EDUCATION ON THE BORDER: The myths and realities of teaching on "La nueva frontera"
Alice Quiocho, Maria Luiza Dantas, Dennis Masur, Lorri J. Halcón, y Carlos von Son.
The First Border Pedagogy Conference: Identifying the Myths
The first Border Pedagogy Conference held in 2001 at California State University San Marcos, was an attempt to bring educators together for dialogue, as reported by Necochea and Cline (2002),
Indeed, this initiative has provided a forum for participants to have deep conversations and dialogue on border pedagogy issues, such as the role of language and culture in education, successful biliteracy programs, differences in educational systems, dispelling myths and stereotypes about each other, and many other related issues pertaining to teaching the same kids that "go back and forth" between the two borders. These discussions, in turn, will help inform policy makers and educators as guidance is offered on how best to educate a diverse student population in the borderlands. The next steps in the process are already being formed. (Necochea & Cline 2002, p. 1)
At this conference between educators from Mexico and the U.S., three salient themes emerged as participants discussed the myths and realities surrounding education in the borderlands:
? Language maintenance creates problems for children.
? Everyone has access to a quality education.
? Latino parents do not care about education.
As border educators, we participated in these conferences and discussions and identified with the sentiments of participants who were expressing their ideas based on the experiences they have had as teachers. The following discussion elaborates on their comments and our own understanding of common problems we share in education.
Language maintenance creates problems for children
A popular myth among American educators is that maintaining the primary language of bicultural children will hamper or impede their acquisition of English, school achievement, and later economic success.
Educators on both sides of the border agree that maintaining the primary language does not create a hardship for students along the border region, and is in fact advantageous for them. Maintaining both languages fosters cultural connections, school success, and later economic success. It is oftentimes the attitudes and perceptions of educators that create problems in response to the influx of immigrants profoundly affecting their classrooms. These perceptions give rise to negative, yet popular, misconceptions that exacerbate the situation for these students. As participants shared:
No siempre es el idioma, a veces es el ambiente.
(It is not always the language, sometimes it is the environment)
Bloquean el español por trauma.
(They [the teachers] block their Spanish and create trauma.)
The environment created in some American schools is not always friendly to second language learners, nor is speaking a second language valued. Indeed, too teachers are many times heard to remark, "They are in America now and need to speak English," and there are many programs implemented that have an "English-only" focus. One participant shared the following observation:
En los E.U. se averguenza de hablar español.
(In the United States, the students are embarrassed to speak Spanish.)
As bilingual educators, we know that students who are given an opportunity to maintain their primary language do much better in schools and are better prepared to enter into the mainstream of American life, where it is becoming more and more important to be bilingual and bicultural (Crawford, 1999). Indeed, many middle-class Americans are now supporting dual immersion programs and demanding that their children become biliterate by the end of elementary school, lending credence to the realization that reading, writing, and speaking a second language is advantageous, at least for their children. Shouldn't this advantage be extended to all children?
One issue that educators must grapple with is, "How do we best educate students who do not speak the language used in the schools?" (Halcón, 2001). Many from the Tijuana delegation were actually somewhat hostile toward the American school system for passing Proposition 227, the "English for the Children" Initiative of 1998, which was intended to eradicate bilingualism from California schools. Discussing politics at length, participants ultimately acknowledged that they are a force to reckon with when educating Spanish-speaking and immigrant children. Oftentimes political issues intervene to obstruct a child's education. It was noted that political obstacles existed on both side of the border. It was also recognized that no one side had a monopoly on such obstacles.