pix4How you perceive our neighbor to the south can affect how you unconsciously treat your Mexican American students. What are your perceptions? Do you perceive Mexico as a third world country?

Let’s take a look at that phrase “third world”. The phrase was first used during the Cold War in the 1960s and 70s to designate who was aligned with the Un

ited States. Countries said to be aligned with the Soviet Union were given “second world” status and non-aligned countries were called “third world”. The terms didn’t make sense right from the beginning but even less so now that the Soviet Union no longer exists.

In popular vernacular, “third world” has become synonymous with “undeveloped”. But it may surprise you to learn that Mexico is rated as “recently developed” by many and “highly developed” by the Human Development Index.

Yes, some of your students’ families may come from towns that fit your image of neglected border towns with little sanitation facilities, let alone schools. However, others may just as well come from posh districts that rival the wealthiest U.S. neighborhoods and educational institutions. Assumptions about your Mexican American students’ backgrounds and, therefore, their academic abilities and skills can be dangerously misguided.

So, too, common misconceptions about Mexico as a lawless “wild west” may create biases toward your students. Yes, there is corruption in Mexico that Mexican citizens are very concerned about, but it may surprise you to learn that Mexico is ranked close to Brazil, Argentina and even Italy when it comes to corruption. Most of us need to update our images of Mexico to include the fact that it is now a democracy supported by a rising middle class, with a viable Supreme Court and a three-party legislature that is said to work more cooperatively than our own Congress on their ambitious global economic agenda.

Updating and contextualizing knowledge of our students’ home countries can help us examine unconscious biases and bring us closer to our true desire to treat all our students with the dignity and respect they deserve.

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