The current divisive debate over national immigration policy has two sets of confrontational positions. On one side, advocates of immigration favor a liberal policy of admitting sizable numbers of immigrants, no discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, or national origin, and protection of undocumented immigrants. On the other side, President Trump is the leading spokesperson and advocate for building a wall on our southern border with Mexico, banning certain immigrants from entering the country, and deporting those living here illegally, many of whom, he insists, are criminals.
The debate in some ways echoes discussions in the nation a century ago.
In 1921, the vice president published an article entitled “Whose Country Is This?” in the popular magazine Good Housekeeping. “We are confronted by the clamor of multitudes who desire the opportunity offered by American life,” the author noted. But America has no place for “the vicious, the weak of body, the shiftless or the improvident . . . Our country must cease to be regarded as a dumping ground.” People accorded the privilege of immigrating to the U.S. should become productive, patriotic citizens. “It would not be unjust to ask of every alien: What will you contribute to the common good, once your were admitted through the gates of liberty?”
“There are racial considerations too grave to be brushed aside for any sentimental reasons,” the author continued. “Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend. The Nordics propagate themselves successfully. With other races, the outcome shows deterioration on both sides.”
What was needed was “the right kind of immigration.”
That sounds a bit like some government leaders who are demanding immigration restriction today. Actually, it was Calvin Coolidge (R, Vice President, 1921-1923, President 1923-1929).
He became President on August 2, 1923, upon the death of President Warren G. Harding, and was elected in his own right the next year. Coolidge was bland and taciturn. He tried to avoid controversy. But Coolidge had strong views on immigration, some with parallels to today.
In his first address to Congress on December 6, 1923, he struck a theme of limited, selective immigration: “New arrivals should be limited to our capacity to absorb them into the ranks of good citizenship. America must be kept American. For this purpose, it is necessary to continue a policy of restricted immigration.”
In 1924, he signed the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act which severely limited immigration, imposed a quota system based on the 1890 census which in effect favored northern Europeans over others, continued a longstanding ban on Chinese immigration, and imposed a new one on Japanese immigration.
His views on immigration were complicated. Speaking to a delegation of labor leaders on September 1, 1924, he asserted that “Restricted immigration has been adopted by this administration chiefly for the purpose of maintaining American standards. It undoubtedly has a very great economic effect. We want the people who live in America, no matter what their origin, to be able to continue in the enjoyment of their present unprecedented advantages. This opportunity would certainly be destroyed by the tremendous influx of foreign peoples if immigration were not restricted. Unemployment would become a menace, and there would follow an almost certain reduction of wages with all the attendant distress and despair which are now suffered in so many parts of Europe. Our first duty is to our own people.”
The Republican Party platform that Coolidge campaigned on that year put the economic case this way: “The unprecedented living conditions in Europe following the world war created a condition by which we were threatened with mass immigration that would have seriously disturbed our economic life. The law recently enacted [the Johnson-Reed Act] is designed to protect the inhabitants of our country, not only the American citizen, but also the alien already with us who is seeking to secure an economic foothold for himself and family from the competition that would come from unrestricted immigration.” Putting the jobs argument more directly, immigration restriction “saves the American job for the American workman,” as Coolidge said in a speech in December of that year.
On the other hand, he opposed some immigration restrictions and celebrated America as a melting pot. For instance, he lobbied Congress not to include the Japanese provision in the immigration act, and instead to continue a longstanding, informal agreement by which Japan voluntarily limited the number of its citizens emigrating to America. Congress included it anyway. In his formal signing statement on May 26, 1924, an angry Coolidge called the provision “unnecessary and deplorable” and asserted that Americans had a “sentiment of admiration and cordial friendship for the Japanese people” despite the new law.
He told the American Legion convention in 1925 that “Whether one traces his Americanism back three centuries to the Mayflower, or three years [ago in] the steerage, is not half so important as whether his Americanism of today is real and genuine. No matter by what various crafts we came here, we are all now in the same boat.”
In a 1926 speech, he said “when once our feet have touched this soil, when once we have made this land our home, wherever our place of birth, whatever our race, we are all blended in one common country. All artificial distinctions of lineage and rank are cast aside. We all rejoice in the title of Americans.” In Calvin Coolidge’s public utterances and his actions on immigration, several themes emerge. Some have reverberations for today.
Coolidge emphasized that America has prospered and excelled in the past. Times were good then. But things seem to be slipping. Principles and values seemed in danger and future prospects appeared dimmer. Coolidge thought Americans had to be on guard. That sentiment sounds similar to Trump’s slogan of “Make America Great Again.”
Coolidge encouraged assimilation. He believed that most past immigrants adopted American values and assimilated with the population already living here. Race, religion, and a consensus about the importance of family, hard work, and patriotism were important parts of that process. But, he went on, people now clamoring for admission were of different races and religions, and were determined to hold onto their own cultures and values. These new immigrants tended to stay together rather than assimilate and blend in and, to Coolidge, that made them a threat to the nation. Coolidge’s views in this area seem similar in some ways to Trump’s and other immigration restrictionists.
Economics was a critical issue in Coolidge’s thinking. The economy was expanding but there were only so many jobs to go around, he implied. Letting in too many immigrants would take jobs from citizens already here. America’s capacity to absorb newcomers was therefore limited. That sounds a lot like immigration restrictionists’ arguments that immigrants (particularly undocumented immigrants) compete with American citizens for jobs, especially low-paying positions.
Coolidge felt that Americans need not be concerned with conditions in other countries or the fate or prospects of people who wanted to come in as immigrants but were not allowed to do so. That was not something for which Americans had responsibility. It was up to those countries, and to the individuals living there, to fend for themselves. That, too, parallels the view expressed by immigration restrictionists today that unemployment, poverty, and violence elsewhere in the world, e.g., Central and South America, do not justify people from those nations seeking sanctuary here in the United States.
We have to keep to “America First!” — a vague and undefined but popular slogan among Coolidge and conservatives in those days and occasionally used by President Trump. It has overtones of American exceptionalism, nationalism, and patriotism but also undertones of nativism and racism.
Whose country is this? It was a central question a century ago, and still is today. President Coolidge and President Trump might have similar answers to the question.
Whose Country is This?
By Calvin Coolidge, Vice-President elect of the United States Good Housekeeping, volume 72 number 2, February 1921, pages 13-14, 109
Men and women, in and of themselves, are desirable. There can’t be too many inhabitants of the right kind, distributed in the right place. Great work there is for each and every one of them to perform. The country needs all the intelligence, and skill, and strength of mind and body it can get, whether we draw such form those within our gates, or from those without, seeking entrance. But since we are confronted by the clamor of multitudes who desire the opportunity offered by American life, we must face the situation unflinchingly, determined to relinquish not one iota of our obligations to others, yet not be so sentimental as to overlook our obligations to ourselves. It is a self-evident truth that in a healthy community there is no place for the vicious, the weak of body, the shiftless, or the improvident. As professor Sumner of Yale, asserts in his book, “The Forgotten Man,” “every part of capital which is wasted on the vicious, the idle, and the shiftless, is so much taken form the capital available to reward the independent and productive laborer.” We are in agreement with him in his conviction that the laborer must be protected “against the burdens of the good-for-nothing.
We want no such additions to our population as those who prey upon our institutions or our property. America has, in popular mind, been an asylum for those who have been driven form their homes in foreign countries because of various forms of political and religious oppression. But America cannot afford to remain an asylum after such people have passed the portals and begun to share the privileges of our institutions.
These institutions have flourished by reason of a common background of experience; they have been perpetuated by a common faith in the righteousness of their purpose; they have been handed down undiminished in effectiveness from our forefathers who conceived their spirit and prepared the foundations. We have put into operation our faith in equal opportunity before the law in exchange for equal obligation of citizens. All native-born Americans, directly or indirectly, have the advantage of our schools, our colleges, and our religious bodies. It is our belief that America could not otherwise exist. Faith in mankind is in no way inconsistent with a requirement for trained citizenship, both for men and women. No civilization can exist without a background-an active community of interest, a common aspiration-spiritual, social, and economic. It is a duty our country owes itself to require of all those aliens who come here that they have a background not inconsistent with American institutions. Such a background might consist either of a racial tradition or a national experience. But in its lowest terms it must be characterized by a capacity for assimilation. While America is built on a broad faith in mankind, it likewise gains its strength by a recognition of a needed training for citizenship. The Pilgrims were not content merely to reach our shores in safety, that they might live according to a sort of daily opportunism. They were building on firmer ground than that. Sixteen years after they landed at Plymouth, they and their associates founded Harvard College. They institutionalized their faith in education. That was their offering for the common good. It would not be unjust to ask of every alien: What will you contribute to the common good, once your were admitted through the gates of liberty? Our history is full of answers of which we might be justly proud. But of late, the answers have not been so readily or so eloquently given. Our country must cease to be regarded as a dumping ground. Which does not mean that it must deny the value of rich accretions drawn from the right kind of immigration.
Any such restriction, except as a necessary and momentary expediency, would assuredly paralyze our national vitality. But measured practically, it would be suicidal for us to let down the bars for the inflowing of cheap manhood, just as, commercially, it would be unsound for this country to allow her markets to be over flooded with cheap goods, the produce of cheap labor. There is no room for either the cheap man or the cheap goods. I do not fear the arrival of as many immigrants a year as shipping conditions or passport requirements can handle, provided they are of good character. But there is no room for the alien who turns toward America with the avowed intention of opposing government, with a set desire to teach destruction of government-which means not only enmity toward organized society, but toward every form of religion and so basic an institution as the home.
If we believe, as we do, in our political theory that the people are the guardians of government, we should not subject our government to the bitterness and hatred of those who have not been born in our tradition and are willing to yield an increase to the strength inherent in our institutions. American liberty is dependent on quality in citizenship. Our obligation is to maintain that citizenship at its best. We must have nothing to do with those who undermine it. The retroactive immigrant is a danger in our midst. His purpose is to tear down. There is no room for him here. He needs to be deported, not as a substitute for, but as a part of his punishment. We might avoid this danger were we insistent that the immigrant, before he leaves foreign soil, is temperamentally keyed for our national background. There are racial considerations too grave to be brushed aside for any sentimental reasons. Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend. The Nordics propagate themselves successfully. With our races, the outcome shows deterioration on both sides. Quality of mind and body suggests that observance of ethnic law is as great a necessity to a nation as immigration law.
We must remember that we have not only the present but the future to safeguard; our obligations extend even to generations yet unborn. The unassimilated alien child menaces our children, as the alien industrial worker, who has destruction rather than production in mind, menaces our industry. It is only when the alien adds vigor to our stock that he is wanted. The dead weight of alien accretion stifles national progress. But we have a hope that cannot be crushed; we have a background that we will not allow to be obliterated. The only acceptable immigrant is the one who can justify our faith in man by a constant revelation of the divine purpose of the Creator.
Figure 1: A 1921 political cartoon portrays America’s new immigration quotas, influenced by popular anti-immigrant and nativist sentiment stemming from World War I conflict. Source: Library of Congress
The Museum of the City of New York has an exhibit exploring social activist movements beginning in the 17th Century through the many movements of the present day. These movements and events are portrayed using artifacts, photographs, and audio and video presentations. This use of multiple sources brings the exhibit to life. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the exhibition is the interactive component, where users can select which different forms of activism they would like to learn more about using a tablet, such as immigration, labor conflicts, or gender inequality. This then takes them through the personal stories and accounts of various protests today. The important role social media plays in activism today is of particular interest as there is a screen displaying posts which use the #ActivistNewYork to show individual’s stories. This stresses the importance of people within these movements, which can be seen time and time again throughout the display where the many ways ordinary New Yorkers have affected and continue to shape their city. As you walk the room where the exhibit is located each movement is given a mural like space where its story and history is told. The sections go in chronological order and as you progress through the room you are moving from the past to the present. The fluidity and the connectedness of the exhibition make it easy to see and develop a greater understanding of the many ways these events and groups were connected.
The accompanying book, Activist
New York, progresses in a similar manner. It is split into six sections:
Colonial and Revolutionary New York, from 1624 to 1783, Seaport City from 1783
to 1865, Gilded Age to Progressive Era, from 1865 to 1918, Midcentury
Metropolis, from 1918 to 1960, The Sixties in New York, from 1960 to 1973, and
finally, Urban Crisis and Revival, from 1973 to 2011. These six sections are
then further divided into chapters, each focusing on a different form of
activism and with an additional segment or two on another influential topic
from the corresponding time period. For example, the chapter focusing on Puerto
Rican activism has an accompanying segment on Black Power and Asian American
Activism. These mini-sections help to provide a more complete context for the
time period as well as the main chapters events. Of additional importance with
the book is its detailed endnotes, credits and further readings sections as all
three provide the reader with a greater understanding of the information as
well as the opportunity to dive deeper into the history.
One of the most important and significant aspects of both the
exhibition and its companion book is its in depth coverage of history through
the lenses of the minority perspective. Rather than simply telling the events
with the accounts of those who history is traditionally written, namely the
white male Europeans, this collection drives to incorporate less heard, but no
less importance, voices. From Clara Lemlich, a young Jewish immigrant involved
in the Labor Movement, to Emma Goldman, a young Russian Jewish immigrant who
spoke to thousands in a protest in Union Square, to David Ruggles, a free black
man who helped free hundreds of African Americans prior to the end of slavery.
These perspectives are not ones we often get to hear and their inclusion in
these works has a lasting impact on anyone who reads the book or sees the
The supplemental activity sheets focus on ten forms of
activism explored in the exhibition and the book. Beginning with abolition in
the 1800s, students will examine the story of Elizabeth Jennings, who like Rosa
Parks a century later, refused to give up her seat simply because she was
black. The influence of anarchists within New York City is examined using a
speech from Ms. Goldman, an anarchist propaganda poster, a photograph of the
immigrant living conditions during this time and the New York State Criminal
Anarchy Law. The Labor Movement is assessed using a speech by Ms. Lemlich, a
political cartoon on the relationship between labor unions and employers.
Women’s Suffrage offers the 19th Amendment, an article by Harriet Stanton
Blatch explaining her reasons for being a suffragist, and an advertisement from
Margaret Sanger for her first clinic. Other sections focus on Civil Rights, Gay
pride activists, and student activism.
Activist New York and
the Abolitionist Movement
Directions: Read the background information on
the Abolitionist Movement in New York City. Analyze and review the documents,
then answer the questions that follow.
Background: Though slaves had been freed in New
York State by 1827, the African Americans who remained in the City were often
met with outright hostility and racism. They were forced out work by white
immigrants, prevented from attending schools, and often were denied access to
public transportation and places. The State Constitution of 1821, only allowed
Black men who owned $250 worth of property to vote, effectively preventing the
majority of Black men from doing so. While, slavery was still legal elsewhere
in the country, and many New Yorkers still supported it, not all its residents
believed in it. David Ruggles, a Black man born to free parents in Connecticut,
actively worked to help African Americans escape slavery in New York City.
Document A: The American Anti-Slavery Almanac
of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass (1845)
After my arrival at New York, I said I felt like one who had escaped a
den of hungry lions. This state of mind, however, very soon subsided; and I
was again seized with a feeling of great insecurity and loneliness. I was yet
liable to be taken back, and subjected to all the tortures of slavery… Thank
Heaven, I remained but a short time in this distressed situation. I was
relieved from it by the humane hand of Mr. David Ruggles, whose vigilance,
kindness, and perseverance, I shall never forget… I had been in New York but
a few day, when Mr. Ruggles sought me out, and very kindly took me to his
boarding-house… Very soon after I went to Mr. Ruggles, he wished to know of
men where I wanted to go; as he deemed it unsafe for me to remain in New
York Tribune article by Horace Greeley (February 1855)
She (Elizabeth Jennings) got upon one
of the Company’s cars last summer, on the Sabbath, to ride to church. The
conductor undertook to get her off, first alleging the car was full; when
that was shown to be false, he pretended the other passengers were displeased
at her presence; but [when] she insisted on her rights, he took hold of her
by force to expel her. She resisted. The conductor got her down on the
platform, jammed her bonnet, soiled her dress and injured her person. Quite a
crowd gathered, but she effectually resisted. Finally, after the car had gone
on further, with the aid of a policeman they succeed in removing her.
Doc D: Brooklyn Circuit Court Judge William
Rockwell in response to Jennings’s incident, 1855
Colored persons if sober, well
behaved and free from disease, had the same rights as others and could
neither be excluded by any rules of the Company, nor by force or violence. –
What message do you think the artist is conveying in Document
In Doc. B, how did Mr. Ruggles help Frederick Douglass?
Predict why you have not learned about Mr. Ruggles but have
learned about Douglass.
From Doc. C, what happened to Elizabeth Jennings? Why?
Does her story remind you of anything? If so, what?
Using Doc. D, what did the Judge decide in response to the
Is this significant? Why or why not?
What do these four documents and the background information
tell you about life in New York City for African Americans?
Directions: Read the background information on
Activist Harlem in New York City.
Analyze and review the documents, then answer the questions that follow.
Background: During World War I, black workers
began migrating to urban cities for the factory jobs created by the war. This was met by resistance from whites who
feared unemployment and the loss of their homogenous society. From 1910 to 1930, the number of African
Americans living in New York City increased from 91,709 to 327,700, when it
became the city with the most blacks worldwide.
The majority of the African Americans flocked to Harlem, which quickly
became central for African American issues.
Many who lived there dedicated their lives to improving the conditions
of blacks throughout the country. This
movement later became known as the Harlem Renaissance, where the image of the
“New Negro” was formed.
Doc A: National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People Annual Report (1917)
The National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People seeks to uplift the colored men and women of
this country by securing to them the full enjoyment of their rights as
citizens, justice in all courts, and equality of opportunity everywhere… It
believes in the upholding of the Constitution of the United States and its
amendments, in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln.
It upholds the doctrine of “all men up and no man down.” It abhors Negro crimes but still more the
conditions which breed crime, and most of all crimes committed by mobs in the
mockery of the law, or by individuals in the name of the law.
Doc B: Marcus Garvey, Explanation of the Objects of the Universal Negro Improvement
Fellow citizens of Africa, I greet
you in the name of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). You may ask, “what organizations is
that?” It is for me to inform you that
the UNIA is an organization that seeks to unite, into one solid body, the
four hundred million Negroes in the world.
To link up the fifty million Negros in the United States of America,
with the twenty million Negroes of the West Indies, the forty million Negroes
of South and Central American, with the two hundred and eight million Negros
of Africa, for the purpose of bettering our industrial, commercial,
educational, social, and political conditions… We of the UNIA are raising the
cry of “Africa for the Africans,” those at home and those abroad.
Doc C: 125th Street in Harlem
initially caused African Americans to move to cities?
importance did Harlem hold for African Americans during the 1900’s?
was the main goal of the NAACP from Document A?
is Abraham Lincoln mentioned in Document A?
is the main goal of the UNIA in Document B?
does “Africa for the Africans” mean?
are the messages of Document A and Document B similar? How are they different?
on the documents and your previous knowledge, which group was more successful,
the NAACP or the UNIA?
the picture in Document C. Use at least
five details in your response.
why the people are gathered in the photo.
Activism in New York:
Directions: Read the background information on
anarchism in New York City. Analyze and
review the documents, then answer the questions that follow.
Background: In 19th Century Europe, in response
to the social unrest caused by the Industrial Revolution, anarchism
emerged. Its core belief was that only
when workers rose up against their government and abolished it completely,
could they escape their lives of poverty.
In its place they wanted to create a free and classless society. They were often in conflict with socialists,
as they are argued a government run by the working class needed to come before
a classless society, though both leftist groups shared the same enemy in
capitalism. Both anarchists and
socialists within New York City were either immigrants from Europe or their
children, many of whom left Europe because of their radical views. The poor living and working conditions for
immigrants convinced many of them that a revolution was needed in New York City
Emma Goldman, a young Russian Jewish immigrant, speaking to crowd at
Union Square (August 21, 1893)
“Men and women, do you not realize
that the State is the worst enemy you have?
It is a machine that crushes you in order to maintain the ruling
class, your masters… Fifth Avenue is laid in gold, every mansion a citadel (fortress) of money and power. Yet there you stand, a giant, starved and
fettered (restrained), shorn of his
strength… They will go on robbing you… unless you wake up, unless you become
daring enough to demand your rights.
Well, then, demonstrate before the palaces of the rich; demand work. If they do not give you work, demand
bread. If they deny you both, take
bread. It is your sacred right!”
Doc C: New York Criminal Anarchy Law of 1902
Sec. 160. Criminal Anarchy Defined.
Criminal anarchy is the doctrine that organized government should be
overthrown by force or violence, or by assassination of the executive head or
of any of the executive officials of government, or by an unlawful
means. The advocacy of such doctrine
either by word of mouth or writing is a felony.
were the anarchists in New York City?
Doc. A, who is Emma Goldman? Is this
significant? Why or why not?
Doc. A, what rights does Emma Goldman say the people are being denied? What does she say they should do?
the poster in Doc. B. List at least five
message do you think the author is trying to convey in Doc. B?
is does the law in Doc. C do?
is this significant? What does it tell
you about the government during this time?
Activism in New York: Gay Rights
Directions: Read the background information on
gay rights in New York City. Analyze and
review the documents, then answer the questions that follow.
Background: On June 28, 1969, police officers
raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village. The Inn’s selling of alcohol without a liquor
license was the official reason behind the raid, but the patrons of the club
believed the real motivation was their sexual orientation. In response to the raid a riot broke out, and
for the next four nights similar protests took place. “Stonewall” electrified the gay and lesbian
communities of New York and marked a turning point in the gay rights
campaign. Prior to this gay people lived
in fear of their secret coming out, as they often faced harassment, violence
and even job loss when they came out.
Various gay and lesbian organizations were established to further the
gay rights cause; often using Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement as
a guide, though some used more radical means.
Doc A: 3 Deviates Invite Exclusion by
Bars – But They Visit Four Before Being Refused Service, in a Test of State
Liquor Authority (S.L.A.) Rules – By Thomas A. Johnson, The New York Times (April 22, 1966)
Three homosexuals, intent upon challenging State Liquor Authority regulations cited by some bartenders in refusing to sell liquor to sexual deviates, met with some difficulty yesterday finding a bar that would deny them service. The three, who were officials of the Mattachine Society, a group dedicated to the improvement of the status of homosexuals, found their first testing establishment closed. Then they found willing service in two other places, even after advising the managers that they were homosexuals. But, in their fourth call, when they told the bartender they were homosexuals, he refused to serve them… Informed of the incident, the S.L.A.’s chief executive officer said that regulations leave service to the discretion of the management and that they do not discriminate against homosexuals. He said, however, that bartenders had the right to refuse service if a customer is not orderly…
Doc B: 4 Policemen Hurt in ‘Village’
Raid – Melee (Riot) Near Sheridan Square Follows Action at Bar – The New York
Times (June 29, 1969)
Hundreds of young men went on a rampage in Greenwich Village shortly after 3 AM yesterday after a force of plainclothes men raided a bar that the police said was well-known for its homosexual clientele. Thirteen persons were arrested and four policemen injured. The young men threw bricks, bottles, garbage, pennies and a parking meter at the policemen, who had a search warrant authorizing them in investigate reports that liquor was sold illegally at the bar, the Stonewall Inn, just off Sheridan Square. Deputy Inspector Pine said that a large crowd formed in the square after being evicted from the bar. Police reinforcements were sent to the area to hold off the crowd…. The police estimated that 200 young men had been expelled from the bar. The crowd grew close to 400 during the melee, which lasted about 45 minutes. … The raid was one of the three held on Village bars in the last two weeks. Charges against the 13 who were arrested ranged from harassment and resisting arrest to disorderly conduct.
Doc C: Christopher Street Rally
was Stonewall? What impact did it have
on New York City’s gay community?
is the Mattachine Society from Doc. A?
were the men refused service in Doc. A?
did the men go on a “rampage” in Doc. B?
you think this is a biased account of the event in Doc. B? Why or why not?
are gay men portrayed in the newspaper articles from Doc. A and Doc. B?
would you describe the people in the picture from Doc. C?
picture in Doc. C is from the first Gay Pride Parade in New York City, why do
you think 1970 was the first year?
the poster from Doc. D. What do you think the artist is trying to convey?
in New York: Labor Movement
Directions: Read the background information on
the Labor Movement in New York City.
Analyze and review the documents, then answer the questions that follow.
Garment production was the largest manufacturing business in New York City by
the early 1900’s and it was fueled by the city’s immigrant population. The work
was typically characterized by unsafe and unclean conditions, low pay, long
hours and abusive bosses. Workers wanted
to create unions to combat these poor working conditions, but employers were
resistant to them. Despite this, unions
were formed by the 19th Century. With
the relative success of the “Uprising of 20,000,” a garment worker’s strike in
1909, the city’s labor movement exploded.
Within the next four years, labor unions increased from 30,000 to
Doc A : Clara Lemlich, a 23-year-old
immigrant garment worker speaking in Yiddish from stage in Manhattan (November
“I am a working girl. One of those who are on strike against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in general terms. What we are here for is to decide whether we shall strike or shall not strike. I offer a resolution that a general strike be declared now. If I turn traitor to the cause I now pledge, may this hand wither from the arm I now raise.” –
Doc C: Public Indifference Held Responsible – Voters Should Demand Better Fire Protection, Says Dr. Anna Shaw at Protest Meeting. “DOLLARS AGAINST A LIFE” The New York Times (April 1, 1911)
A mass meeting of protest at the conditions which made possible the Washington Place fire disaster a week ago today was held at Cooper Union last night… Stretched where everyone could see was a flaring banner which bore the legend:
Nov. 26 – Twenty-five women killed in Newark factory fire. March 25- One hundred and thirty women killed in Triangle fire. Locked doors, overcrowding, inadequate fire escapes. The women could not, the voters did not, alter these conditions. We demand for all women the right to protect themselves – … “Well it all comes right down to dollars and cents against a life,” Fire Chief Croker was quoted as saying, “that is the bottom of the entire thing. Mr. Owner will come and say to the Fire Department: ‘If you compel us to do this or that we will have to close up the factory; we cannot afford to do it.’ It comes right down to dollars and cents against human lives no matter which way you look at it.”
is factory work described during the early 1900s?
were unions created? Why did employers
not want unions?
Doc. A, to what cause does Clara Lemlich pledge?
do you notice about the description of Clara Lemlich? Why is this significant?
the political cartoon in Doc. B. Provide
at least five details.
message do you think the artist is trying to convey in Doc. B?
happened in the Washington Place fire from Doc. C?
is blamed for the fire?
in New York: Women’s Suffrage
Directions: Read the background information
on the Women’s Suffrage Campaign in New York City. Analyze and review the documents, then answer
the questions that follow.
Background: Beginning in the 1860s, New York
City became the center for Women’s Suffrage.
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two of the movement’s most
prominent leaders, took up residence in the city during this time. Later in the 19th Century, it
became the center for the “New Woman,” a popular phrase used to describe the
young middle and upper-class women who began attending college and later
obtained careers; something previously denied to their mothers. This newfound education and career achievements
led many women to believe they were entitled to vote and become more
politically active. In the early 1900s
the National American Woman Suffrage Association moved its headquarters to New
York City as well.
Doc A: Opinions of Prominent Women –
Leaders in the Movement Tell Why They are in Favor of Equal Rights– The
New York Times (February 21, 1909)
Mrs. Harriot Stanton Blatch. – Why am I a suffragist? Because women are living under the conditions of the twentieth century. When they were spinning or weaving, teaching and nursing in their own homes, with no examining boards, factory inspectors, or school officers to interfere, a male aristocracy was not so unjust a political system as it is today. Women lived then in a sort of republic of their own making. But with health boards after us, our children snatched from our proverbial knee by compulsory school laws, and every means of creating wealth stolen from the chimney corner, and placed in the business world, women’s concerns have become the State’s concerns…Men cannot feel the new needs of women, and therefore cannot safely assume to be their political sponsors.
Doc C: 19th Amendment: Women’s Right to Vote (1920)
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
What was the “New Woman?”
Why do you think New York City was the home of the Women’s Suffrage Movement?
In Doc. A, why is Ms. Blatch a suffragist?
Why are women’s concerns now the State’s concerns from Doc. A?
Where are the women from Doc. B protesting? Why there?
Do you think the location of the picture had more of an impact than protests elsewhere? Why or why not?
What does the 19th Amendment from Doc. C guarantee?
Are you surprised by the year? Why or why not?
What three languages is the poster from Doc. D written is? Why?
The poster from Doc. D was created by Margaret Sanger. What is she discussing? What does this have to do with Women’s Suffrage?
Activism in New York:
Occupy Wall Street
Directions: Read the background information
on Occupy Wall Street. Analyze and
review the documents, then answer the questions that follow.
Background: The Depression of 2008 was set
off by many of the world’s richest banks selling billions of dollars in risky
investments, including home mortgages which had been sold to Americans. Borrowers were unable to pay back their loans
and the impact from their defaults was felt throughout the economy. This resulted in the near collapse, or
collapse, of many of the U.S.’s financial institutions, the freezing of credit
and economic problems throughout the world.
The economic conditions were eventually stabilized, but trillions of
dollars were needed to “bail out” the banks.
Unemployment continued to rise, thousands lost their homes, but bank
executives continued to profit. Wall
Street, New York, had been seen as the financial capital of America since the
1830’s, and as such it became the center of the protests in 2011.
Doc A: Declaration of the Occupation of
New York City (September 29, 2011)
As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know what we are your allies. As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their rights and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people on the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceable assembled here, as is our right to let these facts be known. They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosures process, despite not having the original mortgage. They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity (freedom), continue to give Executives exorbitant (excessive) bonuses. They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right…
Doc C: A Day of Protests as Occupy Movement Marks Two-Month Milestone by Katharine Q. Seelye – The New York Times (November 17, 2011) Protesters across the country demonstrated en masse Thursday, snarling rush-hour traffic in several major cities and taking aim at banks as part of the national “day of action” to mark the two-month milestone of the Occupy Wall Street movement. While thousands of protestors clogged the streets in New York and more than 175 people were arrested in clashes with the police, demonstrators elsewhere in the country were largely peaceful… Union workers, students, unemployed people and local residents joined the crowds in many cities, adding to a core of Occupy protesters… Activists decried banking practices, called for more jobs and demanded a narrowing of the divide between the richest 1 percent of the population and the other 99 percent.
was Wall Street chosen as the location for the protest?
economic conditions lead to the Occupy Wall Street Movement?
Doc. A, what does the Declaration cite as the facts for the Occupation?
the document in Doc. A resemble any other document you have read?
the picture in Doc B. Use at least five
details in your response.
does the sign say 99% in Doc. B?
Doc. C, who joined the protest? Why do
you think these groups of people joined?
does the New York Times say the activists want in Doc. C?
the political cartoon in Doc. D. Use at
least five details in your response.
message do you think the artist is trying to convey in Doc. D?
in New York: New Housing Activists
Directions: Read the background information on
new housing activists in New York City.
Analyze and review the documents, then answer the questions that follow.
Background: During the late 1960’s and 1970’s
dozens of community organizations were created to combat the “urban
crisis.” Entire neighborhoods were near
collapse in the face of crime, drug addiction, unemployment and housing abandonment
which had been going on for years. The
thousands of African Americans and Puerto Ricans who had moved to New York
after World War II, were caught between two government programs. The first, “redlining,” kept them from
borrowing money to upgrade or buy homes in either their area or middle-class
areas as banks viewed them as a risk to residential security. The second, was Urban Renewal, where powerful
people used federal funds to construct new highways, art centers and apartment
complexes without care of the existing neighborhoods. The people who were crowded out by these new
buildings were not given adequate housing and thus were forced into the
slums. When the city government ran out
of money in 1975, the poorest areas were virtually abandoned. In response, the residents of these areas
banded together to save their areas.
Document A: Bronx Housing Devastation Found Slowing Substantially by David W. Dunlap – The New York Times (March 22, 1982) New York City officials and neighborhood activists say they are witnessing a marked slowing of the wholesale devastation that plagued the Bronx in the 1970’s. The burning and abandonment that cut a wide swath from south to north through the borough have not stopped. But the neighborhoods that are now on the northern edges of the devastated areas show new signs of stability, officials say. Among the encouraging factors, they say, are that hundreds of buildings are being rehabilitated, that private money has been successfully enlist in the effort and that tenants and whole communities have organized to fight on behalf of their buildings and neighborhoods… If this stability – reflected by inhabitants clinging more tenaciously to their buildings and neighborhoods – continues, the officials said, it may be due to the simple economic fact that many residents have no choice but to stay put.
was the “urban crisis?”
was the government response to the crisis?
What was the residents’ response?
the picture. Use at least five details
in your response.
reasons does the author provide for the slowing down of the “devastation” of
does the author of Doc. D say, “the residents have no choice but to stay put?”
changes does the author see in the Bronx?
Activism in New York:
Directions: Read the background information on
protests today in New York City. Analyze
and review the documents, then answer the questions that follow.
Background: After the 2011 Occupy Wall Street
protest, activism has continued to play an important role in New York City. These protests have taken on new strategies,
namely social media, in addition to the familiar ones used throughout New
York’s history. Many issues have
centered around race, from the Black Lives Matter protest to “Stop and Frisk,”
and the statue debate. The successful
push for same-sex marriage in 2015, advocating for AIDS, the protection of
undocumented immigrants and the Women’s March are additional examples from
recent years, all showing New York City’s lasting impact for activists and
change throughout time.
Doc A: New Yorkers Rediscover Activism in the Trump Presidency Era by Gina Bellfante – The New York Times (January 20, 2017): The “movement,” of course is Trump resistance, which is essentially a movement against everything – the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act, climate-change denial, the omnibus threats to the pursuit of equality (racial, economic, gender), a general erosion of civility, modesty, nuance, logic. How to counter it all? Even if the answer to that question is still taking shape, the intensity to fight back, made evident in part by the Women’s March on Washington taking place on Saturday, is producing what will probably turn out to be one of the most fertile periods of activism on the left in decades. Right now, in New York City, it is possible to join in an act of opposition to the New World Order nearly every day… The new wave of activism taking hold in New York and perhaps around the country owes a debt to the Occupy Wall Street movement even as its success continues to be debated… It created a foundation upon which politicians and causes have flourished, and build, and demanded power. And power, in the words of Frederick Douglass, concedes nothing without a demand.
Doc D: “Why Demonstrating is Good for Kids,” by Lisa Damour – The New York Times (March 12, 2018) Participating in political activism may be good for our teenagers, according to a new research report. The study, published in January in the journal of Child Development, found that late adolescents and young adults who voted, volunteered or engaged in activism ultimately went further in school and had higher incomes than those who did not mobilize for political or social change… Of course, correlation does not prove causation, but the study makes a case for the benefits of civic engagement… The study’s lead author said that “having meaningful opportunities to volunteer or be involved in activism may change how young people think about themselves or their possibilities for the future.” The research is especially timely as American students consider whether to participate in the National School Walkout.
are three recent protests in New York City?
you participate in any forms of activism?
Why or why not?
do you think New York City continues to be central for many protests?
Alyssa Knipfing Oceanwide High School, Oceanside, New York
Aim: Why did people immigrate to the United States? Why New York City?
Do Now: Read both passages, A & B, and answer the guiding
questions to the right.
(A) Internal Immigrants: Quotas on foreign immigration unleashed a wave of internal migration between 1920 and 1965. The largest groups to move were from the U.S. south. Rural Southern blacks and whites migrated to northern and western cities seeking work in expanding factories. Many African Americans hoped to find increased freedom away from the racially segregated south. This migration created new African American communities in New York City in Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant. Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans came to the mainland seeking work in record numbers during these years. Because Puerto Rico was a U.S. colony, Puerto Ricans were not restricted by immigration quotas.
(B) Newest Immigrants: In 1965, the United States revised its immigration laws, making it possible for millions of new immigrants to enter the country. The newest immigrants to the United States, Brooklyn, and East New York, include tens of thousands of people from the Caribbean, South and Central America, West Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia. These people seek work and economic, political, and religious freedom. Despite hostility that has often greeted them, many have decided to put down roots and become United States citizens.
Questions: According to Passage A, What caused the creation of new African American communities in New York City?According to Passage B, What regions did immigrants come from in the 1960s?In your opinion, do you think the benefits of living in American society outweighed the harsh realities of daily discrimination?
Directions: Read the following passages about the historical background of immigration with your groups. Answer the guiding questions in your social studies notebooks.
(C) New Arrivals: From 1840 until 1880, new European groups migrated to the United States. The Irish fled starvation and persecution by the British. In the United States they became factory workers and helped build the canals, railroads, and the labor movement. Scandinavians were farming people who largely settled in the midwest. The Germans migrated in large numbers because of war and failed revolutions. Many Germans were skilled workers and they settled in new cities. During this period there were so many German immigrants that Chicago schools taught students in German. People of German decent remain the largest ethnic group in the United States today. During this period large numbers of Chinese also migrated to the United States. They settled on the west coast where they helped to build the railroads. When the economy was strong, these new people were generally accepted. However, economic hard times brought strong anti-immigrant feelings including the spread of racist ideas. Immigrant workers were attacked, their unions were broken, and laws were passed to keep out new immigrants. In 1882 the first exclusion laws banned immigrants from China and other “undesirables.” In 1908, the United States also blocked immigration from Japan.
The map above shows the immense decrease in population in Ireland during the Irish potato famine that caused mass starvation
Questions for Passage C: Why did the Irish flee their homeland? What kind of work did the immigrants do in U.S.? Why did the Germans flee their homeland? How were the Irish and German immigrants treated?In your opinion, why do you think American citizens treated the immigrants so harshly? Explain.
(D) Ellis Island: Between 1880 and 1921 millions of new immigrants poured into the United States from Eastern and Southern Europe and from Mexico. They included Slavic people like Russians, Poles, and Ukrainians, Mediterranean groups like Italians, Sicilians, Greeks, Turks and Armenians, and religious groups like the Eastern European Jews. Most of these new immigrants arrived by boat in New York City through Ellis Island. They were poor people who traveled in “steerage,” along with their luggage in the hold of large steamships. Most of the new arrivals from Europe settled in Eastern coast and midwestern cities where they lived in overcrowded slums and unhealthy and unsafe tenement housing. Many did dangerous work in mines, mills, and factories. In New York City, immigrants dug the subway tunnels and water aqueducts, built the skyscrapers and bridges, and developed the garment industry. Conditions were so difficult that almost 50% of the Italians and Sicilians and over 30% of the Slavs who came to the United States eventually returned home. Many immigrants were union leaders and political activists who tried to improve conditions for poor people and workers. Mother Jones and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn were Irish. Joe Hill was Swedish. Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian. Sam Gompers, Sidney Hillman, and David Dubinsky were Jews. By 1919, anti-immigrant sentiment was growing in the United States again. Southern and Eastern European immigrants were branded as radicals and undesirables who could never become truly American. In 1921 and 1924 quota laws were passed to effectively stop immigration from these areas. Source:https://people.hofstra.edu/alan_j_singer/294%20Course%20Pack/6.%20Immigration/115.pdf
Questions for Passage D:
Where did the millions of new immigrants come from? How and where did they arrive to the United States? What kind of jobs did the immigrants have in New York City? In your opinion, why do you think those jobs were given to the immigrants?In your opinion, why do you think anti-immigrant sentiment was growing in the United States?
(E) Directions: Examine the
map below and answer the “Geography Skillbuilder – Interpreting Maps” questions
in your SS notebooks.
How did the Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson-Reed Act) affect immigration into the United States? How did it affect immigration into New York
Now: Read the historical background and answer the guiding
questions in your notebooks.
Background: “The Immigration Act of 1924 made
the principle of national origin quotas the permanent basis for U.S.
immigration policy. The Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the Johnson-Reed
Act, restricted the number of immigrants from a given country to 2% of the number
of residents from that same country living in the United States. The percentage
quotas were strongly biased towards to the “Old Immigrants” from
North-Western Europe as opposed to the “New Immigrants” from
South-Eastern Europe. The Immigration Act of 1924 shut the ‘Golden Door’ to
America and 87% of immigration permits (visas) went to immigrants from Britain,
Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia. The law completely excluded immigrants from
Asia. Calvin Coolidge was the 30th American President who served in office from
August 2, 1923 to March 4, 1929. One of the important events during his
presidency was the Immigration Act of 1924.”
With your shoulder partners, read and examine the following boxes about the
legislation’s causes and effects. Discuss the importance of the act and how it
impacted immigration from foreign lands into the United States. Then, write a
brief paragraph about the concept of justice in regards to both of the parties
involved: Was the act fair to American citizens? Was the act fair to
immigrants? Was the United States justified in their decision to pass this act
limiting and restricting immigration from certain lands? Explain your thoughts
to the aforementioned questions by using supporting evidence from the
What was the Immigration Act of
Why was the Immigration Act of 1924
What was an important effect of the
In your opinion, do you think
President Calvin Coolidge’s support for this legislation helped or hurt the United
States? Explain your opinion with evidence from the passage.
Why the Immigration Act of 1924 Was Passed:
Immigration levels between 1900-1920
had soared, reaching over 14 million new immigrants into America
Based upon the data shown in the table above, describe what happened to the New
York City population from 1900 to 1930. Make sure to describe the trends before
the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed and what happened to the demographics in
New York after it passed. Explain in about 150 words what was happening using
data to support your claims. Record your response in your social studies
Read the passage below and examine the data table to the right with your
partners. Then, answer the guiding questions in your social studies notebooks.
Was Shut Out? Immigration Quotas, 1925-1927
In response to growing public opinion against the flow of
immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe in the years following World War I,
Congress passed first the Quota Act of 1921 then the even more restrictive
Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act). Initially, the 1924 law imposed
a total quota on immigration of 165,000—less than 20 percent of the pre-World
War I average. It based ceilings on the number of immigrants from any
particular nation on the percentage of each nationality recorded in the 1890
census—a blatant effort to limit immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe,
which mostly occurred after that date. In the first decade of the 20th century,
an average of 200,000 Italians had entered the United States each year. With the
1924 Act, the annual quota for Italians was set at less than 4,000. This table
shows the annual immigration quotas under the 1924 Immigration Act. Source: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5078
How did the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (Hart-Celler Act) affect immigration into
the United States?
Now: Read the following passages and answer the guiding
questions in your social studies notebook.
Passage A: The 1965 Immigration and Nationality
Act, for the first time in American history, accepted immigrants of all
nationalities on a roughly equal basis. The law eliminated the use of
national-origin quotas, under which the overwhelming majority of immigrant
visas were set aside for people coming from northern and western Europe.
Passage B: The pattern of U.S. immigration changed
dramatically. The share of the U.S. population born outside the country tripled
and became far more diverse. Seven out of every eight immigrants in 1960 were
from Europe; by 2010, nine out of ten were coming from other parts of the
world. The 1965 Immigration Act was largely responsible for that shift. No law
passed in the 20th century altered the country’s demographic character quite so
According to Passage A, What was the main
goal of the new legislation in 1965?
According to Passage B, What was the ratio
of immigrants from Europe in the 1960s?
your opinion, what are the major differences between the Immigration Act of
1924 we studied earlier and this piece of immigration legislation?
President Lyndon B. Johnson sits at his desk on Liberty
Island in New York Harbor as he signs a new immigration bill, October 1965.
Examine the following sources with your groups and answer the guiding questions
in your social studies notebooks.
Questions: How many immigrants (in millions) consisted of the U.S. population in 1960?Why did immigration into the U.S. increase from 1970 to 1990?In your opinion, why do you think the Census Bureau projects a steady increase of immigrants until the year 2060?
Percentage of Chinese
population in the United States, 2000:
Questions: According to the map, Which American states have the greatest Chinese populations? Which have the smallest Chinese populations?Which major American cities are well-renowned for their Chinese populations? How do you know? [Hint: think of America’s many “Chinatowns”]. In your opinion, What do you think this map will look like in the next fifty years? Explain your thoughts.
U.S. Foreign-Born Population Trends: Modern
Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and
Change Through 2065 – SHIFT IN ORIGINS
In 1960, 8.2 million immigrants from Europe
and Canada were living in the U.S. By 2013, that number had fallen to 5.9
million. Over the same period, the number of immigrants who were born in South
or East Asia increased almost thirtyfold, from about 400,000 in 1960 to 10.7
million in 2013. Immigrants from Mexico are not far behind, with about 20 times
as many Mexican immigrants in 2013 (11.6 million) as there were in 1960
Questions: According to the pie-graph, Where in the world were immigrants predominantly coming from in 1960? Percentage? What are the four major regions where immigrants came from in the year 2013? Percentages? In your opinion, what do you think this pie-graph will look like in the next fifty years? Explain your thoughts
U.S. Foreign-Born Population Trends: Modern
Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and
Change Through 2065 – TOP COUNTRIES OF BIRTH
Looking at the top countries of origin among
immigrants in the U.S. by state, there is a shift from 1960 to 2013. In 1960,
while Mexico was the biggest country of origin in the border states
(California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas), Canada and European countries such
as Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom dominated the rest of the country. In
2013, Mexico was the top country of origin in 33 states, encompassing most of
the West, South and Midwest. Immigrants in the remaining states have diverse
origins, including the Caribbean, Central America, Canada, South and East Asia
According to the data table above, from rank #1 to rank #3, Which countries were the top birthplaces of immigrants in:
What type of United States legislation do you think was responsible for the change in birthplace origins of immigrants into the United States? Explain why.
In your opinion, Which country/countries do you think will be the most popular place immigrants will come from in 2050? Explain your thoughts.
Greer Burroughs, Marissa Bellino, Morgan Johnston, Catarina Ribeira, Marci Chanin, Briana Cash, and Ellen Cahill The College of New Jersey, Ewing NJ Bradford School, Montclair NJ Edison Township School District, Edison NJ
The topic of immigration, who has a right to come to this country and who has a right to stay, has been at the heart of heated and emotional debates across the United States. In the summer of 2018 images and stories of children separated from their families at the southern border filled news and social media outlets. At the same time, the murder of a 20-year old woman in Iowa by an undocumented immigrant, led to calls for tighter border controls and for the governor of the state to proclaim that she was, “angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community,” (Klein & Smith, 2018). In recent years the nation has witnessed a series of executive orders to limit immigration from many majority Muslim nations, cuts to the numbers of refugees the U.S. will accept, a series of court challenges to these policies, increased arrests by ICE (Bialik, 2018) and outrage and protests from supporters on all sides of these issues. It is within this context that young children across the U.S. are developing a sense of what it means to be an “American”. A primary purpose of public education is to prepare individuals to be responsible citizens in this pluralistic, democratic nation, therefore schools should not shy away from addressing these issues.
controversial issues may seem daunting, or even out
of place in elementary school. However, the National Council of Social
Studies (NCSS) theme of Power, Authority and Governance, calls on educators to
teach children about the functions of government, legitimate use of political
power, how individual rights are protected and the conflicts that may arise
when advancing fundamental principles and values in a constitutional democracy.
The standards state that “through the study of the
dynamic relationships between individual rights and responsibilities, the needs
of social groups, and concepts of a just society, learners become more
effective problem-solvers and decision-makers when addressing the persistent
issues and social problems encountered in public life” (National Council
for the Social Studies, 2010). Despite this charge,
many elementary school educators avoid topics that can be deemed too political
or upsetting to younger audiences (Zimmerman & Robertson, 2017). This stance
turns a blind eye to the reality that these events touch the lives of
children in many ways. Some children have experienced separation from family
members or have fears members of their family or community will face
deportation. Many children are exposed to unsettling images in the media or
hear discussions among adults that may be laced with anger and fear. Avoiding
controversial societal issues is, in part, to deny children’s awareness of
their surroundings and can limit opportunities to
help children make sense of difficult topics (Passe, 2008). Addressing these
topics can be a vehicle to teach valuable concepts and skills of democratic
citizenship (Harwood & Hahn, 1990; Parker, 2006).
In this article, we share
lessons designed and implemented by a team of educators to address forced
migration, asylum seeking, national borders and concepts of power and freedom
with children in grades 2-4. Through the collaborative work, members of the
team experienced shifts in their understandings of what should and ultimately
could be taught to young learners. This evolutionary process, the lessons and
what was learned from teaching the lessons to young learners, will be shared.
Where We Started
team is comprised of three practicing teachers, two preservice teachers, and
two education professors. The impetus for the project was a service learning
trip most members of the team took to Lesvos, Greece in the summer of 2017. The
island has been at the center of a migration crisis with millions of people
fleeing war, human rights violations and economic hardships in their homelands.
During the height of the crisis in November 2015, the United Nations Human
Rights Commission reported that 379,000 individuals had already arrived on the
island and an estimated 3,300 more were arriving each day, (UNHRC, November
2015). Along with the human toll of accommodating a massive influx of people,
huge amounts of debris in the form of rubber dinghies, wrecked boats, personal
items, plastic bottles and an estimated 600,000 life jackets washed-up or were
left on the shores of the island. Organizations and individuals around the
world responded by providing aid.
goals of the trip were to study the interconnection between the ecological and
social crises, while working with nonprofit organizations and people directly
impacted. This involved learning with locals about environmentally sustainable
practices, cleaning the beaches and providing aid for refugees. An additional
goal was to advance education for sustainability by creating lessons for
elementary children to teach about the impact of humans on the environment in
the midst of a human and global crisis. Supporting the students in shifting
their orientation towards a more social and eco justice orientation was an
important objective of the entire experience.
the preservice teachers focused on the environmental side of the crisis and
discussed possible lessons dealing with the negative impact of plastic on
marine life, or the benefits of upcycling. One afternoon the group sorted
clothing donations and prepared backpacks for children who had just arrived by
boat on the island. That night one student noted in her journal that, “Getting
adequate basics, clothes that fit, clean drinking water and food, was a reality
for the refugees”. The team also interacted daily with volunteers who had been
on the front lines of the crisis and heard first-hand accounts from people
forced to flee their homelands. From these experiences, the human dimension
became real. One journal entry captured this shift in perspective when the
preservice teacher wrote “What makes a refugee? These people were just born in
the wrong place, [it’s] all about the luck of where you are born…I am
redefining human rights”. With this new perspective, what to teach about the
crisis also began to shift away from just the environmental issues to the human
“Freedom is like a bird, a bird doesn’t get told what to do” - Second grader
order to support the preservice teachers in the lesson plan part of the
project, we invited in-service teachers as collaborators. In teams of two,
lesson ideas were shared and refined. Drawing on their experience in Greece and
the knowledge of the classroom teachers, the preservice teachers were able to
work through some of their anxieties and conceptions of what young children
could handle. As one student expressed,
“I don’t believe second graders can understand the concept of the refugee
crisis.” The 2nd-grade teacher working with the student agreed and offered
freedom as a concept that could be addressed and brought to the level of the
children. From there the ideas came quickly and the two decided to begin the
lesson with a children’s book. They choose the book Stepping Stones by Margriet Ruurs (2016). The book tells the story of a
young girl and her family who are forced to leave their home due to civil war.
The illustrations in the book show the family’s plight as they take only the
belongings they can carry and flee on foot to find safety in Europe.
The second-grade team
determined that once students understood the idea of being forced to leave
one’s home, they wanted the children to relate borders and barriers to the
concepts of freedom of movement. They
decided to use a simple simulation to help students connect to the idea. In
both classes where this lesson was taught, the teachers divided the students
into two groups and explained that the class was going to play a game. The
in-service teacher brought her class outside and one group was told they could
play on the playground for ten minutes, while the other would be required to
stand in a small section of the blacktop. After ten minutes, the groups would
switch. When the preservice teacher taught the lesson she began by asking the
class to list classroom privileges they enjoyed and narrowed the list to two
favorites; flexible seating choices and drawing on the whiteboard. The preservice teacher then explained that
one group could exercise these privileges for ten minutes while the other group
needed to remain quietly in their seats.
In both classrooms, the idea that this was a game and that the groups
would switch was repeatedly emphasized. After the lesson, the students were
given opportunities to reflect on their experience and offer their own
definitions of what freedom was.
During the activity, both
teachers noted very strong reactions among the students. In a focus group, the
second-grade teacher described her students as being, “distressed and outraged even though they knew they would
get their turn [to play on the playground]”. In both classrooms students
reflected on how they felt during the activity and the notion of fairness was
applied to the experience by the students.
One child expressed dismay she had lost privileges even though she had
been behaving well. This provided the teacher with the opportunity to explain
that loss of freedom wasn’t related to one’s behavior and she reminded them how
the family in the story didn’t do something bad to cause the loss of their
Another team designed a
lesson involving a web-based, simulation activity in which students made
choices for a woman escaping domestic violence in Nicaragua and seeking asylum
in the United States. The simulation, The
Walls We Don’t See (Public Radio International, 2017), follows multiple,
true stories, of people leaving their homes as a result of violence, war,
economic, or environmental degradation. Through the simulation, the students
are asked to make decisions that impact the experience and ultimately granting
or denial to the individual seeking asylum.
In preparation for the
activity, students brainstormed a list of items they would take with them if
they were forced to leave their homes. This prompted a discussion of how the
children would feel if they were separated from their personal belongings, a
favorite teddy bear or their favorite pair of shoes. In both a third and fourth
grade class implementing this lesson, new vocabulary was introduced to students
prior to the simulation. Students were encouraged to use the new vocabulary
(ie. detention center, coyote, border control) in their discussions about the
outcomes of the simulation. The students were highly engaged in the simulation
activity and as a class, were very concerned with the outcomes of their choices
for Maria (the woman in the simulation). After the simulation concluded, the
children wrote letters to Maria sharing about a time when they also had to make
a difficult decision.
I think taking from the idea of freedom, that was so big and so complex, breaking it down and doing a simple activity where some kids were able to play and some didn’t, Preservice teacher
all four classrooms, the children expressed common themes as a result of the
lessons. Their ability to make connections between a global crisis and their
lives was one big learning outcome. One child shared about his own family’s
experience immigrating from Turkey and that he knew parts of his country were
dangerous. Another boy shared about his father’s detainment when entering the U.S. from India.
One fourth grader even informed the class that she knew many people were trying
to gain entrance to the U.S. because she watched a TV show called, 90-Day Fiancé, where contestants seek to
obtain visas by becoming engaged to a U.S. citizen.
In a fourth-grade
classroom, the preservice teacher who went to Lesvos showed pictures of beach
debris and refugee camps. When the image of a child’s shoe left behind on a
beach came on the screen the students were stunned and asked, “This happened to
children?” She described this as a moment when the student’s interest shifted
and they could connect more to the stories. The in-service teachers were both
able to make curricular connections to immigration, diversity, and culture and
one had previously had a parent speak to the class about fleeing Cuba. This
helped the children make connections between the woman’s story and the story of
Maria from the simulation activity.
The students also made
emotional connections with the refugees. One second grade student exclaimed “I felt like I was
invisible, I kept thinking they couldn’t even see me!” Similarly, another child
stated, “I felt like I wasn’t a part of the class anymore.” Making these
connections helped the children develop empathy. One teacher asked the students
based on what they experienced, would they do anything differently if the game
was played again. Some of the students suggested they could help others who
were denied freedom (i.e., couldn’t exercise class privileges), not feel so
excluded by sitting next to them while drawing. In another instance, when a
young boy learned
that many of the refugees sought to build new lives in Germany, he explained
that his mother often traveled there for work and asked if she could volunteer
to help the refugees. Several third-grade students were so moved by the online
simulation that during their recess they conceived of a plan for a hotel to
house and aid refugees. After recess, they presented their teacher with a slide
show outlining features the hotel would offer such as service in an
individual’s home language to help them in their transition. These
examples also demonstrate an emerging sense of civic responsibility, which is a
primary goal of social studies education.
I underestimated their intelligence and their ability to do something like this. I was nervous that they weren’t going to make connections to the story…. they took it much further than I anticipated. Preservice teacher
“If you’re telling the truth, not putting a spin on it, you’re okay. This is reality, I’m not telling them anything that isn’t true.” 2nd Grade Teacher
of the teachers, both in-service and preservice, learned something from
creating and teaching the lessons. One of the largest “ah-ha” moments for the
preservice teachers was a better understanding of the capacity young learners
have for engaging in a social justice-oriented dialogue. The preservice
teachers struggled with trusting that young people would be able to actively
participate and make connections to topics about freedom and immigration. By
working alongside more veteran teachers, they recognized how significant these
kinds of lessons are for children, and that to be a social justice educator,
truth and discomfort may go hand in hand.
also became clearer to all participants, how infrequently these kinds of
dialogues occur in elementary classrooms. When discussing why this is the case,
the reflections ranged from doubting the developmental capacity children have
to engage in difficult discussions, to the time and curricular demands of
teaching in the current high stakes, standardized testing school culture. Fear
of reprisals by administrators and parents was also a common reason shared for
why these topics aren’t taught more often. The veteran teachers were able to
offer the preservice and novice teacher with models of teaching for social justice
and inspiration. The idea that truth should always be taught became a
significant theme for all of the teachers.
final, more practical point was that opportunities to link global issues with
an elementary school social studies curriculum do exist. Immigration is a
common topic covered, as are colonization and civil rights. The veteran
teachers described connections they helped the children make between the
refugees fleeing the middle east and the Native Americans who were displaced by
European colonists. By incorporating concepts of justice and human rights, the
teachers are helping the children critically assess past and current policies
and to begin to form their own beliefs on the kind of society they want to live
about issues of immigration and freedom are not topics that should remain
invisible in our classrooms. The comments made by the children clearly
illustrate that they have background knowledge of these issues, even negative
aspects such as detainment and that not everyone who desires to come to the
U.S. can. The children were also able to feel empathy for those who were denied
freedom or faced difficult struggles. In the current political context,
developing both the critical thinking skills to question the diverse contexts
with which people migrate, as well as the empathy to connect to the experience
of others, are valuable pursuits for teachers. Children can understand the
ideas of justice and are capable of making personal connections to these
of freedom, security in one’s family, home and favorite belongings, are
accessible to young audiences. The teachers experiences demonstrate
there are opportunities in elementary social studies to push the boundaries of
traditional topics and teach lessons that deal with important global and social