Focusing on the
New Immigration

Xue Lan Rong and M. Gail Hickey

This special issue of Social Education focuses on immigration trends and issues relevant to the present time, and relates them to social studies teaching about immigration and to the education of immigrant children in our classrooms. Our schools have traditionally been the most important social institution for absorbing newcomers, and within the schools, social studies is the core discipline for accomplishing this vital goal.

Our development of the theme of social studies and the "New Immigration" has been driven by three major goals:

> to provide updated and accurate information for social studies professionals who work on the topic of immigration and/or who work with immigrant children and their communities

> to offer an opportunity for social studies educators to share their experiences in these areas

> to challenge all who work in this field to re-examine their own understanding of immigrant issues and to raise critical questions about how they are being dealt with in our schools and communities

Our approach to immigrant education combines insights from different social science disciplines. It is also constructivist with regard to teaching models. Most of the authors prefer some form of an acculturation model over the traditional model of assimilation in teaching about immigration and in teaching immigrant children.

Many articles stress ideas for educating immigrant students that challenge conventional views. Rather than focusing only on the problems of immigration, they emphasize the resources--cultural, social, and psychological--generated by immigrants within their ethnic communities and networks, and examine how these resources help to empower immigrants in the face of their initial and continuing difficulties in adjustment. This has important implications in an era of shrinking financial support for schools in the inner cities where most newly immigrated students reside.1

Further, these articles taken as a whole convey the message that immigration is a complex phenomenon requiring schools to create variable responses to the needs of immigrant children, and that educators should avoid simplistic expectations about how immigrant students are likely to perform academically.

In an attempt to set these issues in context, Xue Lan Rong outlines the demographic trends in current and future immigration and their implications for American society. Using U.S. census and other data, she explains how the new immigration is producing dramatic changes in the following three areas: the size of the U.S. population and the proportion of immigrants it contains, the racial/ethnic composition of the nation, and the diversity among todayís immigrants. She then explores the impact of the new immigration on the nationís schools and the special challenges it poses for social studies educators.

One challenge involves the appropriate model of acculturation for todayís newcomers. How one model looks in action is provided in ìVoices from Little Asia: ëBlue Dragoní Teens Reflect on Their Experiences as Asian Americans.î Melinda Cowart, Ron Wilhelm and Ronald Cowart describe how educators and community law enforcement agents working together have served as cultural brokers for immigrant students in Dallas. Citizenship education, community service, and in-depth discussions have all helped these Asian youths to examine and reconstruct their perceptions of themselves, in- and out-group peers, family, school, the community, and society at large.

Another challenge involves how to establish a framework for promoting accurate information and balanced discussion of the subject of immigration. Historically, new immigrants have often been greeted by ethnic prejudice, especially at times when the immigrant population has increased rapidly. Vargas and dePysslerís article on stereotypes of Mexican immigrants highlights one of the contemporary manifestations of this problem. The authors strongly recommend the use of media literacy to counteract these media-created images.

Several articles in this issue offer ideas for teaching about immigration and teaching immigrant children. Singer and Harbour-Ridley describe a program at the Morris I. Eisenstein Learning Center (MLE) in Brooklyn for children from pre-school to age 12. The program, called ìTogether We Are America,î is designed to help children express, share, and take pride in their own familyís culture while learning about the experiences and backgrounds of the Centerís many Caribbean and Latin American immigrant children. Childrenís literature and parental involvement are essential components of their experience.

Robin McBee and her education students found common threads in how the elementary classroom teachers they interviewed approach the topic of immigration, and offer useful synopses of three teaching units on immigration.

At the high school level, Mary Connor describes a thematic approach for teaching about immigration in U.S. history. Students research their own familyís immigrant history as a preface to creating a class family history document. Later in the unit, they conduct oral interviews of recent immigrants to supplement their historical study of immigration. Students also explore community resources that promote racial and ethnic tolerance. Connor reports that the debate over Proposition 187 in her California classroom was ìforceful enough to overflow into hallways and homes.î

Systematic changes in teacher education to reflect the issues raised by the new immigration are described by Margaret Crocco and her colleagues. Their article about the revision of the Program in Social Studies at Teachers College of Columbia University shows how the program builds on the twin pillars of caring and competence, and promotes a deep understanding of the subject matter.

Many immigrants are poor, and the quality of their childrenís education will be decisive for their prospects of upward mobility. Because English is often not the language spoken at home, the provision of appropriate language instruction at school is vital, although the issue of how best to provide it has been divisive. Rosa Castro Feinberg and Consuelo Conde Morencia argue against a sink-or-swim approach to students and identify economic, educational, and legal justifications for a multicultural approach to the issue that includes ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) as a basic component.

In her synthesis of interviews with contemporary immigrants, Gail Hickey explores how different cultural expectations may contribute to the learning difficulties experienced by some immigrant students. Childrearing beliefs, an emphasis on achievement and success, and differing characteristics of the family may all affect an immigrant studentís attitude toward school and his or her ability to achieve academic success. Suggestions are made as to how teachers can work more effectively with children of various ethnic backgrounds.

Finally, Lindsay Parry offers an Australian perspective on the teaching of immigration and multiculturalism in the schoolsóa subject now under challenge from the ìOne Nationî movement in that country. An overview of Australiaís immigration history, including the official ìWhite Australiaî policy that held sway from 1905 until 1974, provides background for the current controversy over how the school curriculum will address the history of immigration and the growing reality of ethnic diversity in Australia.

For this special issue, the contributors to regular departments of Social Education add their own distinctive perspectives on immigration. In a contribution to this yearís human rights series, Jennifer Rothwell examines the rights of refugees. Although the right of all people to seek asylum from persecution in their homeland is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and internal and external conflicts have created a huge international refugee problem, she observes poignantly that there are not enough safe havens for refugees, and that many countries make it as difficult as possible for them to enter.

In his Internet column, Fred Risinger identifies several teacher-friendly Internet sites that are useful for the study of immigration past and present. The historical development of U.S. immigration policy and recent important legislation affecting the status of immigrants are the focus of our ìLooking at the Lawî feature, in which Christina DeConcini, Jeanine S. Piller, and Margaret Fisher describe the thorny problems that face many immigrants.

The final stage of immigration is the acquisition of citizenship. Lee Ann Potter and Wynell Schamel devote their ìTeaching with Documentsî column to an examination of citizenship as reflected in the requirements made of immigrants seeking to become naturalized U.S. citizens. The petitions submitted by Archibald Leach (otherwise known as Cary Grant) and Greta Garbo are sure to get this class activity off to a good start.

The editor of Social Education and the guest editors of this special issue welcome comments from readers.


1. Margaret, A. Gibson, ìAdditive Acculturation as a Strategy for School,î in Californiaís Immigrant Children, eds. Ruben G. Rumbaut and Wayne A. Cornelius (San Diego: Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, 1995), 77-106.

Xue Lan Rong and M. Gail Hickey are guest editors of this special issue.