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Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues 8 (2004) 50-72

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Non-Mainstream Education, Limited Mobility, and the Second Generation of Moroccan Immigrant Women:

The Case of the Kindergarten Teacher's Assistant

"What do you do?" I asked Miriam, a forty-year-old second-generation Moroccan immigrant woman in Israel.

"I am in education."

"Are you a teacher?"

"No," she answered.

"Are you a principal in a school?"

"No. I am a kindergarten teacher's assistant," she replied proudly.

Miriam's self-definition as an educator reveals an alternate strategy by which second-generation immigrant women can conform to the hegemonic cultural norm of upward educational and occupational mobility, characteristic of Israeli society and of modernity in Western societies. Israeli society recognizes this strategy through the granting of semi-professional status by means of credentials to certain roles—in this case, the role of the kindergarten teacher's assistant.

Many studies have noted that the first generation of North African immigrants to Israel, the majority of whom were from Morocco,1 possessed lower levels of education and occupational-professional skills than the European immigrants. They became clustered in the low-income strata, while the Europeans became clustered in the middle and upper-income strata. Thus, an ethnic stratification evolved between these two groups, in which those of European ethnic origin became the superordinate status group, while those of North African origin became the subordinate status group. This was equally true for the women in these two ethnic groups.2 More recent studies on the daughters [End Page 50] of these women, the second generation, show that the socio-economic differences between the women in these two ethnic groups have persisted, if not increased.3 However, studies have also revealed that approximately one third of those belonging to the North Africans groups, Moroccans among them, have accomplished upward mobility into the middle class.4 In spite of this, little research has focused on women within the second generation of Moroccan immigrants who are upwardly mobile, or on how they have achieved their mobility.

The purpose of this paper is to serve as a corrective to this neglected topic. It is a case study of a second-generation Moroccan immigrant woman, Miriam, who accomplished limited upward mobility by moving out of the physical labor working class of her immigrant parents and into a semi-professional status. While this semi-profession provided only a low income and little opportunity for advancement, it offered symbolic rewards of status and prestige that compensated somewhat for the low material reward. Miriam achieved this mobility by using a particular non-mainstream type of educational structure consisting of a two-year course and continuing courses. This granted her semi-professional accreditation and increased her educational qualifications, providing an institutionalized path for her mobility.

Research on immigrant women in Western capitalist societies and in Israel has shown that first-generation immigrant women, generally those with low human capital, have used entrepreneurship as an alternate strategy to educational attainment in order to accomplish upward mobility.5 The present case study shows how second-generation Moroccan immigrant women, typified by Miriam, can use education acquired through a non-mainstream educational structure as another alternate strategy to accomplish such mobility.

I argue that the importance of non-mainstream education in relation to second-generation immigrant women's mobility lies in the options it provides for accomplishing upward mobility. The expansion of various types of educational opportunities for "mature" and "non-traditional" groups of students in Western capitalist societies and in Israel6 has increased the opportunities for second-generation immigrant women to use diverse educational structures as a means of accomplishing occupational mobility. In Israeli society, Moroccan immigrant women of the second generation have by now reached mid-life and, probably, their maximum mobility attainments. This enables us to study the mobility outcomes of their use of the non-mainstream structure of education. [End Page 51]

Mainstream and Non...


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