Confronting Stereotypes and De-Otherizing Refugees with Suburban Seventh Graders

Andy Beutel has just published a new article in Teaching Social Studies (Published by NJCSS / The New Jersey Council for the Social Studies) titled Confronting Stereotypes and De-Otherizing Refugees with Suburban Seventh Graders. A key focus is how engaging in critical thinking and learning about race, ethnicity and nationalism is vital in affluent, suburban, majority-white school districts. It can be found here.

Andy writes:

One my overarching goals as a teacher is to help students think critically about the world in which they live or develop what Freire (1997) described as a “critical consciousness.” I seek to expose them to issues of social injustice like discrimination, war, and inequality and help them to analyze issues from multiple perspectives. I want them to be able to think beyond their bubble and understand their place in the broader society as it compares to those who are underserved. At the same time, I try to empower them with the skills to analyze societal challenges and consider creative ways those challenges could be addressed. However, as Swalwell (2013) noted, it is difficult to engage in this type of teaching with this population of students while avoiding the alienation of students and accusations of indoctrination from parents and administrators. To achieve this goal, I teach social studies by having students analyze different types of primary and secondary sources, synthesize information they are learning with their prior knowledge, write for conceptual understanding rather than factual regurgitation, and consider how the past is relevant to the present (Downey & Long, 2016).

RefugeeThe article details his use of the novel Refugee (Gatz, 2017) to help students identify and think through their stereotypical notions of refugees and the Middle East. The novel tells the story of refugee children in three different eras – Nazi Germany, 1990’s Cuba and contemporary Syria. He explains the questions that drove students’ exploration, the activities they participated in, and the results. Some students were indeed able to make important conceptual breakthroughs, while others remained firmly attached to their othered perspectives on refugees. Andy provides suggestions for how to make this type of work productive and reflects on what needs to be done in the future.

Downey, M. T., & Long, K. A. (2016). Teaching for historical literacy building knowledge in the history classroom. New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Freire, P. (1997). Pedagogy of the oppressed (Revised 20th anniversary ed). New York: Continuum. (Original work published in 1970).

Gratz, A. (2017). Refugee. New York: Scholastic Press

Swalwell, K. (2013). Educating activist allies: Social justice pedagogy with the suburban and urban elite. New York, NY: Routledge.

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