Andy Beutel has just published a new article in Radical Teacher (Vol. 120) titled Popping the Bubble: Critically Analyzing the Refugee Crisis with Suburban Seventh Graders. It can be found here for free.
The current refugee crisis is the worst in 75 years and has led to the displacement of tens of millions of people around the world. Yet, despite the global scale of this humanitarian crisis and the culpability of their own country, suburban middle school students are generally unaware of this problem. In this article, I describe an inquiry project developed for my seventh grade world history students designed to help them confront their relative privilege and develop a critical understanding of the world rooted in empathy for those who are marginalized in our society. I begin with an overview of the students and school community and offer my pedagogical framework and goals in this setting. I then detail the steps in this inquiry project including students generating their own questions, reading and annotating part of a fictional book about refugees, engaging in focused research about the causes of the refugee crisis and the intersectional challenges faced by refugees, participating in a solution-oriented Socratic discussion, and reflecting on their learning. Samples of students’ questions, notes, ideas, and reflections reveal the extent to which an inquiry-based approach to critical teaching and learning can help expose students from an affluent suburban community to unfamiliar topics like the refugee crisis and lead them towards a critical understanding of the world and a justice-oriented empathy for others.