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«A Qualitative Test of Ogbu’s Theory of Cultural Ecology : Does the Theory hold for All Voluntary Immigrants? By Sorie Gassama 1/13/2012 A ...»

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A Qualitative Test of Ogbu’s Theory of Cultural Ecology : Does the Theory hold for

All Voluntary Immigrants?

By Sorie Gassama


A Qualitative Test of Ogbu’s Theory of Cultural Ecology : Does the Theory hold

for All Voluntary Immigrants?

By Sorie Gassama PhD


John Ogbu, the legendary educational anthropologist held a commanding respect in

educational research. He made a huge impact on educational research and especially so on

educational anthropology. Ogbu coined or put together the cultural ecology theory which specifically dealt with minority student performance. In this theory, Ogbu discussed the ‘institutional patterns of behavior interdependent with the physiognomies of the surroundings’ (Ogbu 1990a, p. 122).

Ogbu’s cultural ecology theory of student performance:

Emphasizes that there are two sets of factors influencing minority School performance: how society at large and the school treats Minorities (the system) and how minority groups respond to those treatments and to schooling (community forces). The study additionally pinpoints that the differences in school performance between immigrant and nonimmigrant minorities are in some cases due to differences in their community forces (Ogbu, 1999, p. 156) Ogbu in his CE theory found it necessary to single out between three ‘different kinds of minorities’ (1983a, p.168; 1985, p. 186). Of the three, Ogbu laid emphasis only on the two groups he classified as voluntary and involuntary minorities. According to Ogbu’s CE theory, voluntary minorities are those who perform well in school, and involuntary minorities are those who perform poorly. The two types of minorities according to Ogbu varied in their views of educational institutions regarding (1) how it helps them in their endeavors to make it in society, (b) how far can the educational institutions and those who head them be relied upon to provide them with the right education, (c) the role schooling play in affecting their language and cultural identity based upon how they got to this country. How they were treated in this country influence their beliefs in how far the educational credentials can help them to ac hieve.

Voluntary minorities are those who came to the United States out of their own volition.

They believe that by doing so, (a) they are capable of succeeding in the United States than in their own countries (b) that education is an important route for succeeding in the United States than “back home” where the family that one was born into and how much you are loved by the powers that be are basically what help one to succeed, and not how much educated one is (c) that they have to overcome cultural and language barriers for them to succeed (d) additionally, voluntary immigrants tend to trust the educational institution and the administrators. Consequently, voluntary minorities work very hard in school and in every aspect of their lives and generally succeed in their endeavors.

Involuntary minorities on the contrary, who were brought to the United States against their own volition either by way of conquest or slavery, and have gone through discrimination view the situation differently. (1) they believe that while school credentials and hard work may be necessary, they are not all what minorities need to succeed, (2) they believe that by crossing the cultural and language boundary in the school context, they will lose their minority identities, (3) because of the relationship that exist between them and their white American counterparts, they distrust the schools and don’t believe that the schools can help educate their children (4) involuntary minorities believe they are worse off not only because of their minority status, but because unlike the voluntary minorities, they do not have a ‘back home” with which to compare. Because of these, involuntary minorities are uncertain about schooling, refuse to embrace school standards that are equal to white ways. They do not appear to work hard in school and thereby do poorly compared to their voluntary minority counterparts.

Objectives of the Study

The main objectives of the study:

1. To investigate the academic success rate of recent voluntary minorities from Liberia living in Houston, and to examine the reasons why Voluntary Liberian Minorities are being successful

–  –  –

Liberia, which means "land of the free," was founded by freed slaves from the United States in 1820. These freed slaves, called Americo-Liberians, first arrived in Liberia and established a settlement in Christopolis now Monrovia (named after U.S. President James Monroe) on February 6, 1820. This group of 86 immigrants formed the nucleus of the settler population of what became known as the Republic of Liberia(Wikipedia, retrieved,

–  –  –

The Liberian civil war began in 1986 and ended in 1996. The war which was waged by Charles Taylor, a former Samuel Doe ally saw a lot of Liberians leaving the country as refugees to neighboring Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast (Carl, 1996.) Most of these refugees were later resettled in western countries particularly the United States of America. The many that settled in the Houston metropolitan area formed the subject of

–  –  –

Resaerch Questioins

The following research questions guided the study:

1. What are the factors associated with the academic performance of recent Liberian

–  –  –

3. Do the academic performances of recent Liberian refugees completely refute Ogbu’s belief of the successful voluntary minorities in his CE Theory?

Review of Literature A Brief Look at Immigration to the United States The United States remains home to millions of immigrants. An 1820 census showed that an estimated 70 million people had arrived in the country in the past 200 years principally from Europe, Latin America, and Asia (Brownston & Frank, 2001). It was recorded that only one person emigrated to the U.S. from Africa at the same time. An estimated 16 more arrived throughout the following decade (Brownston & Frank, 2001). As time went by, the number of immigrants entering the United States continued to soar until the 1960s, when the Hart-Cellar Immigration Reform Act of 1965 ended the discriminatory national origin quota system (NOQS). This act paved the way for more foreign-born people from Africa, Europe, Latin America, and Asia to enter the United States.

Immigration into the United States has grown steadily since the 1820s. From 1820 to 1996, the United States population numbered 265, 557,000. Of this number 38 million migrated from Europe; 16.2 million came from the Americas, 630 from Africa (those who came as slaves not included), 7.9 million from Asia, 241,000 from Oceania (Australia included), and 268,000 from places not specified (Brownston & Franck, 2001).

Immigration and naturalization documents reveal that between 1971 and 1980 about 80,779 Africans lived in the United States. The majority came from Nigeria, Egypt, Liberia, and Ghana, having escaped political, economic, religious, educational, and ethnic warfare. The U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 established clear conditions and procedures for refugee admission and reduced the nationwide ceiling for immigrants from 290,000 to 270,000 (Bogen, 1987; Szucs & Luebking, 1997). Because of this legislation two-thirds of all Africans residing in the United States came after 1980 (AIME, 1998). According to the U.S. Census, 176,893 African immigrants arrived in the United States between 1981 and 1990 (Brownston & Franck, 2001).

The Diversity Visa Lottery Program Act of 1992 interfered with the immigration disparity. It paved the way for more Africans to come to the United States. Africans were still in small numbers considering the immigrant population as a whole; Africans made up only 6% of this total population. According to African Immigration in the Modern Era, two reasons accounted for this; the first was the difficulty faced by Africans in acquiring visas when they tried to emigrate to the United States, with the exception of a small number of students who had gained acceptance to institutions of higher learning and those exiled by the apartheid regime in South Africa. Another reason was that the journey from Africa to the United States was so expensive that many African families could not afford it (AIME, 1988).

Regardless of these setbacks, Africans have migrated legally and illegally. The largest African groups in the United States are Nigerians, Sierra Leoneans, Ghanaians, Liberians, Ethiopians, South Africans, Moroccans, Somalis, Egyptians, Sudanese, Senegalese, and Kenyans. In small numbers are Ugandans, Cameroonians, Algerians, Angolans, Libyans, Malians, Guineans, and Malagasy (AIME, 1988). Included in the immigrant population count are people from smaller countries like Mauritius, the Gambia, Togo, and Lesotho. Many from these countries came for the sole purpose of studying, but have decided to stay permanently because of personal reasons. Most of them originally planned to study, return to their homelands and help with the rebuilding process, but changed their minds because of political instability in parts of Africa (Nyang, 1998).

The desire for decent lives has attracted refugees, asylees, and immigrants to the United States with the belief that life was relatively stable when compared to that in their countries of origin. They were attracted by political stability, humanitarian concerns, economic and educational opportunities as well as legislative moral codes (Brownston & Franck, 2001). Added to these, other conditions that have inspired them to migrate were inflation, high unemployment rates, failed or barely existent social service networks, and financial crises. Most considered the United States as the best alternative (Brownston & Franck, 2001 p.27).

The United States’ prosperity has always made the country desirable to immigrants from Africa. The Immigration Act of 1990 increased the allotment of immigrants into the United States per year to 700,000. Brownston and Franck (2001) reasoned that the United States had strong economic growth, accompanied by low unemployment and a stock market boom and was largely able to accommodate the wave of new immigrants during the 1990s. According to census indication, in 1990 alone 363,819 African-born individuals came to the United States, lagging behind 4,350,403 Europeans, 4,979,037 Asians, and 8,407,837 Latin Americans. The number of African-born who came to the United States in 1990 nearly doubled the census count for all African immigrants from 1981 to 1990.

The U.S. Census Bureau in 2000 indicated that the foreign-born population had reached 28.4 million.

Of this number, 32.2% had resided in the United States for 20 years or more and 0.7 million of these were African- born, with a median residency of 10.2 years. This residency figure for Africans is low when compared to 25.0 years for Europeans, 13.5 years for Latin Americans, and 14.3 years for Asians. In 1991, an additional one million immigrants were admitted into the United States, of whom approximately 53,948 Africans were immigrants and 19,070 were refugees. Other nationalities that came to the United States in that year included Asians (347,776), Europeans (175,371), Caribbeans (103, 546), and South Americans (68,837).

After the World Trade Center terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, United States immigration was restricted. Despite this restriction, the number of refugees has been on the increase, especially from war ravaged LiberiaS. The 2000 census showed a surge in the United States population to an all time high of

281.4 million with 28.4 million foreign born being immigrants. The number of immigrants, refugees, and asylees has varied and cannot be accurately determined until the next census count in 2010.

Indubitably, the United States population growth has an impact on and greatly enriches the diversity of the American population.

A Focus on African Immigration and Settlements in Houston At the African Knowledge Networks Forum (AKNF) that took place in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, in October of 2001, Chikezie (2001) stated Cities such as Paris, London, New York, or Houston have long played the role of meeting place or melting-pot for Africans with differing backgrounds. Through shared experiences and collective struggles, new pan-African identities and sensibilities have been forged ( p.4).

A 2000 census indicated that although a substantial number of African immigrants lived in the northwestern United States and although New York had the largest population, the Houston African population was growing at a tremendous rate. This growth in particular results from the fact that Africa has recently been engulfed in endless political turmoil which led many Africans to seek refuge in western countries to avoid persecution. This is particularly true of Africans in countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Rwanda, which have gone through decades of civil war. Most recent African immigrants are refugees that came to the western world under programs commonly known as “resettlement.” When these refugees arrived in the United States, France, or England, they automatically, became citizens theoretically with all rights and privileges of the host country. These refugees must work and repay the costs of their air fares. Of these African immigrants who have come to the United States since 1990 other than those refugees under the resettlement program, 90% have not been able to become citizens because immigration laws in the United States continue to be reviewed (ASC, 2003).

In the United States the upsurge in the African population began in 1965, when an immigration act was established that cleared the way for African immigrants to join their relatives who were themselves legal immigrants as citizens or permanent residents in the United States (ASC, 2003.) Today many Africans, including Sierra Leoneans, Malians, Liberians, Nigerians, Gambians, Guineans, Ethiopians, Chadians, Senegalese, Ivorians, and Burkinabes live in Houston. Houston, like other cities, has growing support services for Liberians. These include the Organization of Liberians, which serves the interest of all Liberians. In addition, there are other organizations with tribal affiliations, An example is the Mandingo Organization that caters especially for people from the Mandingo tribe.

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