Allison Baskin is a Religion and Spanish teacher at Sacred Heart School in Southaven, MS. Last year, she heard me speak at the Mission Conference about our “post card campaign” to get Kohl’s and Macy’s to carry fair trade clothing, and took a bunch of post cards to use with her 8th Grade religion class. She wanted to help them see the connections between what they wear and social justice for Third World garment workers.
This year, she asked for more post cards, but I had to tell her that there was no similar campaign planned this year. I mentioned, though, that the Priests of the Sacred Heart in the U.S. and Canada were involved in related justice issues like immigration and climate change, and offered my assistance if she wanted to work up a lesson plan on one of those issues.
She was intrigued by the immigration issue, which of course has gotten so much attention in the last few years, so I sent her some background info and links to other resources. In short order, she was back to me with a lesson plan she put together herself that incorporated Catholic social teaching on the subject, a review of current U.S. policy, and many interactive exercises and reflection questions designed to get students to think seriously about this issue that so many adults struggle to understand.
I was so impressed by the whole lesson plan, which stretched over several days, that I asked Mrs. Baskin if we could share it with other teachers in SCJ-run schools. She graciously agreed, and it was included in a set of parish resources that went out to SCJ pastors this past summer, and with folks involved in immigrant justice work in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee as well. Those resources, including her lesson plan, can be found here.
Last month, Mrs. Baskin and her class completed the lesson plan, and I asked her to share her reflections on it. Here are her thoughts on the project:
Immigration has been a hot topic for the past few years in our society, and I bring it up in my Spanish classes every year when we discuss Cinco de Mayo and other holidays Latinos have brought here to the United States. This fall, I taught an in-depth unit on immigration concentrating on Catholic Social Teaching along with saints connected to immigration.
I started by asking students what they knew about immigration, and as you would imagine, their answers were pretty much what you hear in the media and from various people when the subject comes up in conversation. They usual responses ranged from, “immigrants come illegally here and bring drugs” to “they take Americans’ jobs” and even “that’s how terrorists come into our county.” I asked what they wanted to know about immigration and tried to answer their many questions while teaching them about Catholic Social Teaching and US policies on immigration.
The students really had empathy when looking at various pictures of immigrants in tough situations. They showed compassion after listening to stories of families torn apart by deportation. They offered ways they could help immigrants today, including those they may never face. We discussed various reasons people immigrate and how Jesus, Mary and Joseph themselves were immigrants when they had to flee to Egypt to escape Herod. A guest speaker discussed the struggles she faced when she first emigrated here from El Salvador.
The question arose about why immigrants aren’t learning to speak English and I put the question back to them. Since I have been teaching many of them Spanish once or twice a week for the past 9 years, I asked how many of them had the language skills needed to live in a Spanish speaking country successfully. They all agreed that they didn’t have that knowledge which shows how long it really takes to master another language. We took a practice citizenship test online together and the majority of the class made 70 or below. No one scored higher than a 90 – including myself! I think they really realized how difficult it is to come here and how long it takes when they do it following all the rules. They now know how many of them feel forced to leave due to terrible conditions or fears, and how many just don’t have the time to go through all the channels and every right step when they have children and other family to protect and feed.
It was an eye – opening lesson for the students and me as well when I was researching it. There were so many stereotypes to debunk and Scripture and Catholic Social Teaching to address while trying to keep it on an 8th grade level. I hope they can continue to show compassion and empathy towards people who come to this country searching a better way of life.
Many thanks to Mrs. Baskin for her efforts to help her students better understand this issue and the people it affects. I hope other teachers will use her lesson plan, and that we can expose more young Catholics to this important social justice issue.