The 1968 East Los Angeles High School Student Walkouts (by Ariana Tribby)

The 1968 East Los Angeles Student Walkouts

California Common Core Standards:

  • Number 2: Students will determine the central ideas of a primary and several secondary sources, and create clear, accurate summaries that relate “key details and ideas.”
  • Number 5: Students will analyze a primary source and determine how the content is organized to portray a very specific interpretation to its audience.
  • Number 7: Students will “integrate and evaluate” factual knowledge through reading and producing a creative project in a creative format of their choice.
  • Number 8: Students will compare and contrast a primary source with three other secondary sources, and use the secondary sources to support or refute their interpretation of the primary source.
  • Number 9: Students will use information from primary and secondary sources to gain an overall understanding of this historical event, while at the same time, “noting discrepancies” and overlap between the sources.

Overview:

The 1968 East Los Angeles high school walkouts constituted the first time Chicano/Latino students protested the inadequate system of education. By critically analyzing primary and secondary sources, students will identify the context that framed the protests as well as the immediate impact the walkouts had on both the inadequate system of education and how Chicano students were viewed.

Framework/Learning Outcome:

Students will demonstrate their understanding of the historical events that shaped the 1968 walkouts as well as the central motives framing student protests. They will begin by reading and discussing primary and secondary sources within groups, with each group discussing one of three secondary sources in order to orally present their analysis to the class. Using these articles, students will be able to examine the intersections of class and race and identify how they both mobilized and dichotomized the Chicano community, addressing how the educational system acted as a means to oppress minority students of lower socioeconomic class. Students will then take their historical analysis further by analyzing a primary source newspaper article published in 1978 that investigates the 1968 walkouts and their aftermath. Students will be challenged to explain how the 1978 article portrays the 1968 movements as “over,” posing the educational inequalities as issues of the past and no longer issues Chicanos were still facing in 1978.

Furthermore, students will use the information presented in all four articles to create a storybook, comic book, or piece of art in order to convey the events of the walkouts in either the point of view of one of the parties involved, (students, teachers, administrators, districts, or law enforcement), or to convey the general struggles of the Chicano community in 1968. This exercise will allow students to make a deeper, more meaningful analysis of the intersection of race and class, and how they lead to the formation of oppressive power structures like the Los Angeles school system of 1968. Overall, students will learn how to effectively analyze primary and secondary sources and use their analyses to form an individual, unique interpretation of a historical event. At the same time, students will recognize that historical events are portrayed differently through various institutions and media, which all mold the lens through which one sees the world. Finally, students will learn to effectively communicate their opinions to others, both in writing and through public speaking.

Essential Understanding:

Although it can be argued that the student walkouts had limited impact in directly changing school policy, the movement itself was valuable in challenging the Los Angeles system of education that historically catered to white-middle class values and essentially oppressed Chicanos of lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Essential Questions:

To Answer with Primary Source (Del Olmo, 1978)

  • Did the media have positive or adverse impacts on the movement, (or both)? How did the Los Angeles Times portray the movement in 1978, and how did this article contribute to the overall sentiment towards the movement?
  • How did race and class affect how students were educated in East Los Angeles in 1968?
  • How did race and class create tensions within the Chicano Community?
  • What major obstacles did Chicano high school students face that led to the walkouts? How did the school district respond to their walkouts? To their sit ins?

To Answer with Supporting Secondary Sources (found in materials section):

  • What were some of the reasons that led to a disparity of Chicano educators in the local high schools and Chicano students in higher education?
  • What historical context framed the student walkouts?
  • According to former East Los Angeles High school students, how did teachers generally perceive Chicano students, and how did this relate to overrepresentation of Chicano students in under-performing classrooms?

Glossary:

  • Chicano: An individual of Mexican-descent born in the United States. (Mexican-American.)
  • Latino: A person of Latin-American or Spanish-Speaking descent. (Includes Chicanos).
  • Anglo: Anglo-Saxon; a white American of non-Hispanic descent.
  • Power structure (as in middle-class power structure): a system of authority or influence.

Introduction:

In 1968, dropout rates for high school students in East Lost Angeles were among the highest in the nation- 57% at Garfield, 45% at Roosevelt, 39% at Lincoln, and 35% at Belmont.1 Chicano students, for the first time in history, took action against the inadequate public education they were receiving by organizing student walkouts, where over 15,000 Chicano high school students walked out of class to protest the school system.2 These protests would eventually serve as a way to give the “incompetent” Chicano population the voice they were neglected under a system that educated very few of them.

There were many reasons why Chicano students did not graduate high school or obtain a higher education. As a former Roosevelt high school teacher recalled, “I didn’t have enough books for all my students or even enough desks. I had kids sit on the floor in my classes.”3 In addition, students complained of the lack of teacher support. Teachers and counselors who perpetuated the stereotypical label of Chicanos as “day laborers” expected less of the Chicano students than their white peers, while attributing any low performance to laziness, apathy, or an innate lack of motivation. Some teachers simply gave up and merely provided them with “seat work to keep them busy and under control.”4 The lack of teacher investment with regard to Chicano student success resulted in “inferior instruction, less time on task, more classroom distraction, and generally a less serious academic climate.”5 This situation diminished Chicano students’ chances to attend higher education or graduate high school, and is one explanation for the low high school graduation rates and walkouts.

Besides insisting for adequate and equal classroom conditions and materials, some of the walkout demands stated that the district implement a bilingual education program while also adding more Chicano teachers.6 A separate 1968 Los Angeles Times article recited this need, reporting that Mexican American teachers accounted for a mere 2% of all teachers in Orange County.7 However, the newspaper found the absence of Chicano faculty to be a result of the scarcity of Chicano students graduating from higher education in the first place, with less than three percent for schools including CSF, UCI, CSLB.8 Because many Chicano students were tracked into low-performing classes due to lack of teacher support, there were less Chicano students going to college. Yet the scarcity of Chicano students in college resulted in the absence of obtaining educators who were conscious and caring about the unique obstacles Chicano students faced, a pattern highlighting the cycle perpetuated by the oppressive school system.

There was a clear lack of support in favor of the walkouts by much of the high school administration, and even within the Chicano community itself. As mentioned by a Mexican-American vice principal at Lincoln in 1968, “I had never experienced prejudice as a student or teacher.”9 Comments such as these made it evident that certain groups of the Chicano community believed that “Chicano Oppression,” or systemic racism, was simply a “myth perpetuated by those who were too lazy or intellectually inferior to raise themselves out of poverty.”10 However, many who aligned themselves with this way of thinking had achieved at least some sort of economic mobility into the upper or middle classes. Therefore, these individuals had the privilege to claim this to be true because they did not experience the same prejudice. The tension within the Chicano community that rose from the difference in values showed that the student walkouts were not solely advocating Chicano rights, but also attempting to deconstruct the truth behind the educational system that catered to middle class values and aimed to educate the educated.

Despite continuing efforts for reform, most of the original student demands had not been met several months after the initial walkouts. By 1978, Frank Del Olmo of the Los Angeles Times reflected on the implications of the students walkouts of 1968, portraying the movement as over.11 The article conveyed that it was no longer necessary to address such issues because they were part of the past, statements that created a model for how the general public “should” think of the walkouts. Nevertheless, the walkouts ultimately challenged the white, middle class social and educational power structure that had acted as a tool to oppress the Chicano community for generations, making it clear that their education would not continue to be compromised.

Materials:

Primary Source:

Secondary Sources:

  • Inda, Juan Javier, “La comunidad en Lucha: The Development of the East Los Angeles High School Blowouts,” Stanford University 29 (1990): 2. http://web.stanford.edu/dept/csre/pdfs/wps29.pdf
  • Inda, Juan Javier, “La comunidad en Lucha: The Development of the East Los Angeles High School Blowouts,” Stanford University 29 (1990): 2. http://web.stanford.edu/dept/csre/pdfs/wps29.pdf
  • Johnson, Helen. 1968. “Colleges Cite Scarcity of Mexican-Americans.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Aug 12, 2-f1. http://search.proquest.com/docview/155944337?accountid=10141.
  • Martinez, Silvia L.M. (2010) “Profiles of Chicano educational opportunity 1950-1980 the significance of teacher expectations,” Journal of Praxis in Multicultural Education: Vol. 5: No.1, Article 8: 58. DOI: 10.9741/2161-2978.1032 hAp://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/jpme/vol5/iss1/8

Learning Activities (3 Parts):

  • Building Context with Secondary Source Readings:

The class will split up into three groups, with each group containing roughly the same amount of students. Each student group will receive one of three documents listed in the materials section of this lesson plan. Those three documents are supporting evidence for the 1978 Los Angeles Times article by Frank Del Olmo (also listed in the materials section of this lesson plan). Therefore, the three articles that will be distributed to the groups should not include the article by Del Olmo, but instead (Martinez, 2010), (Johnson, 1968), and (Inda, Juan Javier, 1990).

Students in each of the three groups will read the article and discuss the meaning and content of the article. Each group will then prepare a 5-minute oral presentation to be presented to the entire class. The presentation should summarize the article and also address specific questions corresponding to each of the three articles. The questions are included below:

  • Inda, Juan Javier. (1990): What historical context framed the student walkouts? What major obstacles did Chicano high school students face, leading to the walkouts? How did the school district respond to their walkouts?
  • Martinez, Silvia L.M. (2010): According to former East Los Angeles High school students, how did teachers generally perceive Chicano students, and how did this relate to overrepresentation of Chicano students in under-performing classrooms?
  • Johnson, Helen. (1968): What were some reasons that led to a disparity of Chicano students in higher education? How did this lead to a shortage of Chicano educators in local L.A. high schools?

It is important that students carefully listen and take notes during the presentations in order to use the information as context to understand the next assignment.

  • Primary Source Reading: After listening to the student presentations, students should have a general understanding of the historical context that framed the student walkouts and the reasons behind the Chicano student demands. This will allow them to better understand the primary source reading of the 1978 Los Angeles Times article by Del Olmo. The students will then split up into pairs or groups of three and read the article by Del Olmo. After reading and discussing the article with their partner(s), the instructor will facilitate class discussion, where students will make concise, thoughtful comments to their peers on what they understood from the article. After class discussion, the instructor should explain the next assignment.
  • Individual Project : Students will (individually) complete a storybook, comic book, or an art piece conveying the events of the walkouts in the point of view of one of the parties involved (students, teachers, administrators, school district, or law enforcement). In doing so, students should address at least two of the following topics/questions in their piece:
  • What was the impact of race and class on Chicano education and the tensions they created within the Chicano community leading up to and during the walkouts?
  • What was overall importance of the 1968 student walkouts?
  • What was the effect of the media (such as the 1978 Los Angeles Times article by Del Olmo), and how did it shape the general public sentiment towards the walkouts and Chicano community after the walkouts occurred?
  • How does this historical event impact you or the Chicano community today? How does the media shape the way we see history or current events?

This assignment is meant to allow room for creativity. If the connection between their art piece and the topics listed above is not clear, students are expected to write a short page analyzing those topics and explaining how their project is related to or metaphorically alludes to those topics. Students must avoid simply summarizing the story of the East LA walkouts. They should instead make the story more relatable or personal by relating the walkouts to their own educational career, by creating a fictional story about how it personally affected one of the parties mentioned above, or by creating a piece of art that alludes to the general struggles of Chicano students in 1968. In essence, their projects should convey the tensions present in Los Angeles in 1968 while also relaying the historical importance of the walkouts.

Additional Sources

 Works Cited:

1 FRANK, DEL OLMO. 1978. “No Regrets, Chicago Students Who Walked Out Say.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Mar 26, 2-d1. http://search.proquest.com/docview/158513847?accountid=10141.

2 DEL OLMO.“No Regrets, Chicano Students who Walked Out Say: ’68 Protest Brought Better Education, Most Believe Strike Helped, ExStudents Say.”

3 DEL OLMO.“No Regrets, Chicano Students who Walked Out Say: ’68 Protest Brought Better Education, Most Believe Strike Helped, ExStudents Say.”

4 Inda, Juan Javier, “La comunidad en Lucha: The Development of the East Los Angeles High School Blowouts,” Stanford University 29 (1990): 2. http://web.stanford.edu/dept/csre/pdfs/wps29.pdf

5 Martinez, Silvia L.M. (2010) “Profiles of Chicano educational opportunity 1950-1980 the significance of teacher expectations,” Journal of Praxis in Multicultural Education: Vol. 5: No.1, Article 8: 58. DOI: 10.9741/2161-2978.1032 hAp://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/jpme/vol5/iss1/8

6 DEL OLMO.“No Regrets, Chicano Students who Walked Out Say: ’68 Protest Brought Better Education, Most Believe Strike Helped, ExStudents Say.”

7 Johnson, Helen. 1968. “Colleges Cite Scarcity of Mexican-Americans.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Aug 12, 2-f1. http://search.proquest.com/docview/155944337?accountid=10141.

8 Johnson, “Colleges Cite Scarcity of Mexican-Americans.”

9 DEL OLMO.“No Regrets, Chicano Students who Walked Out Say: ’68 Protest Brought Better Education, Most Believe Strike Helped, ExStudents Say.”

10 Inda, Juan Javier, 29 (1990): 19.

11 DEL OLMO.“No Regrets, Chicano Students who Walked Out Say: ’68 Protest Brought Better Education, Most Believe Strike Helped, ExStudents Say.”

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