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.
There are many instances along the borderlands, unfortunately, where immigration disrupts the family, and, therefore, the children's education. This is due, in no small part, to long separation and stress due to lack of resources. One Conference participant explained:
La inmigración causa separación familiar y esto, a la vez, afecta a la educación.
(Immigration causes family separations and this, at times, affects education.)
Immigration into the U.S. can be viewed as a tremendous sacrifice that many Mexican families have had to endure, a temporary sacrifice to assure a better future. Once in the U.S., however, there are unforeseen conflicts which affect their children's education. At times these clashes of language and culture are severe-with Spanish and traditional Mexican culture colliding with English and middle-class lifestyle, especially in schools. The tendency to protect one's children is often misperceived as lack of Latino interest in education by the dominant group. One conference participant made this observation:
El problema además del idioma es la cultura de origen y el choque que se produce con los que interactúan.
(The problem besides language is the culture of origin and the clash that it produces when they interact.)
Conflicts arise when the interactions between administrators, teachers, parents, and children are based on varying expectations, belief systems, and behavioral norms. Educators need to be aware of these and serve as a bridge to welcome and mediate a family's entry into the school arena. Mainstream educators must be careful not to misinterpret silence and lack of involvement on the part of the parents as not caring, but as a different way of viewing their role in the educational process.
Indeed, this myth persists because of the definition of appropriate involvement and how it is manifested in the schools. Schools expect parents to be on the campus, volunteer in classrooms, be active in parent support groups and to raise funds. The mainstream perception of parental involvement often does not correspond with Latino parents' perceptions of their role in education. Latino parents place great importance on education and go through tremendous sacrifices in order to help their children have access to educational opportunities. Yet, these sacrifices are misunderstood. Until schools change their perceptions of these parents, this myth is destined to continue.
Caring and supporting their children in the home is the basis of parental involvement in the schools for Latino parents. For example, in the study cited above (Quiocho, in progress), school personnel were surprised to learn that 80% of barrio parents at an urban Community Center had purchased computers to help their children with their school work. This surprised many of the school personnel who had assumed that the parents did not support their children's education. According to parents in the same study, respect for la maestra meant not meddling into his/her classroom routines, clearly a contradiction to the norm.
Frequently language and cultural differences account for the persistence of myths. Because Latino parental participation in education is different than the mainstream, educators often mistake parents not getting involved in school activities in traditional ways as lack of interest, rather than a sign of respect, with potentially tragic consequences.