Pledging Allegiance: Learning Nationalism at the El Paso-Juárez Border

reviewed by Elaine Hampton - 2004

coverTitle: Pledging Allegiance: Learning Nationalism at the El Paso-Juárez Border
Author(s): Susan J. Rippberger, Kathleen A. Staudt, Carlos G. Velez-Ibanez
Publisher: Routledge/Falmer, New York
ISBN: 0415934915 , Pages: 208, Year: 2002
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Darder (1995) searches for “a true America—an America of multiple cultures, multiple histories, multiple regions, multiple realities, multiple identities, multiple ways of living, surviving and being human.” Pledging Allegiance assists in that search and takes it farther into the search for the America of multiple countries and multiple political realities. Rippberger and Staudt juxtapose the asymmetric border environment with a look at citizenship curricula, hidden and formal, to provide a unique and critical lens into differences and similarities in nationalistic values and pedagogies of power.


Pledging Allegiance’s focus on the bi-national border community forces the reader to question long-held beliefs of the superiority of one country’s social, political, or cultural system over another’s. It is an enjoyable read that could be a Sunday afternoon’s enjoyment or an interesting tool to enhance higher-education coursework in areas such as sociology, political science, educational leadership, multicultural education, and border studies. 


The El Paso-Ciudad Juárez community demonstrates oneness in society and culture as folks cross back and forth to visit family and friends, to go to school, to work, and to play. These natural and comfortable exchanges are sliced by the political reality of surveillance, guns, barbed wire, and long waits as border guards search personal possessions. These political barriers, and the history of violence, misunderstanding, and mistrust that built the barriers, explain some of the differences between the nations in the area of education about nationalistic values. The first chapter describes this border setting and the schools involved in the research. The authors frame the investigation with their “focus on underlying assumptions, contradictions, and new possibilities in education” (p. 11).


The second chapter examines the political history of the communities and shows how this history helped shape the educational philosophies that influence education. An example of the insightful description provided by Rippberger and Staudt is the information on how the two communities named their schools. The El Paso schools bear the names of well-known White men from local and state politics. The schools in Ciudad Juárez honor national heroes and events in their school names. The chapter provides a brief history of Mexican education and a simplified explanation of the complexities of political influence on Mexican education over the years.


Chapter Three describes patriotic ceremonies, national holiday celebrations, and the teaching of values in both countries. The chasm between the intent of the event and the students’ understanding becomes obvious and forces a critical perspective on institutionalized traditions and their ultimate worth. Often these romanticized patriotic endeavors mask a hidden curriculum of oppression and unquestioning obedience and loyalty. Examples of inclusive, democratic practices from both communities, though not the norm, do exist. In this, the book is a valuable tool for educators to instill a craving to build more of these “new possibilities in education.”


Chapter Four is an informative look at the dichotomy in civic cues about what is valued and rewarded in the two communities and why it is so culturally specific. Chapter Five delves into the differences in second language instruction in the two communities. A new relevance for pedagogical practices emerges through the rich description of the classroom context. The wealth of bilingual resources in both communities is evident, and the reader is left longing for regional collaboration to value and build on this wealth rather than the current state of ignorance and disregard.


Chapter Six examines the use of computer technology in the study sites. The university in Ciudad Juárez has technology and distance learning labs that rival those in the United States. Public schools are not as fortunate. The few schools with any computer technology may have one lab of used donated computers. The computers may or may not work, the programs in Spanish are limited, and the connections to the Internet are non-existent or not dependable.


Classroom computers were much more common in the El Paso schools, and the uses were varied. Some classrooms were research communities where students freely accessed the Internet to answer questions and pursue research and used interactive educational software. In other settings, the computers were nothing more than electronic drill sheets using rote learning in an attempt to prepare students for the high-stakes, short-answer Texas state test. The authors describe this use of technology as a subversion of experience-based learning. They show other uses and abuses of technology as related to civics education in both communities.


Civic education happens best through an experiential curriculum with engagement in the community and the development of critical thought to solve problems and question power structures. Through involvement in this kind of civic education, citizens become prepared and willing to engage responsibly in civic affairs. In this era of increased international activity, civic responsibility expands beyond the local community into the international community. The authors close the book with recommendations to direct the quality resources on both sides of the Rio Grande/ Río Bravo to provide civic education that “will move them beyond marketplace purposes and static notions of nationality to serve and challenge the public places of community, government, and civic society” (p. 144).




Darder, A. (1995). Buscando America: The Contribution of Critical Latino Educators to the Academic Development and Empowerment of Latino Students in the U.S.  In C.E. Sleeter and P.L. McLaren (Eds.).  Multicultural Education, Critical Pedagogy, and the Politics of Difference. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 5, 2004, p. 999-1001 ID Number: 11220, Date Accessed: 12/6/2021 6:59:08 PM

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