There has long been discussion about challenging educational practices which entrench and normalize harmful social phenomena like Eurocentrism, classism and racism however, many feel that promoting positive change has been an uphill battle. Many community members have felt that the educational system has been unable to demonstrate an ability to incorporate a multitude of perspectives when establishing priorities and protocols for schools in the Denver Metro area.

The recent influx of migrants into the Denver Metro area might provide the impetus and opportunity for educational practices to be rethought in ways that would improve the school experience. Although addressing community needs in light of this dynamic will present significant challenges, some community members believe meeting the demands of this moment will provide an opportunity for the public schools to improve in meaningful and permanent ways.

Reframing the Discussion

Much of the discussion regarding the newcomers to the city revolves around what migrants need, and therefore tends to focus on what they lack. Focusing on what migrants bring with them to their new homes highlights how the presence of these new residents can positively impact the metro area. As one DPS alum whose grandfather had immigrated to the country put it, “even in my mind, I’m looking at them like they’re coming here with nothing but they’re not coming with nothing. They’re people. I know even from my grandfather, he was a teacher, he had a master’s degree in mathematics but when he came he worked in a factory predominantly using his hands, he didn’t become an engineer or something like that. That always rattles my mind. Just because you’re not born here, you have to be blue collar.”

Particularly intriguing was the way community members thought an influx of international students could allow for added complexity regarding how we approach abstract concepts like democracy, citizenship, and cosmopolitanism in the educational system. If students are frequently in contact with peers who have ties and experiences elsewhere, perhaps they will grow to understand themselves as a part of an enlarged global community. As one former educator, who is an immigrant herself put it, “I think schools will benefit from the perspective immigrants bring from all over the world because democracy is lived differently depending on where you are so it adds to the concept of democracy that we already have and I think school has the opportunity to enhance the democratic concepts we already have to make it more inclusive.” Another person echoed that statement noting that an increase in diversity, particularly an increase in international perspectives would enhance students’ ability to understand that dominant domestic political and social practices are not necessarily highly prevalent throughout the world and are definitely not the only way of doing things. He noted, for instance, that students could benefit from learning that “the way we do things here is not the only way to do things. There are a lot of ways to do life and multiple ways of doing democracy.”

Not only might the recent increase in migrants provide insight into alternative views of political and social life, it might also invigorate the ongoing effort to dismantle elements of the school system which obfuscate or tacitly promote perspectives which endorse colonialism and other forms of oppression. One educator noted that this moment provides the opportunity for academic spaces to facilitate conversations which are grounded in the actual experiences of those in the classroom. She noted that the opportunity to conduct this type of dialogue with students is particularly important regarding experiences of oppression. She suggested that this moment provides the opportunity for communities in the metro area to “engage in the conversation about what colonialism has done and continues to do in our school systems, so that schools can engage in that conversation with all the immigrants and migrants that come to the United States and give them the chance to dig deeper into the internalized oppression we carry with us because we encounter colonialism especially in education.”

Curriculum

Also, the influx of students who are not from the United States will result in an increase in the number of students who don’t speak English as their first or only language. Many community members welcome this tension because it can help reorient the way we think about linguistic diversity in K-12 education more generally. One community member noted that Americans are particularly regressed in relation to the rest of the world in terms of language adoption. Many Americans only speak one language, and perhaps more importantly, many Americans do not consider learning multiple languages a basic aspect of becoming educated.

“It makes me think a lot about other educational systems and how dual language learners or bilingualness is such a globally accepted normal high standard of education. It’s a high value. Yet and still in the United States, in our educational system, it is not something we have integrated fully. Even as much ESL stuff as we’ve done, we’re not a bilingual country, and so how do we change the culture that historically has been the United States educational system… How do we shift those very European-centric aspects of that? It makes me think of that, so how do we shift towards bilingualism being the standard, not the option? What we’re seeing right now is a lot of bilingual programs being gentrified because of the way they are being accessed, the way that they are being offered, where they are being placed and what school districts or what schools or what neighborhoods of affluence. So that makes me wonder how do we make more of the global standard of education ours and that does include much more diversity, linguistically and otherwise.”

Not only might having the ability to speak multiple languages put American students on par with their peers from other countries, it may also pay dividends in terms of their intellectual development. One educator noted that she often sees an increased aptitude for creative ways of proving points and argumentation when working with students who speak multiple languages. She suggests that we leave a lot on the table in terms of developing critical thinking skills when we do not prioritize learning multiple languages. As she noted, “education as a whole misses out on the power of being bilingual and what it does for thinking and critical thinking.”

She went on to note that shifting towards a curriculum with an increased focus on learning languages can help mitigate the harm experienced by being divorced from one’s native tongue. Privileging English, she said, not only limits opportunities to experience the benefits of learning multiple languages, but it also can serve as a coded means to denigrate other languages and the speakers of those languages. Another community member, who is the child of Spanish-speaking immigrants, noted that she feels that ‘no sabo kids’ were often harmfully divorced from their linguistic heritage. ‘No Sabo kids’ have recently been a topic of conversation as they represent a cohort of kids who were not taught to speak Spanish largely due to the notion that teaching children Spanish would reduce their opportunities for career success and social acceptance later in life. The inability to communicate with other Spanish speakers can lead to a sense of overall estrangement from the Spanish-speaking community. This, in turn, can cause a sort of crisis in identity. But some of this could be avoided, she thinks, if parents didn’t see learning Spanish as an impediment to doing well in school or being accepted into the broader community.

Moreover, many community members suggested that the gravity of this moment may allow for a deeper overhaul of the curriculum in school. As one parent of a student in the metro area noted, “We just haven’t restructured since its [the curriculum] inception. This has been the thing. This is what has been done and so, therefore, we are still doing. It needs to change. It definitely needs to change.” She had recently worked on a state task force which develops recommendations meant to help integrate work-based learning opportunities with high-school and college programs.

Several other community members noted that migrants may be interested in pursuing adjustments to the curriculum that would result in schools being more focused on professional preparedness. Many noted that this desire was aimed at both blue and white collar work. However, there were a variety of different perspectives regarding whether or not most migrant families wanted their children to pursue higher education or forgo additional schooling in service of obtaining additional income. Interestingly, many community members who were first or second generation noted that these conflicting demands regarding education had deeply shaped their relationship to school.

What Now?

Fundamentally, many community members hoped that the current migrant situation might allow for the educational system in the metro area to address long-standing areas of concern at a more foundational level. It seems, at the core of this proposition, was the idea that an influx of new and foreign students might finally force the educational system to move beyond being a system that seems designed to foster success for only a fractional amount of the students.

As one DPS alum noted, “Being first generation myself I was the first to try the thing…I don’t like to say we have a broken educational system because the system was designed for a particular population, so it’s working just fine for them. They [recent migrants] need to learn you have a voice and you have a say.”

Opposing the values and practices that promote the tacit acceptance of things like Eurocentrism and classism, might be bolstered by the need to ensure that newly arrived migrants don’t find themselves ensnared in a system that feels unsupportive or hostile. Perhaps this situation provides the opportunity to change the school system so that it is more accommodating for all types of students. Such a desire, however, is not new and the arrival of the students in and of themselves does little to change the longstanding challenges that have stood in the way of such a significant change in the past.


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