THE BORDERS OF OUR MINDS: A REFLECTION ON THE BORDER PEDAGOGY INITIATIVE
Jennifer Jeffries, Ed.D.
This paper examines the potential that appreciative inquiry can have on developing a community of educators who can learn together how to resolve some of the complex social issues and concerns that are a part of the binational educational experience. During the Border Pedagogy Conferences, educators had an opportunity to enter into dialogues that were more than just collegial conversations, offering an opportunity to examine and explore the complexity of truly educating children who are neither from here or from there.
Este trabajo examina el potencial que una búsqueda con aprecio puede tener en el desarrollo de una comunidad de pedagogos dispuestos a resolver algunos de los problemas sociales y preocupantes que forman parte de la experiencia pedagógica binacional. Durante los Congresos de Pedagogía Fronteriza, los pedagogos tuvieron la oportunidad de sostener diálogos que fueron más que conversaciones colegiadas, y ofrecieron la oportunidad para examinar y explorar la complejidad de cómo educar mejor a niños(as) que no son de aquí ni son de allá.
There has been conversation galore about "the border problem." Politicians have used the topic to further their political fortunes. Unemployed Americans have used it to vent their spleen in the midst of their own desperation. Church leaders have used it to illustrate religious principles. Academics have used it as the backdrop to intellectual inquiries. Teachers have used it to explain why their work gets more difficult each year.
If ignored, the years of mutual sniping will take such deep root that the children in the border regions-American, Mexican and all those traveling from points south-will be negatively impacted for years to come by the interactions of adults who are caught up in the geo-political and economic battles that are characteristic of border regions. In the interest of children, educational leaders within the border region need to pursue new ways of engaging issues that affect parents and children on both sides of the border. Interrupting the negative and false images and stereotypes carried in the hearts and minds of those north and south of the border is essential in order to protect the best interests of bicultural children.
The Border Pedagogy Initiative is a new and hopeful intentional effort to interrupt the past ways of thinking about the border region. The creators of the Initiative have designed a container in which a rich caldo of conversation can take place on behalf of the thousands of students who are educated in the border regions and beyond. This "container" provides a "safe zone" in which educators and community leaders from the border regions can gather and exchange ideas that can advance the thinking and actions of adults involved in the education of children. This advancement will hopefully take the form of reducing the damaging myths, stereotypes and actions that dog the interactions among and between individuals from the U.S. and Mexico border regions.
Heifetz (1999) describes this container as a "holding environment." He suggests that a key leadership task is to shape a process in which a topic of great importance-one fraught with volatility-can be tackled by those who wish to engage in the process of change. In order for the process of change to be successful, leaders must take care to provide emotional, physical and intellectual safety so that the hard questions can be asked and discussed without participants feeling that they are in the bull's eye of the rhetorical arrows.. The Border Pedagogy Initiative is a prime example of a "holding environment," that allows individuals to come together and discuss issues of great importance for the border region.
Another leadership task is to shape what takes place in the "holding environment." Sergiovanni (1992) challenges leaders to discern the difference between congeniality and collegiality. A culture of congeniality is characterized by friendly, polite interactions. In its best form it provides a highly interpersonal environment and, in its worst form, produces a "happy face" environment in which little but chismes takes place. Many educational organizations are highly congenial, but have not matured into a state of collegiality. Congenial cultures have little stomach for the hard work required to crack open the difficult questions looming over the work of the organization. Collegial cultures, on the other hand, are marked by engaged conversation around the shared work of those involved in a given effort. In this culture, ideas are challenged, background assumptions are uncovered, and new ways of thinking and doing are identified and embraced. Congeniality is helpful to the effort, but it is not sufficient. It cannot do the heavy lifting of transformational change. Collegiality needs congeniality in order to rein in unfettered and rapid ideologues from overwhelming the discussion. However, it is within collegial cultures that the hard work gets done.
A successful holding environment allows for the presence and growth of both congeniality and collegiality. With so much hanging in the balance-the future of children's lives-the lion's share of the effort should go to building collegial relationships. The Border Pedagogy Initiative has, in its infancy, shown great promise on both fronts, for it provides a safe place for discussing the difficult issues.
The nurturing and sustaining of a collegial culture depends upon how the participants talk to each other. Senge, et al. (1994) propose a conversation continuum in order to conceptualize how talking can be transformed into powerful thinking.
The history of borderland exchanges has been rooted in "raw debate." Senge, et al. (1994) characterize this as, a complete advocacy on the part of each member engaged in conversation. Each member holds his/her position in conversation. Participants listen as a matter of strategy. There are winners and losers (p.386).
This "take no prisoners" approach does not have a place in the 21st century. Countries are too interdependent for any one entity to try to overwhelm the interests of others. It is short-term thinking, doomed to failure in our global village, since the ideals, goals, and values of other are not validated within the confines of raw debate.