Some Teaching Tolerance articles, blogs and lessons quickly become go-to resources. One of these most-visited items is “10 Myths About Immigration,” a sidebar to a feature story originally published in the Spring 2011 issue of Teaching Tolerance magazine. Why? “10 Myths About Immigration” addresses hot-button issues in the immigration debate—and helps educators debunk the misinformation students bring to school.
But let’s face it: Four-year-old facts are stale. That’s why we did something we don’t usually do—update a magazine article to reflect current statistics, policies and conditions in the United States. If you’re new to the piece, or already a fan, it’s worth taking a look at the update.
Here are the 10 myths:
- Most immigrants are here illegally.
- It's just as easy to enter the
country legally today as it was when my ancestors arrived.
- There’s a way to enter the country legally for anyone who wants to get in
- My ancestors learned English, but today’s immigrants refuse.
- Today’s immigrants don’t want to blend in and become “Americanized.”
- Immigrants take good jobs from Americans.
- Undocumented immigrants bring crime.
- Undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes but still get
- The United States is being overrun by immigrants like never before.
- Anyone who enters the country illegally is a criminal.
Read on to see how you can debunk these myths in your classroom.
At a professional development workshop, a group of fellow youth workers and I brainstormed ways to help youth feel empowered and to have cultural pride. We all work with youth outside of traditional classroom settings and face similar time constraints.
One of the suggestions I offered to the group is to include mini-lessons about role models who reflect the identities of the youth. These mini-lessons are particularly effective in the after-school context because they’re simple—but can pack a punch.
A lot of U.S. history is about dead white men, but we all know that there are many more people who can be celebrated and that other parts of our history should be discussed. When youth can hold pride in people like them, they can build up greater resiliency to those who want to denigrate or dismiss them.
These mini-lessons have been successful with the youth I work with—mostly youth of color living in poverty, many of whom are the children of single and/or incarcerated parents. My co-workers and I make a point of celebrating people who reflect the identities of the youth and who have made tremendous contributions to their communities and our country at large. Here’s a short list of examples:
The mini-lessons are age-appropriate and range from coloring sheets and brief readings to small research projects culminating in short presentations. Whenever possible, we tie the lessons to things the youth are already experiencing or to a relevant topic in the news. For instance, this past spring, our youth in fifth grade and up had the chance to take dance classes with a professional dance troupe and do a public performance. We watched performances by Maria Tallchief on YouTube, and then the youth researched her history. Next year, we’ll talk about Misty Copeland and look at her dance performances.
This fall, one of the first lessons I plan to do with third- through fifth-grade youth is to play some of Nina Simone’s music and talk to them about her role in the civil rights movement. I’ll ask youth to reflect on the ways music can draw people together, and ask them to make connections between this idea and the annual jazz festival that takes place in their neighborhood each spring (which many of them participate in).
Youth look forward to these mini-lessons about people who reflect their identities, and more than once, I’ve seen them announce their new knowledge to their parents at the end of the day.
One challenge of our current education system is that, while we’ve collectively acknowledged the importance of social emotional learning, we have yet to really incorporate into lessons and interactions the things that will help youth be proud of who they are—including their interests, hobbies and heritage.
But mini-lessons are one place where this incorporation can take place. Done right, they can make a big difference in a small amount of time.
Clift works in an after-school program for youth and as the communications intern for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The Atlantic: In response to Arizona’s ban on Mexican-American studies, the course—and ethnic studies movement—has seen burgeoning nationwide support.
The Atlantic: The Americans With Disabilities Act is 25 years old—but students with disabilities are still not treated equally in schools.
Black Children’s Books and Authors: Science fiction and fantasy is traditionally a genre of white and male writers, but a small group of black writers have been breaking the mold.
The Florida Times-Union: The books The Librarian of Basra and Nasreen’s Secret School, both based on true stories from the Middle East, were added to the third-grade reading list in Duval County Public Schools in Florida last month. Some parents are protesting that content about war, the Taliban and Islam are not appropriate for their children.
The Huffington Post: Unless the current conversation about prison reform shifts to include both federal- and state-level reforms, a huge percentage of incarcerated youth will not benefit from proposed policy improvements.
NBC News, New York: This week, the New York State Education Department released a 12-page set of guidelines to help districts cultivate safe, inclusive school settings for transgender students.
Vox: These digital flashcards debunk common myths about transgender people.
This summer, I ran a course called “Little Journalists.” Each week, my mostly fifth- and sixth-grade students and I produced newsletters that covered everything from field trips other classes were taking to mosquito-bite prevention. We had a blast working together.
Still, because class ran for nearly four hours each day for five days a week, there was a lot of time to fill. By each Thursday, we had already learned something new about media (the difference between paraphrasing and quoting, for example), and produced a pretty solid newsletter. That left four hours every Friday that I needed to figure out how to fill—an experience also known as “Every Teacher’s Worst Nightmare.”
After panicking initially, I realized that open, unstructured time is actually a beautiful gift. It allowed me to run a seminar once a week on any topic I wanted.
With this, Social Justice Fridays was born.
Dear @Tolerance_org I've decided every Friday in Summer School we're just going to do lessons from you all so thanks for existing.— Christina Torres (@biblio_phile) June 19, 2015
Every Friday, I decided to let Teaching Tolerance do the legwork and used some of their lessons to spark important discussions with my students. We covered identity, bias, food deserts and body image. It was pretty awesome.
I think it’s essential to cover topics like these within the context of my day-to-day teaching. Culturally critical pedagogy shouldn’t be limited to special “once-a-month” lessons. But it is also essential to set aside time and space for deep, reflective practice—not just reminders or occasional surface scratches of social justice education.
By the third week of the summer, Social Justice Fridays had not only given me a chance to talk with my students about important topics but had also provided a safe space for my students to discuss issues that were very present in their lives.
During the school year, I try really hard to get my seventh- and ninth-graders to focus on world issues. My summer school class, though, was fairly young, and I wanted to touch on some essential topics they might face once they get to middle and high school.
I chose TT’s “Different Images of Beauty” lesson, with a few modifications. I added a printout I had created about the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment, an organization that empowers Asian-American Pacific Island (AAPI) actors and artists, since most of my student population is AAPI.
I started off with a simple question: “What is beauty?”
The answers were wide reaching. My younger students called out, “Everyone is beautiful in some way!” (Please, hold onto that! I wanted to respond).
I pushed the question further and asked, “Who are you supposed to think is beautiful?”
My students were able to call out immediately: Young. Blonde or at least straight hair. Skinny or fit.
Then I asked, “Do you see a lot of people on TV shows who look like you? Not the news, but on TV.”
I would’ve had a hard time answering this question at their age, but fortunately, my students were able to think of a few, namely characters on Fresh Off the Boat.
From there, we finished the lesson using the handouts TT and I had created. We talked about the pressures we faced to look a certain way and where those pressures come from.
Afterward, I asked each student to create a poster celebrating one part of his or her body, and that was one of most rewarding parts of the lesson. I talked with Shelly, age 9, about why she thought she wasn’t pretty. I pushed Anna and Bree to think about why it felt difficult to say that they like something about themselves. “I feel like I’m bragging!” one said.
“Why? Because you like yourself?” I responded, completely understanding her struggle.
“I know!” she said. “It’s ridiculous!”
If I did anything, I hope I at least gave my students the tools to question the messages they are getting. Are those lessons part of my set curriculum? No. Do I believe that taking the time to discuss these things adds something to my students’ lives? Absolutely.
If I seek to center my work on my students, however, I know that I have to at least attempt to make the space—so they can see what it looks like to prioritize social justice. Then, just maybe, I’ll be able to ask for their help in making the world a better place.
Torres is a seventh- and ninth-grade English teacher in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Shaniqua Williams, a counselor at Northwestern Regional Education Programs (NREP) in Winchester, Virginia, could have given up on her goal of hosting Mix It Up at Lunch Day at her school in 2014. And no one would've blamed her. After all, her preK-12 school serves students with a variety of special needs and disabilities, and the students with emotional disabilities in particular thrive on firmly established routines; switching them up could prove stressful. On top of that, Williams was in her first year as a counselor. Yet, she pursued her goal, and NREP’s first-ever Mix event was so successful that it resulted in the school’s recognition as a 2014-15 Mix Model School. But why did it work?
For starters, Williams had experienced Mix firsthand during her internship the previous school year and knew how powerful it could be. So she shared with her colleagues TT’s video explaining the purpose of the program and walked them through the materials and activities. From there, she posted promotional flyers around the school, pumping up the day, but keeping the details of the event a surprise for the students.
Williams had determined that games would be the best way to ease students into the new lunchtime setup. “Since they are students with emotional disabilities, they struggle with maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships,” Williams says. “Playing board and card games with our students … helps the students shift their focus and allows fun to happen.”
On the big day, Williams showed the students the same video she had shown her colleagues and explained they were mixing it up to learn that, although we may have differences, we can have a lot in common, too. Students in grades 6-12 mixed up their seating by choosing different flavors of Jolly Ranchers. Then, with staff either reading the cards or helping students to do so, each table group played “Would You Rather?” That’s where the fun began.
“I really could not have asked for a better team of teachers to do my first event with,” Williams reflects. “The teachers and students were having so much fun that our principal, Mr. Ralph Reese, came in to see what was going on. He was pleased and happy to see all the different interactions going on.”
The success of NREP’s first Mix It Up at Lunch Day is largely due to the staff’s flexibility, Williams believes. They were willing to try something new and jump right into the adventure with the students. Williams also knows the day was a success because of the relationship building that happened that day. “I encouraged the teachers to ask students why they chose the options they did in the ‘Would You Rather?’ game. This opened up the conversation flow and allowed the students and teachers to have something to laugh about and discuss further in the hallways and in downtime during class.”
Being named a Mix Model School was a fantastic way to cap off the school year, Williams says, but she and the rest of the staff have their eyes on even more fun and relationship building for next year’s event.
Her advice for potential Mix organizers who might think Mix can’t work at their schools? Start small. “Also, I think it is best to have fun with the event yourself; put yourself in the students’ shoes. What event/games/topics would you want to talk about or do? This event should not feel like extra work for the students,” she adds. “It is all about getting that one quiet student to open up and talk at the table, and to watch and see what type of positive interactions and friendships can develop.”
Is your school registered to participate in Mix 2015 on October 27? If not, you can register here in less than 30 seconds!
Bell is a writer and associate editor for Teaching Tolerance. She is also the coordinator for Mix It Up at Lunch Day.