Yesterday I was talking to a high school student who had been assigned a classic book on an important issue of today. You’d know the book if I told you the title. You’ve been assigned it too, probably. The unfortunate part is that the book is outdated in many ways, and doesn’t focus on the experience of the aggrieved group, but on observation from the outside. There are many masterful, more current books that kids would really connect with to help them understand the issue, but, unfortunately, those aren’t the go-to “classics.”
Engaging kids is hard. As adults, we want to share with them the things that inspired us, or that our teachers shared with us. But the reality is that their world is different than the one we grew up in. In order to keep things relevant for them, we’ve got to offer them information that feels of the moment, and in which they can see people they feel they could know.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this in terms of immigration, with the understanding that often people come to my site seeking immigration articles for students and other resources. As an immigrant myself, I have found myself hurt at so much of the misunderstanding about immigration of late, and have worked hard to try to explain the experience. This post was inspired by a notification that my book, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY, was listed on a new page entitled Books for teaching diversity, unity, and addressing controversy (link with other resources, below).
First, a few tips for gathering immigration articles for students and other resources:
- Where possible, find articles and stories by immigrants. While history and statistics are important, research shows that kids learn empathy by “walking a mile in the shoes” of people who have experienced what they’re trying to understand.
- Check the trustworthiness of the source. Because immigration can be a polarizing issue, some “think tanks” post “facts” that are skewed or partisan. If you’re reading statistics, check to understand the methodology of gathering and interpreting the facts. A little critical thinking goes a long way on this one!
- Let kids ask questions, even uncomfortable ones. A lot of anti-immigrant sentiment is born out of rational fear. What if there won’t be enough? Are they trying to take what’s mine? These are questions as old as the first human skirmish over a watering hole. Shaming and suppressing these concerns won’t help kids find compassion. A few other things to talk about instead:
- Is it true that immigrants are to blame for Americans’ financial hardships?
- Are immigrants a net positive or negative for the economy? (Pew has a lot of great data on the answer to this question).
- How might some powerful interests benefit from pitting native-born Americans and recent immigrants?
- What are some of the economic realities that help fuel undocumented immigration? Might we address those in ways that don’t stigmatize and dehumanize immigrants?
- If we really want to stop undocumented immigration, why haven’t we? (Hint: maybe we don’t. Why might that be? Who benefits from cheap labor and ready scapegoats?).
- What does it mean to be “American”? Who decides that?
- If the United States is an idea as much of a place, what is that idea? Are we living up to it in our current treatment of and rhetoric about immigrants?
When seeking immigration articles for students and other resources to bring the issue to life for kids, remember that kids are open and intelligent. They are infinitely capable of compassion and understanding. Present them with first-person experiences and reliable data, and watch them blossom.
Immigration articles for students and other resources:
The Secret Side of Empty – I wrote The Secret Side of Empty, a novel about an undocumented teen girl, because I heard plenty of talk about “those people,” (undocumented immigrants) but not a lot of first-person accounts of what it feels like to be in that position. As someone who grew up undocumented in the United States, I wanted to speak to how it feels and what the challenges are. There’s no question that we need to fix our outdated and unfair immigration system, but I want to make sure we do that with compassion and understanding.
School Library Journal‘s excellent compilation of resources: Love in Action: Children’s Literature to Promote Hope and Counter Fear
Real stories of immigrant students facing fear today, from The New York Times: For Immigrant Students, a New Worry: A Call to ICE
Teaching Students to Consider Immigration with Empathy – contains exercises