Transforming Mexican and Mexican American Students Academic Achievement with the Pedagogy of Empowerment

Course Information:
ES 196H: Fall 2009
Ethnic Studies Senior Honors Thesis at UC Berkeley
Advisor: Professor Alex Saragoza
December 22, 2009


In a nation that prides itself on the notion that education is the key to economic and social mobility, it is important to ensure that our diverse student population is receiving a quality education. The United States and more specifically California and the San Joaquin Valley of California have witnessed drastic increases in the Mexican and Mexican American communities. Accounting for the majority of K-8th grade students in the California public education system, it is crucial that efforts be made to remedy the educational barriers confronting Mexican and Mexican American students. Preparing these youth to become social conscious and active members of society will greatly influence the economic, social, and political direction of this state. The current public education system fails to provide curriculum and courses reflective of its diverse students population. Creating a disconnection between school and the students' culture has fostered a decline in the quality education received by students of color and more specifically Mexican and Mexican American students.

I argue that multicultural curriculum with a particular focus on Chican@/Latin@ studies is a source of empowerment for Mexican and Mexican American high school students struggling to stay afloat in California's education system. The first section includes an expanded discussion on the demographical shift in favor of people of Mexican descent within the U.S., and the state of California, and more specifically in California's San Joaquin Valley, which has consequentially lead to the concentration of such communities in K-12 public education system. The following section will explore the relationships between educational attainment, educational achievement, cultural capital, grade level competency, high school drop out rates, and college preparedness. The aforementioned topics will construct a dreary portrait of the multiple barriers restricting communities of Mexican descent from attaining a viable education and, thus, restricting their economic and social mobility. The third portion describes the evolution of the United States education system's response to the increase in diversity amongst its student population, which has resulted in the formation of the field of multicultural education. After examining the different modes of multicultural education, attention will be placed on one specific multicultural framework: the pedagogy of empowerment, which has the ability to foster a sense of agency amongst students in general and students of Mexican descent in particular. I will proceed to demonstrate how the pedagogy of empowerment, via a Chican@/Latin American History course, has been and continues to be effectively implemented in a secondary school located in the rural California San Joaquin Valley.