Zulmara Cline & Juan Necochea
California State University, San Marcos Abstract


This paper presents a Border Pedagogy Conceptual Model that delineates the critical components needed to create successful educational experiences for bicultural students in the border region. This conceptual model is intended to help inform researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers on the instructional practices, curriculum, and knowledge base that is needed in borderland schools if we are to provide equitable educational experiences for diverse students. In a democracy where education can be viewed as the great equalizer, it is imperative that those educating binational students have the skills, knowledge, and disposition to address the complex social, cultural, and emotional needs of diverse children.


     Este artículo presenta un Modelo Conceptual de Pedagogía Fronteriza que señala los componentes críticos necesarios para crear una experiencia educativa exitosa para los estudiantes en la franja fronteriza. Este modelo conceptual propone informar a los investigadores, los profesionales educativos y a los legisladores sobre prácticas educativas, currículo y la base de conocimientos que se requieren en las escuelas de la frontera si es que queremos proporcionar experiencias educativas equitativas para estudiantes diversos. Dentro de una democracia donde se percibe la educación como el gran ecualizador, es de suma importancia que los pedagogos que trabajan con estudiantes binacionales adquieran las destrezas, el conocimiento y la voluntad para abordar las necesidades sociales, culturales y emocionales de niños diversos.




This is a tale of two cities. Each of the city's metropolitan areas houses about one million people. One city is geographically small and the people live in close proximity. One city is large and sprawling.

     In one city, inhabitants still suffer diseases considered exotic in the other: cholera, polio, typhus, tuberculosis, rickets. In the other city, separated by an imaginary line, lies some of the richest real estate in the richest half of the richest state in the richest country on the face of the earth.(p. 6 Urrea 1996)

     The two cities, inextricably linked by ties going back hundreds of years, are Tijuana and San Diego, interconnected by a past history that supercedes all of the rules, regulations and laws that have come to pass. Indeed, the tale of these two cities is one that cannot be told without understanding the influences that have helped to form a unique border culture, one that will forever shape the events, the landscape, and the economies of both nations (Martínez 1994; Nolasco & Acevedo 1985; Salazar 1981; Taylor 2001). As González (2000) notes, the story of these two nations, these two cities is linked by an ancestry that crosses any physical border that man has erected:

     "Even many recently arrived Mexican immigrants can usually point to long historical ties to the Southwest. In a study of the old Mexican neighborhood of Lemon Grove in San Diego, for instance, ethnographer Robert Alvarez documents nearly two hundred years of migratory circuit between Mexico's Baja California and our own state of California by the same extended families of miners and farmers. Family members would travel back and forth between the two territories in response to economic conditions. The two Californias, Alvarez maintains, have historically been one in geography, economics, and culture (p. 107).

There is a unique borderland tension between Tijuana and San Diego, related to their proximity, due partly to the fact that the San Diego area might be the richest part of the richest state in the richest country of the world, while Tijuana struggles to create the basic structures and meet the essential needs of an exploding population. This tension is exacerbated by the two languages and cultures that come into daily contact in perhaps the busiest border crossing in the world (López 1999).

A clear distinction exists between the social and the physical borders. The physical border has distinct demarcations making it easy to know where it begins or ends. The social border, however, is significantly more intricate, elusive, and permeable with cultural, linguistic, and commercial influences reaching deep into each other's countries, with more intense transborder interactions near the international línea (Fuentes 1997; Martínez 1994; Nolasco & Acevedo 1985; Salazar 1981; Taylor 2001). From these intense social interactions, a "new" cultural integration emerges in the borderlands, oftentimes with residents from both sides becoming more similar to each other than their co-nationals (Taylor 2001).

These transborder messengers often transmit the intricacies of a border culture as they go about their daily lives, thus creating a transnational social space with its own norms, values, and expectations that govern human interactions.

This border culture has been largely influenced by an ever-increasing exchange of goods and services between the United States and Mexico, often mediated by policy makers with treaties such as NAFTA-North American Free Trade Agreement (Fuentes 1997; Rouk 1993; Taylor 2001). Indeed, the social border, which is located in people's hearts and minds, is augmented and shaped by the interdependency and mutual influences between these two nations.

Border Pedagogy Emerges

As elusive as it may be, therefore, a border culture has emerged from the social interactions dictated by the peculiarities of the region, to include the dynamic nature of daily commercial and economic exchanges between individuals (Nolasco & Acevedo 1985; Taylor 2001). However, essentially ignored in discussions regarding border issues is the role of education and the educational system in the borderlands. There appears to be an absence of a systematic border pedagogy policy to guide the discussions of how to best educate students in the region.

The fluidity of the border region with its ever increasing human, social, and cultural exchanges, especially after the passage of NAFTA in 1993, has created an untenable situation for educational systems unprepared to handle the multitude of issues and concerns that arise from the border crossing population. As Fuentes (1997) observes:

The porousness of the border is more than a matter of products: 300 million people cross the border in both directions every year, and with them, ideas, habits, information, and cultural trends come and go. (p.159).

These 300 million border crossers have profound influences on the educational system, demanding a pedagogy that is more congruent with the current context of the borderlands. Since there has been little to no concerted effort to incorporate education into the NAFTA trade agreement, a systematic approach of designing a border pedagogy that would address the changing needs of the student population has not been delineated by policy makers, educators, and researchers.

Undeniably, education must be part of the discussions between the two nations, especially as trade and economic exchanges increase, for the unintended consequences for children can be detrimental to our democratic way of life. Certainly, the sink-or-swim philosophy, as González (2000) depicts, is unacceptable for addressing the linguistic and educational needs of bicultural students in the borderlands:

Most of us became products of a sink-or-swim public school philosophy, immersed in English-language instruction from our first day in class and actively discouraged from retaining our native tongue. "Your name isn't Juan," the young teacher told me in first grade at P.S. 87 in East Harlem. "In this country it's John. Shall I call you John?" Confused and afraid, but sensing this as some fateful decision, I timidly said no (p. 90).

Thus, creating a border pedagogy conceptual model has taken on great importance as public schools are engaged in transforming and restructuring to fulfill their historic roles as "great equalizers" by providing improved opportunities for all students. Currently, the biggest challenge of U.S. schools is in educating poor and minority students to meet high academic achievement. This challenge is complicated in the borderlands because of a socio-political sentiment which has recently turned more anti-immigrant, with apparent little to no regard toward issues of social justice and equity for transborder students. Indeed, the conspicuous absence of education in NAFTA has created a host of unintended consequences that make it difficult to provide a just and caring school experience for the growing number of bicultural students (Necochea & Cline 2002; Rouk 1993). It behooves policy-makers and educators who are attempting to develop school systems and structures that are more equitable and just to begin understanding the extreme complexity of the borderland experience and implement instructional practices that are more teacher driven and contextually based.

Although there has been increased interdependency between the two nations in trade, tourism, and business, the public school systems are hardly aware of each other, existing as two separate and distinct worlds, in an educational vacuum that is increasingly governed by distant state or national governments (Necochea & Cline 2002; Rouk 1993). The following border pedagogy conceptual model is intended to help educators and policy makers design school systems and instructional practices that could be more compatible with the needs of the border region to increase the academic success of bicultural students.

Border Pedagogy Conceptual Model

Border Pedagogy should include an integration of the eductional systems of the border region between the U.S. and Mexico reflecting a transnational space for teaching and learning consistent with the increasing integration of the economy and the socio-political realities. To fully prepare bicultural students for the 21st century, public schools must incorporate the norms, values, beliefs, and expectations of the borderlands and provide a binational orientation to how "business is done here."

The Border Pedagogy Conceptual Model illustrated in Figure I contains four interrelated variables, three of which are triangularly inter-linked at the vertices and a fourth, border pedagogy, that "emerges" as a result of the interrelationship of the other three. Border Pedagogy Conceptual Model

The three vertices-curriculum, instructional practices, and knowledge base-are necessarily interrelated in an interactive, multi-dimensional process. The separation noted is artificial for the purpose of analysis, for conceptually these vertices should be regarded as inseparable and interdependent. According to this model, border pedagogy emerges as a result of the dynamic interplay of these three variables creating a unique set of conditions that could result in more appropriate schooling in the borderlands.

Border pedagogy, then is defined as a complex and interactive set of curriculum, instructional practices, and knowledge base that educators need to incorporate in order to be successful with diverse students in the borderlands. When examining school reform and fundamental change, it is necessary to take into account the complexity of the border region as it relates to public education, educators, communities, and children living and learning within the borderlands. Therefore, the conceptual model proposed here is to be used as a heuristic tool that can help in the design and implementation of more effective instructional practices for transnational education. When these three vertices are congruent with the strengths and needs of the children being served, there is greater likelihood of student success in the border region.


By necessity, border pedagogy will need to seek curriculum and instructional practices that will result in bilingual and bicultural students. Monolingualism-the traditional outcome of public schooling in the U.S.-is simply not adequate to prepare students for the complexities of living and working in the borderlands (Fuentes 1997). Programs for students must incorporate the existing realities of both sides of the border, to include the natural bilingual and bicultural context that is inherent to the borderlands.

Students in the border region bring to the school a rich personal history, which includes bilingualism, biculturalism, socio-economic background, family stories, learning styles, strengths, challenges, and cultural perspectives. Within the traditional U.S. educational system, the curriculum has been designed to mass educate a fairly homogeneous group of students who fit a delimited student profile--usually middle class, white, English speaking, with linguistic and/or mathematical strengths (Gay 1994; Necochea & Cline 1993). Schools in the border region need to modify and change the curriculum to take into account the diversity of students who are in their classrooms, thus benefiting from their upbringing as bilingual/bicultural learners. For those who are monolingual when they enter school, then their schooling experience in the borderlands should give them an opportunity to become functional bicultural and bilingual adults.

In the border region, the curriculum needs to be tailored to take the values, norms, belief systems, and traditions of both areas into account. A borderlands curriculum must capitalize on the strengths of both cultures, using corridos as well as traditional poems, dichos in Spanish as well as traditional nursery rhymes. The folktales, legends, myths, and fables from both countries would form an integral part of the literacy program. A borderland curriculum should include literature selections that reflect the bilingualism and biculturalism of students. In the case of literacy, parents would be encouraged to tell their children stories and to keep up the oral tradition-thus, providing students with different paths to literacy, not just the "one best way" often advocated in U.S. schools.

In terms of language, in the Tijuana/San Diego border region, there would also be an emphasis on the use of Spanish and English in classroom instruction, reflecting the reality of the social context and lived experiences of students. However, the barriers to overcome are substantial, especially since there is a strong majority sentiment against the perceived growth of "foreigners," often targeting Spanish speaking immigrants, driven by the fear of the "browning" of California. Reflecting this sentiment, González (200) states:

Nothing seems to inflame advocates of our nation's Anglo-Saxon traditions so much as the issue of language. Since people's culture-its music, literature, and customs-is inevitably expressed through its language, growth of "foreign" language use somehow implied the growth of foreign cultures (González 2000, p. XIII).

In spite of this political rhetoric, the use of Spanish and English instruction in the borderlands is axiomatic: validating the language and culture of many of the students; requiring all students to learn a second language for future economic success; and improving intercultural exchanges and mutual understanding. Although bilingualism and biculturalism will likely result in improved schooling in the borderlands, there is a need to overcome the hysteria and perceived threat of Spanish. Again, González (2000) states:

Unfortunately, most of the debate around language has centered on the "threat" of bilingualism, even though, according to virtually all studies, most Latinos believe that mastery of English is critical for their progress in this country. They believe it so fervently that 75 percent of Hispanic immigrants are speaking English on a daily basis by the time they have lived in the United States for fifteen years, and 70 percent of the children of those immigrants become dominant in or only speak English (González 2000, p. 224).

Contrary to this sentiment, an effective curriculum needs to take into account that most of the students in the schools today will be the citizens of tomorrow and, therefore, need to be educated in a way that is compatible with the increasing interdependency between the two nations which demands bilingualism, as well as a deeper understanding of each others cultures. The mutual gain for both countries can be unprecedented if the curriculum reflects the reality of the borderlands bicultural and bilingual experience.

Instructional Practices

When defining successful border pedagogy, it is necessary to ensure that instructional practices incorporate the strengths of both cultures. In contrast to the competitive nature of most schools, border pedagogy needs to strike a balance with more collaborative and group instructional strategies that reflect the more collectivist nature of a border society. Instructional practices that are conducive for a diverse student population to be successful should be less competitive, minimize "paper-pencil/sit-and-get" learning strategies, reduce teacher as "sage-on-the stage" approaches, and decrease standardization of instructional processes. The standardization movement is particularly detrimental for the borderlands for it seeks to homogenize diversity by providing uniformity in schooling. Moreover, it is possible that the standardization movement in public schools is influenced by the uneasiness over differences and diversity in the United States, viewed by some as a threat to our way of life. Lomawaima & McCarty (2002) reflect this ambivalence, thus:

We argue for diversity-not standardization-as a foundational value for a just multicultural democracy, but diversity is feared by some as a threat to the nation's integrity. . . . Federal control illustrate the profound national ambivalence toward diversity but also the potential to nourish "places of difference" within a healthy democracy (p. 279).

The borderlands, accordingly, must be places of differences where diversity is allowed to flourish and success is defined in many different ways. Borderland instructional practices should take into account the bicultural nature of the classroom by focusing on group dynamics and social interactions, thus increasing the likelihood of cross-cultural understandings that will mirror the work place of the future. Classrooms cannot standardize the current inequities that are reflected in the status quo, especially in the borderlands, but need to provide a place where diverse communities have an opportunity to learn according to their innate potential by developing more compatible instructional practices that build on the "gifts" that children bring to the school.

The incorporation of practices which include cooperative learning groups, the use of visuals and manipulatives, hands-on activities, experiential learning, interactive journals, primary language support, and learning styles helps foster high standards of achievement while maintaining a more just and caring educational system for borderland students. The interactive nature of these instructional practices are more likely to result in learning experiences that will build bilingual/bicultural understandings among the students.

In the case of assessment, it is advantageous for border educators to implement holistic practices that provide a more complete picture of student performance, to include authentic assessment, portfolios, and demonstrations. Additionally, incorporating the use of rubrics or criterion-referenced tests to measure learning will offer a more accurate record of student achievement. The over reliance on standardized testing is detrimental in a border region, due to serious reliability and validity issues as well as inappropriate use of the test results (i.e. retention decisions). This focus on high-stakes standardized testing has had deleterious unintended consequences by reducing curricular offerings, homogenizing instruction, centralizing decision-making, increasing student failure in multicultural communities, and reducing post-secondary educational opportunities for diverse students. Alluding to the effects of high-stakes testing and the standardization movement, McNeil (2002) notes:

These perverse effects of high-stakes testing are now well known and widely discussed by teachers, parents, students, and a growing number of policymakers.

Though perhaps not an intended effect, the dominance of high-stakes standardized testing shifts the locus of control of school policies and practices away from teachers, parents, and communities and into an expert domain whose vocabulary is far removed from the community (p. 244).

In this respect, those who are currently pushing for high-stakes testing and standardization do not speak the language of border pedagogy and, therefore, will likely take borderland schools in a detrimental direction in the name of school reform, student academic success, and increased opportunities-ironically achieving results that will ill-prepare students for living in the border region.

In many settings, the pressures to produce higher test scores has increased monolingualism as low-performing districts implement a standardized curriculum in an effort (often futile) to raise achievement rather than develop practices that meet the social, cultural, and language needs of diverse students. Authentic assessment strategies, on the other hand, can provide border educators with a better mechanism to maintain high academic standards without sacrificing the bicultural instructional practices needed for the borderlands.

Knowledge Base

Successful borderland teachers need to have a solid knowledge base upon which to build a bicultural curriculum and make instructional modifications. It is important for teachers educating borderland students to understand the school systems, the academic expectations, and the cultural norms of both countries in order to be successful with a diverse group of students. Teacher preparation or in-service programs need to include information of the historical context of the regions, the cultural values and norms of the students, and other dimensions of border life to be truly effective.

Teachers in the borderlands, therefore, need to understand the embedded nature of education to the larger social context, which includes immigration, trade, tourism, and industrial development. This knowledge base can then be incorporated in the design and development of curriculum and instructional practices in border schools. For the most part, the preparation of teachers on both sides of the border has been insufficient to address the curricular and pedagogical requirements to meet the needs of students in border regions. Therefore, effective border pedagogy needs a professional development component that seeks to prepare teachers in addressing the complex and multivariate dimensions of teaching in the borderlands, especially if educational opportunities are going to continue to be the foundation of our democratic ideals. Border pedagogy can borrow the ideas of Lomawaima and McCarty (2002) that link democracy and diversity:

Critical democracy demands that the United States be a nation of educational opportunity for all, not merely a homogenizing and standardizing machine, unable to draw strength from diversity. We conceive of more than a benignly neutral diversity that "celebrates" cultural differences while muting ideological forces that privilege certain differences and marginalize others. Rather, diversity embodies the heart and soul of promise, of opportunities, of what might be, for a socially just and fully democratic nation (p. 281).

A link such as this one calls for mutual respect and understanding of the various ideological differences and ways of knowing that should permeate borderland education. For example, are literacy strategies in both schools comparable or different and how would you accommodate students who are instructed or learn in a different way? Do both educational systems use the same strategies to teach math concepts? What are the expectations for parental involvement in both regions? What are the academic expectations for students at different levels of education? Educators must have a broad knowledge base of how the school systems are the same and different in order to prepare students to successfully navigate borderland experiences.

Additionally, understanding both governing structures will allow teachers to leverage the differences on behalf of students by becoming strong advocates of border pedagogy. School structures, such as the instructional strategies, curriculum, standards, assessment procedures, grading approaches, age-level grouping, scheduling of classes, and other organizational routines that define "how business is done here," have a tremendous impact on student success. The more teachers understand how the systems work and operate the better prepared they will be to help students navigate the varying processes they will encounter.

This conceptual model for border pedagogy could enable public education to affirm diversity by incorporating the social and academic needs of borderland students into the curriculum, instructional practices and knowledge base of teachers to ensure more appropriate schooling for this dynamic and increasingly interdependent region. The diversity of borderlands people should form the foundation of the curriculum, instructional practices, and knowledge base that constitute border pedagogy.


Border pedagogy should be in the heart and minds of educators who teach in the borderlands. Inevitably, educators respond to the political and social realities of society, thus serving as the cultural bearers of the norms, values, and beliefs that are expected in schools. As such, an effective border pedagogy initiative must also incorporate an effort to influence researchers and policy-makers to apply resources to the issues that arise, rather than create school systems that respond to pre-ordained and prescribed curriculum and methods of instruction. In the recent school reform agenda in California, unfortunately, the focus has been grossly misplaced on top-down transformations that have left teachers and communities out of the decision making process, as Nelson so aptly states (2002),

Controlling forces from above dictate what should take place in classrooms, what teachers should teach, how they should teach it, and what students ought to know in order to be deemed successful. This heavy-handed, top-down, controlling approach to schooling is in direct contrast with the very experience of becoming an educated person. Education is and should be liberating. Education is about inquiry, discovery, exploration, wonder, imagination, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and adventure. What we see today are school systems based on coercion and obedience, mistrust and punishment. The organizational management of schools has become increasingly centralized and intent on furthering an agenda that has more to do with standardization than with liberal education (Nelson, pg. 4)

The top-down reform agenda will not lead to the fundamental change needed at the border region, for the Tijuana/San Diego borderland presents some unique challenges to area schools to develop and design programs that reflect the bicultural experiences of students. Indeed, border pedagogy must be teacher driven, in a way that is uniquely contextualized to the borderland setting. Continuing the status quo ignores the lived experiences of students and the tremendous transborder influences, which will likely contribute to the mismatch between the educational reform mandates and the requirements of border pedagogy. This conceptual model has the potential of engaging educators in the type of fundamental change that could help transform public schooling in the borderlands towards a more just and caring learning experience.

These transformations require greater autonomy for both schools and teachers to design and implement instructional practices and structures that are distinctly suited for the students in the borderlands. This approach is not a "one size fits all" model, but is highly dependent upon the context and the needs of the students in that setting. Consequently, variety and differences of approaches should be the norm, with students in schools closest to the border demanding different and highly contextualized instructional programs that address their unique needs.

In this regard, California and other states near the border must question their tendency towards centralization, with curriculum and instructional approaches decided at the state capitol by legislators and policy-makers who might not have a keen understanding of transnational educational issues (McNiel 2002). These transformations necessitate a decentralization of decision-making, from the central government to the local schools, with those who must implement border pedagogy deciding on a daily basis the curriculum, instructional practices and knowledge base needed. Of course, local schools must recognize that autonomy is accompanied by responsibility to educate all students to high levels of achievement. Certainly, successfully educating transnational children will demand a different kind of schooling experience-a pedagogy for the border anchored in the lived bicultural experiences of bicultural students.

The conceptual model suggested here can lead to fundamental change in border pedagogy if the time, space, and resources for teachers and schools to develop, design, and implement the type of programs that are needed for this complex borderland region are provided. An effective border pedagogy initiative must incorporate a concerted effort to influence schools to develop curriculum, instructional practices, and the knowledge base that could lead to more appropriate instruction for the borderlands. In order for this initiative to make inroads, researchers, educators, and policy-makers must create the conditions for creativity, risk-taking, and experimentation on border pedagogy issues. Indeed, this can be a long and arduous road, a path fraught with pitfalls and challenges, however every journey begins with the first step.


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February 16, 2015