works with indigenous educators
of Education Associate Professor Lois Meyer frequents the dirt
roads of Oaxaca, Mexico, to learn the needs of teachers working
to implement Spanish-indigenous, bilingual education in schools.
lead to the border and the poverty-plagued state exports more
field hands to the north than any other in Mexico.
teachers would like to transform the schooling experience of
their communities. If Im going to collaborate with teachers,
then I must know in a profound way the communities where they
work and the challenges that they face, says Meyer, principal
investigator for a two-year project titled, Tequio Pedagogico:
Pedagogical Collaboration in the Community, funded by
the Spencer Foundation with a two-year $50,000 grant. Tequio
is the name given the expectation that indigenous Oaxacans work
together to strengthen their own communities.
is the most diverse state in Mexico with 16 ethnic groups and
more than 50 variants of indigenous languages. The few books
available in the classrooms are Spanish language, government
issued textbooks. The 24 teacher/researchers participating in
the Spencer project are members of the Coalition of Indigenous
Teachers and Promoters of Oaxaca (CMPIO). They represent nine
languages, six preschools and three primary schools throughout
the southeastern state.
linguist, Meyer is the only U.S. academic mentor working on
the project, which builds on her work as Fulbright scholar in
Oaxaca in 1999-00 and is part of a broad educational,
bi-literacy effort by the CMPIO called the Pedagogical Movement.
as a young girl to inequalities in Latin America, Meyer lived
in the Panama Canal Zone at the height of U.S. colonialism,
she recalls. As an adult, for six years, she worked in Mexico
City for an elite international school. She has spent the last
20 years working with bilingual education in inner city California.
a tenured, full professor position at San Francisco State University
nearly two years ago for UNM after the long, hard and unsuccessful
fight she and others waged against Proposition 227, Californias
anti-bilingual education legislation. The role schooling
plays in the loss or destruction of immigrant and indigenous
languages and cultures is a volatile educational issue in both
Mexico and the U.S., she notes.
the intent of the Spencer project is to increase the meaningfulness
and cultural and linguistic appropriateness of schooling, literacy
and completion rates of Oaxacan children, Meyer said.
Our goal is to achieve these outcomes by democratizing
educational practice in indigenous communities in the most fundamental
sense, that is, by grounding the forms and teaching strategies
of schools in the knowledge, values and aspirations of the parents
and members of these communities.
she is careful to take the role of collaborator rather than
I see myself as an advocate, as contributing the perspective
of a colleague from the U.S., she says. And I struggle
with an enormous dilemma how do I use my experience and
preparation to guide the project while also learning from the
Oaxacan teachers? She cites an example from her year as
a Fulbright researcher. Recognizing the lack of indigenous learning
materials, Meyer guided the teachers to make from books from
scratch for their classrooms reflective of their cultures in
their own languages.
for a regional event attended by indigenous parents, ten
teachers committed to their own native language, Ombeyuits,
created a book in Spanish! Meyer recalls. I had
to think, what questions might I pose so they could step back,
reflect on the parents language proficiency and rethink
their choice of language for the book?
their dialogue with Meyer, the teachers acknowledged that literacy
in their communities varied, some had lost indigenous languages
and others are monolingual in Ombeyuits. In the end, the group
collaborated on a book in Spanish and Ombeyuits and awkwardly,
but proudly, practiced reading the indigenous language portions
aloud before the parent meeting.
she would like several of New Mexicos Native American
educators to accompany her on the next trip to Oaxaca June 6-8
for a meeting of the coalitions statewide congress at
which Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú will speak.
numerous benefits of the Spencer project, among them, facilitating
better communication between teachers and community members
about schooling and language and culture loss. The Oaxacan
discoveries may prove important for other communities in Mexico
and beyond that are facing cultural and linguistic extinction,
Meyer says. She adds that there are many parallels between Oaxaca
and New Mexico both are rich with indigenous histories
and are experiencing present day struggles to retain and value
native languages and cultures.
new to New Mexico, she says she is a careful learner
and voices concern about the impact of new national testing
standards and the education motto of the Bush administration
to leave no child behind.
that means is the child is not being left behind from the homogenous
goals of U.S. schooling as long as he or she leaves the family
culture and language behind, she says. We need to
take seriously that language is a central part of the childs
identity. Suppressing language is an abuse of the childs
human rights and the communitys autonomy and integrity.