Well, the two-month long ordeal that was my son’s fourth grade immigration/migration segment and assignments concluded at the end of last week. While my son’s teachers at Woodlin ES and administrators at MCPS were well-meaning, this was probably the single worst assignment I’ve seen given by them to my son and his classmates. As I said in my post on this project from earlier this month, teaching undergraduates and graduate students the big and nuanced differences between two enormously important trends in American history is difficult. Teachers with an average understanding (at best) of historical trends and patterns like immigration and migration teaching nine and ten-year olds? That’s an almost impossible task.
It was a thoroughly frustrating assignment to watch my son go through and for me as his helper. It was a terrible set of tasks pedagogically, and just plain bad history, even for elementary school. Their so-called Wax Museum immigration project (they also titled it the 4th grade Legacy Project) called for each student to interview a relative that immigrated to the US. After our complaints, the school modified the assignment to include “a composite of several of your family members, with a mix of fact and fiction to tell the story” (emphasis added). Sorry, but encouraging “realistic” fiction for a big social studies assignment is beyond unacceptable. It shows a complete misunderstanding of US history and proper teaching methods for this subject.
In getting ready for my version of summer academic enrichment for my son (where he can build on his reading, writing and math skills while also doing fun summer camps), I ordered textbooks and other grade-appropriate materials. One of these was the activity workbook for The American Journey textbook, typically US history taught between sixth and eighth grade. I have tons of US history textbooks — I wanted the activities workbook to help guide and calibrate what my son should read and learn without going into every college-level historical nuance.
When I leafed through the workbook last week, I found a worksheet activity titled “An Immigrant’s Experience.” The worksheet directions asked for students to “[i]nterview someone in your community who immigrated to the United States from another country or research the life of an immigrant to your state.” I realized that the questions from my son’s “Immigrants in Their Own Words” assignment were similar to the ones from this worksheet meant for kids at least two grade levels above his.
That sounds great in some respects, but it’s not. Not really. Not when I considered the fact that this was my son’s (and his classmates’) first real foray into US history at his school. Not when I figured that even this material from Glencoe McGraw-Hill mixed up immigration and migration, and yet the questions were specifically about immigration. These questions were obviously meant to cover either the 1870-1920 period or (in some cases) the period since 1965.
And certainly not when I thought about what my son told me about his teacher’s negative response to changing his assignment questions to specifically reflect migration, in his case, Black migration. Really? I didn’t think that asking his grandmother about what her folks thought about the differences between the US and their home country was an appropriate question.
As part of this social studies segment, my son also had to complete an assignment on waves of immigration, one that listed immigration to the Western Hemisphere in four phases or waves. One being from 1492-1820, then 1820-1890, then 1890-1950, then 1950 to today. This just made me shake my head. The periodization — as we historians call it — was so far off that slaves and conquistadors could be considered immigrants in the same way as Scotch-Irish living in the hills of Kentucky! Apparently MCPS produced this handout in 2001 as part of their social studies focus.
Now I’ll have to do something I hoped I’d never have to do, at least prior to my son going to high school. I must now correct what my son has been taught in school for the past two months. Good thing, though, that most of what my son learned on this topic will be forgotten by July 4th. It’ll make it easier for me to correct the incorrect.