The first time I got to listen to Sal Castro speak was four years ago at UC Santa Barbara during my freshman year of college. Last month, I had the opportunity to hear him lecture again at Cal State Bakersfield, on the topic of education reform, along with professor Mario T. Garcia from UCSB.
Castro, an educator and lifelong Chicano activist, is most well known for his role in the East Los Angeles high school walkouts of 1968. Those historic walkouts were a defining moment of the Chicano movement. At its height, 15,000 mostly Latino students from schools throughout LAUSD left their classrooms to protest social discrimination and educational inequality between white and Latino students in the public school system.
The students back then had a long list of demands, which included: The establishment of bi-lingual and bi-cultural education programs in Latino majority schools; new textbooks and curriculum that would offer a more complete history of Latino contributions to society and injustices they’ve suffered; adequate representation of Latino staff and faculty at Latino majority schools; and the creation of review boards that would hold teachers accountable who have “a particularly high percentage of the total school dropouts” in their classrooms.
But how much has really changed for Latino students since those politically charged days in 1968? Maybe not as much as we’d like to believe.
Dropping out of high school, in particular, is still a big problem in the Latino community. Last year in California, the Latino high school graduation rate (67.7 percent) was far behind that of white (83.4 percent) and Asian (89.4 percent) students. In Southern Kern Unified, where Latinos make up the majority of students, that graduation rate drops down to a mere 52.1 percent.