BORDERS: WALLS OR BRIDGES?
TEACHING THE US-MEXICO BORDER, Part 1
I am a shameless promoter of Rethinking Schools, the organization itself, its publications, and especially its advocacy for social justice as a central component of what we teach, not as an add-on or special project.
That’s what makes The Line Between Us such a valuable resource for making the US border with Mexico not a political slogan of fear and exclusion, but a dynamic feature of our country’s history and a signifier of opportunities for asymmetrical conflicts or cross-national peace.
For teachers spending part of their summer preparing lessons in history, literature, world studies and cultures for their fall courses during this volatile and (in some cases) anti-immigrant election cycle, I urge you to grab a copy of this book.
The Line Between Us does not shy away from controversy. The volume, authored by social studies educator Bill Bigelow, brings together historical sources, personal narratives, poetry, photographs and policy documents for “teaching about the Border and Mexican Immigration.” Unlike textbooks that sanitize the effects of colonization or simplify “history” through a single lens, The Line Between Us gives students ways to listen to, to think about, and to ask smart questions about this contested, emotionally and politically charged area.
All of Rethinking Schools publications – its journals and especially its curriculum publications, are respectful of teachers’ knowledge and of teachers’ role in engaging students in meaningful thought based on multiple credible and intellectually rich sources of information.
Today’s headlines carry stories of “illegal aliens” crossing the Rio Grande River by night, or hidden in freight trucks coming through border check points, the “invasion” coming up from south of “the border.” The Line Between Us shows that current “border” to be historically constructed, specifically constructed in the 19th century by “invaders” coming not from the south, but from the north and east – Americans under US President Polk using military force, as well as economic pressure, to add a huge section of Mexico (yes, a section of the nation of Mexico) to US territory. (Imagine if Canada decided it wanted Microsoft and Seattle, so it sent the Mounties to take Washington state!)
I can only imagine how shocked many of our students will be to see the book's maps that show the Mexico of 1830 and the much smaller Mexico of today after the original “border” was violated and moved to its present configuration along the Rio Grande. The accompanying historical analysis explains how thousands of miles of border was shifted, dramatically altering two nations and their futures. Rethinking our mental borders of territory, of “the other,” of histories as constructed and chosen and resisted, makes The Line Between Us uniquely valuable for studying the US border with Mexico and for giving us a framework for examining the choices and forces behind other “facts” in our history books and in our politicians’ claims.
My next posts will highlight several of the activities the authors have developed to engage students in seeing the border through the eyes of those who have enacted the policies that govern it and those who live with the consequences of those policies.
If you are one of the hundreds of teachers whose teaching of the US-Mexico border has been informed by The Line Between Us, I hope you’ll share your experiences – and your those of your students – in the Comments section here.