Social Injustice and its Impact on Education

Part of the Children of Immigrants series

Recently, Arizona passed three measures that have offended many Hispanic Americans and minorities of various ethnic backgrounds. In April, Governor Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070, which allows police officers and agencies to ask people they are suspicious of for proof they are legally in this country. In May, the Arizona Department of Education told schools they would lose funding if they kept their Ethnic studies courses or had teachers with accents teaching English. Passing all these measures within a month sends a strong message to minorities and their children. If they aren’t Americanized, then they are not welcomed in the country. I find this message extremely damaging to English language learners and those of various ethnic backgrounds. Also, this is quite ironic considering America was founded by immigrants.

My Story

However, these laws are not a first for many American states. In this guest post for Ken Wilson’s blog, Children of Immigrants, I wrote about the continuous struggles children of immigrants face as they try to balance both cultures and assimilate. This subject is very dear to me, because I am Mexican American. My grandparents were born in Mexico and my maiden name is Shelly Mendez Luna Sanchez. I have been writing this blog for nearly a year now. I celebrate my one year birthday on May 26, in just one week. To commemorate I want to share my personal experiences and Master’s research on this important subject. Therefore, I have decided to start a new series entitled, Children of Immigrants. In this series I hope to shed some light on the various struggles children of immigrants face worldwide. My experiences are limited to the United States and Germany where I have lived and taught. Currently, I reside in Germany and have experienced the present challenges with immigration and its impact on education. Due to my limited experience, I welcome you to share your experiences also, either through comments or guest posts.

Why Should We Care?

Several of us will teach children of immigrants. Often their struggles with the language and assimilation will warrant a certain understanding, skill set, and pedagogy from educational stakeholders. In my experience, many school officials and educators lack the skills to help these children. For this reason, many of these children are part of the wide achievement gap. This means these children are left to struggle with poverty the rest of their lives. For many immigrants, this poverty cycle lasts several years. In my family, this cycle still exists. My four sisters and I are the first ones of our generation to graduate from college. However, this is not the reality for our aunts, uncles, cousins, and their children. Many of them still live with their parents and so do many of my friends. I graduated from a public high school of over 2000 students. Teenage pregnancy was the norm. Texas at the time was ranked as having the 2nd highest teenage pregnancy rate in the United States. In my school, the majority of the population was Hispanic.

Background Research

During my Master’s research, I came across these heartbreaking findings. In 2005, more than one million immigrants, ages 16 to 24, were reported to be out of school and had not earned a high school diploma or equivalent (Laird, DeBell, Kienzl, & Chapman, 2007). In addition, 83% of Hispanics, between the ages of 18 to 24, who were born in the US, completed high school, whereas, only 56.8% of foreign-born Hispanics, in the same age group, completed high school. Minorities continue to be a vast majority of the students who are not achieving academically, failing standardized tests, dropping out of high school, on welfare, and in prisons. Students without documentation cannot receive any scholarships no matter how well they do in school. Many English language learners are required to stay in an ESL program for many years until they pass the standardized tests in every subject. Even if they excel in one subject, they are still not allowed to advance. For many, this means they will not receive the credits they need to attend college. Millions of immigrants enter the US each year. In January 2009, the Department of Homeland Security reported there were 10.8 million unauthorized immigrants living in the US with 62 % coming from Mexico. Our school systems are failing these children. It is ludicrous for states to believe that the solution lies in shipping millions of children and their parents out of the country. In reality, this issue has many gray areas. We continue to take away the tools these children need to exceed. We continue to allow ignorant politicians to pass laws that bar millions of children from achieving academically. If they are not given a chance to graduate from college, then how can we expect them to break the poverty cycle?

I am taking a stand against this social injustice and trying to find solutions that make sense. I will share with you how my parents managed to help my sisters and I break the poverty cycle. We struggled with poverty, learning proper English, ridding ourselves of accents, stereotypes, assimilation, peer pressure, and more. This is the reality for minority children of various ethnic backgrounds and skin color. I hope this series will open our eyes and help us find a solution.

I would like to thank Ken Wilson who listened to my story in Paris and encouraged me to blog about it.


Laird, J., DeBell, M., Kienzl, G., and Chapman, C. (2007). Dropout Rates in the United States: 2005 (NCES 2007-059). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC:National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from

Read the rest of the poem, Yo Soy Joaquín.


Share your experiences and struggles about this issue and let’s collaborate on a solution.

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What specific struggles do you face as an educator teaching children of immigrants?

Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is an award winning digital innovator, an international speaker/consultant, and the author of Hacking Digital Learning with EdTech Missions, The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers, and Learning to Go. She has trained teachers and taught English language learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert by organizations, like the US Embassy, UNESCO Bangkok, Cultura Inglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, ISTEK Turkey, and Venezuela TESOL. She has been recognized by several organizations and publications as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development as the founder and organizer of various online conferences, Twitter chats, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Two of the projects she co-organized were shortlisted for ELTons, #ELTChat and the Virtual Round Table Language and Technology online conference. She was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the 10 Most Influential People in EdTech by Tech & Learning. Her greatest joy is being the mother of baby Savannah and Rosco the pug. Shelly has an Honors BA in English with a Minor in Communication and a specialization in Electronic Media from UTSA, a Masters in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix, and a CELTA from CELT Athens. She regularly shares her tips for effective technology integration via Twitter (@ShellTerrell),, and on her blog,, which has won several awards and recognitions as one of the top ESL, Edtech and Elearning blogs. Find over 400 of her slide presentations at


  1. Thanks for sharing your story Shelly.

    I have recently been the teacher at a school with a large population of Muslim girls. The girls are great and the teaching staff wonderful with them. However, when outsiders visit the school they sometimes make comments that are inappropriate and sad. It wakes me up to a world that is just ignorant. When you are working with the girls, you don’t even see the veil, you see the person. But people who don’t know the person seem to see only the veil.

    • Judith,

      The girls are blessed to have teachers like you that care about them and will fend for them. One of the greatest ways to help students assimilate is to give them support. It makes it difficult when people isolate these students because they just don’t wish to try and understand another culture.

  2. Dear Shelly, thank you, and please do write more about this, in detail, because that may help other teachers to find ways to empower others in a similar situation.

    • Hello Anne,

      Your comment is cherished in celebration of my first days of blogging, because you were one of the first people who commented and encouraged me to continue. Here you are again with your encouraging words! Thank you!

  3. You’ve raised a lot of important issues again, Shelly.

    I’m aware that my understanding of what is US state and what is federal legislation is not great, but I’m really surprised at that Arizona legislation.

    Has Obama commented on it? I can’t believe he approves of it. I guess he’s finding out the limits on his power as president, and so are we.

    • Ken Wilson,

      Great question and no Obama is against the legislation. President Obama has reacted strongly to this situation. He has blamed it on a lack of immigration policy and has asked Congress to come together and help him decide on immigration policy. This comes at a time during which Mexico’s President Calderón has condemned the policy and visits the US. Students have protested and withdrawn from Arizona universities. Cities across America have passed laws boycotting Arizona businesses. People are taking a stand and that is encouraging.

  4. This comes on a day I had an “incident” at school, involving an immigrant child and a non-immigrant one. The latter bulied the former and I hope I handled the situation right. The problem is this was a single case and I am not aware of any general strategy on handling situations like this. Here in Greece even uttering the word racism seems to be negatively charged.
    This is a great article Shelly and thanks for the opportunity you are giving us to think and react to it.

    • Anna,

      This is indeed a tough situation. I remember when I was teaching Korean and Japanese high school students and they would fight. When I discovered why it was due to their troubling history with each other. I remember one student yelling to the other your people imprisoned my grandfather. These were difficult situations. We talked about the history and tried to come to an understanding. You’re right. Handling these situations is not really covered in our preparation materials for becoming teachers. I hope that by opening the discussion and inviting students to continue to share their culture with the class that we learn to appreciate differences and respect them. However, the laws passed in Arizona prevent this from taking place and that worries me.

  5. Shelly,thanks so much for this post.
    You touch upon a very important issue. Thank you for all the information you provide; there were so many things I did not know and like Anne, I would like to know more if possible.
    I cannot even find the words to characterize the latest legislation of Arizona; unfair and dicrimantory would be the least to say.
    In my opinion, educators should do their best and even more to welcome immigrant children and help them adapt to their new environment, as well as preserve their roots and culture. They are integral parts of their characters.
    Teachers are not there just to teach dryly and leave the classroom, but for so much more. It is up to us, the educators, to get as much knowledge and skills as far as multiculturalism is concerned. It is such a beautiful thing in a classroom (and in the world in genereal) and should be celebrated every day.
    Shelly, thanks again so much and I look forward to reading more on the subject.
    Kindest regards,

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