Academic journal article High School Journal

A Content Analysis of Immigration in Traditional, New, and Non-Gateway State Standards for U.S. History and Civics

Academic journal article High School Journal

A Content Analysis of Immigration in Traditional, New, and Non-Gateway State Standards for U.S. History and Civics

Article excerpt

In this content analysis of state U.S. History and Civics standards, we compared the treatment of immigration across three types of states with differing immigration demographics. Analyzing standards from 18 states from a critical race methodology perspective, our findings indicated three sets of tensions: a unified American story versus local specificity, immigration as a historical versus civic issue, and favorable versus unfavorable tenor of the standards. Through this project, we were able to draw some initial conclusions about the relationship between states' immigration demographics and social studies standards. Thus, this study builds on the small but growing new gateway state literature and on the content analysis literature related to immigration and the formal social studies curriculum.

Keywords: Social Studies; United States Government (Course); State Standards; Immigrants; critical race theory

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Immigration has been both an essential and unavoidable facet of American society throughout our nation's history, and it has also been a contentious political issue throughout much of that time. Today, immigration into the United States remains controversial; it has been arguably the most contentious issue debated during the 2016 Republican primary campaign season. Given that the purpose of social studies is to promote civic competence by improving students' understanding of contemporary and historical culture (which includes knowledge of time, continuity, and change; people, places, and environments; individuals, groups, and institutions; and global connections) and contemporary civic ideals and practices (National Council for the Social Studies, 2015), inclusion of immigration within the formal social studies curriculum is essential to meeting these instructional imperatives.

In this content analysis of state U.S. History and Civics standards, we build largely upon Journell's (2009b) analysis of nine states' U.S. History standards on immigration in which he found that the standards were outdated, inconsistent, and projected a unified American narrative that discounted newcomer diversity. His findings also suggested that these standards were stranded in a narrative that framed immigration as primarily a historical process that implicitly ceased at Ellis Island. Although these findings provide valuable information about how immigration is portrayed broadly within U.S. History standards in the United States, they are limited for two reasons: (a) the study design did not attempt to differentiate between the representation of immigration in state standards and the demographics of the respective states in which those standards were created and (b) the study focused only on the historical representation of immigration, which stands in contrast to other studies that position immigration as a contemporary political issue (e.g., Camicia, 2007).

In this study, then, we compared the treatment of the topic of immigration in both U.S. History and Civics standards across three types of states with differing demographic histories relevant to immigration--traditional gateways, new gateways, and non-gateways. Traditional gateway states (NY, CA, TX, IL, FL, and NJ) have historically been the preferred settlement locales for newcomers. They have received, and continue to receive, the largest number of immigrants to the United States. New gateway states (e.g., NC, GA, NE) have historically had low rates of immigration, but since around 1990 have tripled or quadrupled their immigrant populations (Rong & Preissle, 2009). The growth rate of the newcomer population in new gateway states is faster than the growth rate in the fastest growing traditional gateway state, Texas (Passel & Suro, 2005) (1). We also analyzed states with perpetually lower rates of immigration (e.g., WV, WY, ND) and states with smaller immigration rate increases (e.g., OH), which we collectively call non-gateway states (2). …

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