomed 40 million immigrants, with half identifying as Hispanic. Our country, of course, has a long history of welcoming immigrants and assimilating them into our society. Today’s immigrants provide us with a new challenge, in part because of their diverse origins. While 88 percent of immigrants in 1900 were from Europe, Europeans only comprise 12 percent of the immigrant population today.

According to the Center for American Progress, Hispanics represented 6 percent of the population in 1980, 17 percent today, and are projected to be 29 percent by 2060. Asians were 2 percent in 1980, 8 percent today, and are projected to be 15 percent by 2060. Today, we have four states with majority-minority populations: California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas.

In the next five years, Maryland and Nevada are likely to move into this category, and shortly thereafter they will be joined by Arizona, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia and New Jersey. In 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that whites had become a minority among babies born and starting this fall, U.S. public schools are projected, for the first time, to have more minority students than whites.

Fortunately, our country has a long history of transforming immigrants into Americans and transmitting our history and culture to them. In these earlier years of widespread immigration, however, our public schools embraced this role, something which many find lacking at the present time.

Remembering the way schools once served to bring children of immigrants into the mainstream, Fotine Z. Nicholas, who taught for 30 years in New York City schools, notes:

I recall with nostalgia the way things used to be. At P.S. 82 in Manhattan, 90 per cent of the students had European-born parents. Our teachers were mostly of Irish origin, and they tried hard to homogenize us. We might refer to ourselves as Czech or Hungarian or Greek, but we developed a sense of pride in being American…There were two unifying factors: the attitude of our teachers and the English language…After we started school, we spoke only English to our siblings, our classmates and our friends, we played in English, we thought in English.

Discussing recent experiments with bilingual education programs, Nicholas, whose parents came to the U.S. from Greece, declares,

It was a simple concept at first: Why not teach children English by means of the home language? A decade later, ‘disadvantaged’ children were still being taught in their parents’ language. As federal money poured into the program, it gradually became self-perpetuating…Bilingual education seems to be developing into a permanent means of ethnic compartmentalization. Cultural pluralism may be the norm for a multi-ethnic nation, but it is the family’s role to build a cultural identity in children. The school’s role is to help them enter the mainstream of school life and, eventually, the mainstream of the United States of America.

Since the children of immigrants are unlikely to learn the history of our country or the values necessary to perpetuate a free and democratic society, at home, it is essential that our schools view the transmission of such history and values as an important priority.

Lifting illegal immigrants ‘out of the shadows’

The history of the world indicates that freedom is not natural to man, but must be carefully cultivated and taught. Through most of recorded history, man’s natural state has been to live under one form of tyranny of another. Freedom must be carefully transmitted from one generation to another if it is to endure.

Our public schools seem to be in a state of decline.

Scores on the SAT have sunk to the lowest level since the college admission test was overhauled in 2005, adding to worries about student performance in the nation’s schools.  And in many schools the formal study of American history has been abandoned and replaced with an amorphous amalgam known as “social studies.”

How will the children of immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, Bangladesh, Eritrea and India learn about our civic life and the responsibilities of citizenship if we do not teach them our history?

Wilfred M. McClay, professor at the University of Oklahoma, states,

The chief purpose of a high school education in American history is as a rite of civic membership, an act of inculcation and formation, a way in which the young are introduced to the fullness of their political and cultural inheritance as Americans, enabling them to become literate and conversant in its many features, and to appreciate fully all that it has to offer them, both its privileges and its burdens. To make its stories theirs, and thereby let them come into possession of the common treasure of its cultural life. In that sense, the study of history is different from any other academic subject. It is not merely a body of knowledge. It also ushers the individual person into membership in a common world, and situated them in place and time.

In McClay’s view, “This is especially true in a democracy. The American Founders, and perhaps most notably Thomas Jefferson, well understood that no popular government could flourish for long without an educated citizenry—one that understood the special virtues of republican self-government, and the civic and moral duty of citizens to uphold and guard it.”

Yale historian Donald Kagan argues, “Democracy requires a patriotic education.” It does so, he points out, for two reasons:  first, because its success depends upon the active participation of its citizens in their own governance; and second, because without such an education, there would be no way to persuade free individuals of the need to make sacrifices for the sake of the greater good. To those who believe that we can dispense with such education, Kagan sharply disagrees. “The encouragement of patriotism,” he laments, “is no longer a part of our public educational system, and the cost of that omission has made itself felt in a way that would have alarmed and dismayed the founders of our country.”

In his important book, “The Roots of American Order,” Russell Kirk points out that these roots go back to the ancient world—to the Jews and their understanding of a purposeful universe under God’s dominion, to the Greeks, with their high regard for the use of reason, to the stern virtues of Romans such as Cicero, to Christianity, which taught the duties and limitations of man, and the importance of the transcendent in our lives.

The roots of our order, in addition, include the traditions and universities of the medieval world, the Reformation and the response to it, the development of English common ;aw, the debates of the 18th century, and the written words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

As an instrument of order, Kirk writes, the Constitution “would be more successful than any other written device in the history of mankind.” He warns, however, “One of the more pressing perils of our time is that people may be cut off from their roots in culture and community. ..Moral and social order, or a vast part of it, may be destroyed by a few years of violence or a few decades of contemptuous neglect. Then hope is lost, for many generations; for order is a kind of organic growth, developing slowly over many centuries.”

Americans, whatever their individual racial, ethnic or religious backgrounds, are heirs of a great tradition. Our society has assimilated immigrants into the fabric of American life for centuries.

As we confront a dramatically different demographic challege—-as we slowly become a majority-minority society—the need for us to transmit our history, culture and values has never been greater. Yet, we seem unprepared for this challenge as we have turned away from the very means we used so successfully in assimilating previous generations of immigrants,  Perhaps a careful look at the New York City public schools of 1900 — which turned the children of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Germany, Russia, Poland, Greece  and almost all the countries of Europe into Americans — would be in order.

Today’s students may have arrived from different shores, but we owe them what we gave to previous generations of immigrants—the transmission of our history, language, culture and values.

We used to know how to do this. Hopefully, we will review our history and learn how to do it again.

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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.