Sunday, March 18, 2007

Old Attitudes

Back in the late 70's, I was Personnel Manager in a manufacturing plant. We needed some additional office help....just a few hours a day....so I decided to tap into the local high school work/study program. The student went to school part of the day and worked part of the day in a job that also provided them some educational opportunities as well as a paycheck.

I met with the counselor for the program and outlined the job responsibilities which was basically answering the phone, receptionist, some filing and some typing. She told me about the people she had in the program who might be able to fill the job. There was a senior, a girl, who she really wanted to have the job but she wasn't sure she could talk the father into letting the girl take it. I'll call the student, Mary. Mary's family was from Mexico and Mary was the first child in the family to go to high school and now she was about to graduate in the top 10% of her class. All of her teachers saw so much potential in her and were urging her to go to college but her father said that she couldn't go. It was time for her to get married and settle down with a family so as soon as she graduated she was scheduled to get married.

I met with Mary. She was slender and a bit shy but obviously very intelligent. We talked about the job and she said she wanted to do it. As the teacher feared, her father didn't want her to work in our plant. He didn't want the men in the plant making advances to his daughter and he didn't want her working for a man. The counselor convinced him that the Personnel Manager was a woman and that Mary would be in the office and the men in the plant couldn't come to that part of the office and that I would watch out for her. So Mary worked for us for about 3 months until she graduated.

This was always such a sad story for me. I've wondered so often about this young woman. What happened to her. Where is she now? Did she marry a good man? Did she ever find a way to get more education? Did she see that her children had more educational opportunities?

Because so many attitudes in the USA have changed during my lifetime about women and education and the jobs they can hold and because I've seen so many success stories about Hispanic women who got educations and excelled, that somehow I've put on the back burner that this attitude still exists. And not just for women but men too. Why would any parent not want their child to get more education, to go as far as they can go?

We have known of Mexican parents here in San Miguel who have moved to another city because the schools were better and everyday we see parents walking their children to school and participating in their education. So while many Mexicans are concerned about their children's education, I'm finding out that there are still parents who have the old attitudes and refuse to let their children continue their education after the sixth grade. Why?

7 comments:

james said...

a provocative post. It would seem the gender and catholicism issue rears its head primarily when it comes to education and employment.

Billie said...

James, I don't think it is only a gender issue with education. Boys as well as girls are not allowed to continue their education past the 6th grade because of these old attitudes. Maybe for the boys it is because they are going to start working with the Fathers and help earn enough money to feed the family.

Anonymous said...

I think it might be because the spanish way of education won(education only for the rich) vs the French school of thought(education for everyone). I don't know if you've notice, but poorer Mexicans can sometime be very harsh on their more succesful family members, with comments like "oh, just becaue you have an education you think you're better than us" or "she thinks she's all that because she has new car etc.."Maybe they don't want their kids leaving them behind? I don't know just a theory...

Heather said...

In some places of America these thoughts are prevalent about educating women, even with people who have been in this country for generations. I grew up in a very Italian neighborhood in northeastern Pennsylvania. When I was graduating high school and was over a friends house I was talking to the mother and she asked what I was going to do after high school. I told her I was going to a very good engineering college in Philadelphia. Her husband was in the other room and heard us talking and he said, "Why should she go to college? She's just going to get married and have babies." I didn't know anyone still talked this way (this was 20 years ago). Thankfully, his wife, who was very outspoken told him to shut up and that I was going to make more money than any of his three sons! LOL!

Very good post. We need to be vigilent about maintaining the need to educate women. Even if we get married and have babies, our babies will be all the wiser for having mother's with their own identity and thoughts.

Billie said...

Anon and Heather, good thoughts. And Heather, I was hoping that the attitude that the girls were just going to get married and have babies had gone away in the USA. Surely enough fathers have seen women relatives struggle to raise a family on their own after the breakup of a marriage that they would want their daughters to be prepared with job skills.

Anon, the issue that the kids could be "smarter" than the parents if they get an education could play a role. I'll be watching for that as I become more involved with these rural schools.

Claudine said...

Very good post, as you know Bille, I am teaching English at an elem. school in Mexico...private school. Parents all over Mexico are dying for a chance to get involved in school...have you noticed schools here keep parents at a distance? Read a post of mine recently, I directed a week long reading program to coincide with the 5oth Birthday of The Cat in The Hat back in the USA. Who here hated it? Teachers! Who here loved it? Parents? Why? Parents were invited to COME to class each day at 10 am to read to their kid's class. My sign-up sheets had slots for 2 parents a day in each the Spanish class and then the English class. Not just my grade, but all grades. Parents squeezed their names in between other names or drew in extra lines and I ended up with sometimes 5 parents in one day begging for a chance to come read. Comment after comment was thanking me for getting them the chance to come into the school... they want to do more but are never invited. Take a wild guess why teachers didn't like this? Well, it appears to be a control issue. Humble as many Mexicans can be...criticism is hard to accept here. We all know parents can criticize, right? While I am accustomed to this from teaching back home (USA), I find many of my colleagues in Mexico take very personal offense to parental comments thus develop a very different attitude about parental involvement. And so to wrap my long note here...parental involvement, community involvement and school involvement can make or break a school. Claudine

Claudine said...

Oops, forgot to mention...I think the answer to your question has to to with education level of the parents. I know, an obvious tip, right? Since we have been living in Mexico I can't quite get accustomed to the fact that poor here do not receive ready access to same education as the middle class here. Despite our issues in education back home (USA)...poorer students can get an education through public school (complete with free breakfast and lunch, bus rides and books) and then later college student loans. Here? Not always so. Yes, bothersome. Thanks again for your neat posts. Keep it up.