An educational formula : critical border education that transcends social and linguistic barriers




Villarreal, Elizabeth

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Student academic achievement is a collective effort of family, community, and school experience (Sloat, Makkonen, & Koehler, 2007). However the biggest burden is placed on teachers who are assumed and expected to possess the skills, knowledge, caring, and commitment to students often without the appropriate support, resources and professional development. With a focus on teacher development this work will listen to the voices of eight veteran educators from the Texas-Mexico border region and trace the steps in their formation and critical understandings of themselves and their professions to better diagnose students’ academic needs.

The site of my study is in the southern-most part of the U.S.-Mexico border known as the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas (RGV). This dynamic region of our country was occupied by immigrant settlers in the middle 1700s and has seen much socio-political and cultural change throughout the years. Nucleus to the “browning of America” (Rodriguez, 2002), the demographic shift toward more ethnic/racial diversity, and in particular the ascent of Latinos as the largest minority in the country, the Border and its teachers provide key insights regarding effective ways to educate Latino children because they have served this community the longest.

This study is a synthesis of historical sociology and cultural anthropology inquiries based on applied research method of interviews with Border educators. It includes: ethnographic and historical data, and testimonios, or critically documented histories, that address views on educational reform intended to foster academic success among Latino students.

Latinos have become the nation’s largest majority at 16.3% of the population. The growth trend is also evident in Texas with a 37.6% and 90.4% for the RGV (Census, 2010). The correlation between poverty and educational attainment places this population at a significant disadvantage in the nation as well as in the RGV. Some observers have expressed concern that Latinos will represent the majority of the population by 2040 as the “poorer, less educated, and productive” (Jillson, 2012, p. xiii). My work challenges this conceptual relationship between poverty and school failure by focusing on a region where the student body has historically been predominantly Latino and economically disadvantaged with a 32.6% poverty rate compared to a national figure of 11.3% (Census, 2010).

My findings on the epistemic value of identity demonstrated through my Spotlight Identity (SI) framework, support the notion that aligning students with teachers of similar experiential and cultural backgrounds positively impacts academic achievement and that, generally speaking, these affinities improve relations with families and allow for teachers to better understand the academic and personal challenges that the students are facing. My constructivist analysis suggests that academic success can be achieved, regardless of economic impediments when communities, schools, educators, and families work collaboratively with a child-centered approach. For participants in the study, barriers such as low socioeconomic (SES) were not seen as germane to student academic success when all the elements in their “educational equation” were in place. Academic success—construed by participants as significant student yearly progress, meeting grade level requirements, and high school completion—can be achieved, regardless of social and economic factors, when communities, schools, educators, and families work together through child-centered efforts and mediated through “critical bicultural education” (Darder, 1991).



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