Immigrant Challenges and Opportunities in Civic Education
The paper describes the growing number of immigrant students in secondary schools and discusses how these students present teachers with particular challenges and resources in teaching the civic education needed to sustain our democracy. Immigrant children are the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. child population and now comprise about one-fifth of children in the U.S. How well immigrants succeed (or fail) in assuming the responsibilities of citizens will have a significant impact on the future of this country; yet, while providing civic education has long been recognized as an important function of schools, today's educational policy emphasizes reading, mathematics and science, devoting little attention to civic education. On the one hand, immigrant children generally face a more difficult path to academic and social success than do native-born Americans, lacking knowledge of our culture, encountering negative reactions from the native-born, and struggling with a new language. On the other hand, to the extent their families seek American citizenship and to make this country their new home, immigrant children often possess a motivation for civic learning not present in the native-born. Immigrant students may also have different experiences with political institutions that teachers can build on and native-born students can learn from in the classroom. Immigrant students may come from cultures, however, that do not permit the independent thinking and public expression of opinion about political issues that lie at the heart of the American democracy. In order to teach democratic, civic skills to these students, teachers should model or demonstrate appropriate behavior and use cooperative learning strategies so that immigrant students can learn from their native-born peers. Simulations and well-planned discussion strategies in open, supportive environments will also help immigrant students develop the civic skills and dispositions needed to succeed in our democratic society. Finally, assessment methods must take into account cultural differences and avoid confusing English language skills with the subject matter content sought to be assessed.