Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Empower Educators to Teach Immigration: Investing in Teacher Learning about Immigration Can Pay off in More Classroom Instruction about This Important Topic

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Empower Educators to Teach Immigration: Investing in Teacher Learning about Immigration Can Pay off in More Classroom Instruction about This Important Topic

Article excerpt

The United States is, by definition, a nation of immigrants, a place where preschoolers bring home Pilgrim art projects as they learn about our earliest European settlers. In later years, students learn about waves of European migration, are taught that it is the foundation upon which our nation is built. Traditional history books describe these immigrants as willingly stirred into an immense melting pot--one homogenous American culture that celebrates its shared heritage on the Fourth of July. Over the years, our immigration policies have occasionally been questioned in educational texts, but, all in all, the perspective taught in our schools is that our immigration laws and policies are fair and necessary to protect existing American citizens.

In the past several decades, however, immigration trends have shaken this basic narrative. First, fewer Europeans have entered, with Mexicans dominating the migration flow, along with immigrants from Asia, Central America, and other regions around the world (Migration Policy Institute, 2015). And, significantly, the number of unauthorized immigrants has risen dramatically, representing about a quarter of the total foreign-born population in the United States in 2012 (Pew Research Center, 2012). While students from these new immigrant families took their places in American schools, few American classrooms delved into the policies and laws surrounding their arrival or continued residence in this country.

Today, immigration is one of the most significant issues affecting schools and neighborhoods across the country, yet many teachers feel ill-prepared to teach about immigration in a comprehensive way. Most educators have learned about immigration in a national, historical context, with few studying it as a current issue, as it affects the nation or their own locality. They can't keep up with ever-changing legislation, national and local enforcement policies, executive orders, and court decisions.

The American Immigration Council is committed to empowering teachers with the tools to teach about immigration factually and critically. Experience tells us that educating children and adults about immigration in a nonpartisan, fact-based way is essential to easing tensions and misunderstanding about immigrants, including those who are students in our schools. We developed a pilot program for educators on Long Island, N.Y., to demonstrate that when teachers have effective materials, professional development, support from immigration experts, and a well-designed program, they will engage students in meaningful education about this challenging topic.

An essential part of the training is not just explaining current policies and providing fact sheets. Rather, the program is designed to engage educators in interactive learning, demonstrating strategies and modeling lessons that can be implemented in their classrooms to inspire dialogue and critical thinking surrounding immigration policy and law.

Teach Immigration

The two-year Teach Immigration program developed by the American Immigration Council and key partners provides high school teachers with free and current educational materials on immigration law and policy and pairs them with volunteers who are immigration lawyers. Together, the teacher and lawyer teams coteach at least two classroom lessons and then help students find their points of view by producing student-created materials that connect to what they have learned.

We began this program on Long Island in 2010 with another national nonprofit education organization, Street Law, Inc. Like many areas of the country, immigration issues have significantly affected students, families, and communities on Long Island. On Nov. 8, 2008, a series of attacks against Latino residents of Patchogue, N.Y., led to the murder of Marcelo Lucero, a 37-year-old Ecuadorian immigrant who had lived in the Long Island village for 13 years (Sanchez & Rodriguez, 2013). …

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