Research conducted and theory developed by educationally oriented cultural anthropologists may offer some insight into the differences in motivation between the Asian and Hispanic students . . .Ogbu (1983, 1991) classified minorities into voluntary and involuntary groups; voluntary minorities are those who immigrated to America willingly, usually to improve their opportunities and those of their children. Examples of voluntary minorities include Korean, Japanese, and Mexican immigrants. In contrast, involuntary minorities have unwillingly become part of American society. Having been enslaved, colonized, or conquered, involuntary minorities usually view being in America as a condition forced on them. Examples of involuntary minorities include African Americans, Native Americans, and early Mexican Americans who were conquered.
Ogbu (1983, 1991; Ogbu & Simons, 1998) proposed that voluntary and involuntary minorities develop and internalize cultural models of American society that enable group members to interpret their world and respond to it. Voluntary minorities perceive American society, its culture, and its schools in ways that align far more closely with a vision of self-determination than do the perceptions of involuntary minorities. Voluntary minorities, such as the Asian sample in our study, frame their situation in America as one that promotes self-realization through the pursuit of opportunity in a new land. The belief of voluntary minorities that hard work and education will enable them to achieve their vision of a self-determined future provides them with a significant degree of self-regulation and internal locus of control. Voluntary minorities tend to be optimistic that American institutions, like schools, will facilitate their pursuit of new lives of promise. Moreover, they believe that the new culture and language they are learning will augment their identity rather than subvert the culture and language of their heritage. The internalized "cultural model" of American society that voluntary minorities construct tends to place them at the center of their locus of control. The compatibility between their view of America and their self-determined futures provides a social situation in which intrinsic motivation, including the intrinsic motivation of their children, can grow and propel them toward their goals and aspirations.
Conversely, for involuntary minorities, the path to adopting America's culture and language is likely to be filled with far more conflict, ambivalence, and hesitation (Ogbu, 1991; Ogbu & Simons, 1998). Many features in their cultural model of America result in placing their locus of control outside themselves. Involuntary minorities, perhaps like the families of some of the Hispanics in our study, may frame their situation in America as one that is far less promising in social and economic terms. Hard work and education may not enable them to achieve their vision of a self-determined future. Involuntary minorities tend to be more pessimistic about American institutions and their ability to facilitate the realization of new lives. They may set their economic sights lower than voluntary minorities, see "job ceilings," and meet job expectations working in construction or department stores (Matute-Bianchi, 1991). For some immigrants, American institutions, like the immigration services, may inhibit their dreams. Moreover, the new culture and language they are expected to absorb may threaten their heritage and identity. Most, if not all, of those forces are outside themselves. Intrinsic motivation would be difficult to foster in institutions, like schools, that endanger the realization of current and future identities. Thus, in-school literacies, including the acquisition of English, may not always be perceived as funds of knowledge that will enable them, without conflict, to pursue their vision of a self-determined future.
Unraue, N. & Schlackman, J. (2006). Motivation and its relationship with reading achievement in an urban middle school. The Journal of Educational Research, 100
, p. 81-101.
1. Do you buy the cultural-ecological explanation for minorities and educational performance?
2. If so, what do you think could be done to improve "involuntary immigrants'" perception and performance in regard to education?
The theory makes sense to me. I've taught many Hispanic and Asian students who were extremely motivated in their education. And I've taught many African-Americans who performed poorly moreso out of defiance/indifference to education than anything. (It goes without saying, I've taught Hispanic and African-American students that performed against the theory as well.)