Young People from Arabic-speaking Background

Dr Rosemary Suliman

Global Issues - Alienation and Isolation

Abstract

Research indicates that the achievement of minority students is directly affected by the place of the ethnic group within the broader social structures in which they live and the historical experiences of the group within the host country. A positive image of the group leads to success, while a negative image is predictive of failure for that group. 

Moreover, it is found that successful students are those who are able to cross the boundaries between school and home and are happy to accept school norms as well as home culture.

This paper examines the impact of the present global situation on Arab youth, a situation leading to a 'separation and isolation' syndrome and the effect this has on their academic achievement and future pathways.

Introduction

The educational problems of students from migrant families, exemplified in low academic achievement, have been the centre of attention of many studies in the last few years. These studies have examined the educational chances of these students at school in respect to educational outcomes and explored the reasons underlying their success or lack of success.

Research in Australia and the USA indicates that at an aggregate level, students from non-English speaking backgrounds have higher post-compulsory education participation rates than Australian-born and English-speaking migrant groups; are more likely to enrol in high status school subjects or courses; have a more positive view of their schooling experience and that parents and students have higher educational aspirations for their children (Suliman 2001; Burke & Davis, 1984; Meade, 1983; Rumbaut, 1994; Williams, Long, Carpenter & Hayden, 1993; Sturman, 1985, 1997; Williams, 1987). 

However, studies have also indicated that in spite of these positive factors, there is evidence to show that a larger proportion of non-English-speaking students do not perform as well at school as other students. In Australia, ethnic groups are more likely than others to be in low streams; have higher risk of failing English; and some ethnic groups are more at risk than others, e.g. Croatians, Turks, Aboriginal, Italians, Lebanese and Maltese. (Suliman 2001; Teese, McLean & Polesel, 1993; Horvath, 1997, 1980; Isaacs, 1976, 1981; Meade, 1983).

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Why are children of Migrants Under-achievers?

There are many inter-related factors which affect school achievement. Some are related to national, educational or economic policies, others to policies within the schools, and still others are related to family circumstances such as the educational level of parents, the educational experiences that parents had in their country of origin, the circumstances that led to their emigrating and related socio-economic factors. Other factors such as students' attitudes towards school, motivation, family, peer and teacher encouragement and parents' aspirations for their children, can all be contributing factors to the achievement of students. It is also argued that the extent to which students proceed through the educational system and perform satisfactorily depends on the aspirations that students and parents have concerning future opportunities, the motivation that individuals bring to their educational experiences, their self-concept, and the attitudes they form concerning their education. The manner in which immigrants approach education also has important consequences for how they perform at school. (Sturman, 1985).

However, Garcia (1994) argues that theories which focus on students' relationship with culture, family, home, school and the socialisation practices experienced by individuals are limited, arguing that this is a "micro approach" which focuses on an individual student's social contact with parents, schools, peers, etc. These interactions are seen to determine the educational success or educational failure of minority students. However, a broader approach, a "macro system" or "cultural systems approach" should be taken when examining the achievement of minority children. This approach would encompass and take into consideration the roles and status assigned to cultural groups within a society when considering the disproportionate school failure of some minority children (Garcia, 1991, 1994), and suggests that the under-achievement of minority students is directly affected by the place of the ethnic group within the broader social structures in which they live. This directly affects the values, perceptions and social behaviour of members of that group. This 'cultural systems approach' suggests that:

Minority groups become convinced by the overall social order that their 'place' in society is distinctively disadvantaged. In essence, students from minority backgrounds recognise that they are generally perceived as less intelligent, as lazy, as dependent, and begin to take on these attributes themselves, particularly in response to perceptions held by social groups that wield political and economic power. (Garcia 1994: p.198).

Ogbu (1991) supports this view and argues that we cannot consider school success as a matter of family background and individual ability and effort only, ignoring the historical and wider societal forces which can encourage or discourage the minorities from striving for school success.

Ogbu (1991) further adds that, in order to construct a more adequate explanation of the variability in the school success of minority children, it is necessary to incorporate the perceptions and understanding that the minorities have of their social realities and of their schooling. It is, therefore, necessary to distinguish between types of minority groups who are successful in school from other types who are not and develop a conceptual framework that takes into account the linkage between school and the socio-cultural and historical forces of each minority group. Ogbu argues that the reason why some minority groups are successful and others are not, is that different types of minorities have different experiences, perceptions and responses to experiences, all of which affect the outcomes of their schooling differently. Therefore, it is important to make a distinction between types of minority groups who are successful and others who are not and to find the char

Ogbu (1991) argues that successful students are those who make a distinction between behaviour that enables them to obtain school success for employment and material benefits on the one hand, and behaviour that allows them to keep their own culture and identity on the other hand. Successful students adopt an "alternation model of behaviour" towards schooling which allows them to participate in the culture of the school and that of the home at the same time and to speak two different languages, one at school and one at home. On the other hand, minority groups which are reluctant to cross cultural boundaries may organise themselves in opposition against the teacher which tends to create affective dissonance in school learning and lead to under-achievement at school.

Similar research, Ogbu (1986) distinguishes between different types of minorities and explores how their different or similar experiences, perceptions, and responses affect the outcomes of their schooling. He makes a distinction between autonomous immigrant minorities and caste-like minorities. Immigrant minorities are those who moved more or less voluntarily to their host or new society for economic, social, or political reasons (Mabogunje, 1972; Ogbu, 1978; Shibutani and Kwan, 1983). It is found that the children of immigrants are successful at school in spite of the fact that they are subordinated and exploited and discriminated against politically, economically and socially. Their school success is partly the result of several factors influencing how they respond to their treatment and how they perceive and respond to schooling. They do not see themselves as part of the stratification system that exists in the host society; they see themselves as 'strangers' or 'outsiders' in the host country and still look at their country of origin as the reference group. They are seeking self-advancement whether in the host country or in their own country and this provides a strong incentive to overcome difficulties that may hinder success. These features "enable the immigrants to adopt and maintain attitudes toward schooling that enhance strong desire for and pursuits of school credentials; they also enable them to adopt attitudes and behaviours that help them overcome cultural, language and other barriers in pursuing education" (Ogbu, 1992, p.89).

Immigrants perceive school credentials as a key to advancement, especially advancement for their children. They adopt behaviour that enables them to obtain school success for employment and material benefits without abandoning their own culture and identity. Immigrants are also selective in their participation of the culture of the dominant group and accept school rules of behaviour and practices for achievement and at the same time cross cultural boundaries between school and home. At school they behave according to school expectations and at home according to home expectations.

Caste-like minorities, on the other hand, are minorities that have become incorporated into a society more or less involuntarily and permanently through slavery, conquest or colonisation and are exploited by the dominant group. Caste-like minorities tend to believe that they cannot advance into the 'mainstream' of society through individual efforts in school and society or by adopting the cultural practices of the dominant group. Striving for academic success is therefore de-emphasized. Caste-like groups usually form a collective oppositional identity in opposition to the dominant group and an oppositional cultural frame of reference. This is usually demonstrated by deviant behaviours, collective hatred for the dominant group and collective distrust and 'cultural inversion'. 'Cultural inversion' is the tendency for minorities to regard certain forms of behaviours, events, symbols and meanings as not appropriate for them because they are characteristic of Anglos: the minorities claim other forms of behaviours, events, symbols and meanings as appropriate for them because they are not a part of the Anglo's way. It is the existence of two opposing cultural ideals which orient behaviours: one appropriate for Anglos, the other is appropriate for minorities. Individuals who try to cross the boundaries are met with opposition from their peers and other members of the community, Ogbu (1992).

Ogbu also points out that although this type of behaviour is typical of 'involuntary immigrants' or 'caste-like' groups, some migrant groups adopt this behaviour because they are viewed by others as caste-like because of negative stereotyping and negative image portrayed by media.

A study by Garcia (1994), argues a similar point of view and uses the term 'images' to refer to the general beliefs that people have about cultural groups, especially beliefs about group characteristics and attributes. The study points out that the under achievement of minority children can be attributed to a number of complex inter-relationships among society, the home and school and that ethnic images shape people's attitudes towards an ethnic group which in turn contributes towards the shaping of a child's ethic identity and personality. In the United States, for example, it is found that most minority groups are viewed negatively by White Americans, especially African Americans and Hispanic Americans. These negative ethnic images are important contributing factors towards the low achievement of the children of Black Americans and Hispanic Americans in the USA. It is also found that these children have a generalised negative self-concept.

It is also found that successful students have the support of a strong ethnic enclave and the support of parents who themselves are acculturating to their new surroundings at a pace similar to their children, what Portes and Rumbaut (1996) term 'constant acculturation'. This occurs most often among middle-class immigrant

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Background information

Many of the Arabic-speaking families have migrated or came to Australia as refugees, as a result of the war situation in Lebanon, Iraq or Palestine. Therefore, to a large extent, they were forced to leave their country and did not voluntarily choose to come to Australia. Before coming to Australia some of them experienced long periods of disrupted education and work, and arrived here with little economic security and limited language ability in Arabic and English. On arriving in Australia, they were met by the decline in jobs due to the hard economic situation and lack of employment, which Australia was going through in the 1980s. "They have really struggled at a time of structural change when jobs for, mainly you're speaking of people with limited skills are just few and far between" (The World Today - July 9, 2001). Added to this are the many problems that are usually encountered by immigrants on arrival at a new country, such as finding jobs, suitable housing and schooling for children. As Dr Bob Birrell stated on a radio interview (The World Today - July 9, 2001), "the Indo-Chinese, Middle Eastern, of course Lebanese, Turkish, southern European, the latest wave from Bosnia and refugee groups from the old Yugoslavia, they have found the going tough". He also stated that the recent wave of the 1980's and 1990's from South East Asia, Middle East have serious problems because they tend to concentrate in Sydney's south western suburbs and in the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne and this places a lot of pressure on the schools, welfare and other systems. Birrell adds that there is a pattern of concentration of disadvantage in Australia and that the concentration of some groups, eg. the Middle Easterners in some areas of Sydney makes it difficult to resolve tensions associated with disadvantage. All of these family, social and political factors tend to have an impact on the youth and on students and their achievement at school. 

Global Incidents and Arab Image

We can also say that the social image of Arabs in Sydney is not a very positive one, that there is negative stereotyping especially of the Arab youth who have been targeted and portrayed as criminals. Open discrimination and attacks on members of the Arab and Muslim community, have become evident during the Gulf War in 1991 when members of the Arab and Muslim communities were the target of racist attacks and were perceived to have been disloyal to Australia and a threat to social cohesion. This seems to have led to the 'be loyal or go back home' syndrome, a call from a largely Anglo section of the community to the Arab/Muslim section of the community to be loyal to Australia or go back home (Hage, 1991). This has since been followed by several local and global incidents which have added to the intensity of the situation, eg. September 11, the Invasion of Iraq, Gang rapes, shooting incidents, terrorist attacks and more terrorist attacks, Anti-terror laws, etc.

Arab Youth

These incidents and the negative stereotyping that followed has negatively affected the Arab community and to a larger extent, the pressure is even greater on young people. For these young people, the reality is that they are looked at with suspicion, they are treated as criminals because of their age, gender and ethnicity. The comments of leading public figures have contributed to the marginalisation and alienation of the Australian Arabic community, a community still recovering from the discrimination and vilification directed at them during the Gulf War. Particularly implicit in this process were the media. "The actions of the media in demonising an entire ethnic community is irresponsible and unacceptable, and is indeed a violation of the basic rights of Australian Lebanese people,' (Kattan, 1998).

A recent study of Lebanese immigrant youth in Western Sydney (Poynting, Noble & Tabar, 1999) has pointed out that Lebanese young boys tend to 'stick' together and have strong solidarity for each other. They 'stay Lebanese together', the main purpose being, "It's just that we always stick by each other. Be there when others like need you. Protect others. Just stick together as one group" (Poynting et al, 1999, p.64). The Lebanese youth have also expressed strong solidarity for each other, "At school if anyone called me a wog, they wouldn't be speaking to me alone" (Poynting et al, 1999, p.64). This study also pointed out that Lebanese youth see themselves in contraposition to Anglo students, they see themselves (and they may include other 'wogs', for example Greeks and Italians) on one side and the Anglo Australian as the 'others' on the other side, saying: "They're Australian way, and you know we're Lebanese, and we have a totally different thing. Like conditions and our language and stuff." (Poynting et al, 1999 p.65). This 'separateness' from Anglos extends to an attitude of disrespect. They do not regard 'Aussies' with respect, because, they say, this group does not treat them and others of their own ethnicity with respect. For example, the treatment that teachers give to students in school, respecting those who are smart and not caring about the Lebanese and the police who say 'All you wogs are the same'. "This withdrawal of respect, or actively and deliberately behaving disrespectfully towards Anglo authorities, restores a feeling of power to a less powerful social group" ( Poynting et al, 1999, p.74). However, these same youth, do regard their own parents and members of their community with respect. For them, being Lebanese entails respect to the family, to traditions and respect for others. They also express respect for their religion, whether Christian or Moslem, and for their culture and ethnic traditions. They perceive this as an allegiance to their ethnicity and ethnic solidarity.

The young Lebanese also feel that they are negatively stereotyped, as reported by Hussein:

"Mostly what happens, what you hear about the Lebanese, they think everybody's the same. Like the Lebanese bash everybody at Bankstown. They think they steal. One or two Lebanese do that and they think everybody's the same."

Another youth reported a police saying to him "All you wogs are the same" (Poynting et al, 1999, p.67). Young Lebanese see that this discrimination can stand in the way of employment and future progression as expressed by Paul: If I wanted to be a police for example, it would be hard, because I am Lebanese. And I would be dealing mostly with Lebanese people, since they do most crimes and that. I probably wouldn't b accepted in the police force." (Poynting et al 1999, p. 67).

Moreover, the Lebanese youth have negative images of themselves and perceive that they are troublemakers, stating that although about 45 percent are good, the rest are mainly on the dole (Noble, Poynting & Tabar, 1999).

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Alienation and Isolation - Oppositional Culture

These negative experiences seem to have resulted in an 'alienation and isolation' of the Arab youth from the rest of the Australian community and a strong sense of Arab identity, especially Lebanese, Muslim. A Collective Oppositional Identity in opposition to the dominant group.

Implications

What are the implications of this on Arab Youth and on their school achievement and future chances?

Theories discussed above have indicated that the success or failure of students is very much linked with the historical experiences of the group within the host country, how they perceive themselves within the social structure of the host country and how others view them. A positive image of the group leads to success, while a negative image is predictive of failure for that group. We have also seen that different groups react and behave differently towards their experiences in the host country, those who are able to cross the boundaries between school and home and are happy to accept school norms as well as home culture, are successful at school. It is important that students have a happy acceptance of both and move easily from one to the other, rather than seeing home and school as being in opposition to each other and, their own identity and that of the school as being in contradiction with each other. A distinction is also made between caste-like and immigrant groups. Caste-like minorities tend to believe that they cannot advance into the 'mainstream' of society through individual efforts in school and society or by adopting the cultural practices of the dominant group. Striving for academic success is therefore deemphasized (Ogbu 1992).

On examining the Arab migrants and refugees and their status in Australia and particularly in Sydney, over the last few years, it can be seen that although they are a migrant group in Australia, they seem to share some of the characteristics of the 'caste-like' groups. They migrated involuntarily and live in the host country with the hope of going back to their home land one day.

Moreover, the Arab migrants and refugees have had very negative experiences as a result of global or local incidents that they had no choice about. They are made to pay the price and be punished for a crime that they did not commit. This has resulted in: the wider community rejecting them; and they in return withdrawing from the wider community and clustering with people of their own community. This leads to a state of Alienation and Isolation, and an 'Oppositional' culture. Adverse subcultures are more likely to develop among immigrant students when they feel their identities are threatened; it is a defence mechanism which makes it difficult for young people to cross boundaries between home and the wider community and between home and School, which is seen as part of the wider community . This leads to the existence of two opposing cultural ideals which orient behaviours: one appropriate for Anglos, the other is appropriate for minorities. Individuals who try to cross the boundaries are met with opposition from their peers and other members of the community. All of these factors seem to contribute to a negative attitude that adversely affects students and their academic achievement.

Summary

We have seen that students are successful when they know how to cross cultural boundaries and to switch from one culture and language to the other, they transcend barriers of language and culture and they adopt an 'alternation model of behaviour' toward schooling, which means that it is possible and acceptable for them to participate in two different cultures or speak two different languages, perhaps for different purposes. Moreover, students are successful when the historical experiences in the host society are positive and when they enjoy a positive image: A positive image of the group leads to success, while a negative image is predictive of failure for that group. When students have the support of a strong ethnic enclave and the support of parents who themselves are acculturating to their new surroundings at a pace similar to their children.

On the other hand, minority groups which are reluctant to cross cultural boundaries may organise themselves in opposition against the teacher which tends to create affective dissonance in school learning and lead to under-achievement at school. (Portes & Rumbaut 1996; Gibson, 1997; Mabogunje, 1972; Ogbu, 1978, 1992; Shibutani and Kwan, 1983; Suare Orozco, 1991). The Arab youth at the moment seem to belong to the later group.

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What can we do?

Unfortunately, it seems that the socio-political situation of the Arabic-speaking students seem to be a strong disadvantaging factor that has negative implications on their social and academic well being. For these students to be successful, they have to feel happy about themselves as Arabs and at the same time as Australians. They have to be able to embrace Australia and the Australian community; to embrace the language and the culture and be able to adjust without rejecting their own and their parents' culture. However, this can only happen if the other side is willing to embrace them and their culture. Both sides need to cross boundaries: 'The other' to cross boundaries and the Arabic-speaking students and parents to cross boundaries.

This is the challenge…

References

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