Friday, December 18, 2015

A Land of Refuge or Refusal? A New Resource to Teach About the Refugee Experience in the U.S.

In response to domestic and overseas tragedies, some politicians have proposed shutting our doors to refugees, particularly those from Syria and Iraq. This “knee-jerk” reaction obscured logical thinking based on evidence, history, and analysis. More recently, a growing number of national leaders from a variety of fields—ranging from the military to faith—have spoken out in favor of welcoming of refugees from Syria, Iraq and other nations, often relying on historical examples to make their case.

This tension between refusal and refuge is not unknown in the history of U.S. immigration. In fact, this historical analysis is the basis of our latest classroom-ready resource, “A Land of Refuge or Refusal? Perspectives on the Refugee Experience in the United States.” The source text for this high school lesson plan is an article written by David W Haines, Ph.D. professor of anthropology at George Mason University. What this study of America’s past and present friction offers is a real learning opportunity for students to understand the construction of logical arguments, closely read and analyze the development of an author’s argument in a non-fiction text, and make connections to our present moment. It is the kind of critical and creative thinking about immigration so often missing from a national debate that we hope to inspire in your classroom and offer you a tool to do so. An extension for this lesson can also be made from this photo essay, Year in Twitter: Refugees Welcome, which expands upon the tension of refuge and refusal to a global perspective. Please exercise discretion as some of the images are graphic.

Please click here to view the lesson plan.

Please click here to view additional educational resources related to this topic.
German Steamer MS St. Louis in 1939 (Photo Courtesy: U.S. Department of State)

Syrian Refugees aboard a plastic dinghy (Photo Courtesy: Ben White/ CAFOD, October 2015)

A Land of Refuge or Refusal? Lesson Plan Overview

In this immigration lesson plan, students analyze key ideas in an academic article that provides background on the refugee experience in the United States, including examples of welcoming and exclusionary responses, as well as the impacts of these disparate reactions. After analyzing the author’s claims and evidence, students then apply one of those claims to the current refugee crisis in order to answer the question: how is America a land of refuge, refusal, or both?

This lesson encourages critical thinking from students in a very public discussion, both in the United States and abroad, about the worldwide refugee crisis. In recent years, the United States has welcomed 70,000 refugees per year. The President has indicated he intends to admit 85,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2016, including 10,000 from Syria.  This increase has been criticized by some who believe the United States should do much more to protect those fleeing dire situations and by some who fear that welcoming Syrian refugees may compromise our national security. In considering the appropriate U.S. response to the refugee crisis, it is important to remember the central role of refugees in the American experience.

Adaptations are made for English Language Learners and readers at multiple levels.

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