With the passage of the Secure Fence Act in 2006
calling for the construction of 700 miles of fence along the US-Mexico border, it seems like national boundaries are more real than ever. Yet some scholars have been arguing for a while that globalization has rendered national boundaries obsolete. From an economic perspective this is true, with many transnational corporations acting as essentially stateless entities. From a religious perspective this is also true, as Diana Eck
underscores in her book, A New Religious America
. Religion has indeed broken out of the box, making it seem weird to call Hinduism, Sikhism, or Buddhism “world” religions, since they are right here at home.
There are spiritual aspects to the boundary issues in the 21st century, as they deal intimately with our identities, our communities and our schools. Akhil Gupta, anthropologist at Stanford University
argued nearly two decades ago (1993) that we must recognize that cultures are no longer bound to geographic locations in our postmodern world. With cultures being in flux, our identities are in flux as well, especially for immigrant students and students who do not fit easily into constructed demographic and cultural categories.
How we teach about cultures and understand our students' identities is important, and requires the breaking of old models. Gupta pinpoints “multiculturalism” as a flawed and shallow concept that does more to promote national myth (America as the “Melting Pot,” for example) than actually raise cultural literacy. I agree, and believe that multicultural education as generally practiced in public schools in the last decades has failed in 1) not giving students the tools to become aware of cultural assumptions and biases 2) celebrating cariacatures of cultures, rather than educating about cultural complexities, 3) not promoting religious literacy, and 4) not changing that most schools still propagate the belief that white American culture is what is "normal."
Gupta would likely say that the US-Mexico border fence is a concrete manifestation of our postmodern anxieties of feeling fragmented, rootless, and culturally invaded. This seems true. And as much as it may be packaged as a crisis of “national security,” the anti-immigration sentiment in our country today feels more like a crisis of meaning and identity with a spiritual dimension. For teachers who are capable of the challenge, the time for discussing borders, communities and identities in the classroom has never been better.
Labels: Akhil Gupta, borders, immigration, multicultural education, multiculturalism, political left, politics, spiritual left, spiritual progressive, US-Mexico border