Chican@s in Education: A Long View of the Segregation and Discrimination Leading Up to the Student Movement (by Cesar Meza)

Students will take an in depth look into the transformation of oppressive forces against Chican@s within the education system. This analysis will provide a substantial background and foundation for understanding the events leading up to the Chican@ student movement.

Students will examine primary and secondary sources of multiple media forms in order to gain a holistic understanding of the transformation of racism against Chican@s, specifically within the California education system. Students will learn the importance of the Mendez v.  Westminster court case as the end of de jure segregation within the school system.  In addition students will gain an empathic view of the segregation and discrimination Chican@ students faced while in school.  They will analyze previous efforts of assimilating Chican@s into whiteness through Americanization classes.  Furthermore, students will explore the difference between Chicano and Chicana education as a creation of gender roles.  Altogether, this lesson will allow students to comprehend the social injustice and discriminatory events leading up to the Chican@ student movement.

Decades of segregation and discrimination against Chican@s in the California education system culminated in the Chican@ student movement of the 1960s and 70s that sought to empower students to control their educational experience.


  • What discrimination did Chican@s face in education prior to the movement?
  • How did educational discrimination against Chican@s evolve over time?
  • How does the treatment of Chican@s in education reflect larger societal views of Chican@s in the United States?
  • What are de jure segregation, de facto segregation, and what are their differences?
  • What was Mendez v. Westminster?
  • How is the education of Chican@s a white supremacist and assimilationist institution?
  • Was there a difference between what Chicanos and Chicanas were learning while in school, if so how did that create societal gender roles?


  • De jure: legally
  • De facto: In fact, whether by right or not.
  • Chican@: People of Mexican descent living in the United States that do not identify with white culture.
  • Assimilation: the process by which a person or a group’s language or culture come to resemble those of another group, specifically white Americans.
  • Americanization: assimilation into American culture
  • Gender roles: a set of social and behavioral norms that are generally considered appropriate for either a man or a woman in a social or interpersonal relationship.

The racism against Chican@s in the education system can be divided into four different periods marked by distinct forms of discrimination. The first period, occurring from 1900 to 1950, “represents the era of de jure segregation, [where] educators did invoke the state power granted to school administrations to adapt educational programs to the special needs of a … distinct community”.1 The second period of Chican@ education, from 1950 to 1965, continued the “pattern of segregation … but without the deliberate official sanction of Mexican [only] schools.”2 This period was marked by the subordination of Chicanos by having “Chicano culture … recognized as an impediment to Mexican-American adaptation to Anglo-American culture”.3 This demonstrated white society’s effort to assimilate Chicanos into a white identity in an effort to strip them of any racial power. Furthermore, the third period, occurring from 1965 to 1975, “marked the militant and reformist era”.4 This period fostered new programs such as “bilingual and bicultural education, affirmative action, integration, curriculum reform, special admission to higher education, and financial aid”.5 The discrimination of Chicanos within the education system reflected “the social divisions within the larger society formed by residential segregation, labor and wage rate differentials, political inequality, socioeconomic disparities, and racial oppression”.6

Prior to the Mendez v. Westminster case, Chican@ students were placed in Mexican only schools separate from that of white students. The purpose of segregating the students into separate schools was to “‘Americanize’ the [Mexican] child in a controlled language and cultural environment as well as to train for occupations considered open to Mexicans”.7 This highlighted the ideology of white supremacy by asserting white “intellectual, social, and economic, cultural, and moral” values onto minority people. Moreover, Chicanas faced further discrimination by having a gendered approach to educating Chican@s.  For example, “training for girls emphasized domestic labor and certain kinds of unskilled industrial employment open to women [whereas] boys were prepared for manual labor traditionally relegated to males”.8


Day 1:

  • Hand out Chicano Education in the Era of Segregation to the students and ask them to read pages 13 through 16 just before the section titled Political Economy and Educational Reform
  • After reading the selected passage separate the students into groups of 4 to discuss what they just read
  • Finally ask the class as a whole to elaborate on what the passage was about and what they think the lesson will focus on.
  • In addition allow them to ask any questions they have on the reading that you can elucidate more clearly.
  • For homework students will read pages 20-29 from the same document and write a one-page response to the reading focusing on one lesson they learned from the passage.

Day 2:

  • Students will discuss what they wrote in their response to their classmates sitting near them.
  • Following that open the discussion to the whole class so that students may share what they learned from the reading.
  • After the discussion hand out Segregation of Mexican Children in a Southern California City: The Legacy of Expansionism and the American Southwest and ask the students to read from “Segregation of Mexican school children…” on page 57 through the paragraph beginning with “Teachers hired to instruct…” on page 62.
  • Once the students finish the reading divide them into 4 groups and ask them to make a poster with important points people should take away after reading the passage and ask them to present it to the whole class.
  • For homework students will read Mendez v. Westminster: Race, Nationality, and Segregation in California Schools from page 317 to page 330 and write a one-page response focusing on one lesson they gained from the reading.
  • In addition students will prepare for a Socratic Seminar the following day by having 3 questions and notes from their reading.

Day 3:

  • Students will spend the entire class period discussing the previous reading through a Socratic Seminar
  • Students will also be allowed to draw from the other readings in order to support their arguments in the seminar discussion.

Day 4:

  • Hand out Frivolous to Fundamental: Demands Made by East Side High School Students Listed and ask students to read the article in class.
  • After reading the article split the class into two groups: one group in support of the students’ demands and the other group against the list of demands.
  • Ask students from both sides to argue their group’s position on demands from the list of your choice.
  • Finally, ask the class as a whole if any of the demands are relevant in the education system today. Why or why not?

Day 5:

  • Students will watch Taking Back the Schools from the PBS Documentary Chicano! in class.
  • For homework students will be required to write a 3-5 page “change over time” paper analyzing how the transformation of discrimination against Chican@s/Latin@s in the California education system led to the student movement during the 1960s and 70s.


Castro, Sal and Mario T. Garcia. Blowout! Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

Escobar, Edward J. Dialectics of Repression: The Los Angeles Police Department and the Chicano Movement, 1968-1971. Retrieved from The Journal of American History, Vol. 79, No. 4 (Mar. 1993), pp. 1483 – 1514.

Haney Lopez, Ian F. Protest, Repression, and Race: Legal Violence and the Chicano Movement. Retrieved from University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 150, No.1 (Nov., 2001), pp. 205-244.

Rosales, F. Arturo. Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. Houston: Arte Publico Press-University of Houston, 1997. pp. 165 – 172.

Urrieta, Luis Jr. Chicana/o Activism and Education: An Introduction to the Special Issue. Retrieved from The High School Journal, Vol. 87, No. 4, Chicana/o
Activism in Education: Theories and Pedagogies of Trans/formation (April – May, 2004), pp.1-9.

An instructional video on socratic seminars

Key Ideas and Details

1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

8. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.

9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Chronological and Spatial Thinking

1. Students compare the present with the past, evaluating the consequences of past events and decisions and determining the lessons that were learned.

2. Students analyze how change happens at different rates at different times; understand that some aspects can change while others remain the same; and understand that change is complicated and affects not only technology and politics but also values and beliefs.

Historical Research, Evidence, and Point of View

1. Students distinguish valid arguments from fallacious arguments in historical interpretations.

2. Students identify bias and prejudice in historical interpretations.

4. Students construct and test hypotheses; collect, evaluate, and employ information from multiple primary and secondary sources; and apply it in oral and written presentations.

Historical Interpretation

3. Students interpret past events and issues within the context in which an event unfolded rather than solely in terms of present-day norms and values.

4. Students understand the meaning, implication, and impact of historical events and recognize that events could have taken other directions.

11.10 Students analyze the development of federal civil rights and voting rights

2. Examine and analyze the key events, policies, and court cases in the evolution of civil rights, including Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, and California Proposition 209.

1 Gonzalez, Gilbert G. (1990). Chicano Education in the Era of Segregation. pg. 13
2 Ibid, 14.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid, 21.
7 Gonzalez, Gilbert G. (Jan., 1985). Segregaion of Mexican Children in a Southern California City: The Legacy of Expansionism and the American Southwest. Retrieved from The Western Historical Quarerly. Vol. 1, No. 1, pg. 57.
8 Ibid, 59.

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