When the PBS series, “Need to Know” visited the community of Clarkston, Ga., it found a population much different than it had been just three decades ago. In 1980, 97 percent of its residents were American-born, and 90 percent were white. Now, more than one-third is from other nations. Less than 14 percent are white. The population includes immigrants from 40 different nations. And they own 85 percent of Clarkston’s businesses.
In “America by the Numbers: Clarkston, Georgia,” (also available in Spanish) host Maria Hinojosa and her crew share all of these statistics. They are part of a narrative that is shared by the rest of the country—in particular the South, which has seen a 34 percent growth in multicultural residents in the last 10 years.
But what makes the program so striking are the words of Clarkston’s residents: the longtime resident who wonders “if I’ve got any buddies any more that think the way I do;” a Somali businessman who contributes to the local economy; a refugee and Obama supporter who manages the City Council campaign of a woman who is her political polar opposite; and a family from Bhutan able to register to vote for the first time.
Of course, Clarkston is not the only community that has seen demographic changes. That is why “America by the Numbers”—and two accompanying lessons from Teaching Tolerance—are valuable to today’s students. The 27-minute documentary is available free to all teachers online.
The two lessons, which focus on demographics and how they relate to the American political process:
The Numbers Tell a Story—Students will see how statistical data can tell a larger story, understand numbers in various contexts and explore various points of view in relation to the data.
Sharing the Story of Your Own Community—Students will research U.S. Census data and interview local residents to complete an ethnography of their own communities. They will then consider local needs and priorities, along with demographics, to make a prediction for how residents will vote in November.
In the documentary, we see how new residents of America long to be part of the political process. In the future, today’s students will help determine how the political process can serve everybody. During a divisive election year, this is a valuable lesson.