George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Escuelas sin Fronteras

Edutopia’s senior fellow Milton Chen on building a better relationship with Latin American schools.

January 17, 2011

What does this title mean? Put it into Google Translate, or your favorite translation engine, and see. Technology is making it much easier for us to learn other languages.

A number of nations held "21st Century learning" conferences last fall, including South Korea, Qatar, and Mexico. In October, I attended one in Mexico City called CLASE 2010, (Leaders in Action for Education Summit), which brought together leading educators in Mexico, as well as more than 30 international experts, from Spain, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Finland, India, and Hong Kong.

The Many Benefits of Student Travel

In my presentations, I showed the Edutopia film on the International School of the Americas in San Antonio, headed by then-principal Shari Albright. ISA high school students participate in the Model UN, go on field trips to the local art museum, learn Spanish, and travel to Zacatecas and Mexico City to open their eyes and minds to our important neighbor to the south. Albright now leads the Gates Foundation-funded International Studies Schools Network of 25 high schools at the Asia Society, working with Tony Jackson.

The film shows teacher Kathy Bieser in the bus driver's seat, driving her students to a field trip, recounting how she and other teachers didn't let the cost of hiring a bus and a driver get in the way of transporting their students to other learning places in the community. In the accompanying article, Bieser told how of how her students' first trip abroad, to Mexico City, was also her own, even while the Mexican border was only 150 miles away. She quoted from a student's diary:

I looked out my window at the horizon, the parched ground, the dusty shrubs, and the overwhelming mountains. I thought about how totally hot it was and how it would really stink to be outside. Then it really hit me -- my family. This is where [my ancestors] were. In the 1800s [they] came to the United States -- that's all I know... They didn't have roads, they must have suffered in the heat, no food, no water, many must have died and I don't even know their names. They made this great sacrifice for me, they walked through the desert, they wanted a better life for their children and I don't even know their names.

Travel can be a powerful way of personalizing learning-and motivating future learning-for students.

What We Can Learn from Our Neighbor to the South

I also showed our Digital Generation multimedia portrait of Luis, a high school senior who teaches his parents to do their banking online and younger students about robotics. He's part of a 4-H Tech Wizards project to create a street tree inventory, a database used by his city of Cornelius, Oregon to monitor the variety and health of trees on city property. Luis and his fellow students use handheld devices to photograph and log the geographic coordinates of each tree. His parents emigrated from Mexico and Luis was the first in his family to go to college. I said he represented the type digital learner school systems in both the U. S. and Mexico should be producing.

I noted an odd divide between American and Mexican schools. For two nations that border each other and have a shared history, certainly in the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, American schools teach remarkably little about our neighbor to the South. American politicians who've sought to erect a high fence between our two nations haven't helped, when we should be overcoming the barriers between our educational systems.

I like to ask audiences of teachers and students in San Francisco: Where is the oldest building in our city? A few teachers and fewer students know the answer, with most believing it must have been built around the time of the 1849 Gold Rush. In fact, it was built in the Presidio-Spanish for "fort" -- not far from Lucasfilm's campus, in 1776 by Spanish explorers who came from Mexico. The site, now part of the Golden Gate National Parks, is the subject of an archaeological dig involving a number of historical societies and universities. American students know that year for the Revolutionary War and Declaration of Independence on the east coast, but few -- even those in California -- know of events during that period on the west coast.

In my talks, I called for greater educational exchange between U. S. and Latin American schools and creation of more International Schools of the Americas in the region. We should have many more Escuelas sin Fronteras, Schools Without Borders. Are you involved in teaching about Latin America in the U. S. or vice versa, teaching about the U. S. in Latin American nations? Does your work involve connecting students across borders online? Travel to other nations? I'd love to hear your experiences.

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