Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Teaching immigration in American schools.

Through researching how American schools typically teach the subject of 'immigration,' it seems that this topic is not implicit in the American education system - it was difficult to find a school where issues concerning immigration make up a large part of the History curriculum. When trying to find how a K-12 school taught this subject, the lack of information and depth of study was important to note. The following link does, however, show how a California school (the West Cottonwood Junior High School) teaches the subject. The fact that the entire module of work is designed to only take up between seven and ten hours of class time potentially demonstrates how much the issues surrounding immigration are taught in American schools. http://score.rims.k12.ca.us/activity/immigration/

The teacher notes featured on this page show that the pupils should have a modicum of awareness of the historical events, specifically in relation to the peaks of immigrant entry to America and the reasons why, with the 1840s and 1850s quoted. There are some figures given (the increase in population of New York City for instance), linked to specific events in given countries of origin - notably the Irish Potato Famine. The impact of World War I is mentioned, highlighting a decrease in the number of immigrants right up until the late 1940s.

Contemporary issues are then introduced, with more recent trends being highlighted - 'The current phase of immigration history began in 1965, when strict quotas based on nationality were eliminated. In 1978, the United States government set a single annual world quota of 290,000, and this ceiling was raised again in 1990 to 700,000. During the 1990s, immigrants have arrived at a pace that at times has exceeded one million new arrivals per year, and have settled in all parts of the country.'

Under the title of 'Issues to Consider,' the underlying sentiment seems to be that America cannot sustain a decent quality of living for the numbers of people entering for a better life. The hostilities caused by the many language barriers and differing social conventions and customs are mentioned, with one of the questions that pupils are required to discuss being 'How many immigrants should we continue to admit?'

It is worth noting some of the language that is used. The pupils can openly refer to immigrants as 'aliens' - admittedly, this term is used more openly in America when discussing this subject, but the negative connotations cannot really be ignored. One could argue that some of the language used is quite heavily loaded.

This particular scheme is intended for pupils in the 11th grade (aged 16-17) and they are further encouraged to research a little into the policy/legislation/legal debate surrounding this issue: 'For these reasons, it is essential that we examine current policies in order to assess whether they best serve the interests of both American citizens and of those immigrants who arrive with the belief that opportunities for a good life will be available here...'

The ways in which the pupils are assessed vary, with one of the key sections involving a debate whereby pupils take on a particular stance - they are actively encouraged to research extreme points of view (on both sides of the debate), which will develop their level of research. The primary assessment, however, seems to be concerned with identifying key historical trends in immigration levels, linking to key historic events and legislation (post-1875), with a comparison made to modern day, contemporary issues. The questions the pupils are asked to consider do seem to concern the modern day situation in the main, with the questions posed showing a slight bias, in my opinion, encouraging pupils to come to the conclusion that immigration, rightly or wrongly, needs to be curtailed.

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