Friday, December 9, 2016

Lessons on Immigration for Difficult Times

Where did your family come from?

Unless you are of Native American ancestry, your relatives came to this country from somewhere – or from many somewheres. It may have been a recent arrival, or may have taken place many decades ago, but all Americans have a story of immigration in their past. As immigration became a hot topic during the election and continues to be discussed in inflammatory terms now that the election is over, students and their families, especially those who have recently arrived in the U.S., deal with fear, uncertainty, and possible discrimination.

This may be a good time for teachers to examine immigration with age appropriate lessons for their students. A post-election blog titled, The Election Is Over, But for Teachers, Hard Conversations Are Just Beginning from Education Week asks the questions: How can teachers begin to unite their classrooms? How can they soothe students' fears? We have some suggestions for programs, readings, and classroom activities – some of long standing and some designed to respond to issues raised in the presidential election.

The Southern Poverty Law Center , whose mission is “fighting hate and bigotry and seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society … using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy,” conducted a survey of nearly 10,000 educators – both before and after the election. Among the findings was that the presidential campaign “elicited fear and anxiety among children of color, immigrants and Muslims; emboldened students to mimic the words and tones of candidates and pundits; and disrupted opportunities to teach effectively about political campaigns and civic engagement”. Their response was to present resources for use in classrooms at all levels to help students recognize and respond to bias against immigrants and those of other religions or cultures.

PBS public television has extensive resources for grades 7-12 to use in connection with their documentary mini-series, The New Americans, which explores the immigrant experience through the personal stories of immigrants to the United States. There are 11 interactive lesson plans that help teachers connect their students with the historical and contemporary aspects of immigration.

Scholastic, publisher of books and educational materials, has 76 different resources, ranging from interactive white board lessons to paperback books on all aspects of immigration and the immigrant experience.

Although these lesson plans and other resources are designed for use in the classroom, many can be used by parents who want to help give their children a better understanding of the history of immigration in the United States and of people who may look, sound, or pray differently than they do. 

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