Harness the Immigration Debate with these Big Questions

immigrationWe’ve all seen the images, heard the audio and read the tweets. The immigration debate has everybody busting at the seams on both sides.

And August is just around the corner.

And we know what that means.

Students will be walking into our classrooms confused, tired, angry and needing answers. And we will be trying to figure out ways to teach a historical, psychological, sociological or political understanding of the immigration issue while at the same time resisting the impulse to impose our own opinions– a delicate and seemingly impossible burden.

This is exactly the kind of environment in which Big Questions  thrive.

So in preparation for the August return, here are two questions which I’m thinking about using in the context of government and US history, along with commentary on how and why I would use each question:

What is the most humane way of dealing with people seeking asylum in the United States?

The word ‘humane’ jumps out here. Any serious consideration of this question must include a careful, precise definition of what humane means. I bet that students will have vastly different opinions on its meaning, and therefore vastly different answers to the question.  What I would want students to see here is that our passionate political disagreement about how to deal with immigrants seeking asylum is actually a passionate philosophical disagreement on what humane means.

How can rules be made and enforced in a way that demonstrates compassion AND respect for the rule of law?

This one is loaded with words whose definitions need to be unpacked– respect, compassion and rule of law. Additionally, this question begs for some sort of opening activity whereby students must respond to a familiar situation in which somebody had to choose between compassion and strict enforcement of rules. How about when a teacher must decide whether or not to report a student who cheats?  Or when a district must decide how to enforce a zero-tolerance policy regarding student-athletes? I’m thinking at least one or two days of immersion with familiar situations before even making the connection with immigration. I’m telling myself to SLOW DOWN. Then, when the immigration connection is eventually made, students will be ready for it and can use the opening scenarios as a frame of comparison moving forward.

What questions are YOU thinking about?  What strategies do you have to sublimate the energy of this immigration debate towards productive ends?

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