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Mathieu Ichou, Les Enfants d’immigrés à l’école

Théoxane Camara (English translation)
Traduction de Ariane Abry-Marnas et Mirthia Prince-Figuereo
Cet article est une traduction de :
Mathieu Ichou, Les enfants d’immigrés à l’école. Inégalités scolaires, du primaire à l’enseignement supérieur
Les enfants d'immigrés à l'école
Mathieu Ichou, Les enfants d'immigrés à l'école. Inégalités scolaires, du primaire à l'enseignement supérieur, Paris, PUF, coll. « Éducation et société », 2018, 310 p., ISBN : 978-2-13-078695-5.

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Notes de la rédaction

Review translated by Ariane Abry-Marnas (ENS de Lyon) and Mirthia Prince-Figuereo (Columbia University, Barnard College), as part of the Transatlantic Collaborative Translation Workshop between Barnard College-Columbia University and the École normale supérieure de Lyon. Supervised by Professors Laurie Postlewate (Barnard-Columbia) & Layla Roesler (ENS de Lyon).

Texte intégral

  • 1 Hugues Lagrange’s (French sociologist) culturalist perspective on the academic failure of the child (...)
  • 2 Dispositional sociology is a school of thought that studies the individual “dispositions”, i.e. way (...)

1It is common to hear in the fields of educational and immigration sociology that on average, the children of immigrants do not perform as well in school as children of native-born parents. Mathieu Ichou offers an innovative sociological analysis on a topic that is heavily exploited by political and media discourse, and subject to much scientific controversy1. The author takes distance from the homogenized vision of a “second generation” of students who have totally failed academically, and reports on the diversity of the educational trajectories of immigrant children with respect to their parents’ national origins. Rather than relying on “culturalist” arguments, Ichou dives headfirst into the production of these inequalities. He employs conceptual tools from Bourdieusian and dispositional sociology2, in particular the notions of socialization, capital, and social status. The author’s thesis is clear: it is social origin – more so than a (so-called) “cultural origin” – that plays a predominant role in explaining educational inequalities.

  • 3 This includes the sample group of 1997 (N=9,641), which follows students from the beginning of elem (...)
  • 4 The method of exact matching is used here to pair every child of an immigrant from a specific part (...)

2To demonstrate his argument, the author performs statistical analysis of large scale quantitative surveys: two large sample groups from the Ministry of Education’s (l’Éducation Nationale) “Trajectories and Origins” survey conducted by both the INED (National Institute for Demographic Studies) and the INSEE (National Institute of Statistics and Economical Study) in 2008-20093, along with the annual census survey. Ichou combines this approach with an interpretive analysis of biographical interviews. Merging the two longitudinal studies by l’Éducation Nationale allows the author to follow the educational trajectories of students from elementary school until high school. The author uses the exact matching method4 to show that among second-generation immigrants, two groups clearly stand out from the rest: compared to children with similar social characteristics, children of Turkish immigrants do not perform as well in school. Their counterparts from Southeast Asia and China, do better academically, often surpassing students of non-minority groups from similar social backgrounds. This gap is the guiding line of the study: the analytical zooming-in on these “extreme cases” illuminates in a general manner the creation of educational dispositions that are more or less advantageous in the French school system.

3The author presents his argument in successive stages. An in-depth introduction presents the methodological and theoretical framework. The first part (chapters 1 and 2) uses a quantitative basis to describe the diversity of educational trajectories among the children of immigrants. In the second part (chapters 3 and 4), the author illustrates the central role that the pre-migration educational experiences and resources of parents play in the intergenerational transmission of educational dispositions within immigrant families. For example, parents of Chinese origin, during their own schooling in China, typically encountered pedagogical methods centered on memorization, rote learning, and intensive homework; these methods can have a positive effect on the way they supervise their children’s school work, and in turn, on the children’s academic results (notably in the sciences). The third part of the book (chapters 5 and 6) considers the extra-parental socialization (provided by siblings, neighborhoods, educational institutions) in producing educational inequalities and differential educational trajectories. In immigrant families, older siblings often constitute an enabling resource for the academic education of the younger children. In addition, immigrant families without valuable educational capital in their host society can find useful resources in the social relationships they develop outside of the family circle.

  • 5 Joanie Cayouette-Remblière uses a similar approach (Cayouette-Remblière Joanie, L’école qui classe. (...)
  • 6 Bourdieu Pierre, Champagne Patrick, “Les exclus de l’intérieur”, Actes de la recherche en sciences (...)

4Mathieu Ichou’s work is distinctive in the way he uses a holistic and longitudinal approach to study educational trajectories, pointing out significant differences in the paths of students in the French school system, from elementary school to high school5. Chapter 2 presents five consistent “trajectory types” that detail varied educational experiences, ranked from 1 to 5 in ascending order of academic value and prestige. In this educational stratification, the children of immigrants, with the exception of those of Asian origin, frequently find themselves relegated to a lower track in the French system (trajectory 1 “academic failure and dropout”). This is particularly true for children of Turkish and Sahelian origin (Turkey, Mauritania, Senegal and Mali): 71% and 72% of them (respectively) are on this track, compared to 21% of the overall population. The children of immigrants who perform well in school most often follow the path of “intermediate education” (trajectory 3), which generally includes schooling in an urban priority zone (ZEP). They more often obtain a technical baccalaureate diploma, and pursue a shorter higher-education experience. Therefore, the majority of those children who do participate in higher education tend to do so through the shortest and least prestigious routes. Progressing along academic pathways markedly distant from the more prestigious paths (trajectories 4 and 5), these students remain “outcasts on the inside”6.

  • 7 Mathieu Ichou uses eleven categories of origin in his analysis: the children whose both parents wer (...)

5Above all, the book proves the need to push back against a homogenized vision of second-generation immigrant students. The author takes the “statistical risk” of using a detailed categorization of migratory origins7, which allows him to observe an unequal distribution in the parents’ educational capital. Take for example, the mother’s education level, which, in the sociology of education, is used as an indicator of the social characteristics of the familial social environment. Mothers of Turkish and Sahelian origin are most often uneducated (81% and 84% respectively) while also representing the smallest proportion of college-educated mothers (2% for both cases). Inequalities in terms of resources can also be attributed to parental pre-migration experiences and attributes: social status, school experience, and the role of schooling in the initial migration process. For the Turkish immigrants surveyed, who belonged to a less-educated class in their home society compared to Asian immigrants in their own home societies, education was not the main reason to migrate. This inferior pre-migration social status less frequently generates the feeling of “superiority” leading to high expectations in terms of education.

  • 8 For the proponents of the “cultural origin” explanation, the lower performance of immigrant’s child (...)

6Based on the results of this research, the author takes a new and original stance in the debate on the causes of lower academic performance by the children of immigrants, which traditionally opposes the ideas of “culture of origin” and of “social origin”8. Instead of understanding the culture of origin as a fixed and homogenous entity, Mathieu Ichou demonstrates that “the cultural practices of immigrants in France depend on the social class to which migrants belonged in their society of origin” (p. 257). Furthermore, rather than supporting his analysis solely on the living conditions of immigrant families in the host society, Ichou expands the definition of the social origin: he takes into account the families’ social status and experience in their pre-migratory society. This allows him to nuance the notion of “selectivity of immigrants”, according to which those who emigrate are generally more highly educated than the non-migrating members of the population of the same age and sex. In fact, this relative education level differs vastly depending on the country of origin. On average, Turkish immigrants have a relatively low level of education compared to the general Turkish population. Conversely, immigrants from Southeast Asia tend to come from the better-educated social groups of their home country. The parents’ education and social position is a central element in explaining children’s educational inequalities. The parental background generates intellectual capacities and tendencies that are more or less likely to support successful academic performance in the French school system. Ichou’s book therefore confirms that a sociological analysis based on the parent’s social position and the associated resources is a valid approach to explaining the educational trajectories of the children of immigrants. Nevertheless, for the analysis to work, the author adds a crucial stipulation: social status and resources must be redefined to take into account the dual social condition of the parents (“immigrants are also emigrants”, p. 121). Dissociating his position from the predominant “integration” perspective on immigration – which disregards entirely the immigrants’ pre-migratory experiences – enables Ichou to reconstruct the entire trajectory of immigrants, thus highlighting their unequal educational resources.

  • 9 Mathieu Ichou’s use of the term “local link” refers to a geographical proximity (neighborhood); the (...)

7Mathieu Ichou explores in great detail the various social determinants that contribute to the diversity of educational trajectories in the children of immigrants. These include the familial social environment (e.g. parents’ expectations, knowledge of the family’s academic history, the parents’ educational experience, and number and birth order of siblings) and the children’s school (e.g. the effects of educational segregation, the context of the school and the expected outcomes associated with it). In addition, the social relations outside of the family circle that build the children’s social capital (which Ichou breaks down into a “local link”, an “ethnic link”, and an “economic link”9) are also contributing social determinants. What the analysis lacks – and the author acknowledges this – is the residential environment of the children, which is not explored as a potential source of academic inequality. Nevertheless, Mathieu Ichou succeeds in framing the educational trajectories of the children of immigrants as a “sociological question”, breaking away from the traditional belief that these are “social problems” (p. 16).

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Notes

1 Hugues Lagrange’s (French sociologist) culturalist perspective on the academic failure of the children of Sub-saharan immigrants has incited much debate. See statements published in French newspaper Le Monde by Didier and Eric Fassin (anthropology and sociology): “Misère du culturalisme. Cessons d’imputer les problèmes aux étrangers”, Le Monde.fr, 29/09/2010; Online: https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2010/09/29/misere-du-culturalisme_1417649_3232.html.

2 Dispositional sociology is a school of thought that studies the individual “dispositions”, i.e. ways of being, thinking and acting in a given context, which are shaped by the socializing experiences encountered by the individual. See: Lahire Bernard, Dans les plis singuliers du social. Individus, institutions, socialisations, Paris, La Découverte, 2013. [Translator’s note: Translators chose to retain the French term “disposition” despite it not being as prevalent in anglophone scientific literature as is the case in France, to reflect Ichou’s affiliation with the dispositional school of thought. The term “disposition” in this text encompasses aptitudes, tendencies, and habits developed by individuals during their socialization.]

3 This includes the sample group of 1997 (N=9,641), which follows students from the beginning of elementary school until the beginning of high school and the 1995 sample group (N=17,830), which follows middle schoolers up to their entry into university.

4 The method of exact matching is used here to pair every child of an immigrant from a specific part of the world to a child of native-born parents who shares the exact same social characteristics. Namely, these children will have the following similar characteristics: the mother’s and father’s education level, the father’s socio-professional category (or the mother’s in cases where the father is not present), the parents’ employment status, the family structure, the child’s sex, and the number of siblings.

5 Joanie Cayouette-Remblière uses a similar approach (Cayouette-Remblière Joanie, L’école qui classe. 530 élèves du primaire au bac, Paris, PUF, 2016; Review by Clémence Perronnet for Lectures: http://journals.openedition.org/lectures/21601).

6 Bourdieu Pierre, Champagne Patrick, “Les exclus de l’intérieur”, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, n° 91-92, 1992, p. 71-75. [Translator’s note: For an anglophone reference, see Bourdieu Pierre, Champagne Patrick “Outcasts on the inside”, in Pierre Bourdieu and Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson (trans.), Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society, Polity, 1999.]

7 Mathieu Ichou uses eleven categories of origin in his analysis: the children whose both parents were born in mainland France, in southern Europe, in Algeria, in Morocco, in Tunisia, in a Sahelian country (Mauritania, Senegal, Mali), in a country in the Gulf of Guinea, in Turkey, in Southeast Asia or China, in overseas France, and the children of mixed couples (where one parent was born in France and the other was not). For more details on the classification methods used, see: Mathieu Ichou, “Différences d’origine et origine des différences. Les résultats scolaires des enfants d’émigrés/immigrés en France du début de l’école primaire à la fin du collèg”, Revue française de sociologie, vol. 54, n° 1, 2013, p. 5-52; available online: https://www.cairn.info/revue-francaise-de-sociologie-2013-1-page-5.htm.

8 For the proponents of the “cultural origin” explanation, the lower performance of immigrant’s children is caused by the major cultural gap between their families and the host society. Conversely, the proponents of the social origin explanation insist on the “poor social living conditions” (p. 15) of these families.

9 Mathieu Ichou’s use of the term “local link” refers to a geographical proximity (neighborhood); the “ethnic (or community) link” on a (supposed) shared ethnicity; and the “economic link” on a relationship centered around work or commercial exchange.

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Référence électronique

Théoxane Camara (English translation), « Mathieu Ichou, Les Enfants d’immigrés à l’école », Lectures [En ligne], Les comptes rendus, mis en ligne le 21 janvier 2021, consulté le 05 mars 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lectures/46911 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lectures.46911

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Théoxane Camara (English translation)

Doctorante en sociologie, Gresco (Université de Poitiers).

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