Although the Polish immigrant population in America today is not one of the most prevalent, its success in terms of educational attainment and income raises a few interesting questions concerning immigrants in America. Specifically, the Polish American and Polish immigrant population in the Chicago area has used some interesting methods to ensure that individuals were not only being educated with American standards in mind, but also focusing on the group’s heritage and history. This group is also a prime example of some of the ways in which the success of an immigrant group can lead to some adverse effects for future immigrants when too much focus is placed the second and third generation.
In a profile of Polish Americans using data from the 2000 U.S. Census, Jason C. Booza notes that “when compared to the national population, Poles 25 years of age and over are much better educated” (2007:68). For example, 19.1% of the Polish population in America had a Bachelor’s Degree as compared to 15.5% of the total population (2007:70). Another surprising statistic is found in the 3.8% poverty rate for Polish families, as compared to the 9.2% national average. A closer look at the education of the Polish community in Chicago provides a glimpse into some of the approaches that have allowed for the group’s success.
Firstly, it is important to note the positive influence that the Refugee Act of 1980 had on many Polish immigrants since it offered “language and job training, as well as housing allowance and food stamps” (Coleman 2004:28). Although this wave of Polish immigrants differed in many ways from earlier waves, both groups “showed the desire to see all American Poles learn about Polish culture” (Coleman 2007:29). Clearly, assistance from the U.S. government is a beneficial step towards success for an immigrant group. In Chicago, many schools began to offer bilingual education programs following the Bilingual Education Act in 1968. Despite some issues including lack of qualified teachers and materials, various schools were able to implement these programs successfully, but many individuals in the Polish community desired a way to teach children the Polish language and culture in a way that would not impede their immersion in the American education system (Coleman 2007:33-34).
Along with the desire for immersion, the group’s success in terms of education and occupation, as well as its subsequent assimilation into American culture and its spread into the suburbs, have raised questions concerning the future effectiveness of bilingual programs (Coleman 2007:34). This is evidence of the fact that an immigrant group’s needs are constantly changing, so frequent reevaluation of its disadvantages is required. Bilingual education may have been the best option when children were having less success in schools, but because the issue has been largely solved, a different approach that also tackles more relevant and recent problems could be beneficial. Also, bilingual education programs were successful because of the high concentrations of Poles in certain communities, but because these programs have aided in assimilation, the group has been spreading geographically, which will lead to difficulty in using the public education system to address their needs.
Because immersion is becoming more favorable than bilingual programs for Polish American students, education concerning the Polish language and culture must be found elsewhere. Polish Saturday schools seem to be the most effective way of allowing Polish Americans to be immersed in the American education system while still contributing to America’s multicultural heritage. The Polish immigrant group is a good example of how both assimilation into American culture and remaining entrenched in the culture of their homeland can lead to success for a group.
Booza, Jason C. 2007. “A Profile of Polish Americans: Data from the 2000 U.S. Census.” Polish American Studies 64(1):63-74.
Coleman, Geraldine Balut. 2004. “Educating Polish Immigrants Chicago Style: 1980-2002.” Polish American Studies 61(1):27-38.