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Affirming Our Commitment to Children, Families, and Human Rights

A Joint Statement by NCSS President Terry L. Cherry and NCSS Executive Director Lawrence M. Paska

There is no law 1 in the United States allowing the separation of minor children from their families along any U.S. border. Yet, the United States government continues to engage in the practice of separating families seeking asylum along our borders. The most recent iteration of this practice occurred in March 2017, when the Department of Homeland Security began laying out the possibilities for a policy of separation. In April 2018, the Department of Justice announced a “zero-tolerance” policy for asylum seekers entering the country at crossings along the southern border, including families. Taken in tandem, these two policies resulted in the separation of nearly 2,000 infants, toddlers, and youth from their families. On June 20, 2018, after public outcry and domestic and international condemnation, the administration announced that it would continue the “zero tolerance” policy, but instead, detain families together. 2">

National Council for the Social Studies (“NCSS”), through its resolutions and position statements, has continuously affirmed that the detention of asylum seeking families and the act of separating families is a human rights violation. As we noted in our 2014 position statement, Human Rights Education: A Necessity for Effective Social and Civic Learning, we believe in the “democratic ideals of freedom, equality, non-discrimination and respect for the rights of all. In an increasingly globalized world and within the United States itself, this growth and development must emphasize not only the rights and obligations arising from American citizenship but also the rights and responsibilities that arise domestically and globally from our common humanity.”

Furthermore, as we committed in our 2017 Position Statement on the Executive Order Regarding Immigration From Select Countries, January 27, 2017, “in social studies classrooms students learn that there are complex issues which cross local, national and international lines. These issues require solutions that are interdisciplinary and draw on the knowledge and perspectives of diverse populations. When those ideas and interactions are restricted, the possible ranges of solutions offered by an educated populace are limited. As educators, it is our professional responsibility to teach and support all students in our institutions regardless of race, gender, language, religion, nation of origin, sexual preference, and ability.” NCSS has long held social studies education as an “integrated study of the social sciences and humanities” with a purpose to “promote civic competence” and help individuals make informed “decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society” (NCSS, 2010).

In recent years, members of the NCSS community, including the House of Delegates, have taken up and approved resolutions related to these issues. At the 58th meeting of the House of Delegates in Boston (2014), Resolution 14-04-1 took a stand against the separation of families. The resolution states, NCSS “strongly condemn any ill treatment of children in the detention centers and urge authorities to put the safety and well being of children first.” Similarly, at the 61st meeting of the House of Delegates in San Francisco (2017), Resolution 17-04-03 was passed in support of Dreamers and children of undocumented migrants. The NCSS community does not support the Trump administration’s decision to discontinue the Dream Act (DACA), nor does NCSS support policies that interrupt the ability of children to attend school, regardless of immigration status. At the same meeting of the House of Delegates, Resolution 17-04-4 was passed in support of school-wide and district-wide programs that promote and model respect for the dignity and humanity of every person. These programs should “embrace and accept different origins, beliefs, statuses and characteristics within an environment of inclusion, support, and tolerance to guide students to develop an ethic of civic engagement that incorporates these values.” 3

NCSS will continue to work within our organization, affiliated councils, and other groups to support families and teachers and affirm their dignity and human rights. We strongly urge social studies educators to use the resources found on our website to foster a national conversation on teaching about human rights. Accordingly, we will continue to dedicate spaces at our annual meetings and within our publications to support social studies teachers’ abilities to engage all learners at all ages in becoming empowered members of our global community who not only care and value each other, but demand our governments do the same.

  • 1. The U.S. has a long legal history of separating children from their families, including the African slave trade and boarding schools to Americanize Indigenous children. Japanese-American children were imprisoned with their families across the U.S. during World War II. It was as recent as 1978 that the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act that prevented social services from taking minors from their parents and families.
  • 2. For more details on the timeline of events, visit 3. For text of approved resolutions dating back to 2003, visit