Who Deserves Education? Tuition Equity, the DREAM Act, and the Essence of an American (by Guest Blogger Ashley Friedman)

What is an American made of? Are they hard workers? Do they dream the American dream? Is “American” just a legal definition, or does it have some sort of deeper meaning? Further, how does one become American? Can you just wish it, and then be it? Do you have to work hard at it? Do you have to study our founding fathers and constitution first? Do Americans only speak English, have white parents, and live in the suburbs? Or can an American be a young Puerto Rican woman who learned English as her second language and worked hard to earn her place in college? How can we decide what Americans, non-Americans and quasi-Americans deserve?

Do We Support Equal Education for All?

As educators, and education-advocates, I like to believe that we support equal education for all – American and non-American alike. A child of Ecuador needs a good teacher just as badly as a child from Portland. So why is the Oregon legislature, and the Oregon voters in such a tizzy over both the Tuition Equity bills that Oregon has recently put forth?

Outrage Over Immigration Law

There is a lot of outrage over immigration law, and many citizens are calling for things like mass deportations, harsher penalties, and a continuation of educational inequity for young immigrants. I want to get to the essence of what it is that they are really so mad about. Perhaps some of it is truly misconception. Catherine Poe’s article on the DREAM act illustrates just how many misconceptions exist about immigration policies (http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/ad-lib/2011/jul/13/dream-act-sparks-debate-misinformation-and-fear/). These misconceptions are various and many.

Still, many of the arguments against (and for) immigration reform are essentially emotional in nature. Those against the DREAM act use words and phrases like “illegal pukes,” “riotous,” “angry,” and “belligerent illegals.” DREAMers use words and phrases like “proud,” “unafraid,” “opportunity,” and “future for America.” These people aren’t arguing about laws, they’re having a personal reaction to a perceived threat to the integrity of “American.” Opponents feel that immigrants are tainting America and “American” in some way. Supporters feel that the “American Dream” is the essence of America, and that it should be protected.

I chose the picture of myself and my little sister for this post because it shows how confusing the question of “American” is. My sister and I sit in front of Native American totem poles that are situated in front of a pizza joint that advertises “Budweiser” on the window. Is America the ancient tradition of the totem pole, or the new capitalist image of Budweiser? Do we still represent the values that our founding fathers seemed to put forth, or have our values changed? What is an American, and who deserves an American education?



17 thoughts on “Who Deserves Education? Tuition Equity, the DREAM Act, and the Essence of an American (by Guest Blogger Ashley Friedman)

  1. Ashley,

    Thank you for your post. Your questions really got me thinking about what’s really equitable in education as well as in immigration. With education, I think everyone deserves one that renders the same resources and quality of teaching and learning throughout all districts, but unfortunately the way that we distribute funds varies greatly from one school to another, not even necessary to mention it at the district level or beyond. With immigration and its relative issues, such as the Dream Act, I think we need to create a new law where equitable education is balanced with the laws set forth by the Constitution. Personally, I think anything that violates the law is wrong, and shall be punished, but since the children of undocumented immigrants are innocent, we should give them a chance. So I guess the ones with a legal American ID are deemed to be the valid Americans, where as the ones without a plastic card is not! what really qualifies us to be Americans anyway? Skin color? English speakers? Clothes? Cultures? Religions? Family values? Economic status? …….

  2. Ahhh Budweiser,

    The now Belgium owned company. The world has changed so much even in my lifetime. I remember when in the early days of the public internet, Prodigy, it was amazing to “talk” to someone from Germany or the UK. Now I have no idea who I am talking to online and increasingly there is so much business/life being done on the internet. How many tech support calls are originating inside the borders of the US? I remember this terrible show about a call center based in India and they had “American” accents when talking and were able to code switch at the drop of a hat.

    The point I am getting at is that it doesn’t seem to matter about being American I feel like in 20 more years the idea of borders will be drastically different than it is now. I think, in terms of education, life will be incredibly different . Even now my perspective field, Speech Language Pathology, has Masters level programs ONLINE! There will be such a change in education with online schools (cradle to grave) that the idea of an American education system is kind of a joke because we rely so heavily on capitolism that the “socialistic” basis of education will disappear. I can completely envision a education system that is tiered with the poorest getting the worst and the elite getting a far better system.
    Upon re-reading my ideas it seems very doomsday but I have seen so many changes to college education in just the last 10 years I have been attending college.

    What do you guys think? Do you think that borders will disappear?

    • I don’t know if the borders will disappear completely, particularly because there are people who want so very much to have borders. My step-father immigrated from China a few decades ago and even though he considers himself Chinese, there’s still a defensive part of him over the United States – this is America, this is how it is done, this is how it should be done because this is how it has always been done. There will always be someone who wants to cling to “us vs. them”, even if it isn’t in an overtly aggressive manner.

      For myself, I think that being an American is cultural; I’m not sure if that makes it easier or if that is somehow better, but I know that if I moved to another country and received citizenship, I would still consider myself an American. I grew up with a set of beliefs and ideals that filters the way that I think, feel, and behave. I also believe that my “American-ness” is very individual at the same time; someone else might not look or think like me, but that doesn’t make them less of an American.

    • Hey Boone,

      One of the things that has always confused me is why they have out-of-state tuition rates at all. Why are they penalizing students who want to study? Look at the students in our class who are living in Washington: they contribute to the tax base here in Portland, why would we tell them it will cost more to study here? Are they afriad that PSU will become overwhelmed by students from an alien state? With an out-of-state agenda? Maybe overthrow the school and turn it into Clark College South? Those darn Washington students are coming to take over! They took our jobs!

      Seriously, national borders are about as ineffectual in 2012 as state borders. They are merely administrative lines in the sand so that governments can excert a certain amount of control and protection over the population in that area. That said, I also see that national borders are such a touchstone issue with the more conservative elements that generations from now we will still be fighting and dying over those god-given lines.

      Of course, I am typing this while watching football, which is nothing more than moving borders back and forth across a field…

      • Chis,

        I had never thought of it like that; why do we have out of state tuition at all? We have national borders and state borders. Does the state of Oregon not want people to move here? And if they pay out of state tuition, do they then not have to pay state income tax since they are technically not really residents of Oregon? That seems fair, right? Where do we draw that line?

        I know that, because of out of state tuition, I barely considered leaving the state. I wonder if out of state tuition is a penalty or if in state is a reward. And how many of us are “trapped” in the state we grew up in because it was less expensive? I am by no means saying that I wouldn’t want to stay in Oregon, but the opportunity to go elsewhere would have been nice. Seems like such a small issue when I think about students who have lived here their entire lives and STILL have to pay out of state tuition. I guess, on a very very small scale, we have a teeny tiny view into how it feels (speaking of this issue only) to not have the same opportunity as someone else.

        I guess when you have an opinion, it always feels like there is a simple solution. But on this subject, I honestly and wholeheartedly agree with you and the answer really does seem simple.

      • Chris,
        An interesting question is do out of state students pay out of state tuition for online classes?
        It is just the beginning, as I see it, because soon there will be private enterprise offering school online and the borders/political control/governments will become nullified. While I was at Parkrose HS a couple of weeks ago I was signing in and a mom came in with her two kids. She was pulling them out of school. Who knows why, but I think that local schools being overwhelmed would welcome the relief of less kids and that is why I think the internets is taking over the world.

    • I doubt borders will ever completely disappear, people will always want control over resources, and borders seems to be the way to do that. I think culture though, will continue to diffuse across borders, and with the internet it is much easier than before, and with much less censorship.

      For example I remember when I was a kid, Sailor Moon was a popular TV show that was translated and dubbed (for those who don’t know dubbing is the act of replacing the original voices with whatever language it is being translated too) by one of the major media companies. They didn’t stick to the original script though, they cut and pasted and change stuff around, sometimes to the point where the story was unrecognizable to the original. Any homosexuality in the series was edited out, for instance, a guy would be turned into a girl to make it ‘okay’ for American television. With the internet though, people have access to foreign content that has not been sifted through the American media conglomerates’ lens of what is acceptable to put on TV.

      So in that way, ‘cultural borders’ will be harder to maintain, but physical borders will still be in place.

  3. Ashley,

    You pose a lot of solid questions here, some I just don’t know if they are truly answerable. I am an American, I was born and raised here, I hold “American” values, I think of myself as an American, I was taught in America by Americans. Does that make me an American though? Well, I just rattled off a bunch of reasons why it should, but if you take away just one of those reasons, some one may have the nerve to call me an illegal. If I wasn’t born here but I still love this country, hold its values, was educated here, salute the flag, does that make me un-American. According to some, yes it does make me not a part of this country.

    I am in support of the DREAM act, or at least most of it. I hope that anyone who wants to come to the U.S. because of what it represents (equality, a good future, solid education, etc.) does so. In no way will there be enough immigrants coming in that it will take away jobs from people born here. It will hurt out economy as much as it will hinder the education of our students by placing someone like your Ecuadorian friend in the classroom.

    Our country was founded by immigrants, was born of immigrants, was made strong by immigrants.


    • Eli,

      I definitely appreciate your grappling with my unanswerable questions. I tossed them out there because it was a gap that was glaring at me in my own understanding of the opposition against things like the DREAM act and the tuition equity struggles that Oregon has had. I’m just not sure I see what those people see in the root of “American.” Surely, there must be something there for them to be so intense in their rejection of illegal immigrants.

      I am beginning to think that much of it does boil down to legality. If you weren’t born here, you’re not an American. Even if you have the plastic card that says you can be here, I am not sure that the immigration opposition will be comfortable calling you an American. It is interesting that we trust our laws so much, and are so invested in them, that we wrap up our emotions in them. Shouldn’t we question them even just a little? Times change, cultures change, the needs and economies of countries change. The purposes of our laws might not be applicable anymore, but I think that many people don’t/can’t/won’t poke at the root of our laws.

      • Thank you Ashley, your words are sharp as ever. I guess in response the America I’ve come to know is about fear. People fear losing jobs, not having their kids in the best schools, and immigrants create something for people to attach that fear to. As we know from psychology people fight to protect what they have, violently if need be, but at least vehemently. Misinformation is ripping this country apart. As I’ve learned in the last week, minority labor is not hurting “white american” white collar jobs. In fact it is the opposite. Americans of education and status simply do not want to work on a farm. Also the immigrants are contributing billions to schools and roads through taxes. Just because they have secondary languages doesn’t necessarily mean they are hurting other students chances of learning. In fact they are usually the only students struggling. This fear notion, the need to protect one’s own, is why you are receiving comments like “Riotous,” etc. I know rich white people that use those phrases and it is simply an ignorant view based on lack of knowledge that propagates those beliefs. You are correct, every student, every color or culture, deserves a chance at the American Dream, and that includes passing the Dream Act and letting people migrate here once again. Thank you.

      • Ashley,
        It seems to be that most anti-immigration sentiment is based not only on adherence to laws, but also on fear. (One could also say that many of the laws are based on this fear.) Many people are scared of what they do not understand; namely, other cultures, and fear that these cultures are a threat to the “American” way of life. Feeling anger or fear towards an “other” is a natural, albeit not always correct, response. The solution lies in being able to see past the initial emotion.
        Here is an interesting article from Scientific American explaining why people can be so prejudice against immigrants.


        Culture is not static, it evolves. Unfortunately, many people do not see the American culture as something that is, or should be, changed. If this past election has taught us anything, it is that a great many people in this country are clinging desperately to a version of America that is no more (or maybe never really was). Until these people begin to accept that the American culture is changing, it seems that there will always be a strong anti-immigrant movement.

  4. Ashley thank you so much for your post. I find that this topic, for me, is definitely a hot button. Reading the links this week about the dream act and especially the tuition equity fight that has been going on in Oregon was difficult. I don’t understand how we can come so far yet still get stumped by questions like these.

    I am a student. Because I was born in America and I have lived in Oregon most of my life I am privileged with in state tuition. I have access to financial aid and other services that without them would make school impossible for me. What I don’t understand is why anyone that wants to go to school cant? Why are we always in such competition with each other? Aren’t advances made by working together? Multiple brains with different ideas contributing to come up with new technology and innovative ideas (now I think I sound like a computer commercial) that otherwise wouldn’t exist?

    These acts do not even begin to really delve into the issue of immigrants that want a better education. In Oregon we are only talking about those students that came here as children, who had no choice and did nothing illegal, then worked hard for every opportunity and now are told that because their parents did something illegal, they are being punished for it. How is that fair? Do we blame the children of drug addicts? Do we not help the helpless? In theory, are these children not also the victims of the crime their parents committed?

    I obviously feel that the dream act and tuition equity are important laws that need to be passed. I don’t think it is fair to punish those that didn’t commit the crime by sentencing them to a life in which we as american citizens tell them that they can’t get a higher education unless they pay more for it. How do we expect them to pay for it when they can’t get financial aid and they don’t have the education to obtain a job that will allow them to pay for it? School is not easy, it’s not a free ride for anybody. Some of these students have been here most of their lives, been in every class we’ve been in, grew up next door to us and we all played together and worked hard to get into college. Why am I any better than they are? In my heart of hearts I don’t believe that this was what our founding fathers had in mind. This was a land of second chances, but we aren’t even giving the innocent a first chance.

  5. Ashley,

    I do think our values as a nation, and as a society have changed greatly; though I can’t speak as a complete American, since I have moved around a lot my whole life, I can tell you that being an American is a way of life, and not a birth right. This is how I feel many others think as well. The American tradition has always revolved around the integration of new cultures and the acceptance of foreigners, so why should that ever change? The tradition is based on change, and changing that, especially in the scope of education, would only be a disgrace.

  6. This is a very deep question for me and a tough one to answer. There is the current insidious education system in America, the presence of the DREAM Act debate, and so many people behind all of this. How do we make sense of all of it put together?

    My response is this: We all have to go to school (up until High School) no matter what, so in that case, there must be education equity for all. Education and immigration are issues that concern everyone living in this country — legally or illegally.

    • Bryan: You’re right that this is an incredibly deep issue that connects to policy, American myths/values, and more. I like what you’re saying about the fact that children in the U.S. are required to attend school regardless of their status. Because this is the case, we should provide equitable education opportunities…are you inferring that students should also be given equal opportunities beyond K-12 because school is required up until that point?

      Thanks for joining us,

      • Thank you.
        Not really. I was actually saying that while undocumented students are still required to attend high school, education is a matter that concerns everyone and not just documented students. College is a different world from high school. Since it is not mandated, and it really gives us ‘a real education’, the only concern with it is the price (tuition). So while I believe that everyone deserves college tuition equity because it is fair and ethically correct, I also believe that undocumented students in high school deserve an equal education and a voice in the system just like everyone else.

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