Toward Interdisciplinary Theoretical Frameworks for Educating Secondary School Immigrant Students

Toward Interdisciplinary Theoretical Frameworks for Educating Secondary School Immigrant Students

Lei Jiang (University of Georgia, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3448-9.ch015


This chapter discusses the theoretical frameworks that guide research on educating secondary school immigrant students. Three theoretical lenses, namely Bourdieu's theory of practice, assimilation theory, and linguistic anthropology of education, are reviewed and discussed regarding their epistemological, ontological, and methodological implications. The chapter first briefly discusses the status of the immigrant population and the conceptual framework used in the study. Next, it reviews the key tenets of each theoretical lens and discusses their applications in the discipline of education. These three frameworks, with their contemporary theoretical extensions and developments, are also compared and contrasted based on their similarities and differences in providing guidance for the empirical studies of the chosen research topic. Finally, the conclusions and implications are presented for further discussion.
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Immigrants And Immigrant Students

The U.S. Census Bureau defines immigrants as the foreign-born population “who is not a U.S. citizen at birth” (2018). Today, about 44.5 million foreign-born residents live in the U.S., representing 13.7 percent of the total population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018). The number and percentage of the immigrant population have reached the highest level since 1910, and immigrants live across the nation (Batalova & Alperin, 2018). Nowadays, approximately one in four children (26%) is from an immigrant household, defined as a household in which at least one parent is an immigrant (Migration Policy Institute, 2019). Nonetheless, a substantial gap exists between the educational attainments of immigrant and non-immigrant populations, especially at the secondary levels. For example, almost 30% of immigrants did not complete high school education, more than three times that of their U.S. born peers (9%, Pew Research Center, 2018). These demographic facts have made education for immigrants an urgent agenda.

Social science scholars have adopted different conceptual terms to define immigrant groups. Many of these influential terms, however, largely cover a similar population group. For example, Suárez-Orozco and Suárez-Orozco (2001) use the term children of immigrants to refer to those who were foreign-born but grow up in the U.S. to be the citizens, or who were born in the U.S. family of foreign-born parents. Another example is the term proposed by Kim and Díaz (2013), who use the term immigrant students to represent “students who have moved to the United States from abroad at some point in their lives and (intend to) live here permanently as well as those who were born in the United States with at least one immigrant parent” (p. 4). Moreover, while their terms include both foreign-born immigrants and their children, they exclude temporary migrant students such as international students (Kim & Díaz, 2013; Suárez-Orozco & Suárez-Orozco, 2001).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Segmented Assimilation: This model demonstrates that immigrants of different socioeconomic, racial, and cultural backgrounds can undergo different degrees of assimilation and have different levels of social mobility in the host society.

Cultural Capital: Resources that individuals gain from families and communities and that are used to achieve academic and professional success in society.

Habitus: Habitus describes a disposition of an agent in society. It is formed by the agent’s past experiences such as family background, education, and other social practice; but is continually impacting one’s future practice in social spaces.

Field: Social space in which social interactions and events take place.

Selective Acculturation: It occurs when immigrants retain valuable parts of the cultural traditions from their home country as well as sociocultural values shared by the mainstream society, which would benefit themselves during their accommodation in the host country.

Linguistic Anthropology: This field studies how language users adopt linguistic tools to conduct social practice and interact with social actions.

Social Capital: Resources one gains through networking with other social members in society, which also demonstrates how a person is conceptualized socially within the structural context.

Immigrant Students: Students who were foreign-born but grow up in the U.S. and became U.S. citizens, or who were born in the U.S. family of foreign-born parents.

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