Monday, November 23, 2015

How Can Teachers Address the Plight of Refugees in the Classroom?

Photo Credit: Freedom House

In the aftermath of the tragedies in France, Nigeria, Lebanon, and Mali, many people are feeling a mix of emotions from grief and outrage to vulnerability and fear. In response to the latter, some U.S. politicians have called for denying entry to Syrian refugees—or those Syrians who are not Christian. On November 19th, the House of Representatives passed the “American Safe Act of 2015” by a vote of 289 to 137, with 47 Democrats and all but two Republicans supporting the bill. Some have called this bill a “knee-jerk reaction” since it was not reviewed by a relevant House committee beforehand and its fate in the Senate is still unknown. The President has said he will veto it if it reaches his desk.

Given the gravity of the tragedies and their impact—including the quick responses by lawmakers and what it means for refugees worldwide, students will likely want to discuss and learn more as they process their understanding and opinions. It’s important to provide students with this outlet as well as to equip them and yourself with facts and resources for credible information (in comparison to what they may hear around the dinner table or by some media).

Among some of the questions students may ask include: What is a refugee? What is the process like for becoming a refugee in the U.S? What types of circumstances are they fleeing from? How does the U.S. compare relatively to other nations accepting refugees? What is the process like for resettlement in the U.S.?

What follows are resources that answer these questions and more in order to facilitate conversations factually and humanely:

Facts About Refugees

  • An Overview of Refugee Law & Policy (American Immigration Council) The United States passed its first official refugee legislation to address the plight of displaced Europeans following World War II. Learn about the definition of a refugee, the process, (which after vetting by several agencies can take 18-24 months), and resettlement.

Connections to History

  • We are a nation of immigrants and refugees. Yet we always fear who is coming next. (Jamelle Bouie, Slate) This article presents several historical examples of acceptance and resistance to refugees and migrants even within our own nation. It concludes by asking an essential question for youth and adults: “the question of the refugees isn’t if we’ll honor our values; it’s which ones we’ll choose. Will we embrace our heritage of inclusion or reject it for nativism?”

Policy to People

  • Humans of New York Refugee Stories (Brandon Stanton, Medium) Detailed stories from interviews with refugees around the world after they have found safety and are in different stages of acclimating to a new environment. Students could read an individual story in groups or individually and participate in a jigsaw or turn-n-talk literacy strategy to discuss some of the common themes learned.

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