05/27/2009

Teachers, Students Enthusiastic About New Teaching Kit

Immigrants have become the target of choice for many hate groups, and anti-immigrant rhetoric in the mainstream media isn't helping.

Thanks to the newest teaching kit from the SPLC's Teaching Tolerance program, an estimated 2 million high school students saw a more accurate portrayal of America's immigrant history in the 2008-09 school year.

Kits in hands of 16,000 teachers
More than 16,000 teachers have used "Viva La Causa," a teaching kit about Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and the 1960s California farmworker strike and grape boycott.

Released in September 2008, the kit includes a 39-minute documentary, produced by the SPLC and featuring narration by George Lopez and music by Santos de Los Angeles.

The kit also includes a teaching guide with lesson plans to help students delve deeply into the meaning of the strike. Students create charts to illustrate the growing wage gap between the rich and poor; they compare the non-violent strategies of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez; and they explore the impact of their own consumer decisions in an age of global commerce.

"We chose the story of the United Farm Workers because it spoke to a number of themes that are important in classrooms today," said Lecia Brooks, director of Teaching Tolerance. "No matter what their immigration status, students hear a great deal of rhetoric about immigration and jobs but often don't get to see the real people who bring food to our tables. And students are eager to learn more about where they fit in a global economy that is sometimes hard to understand."

Feedback overwhelmingly positive
Feedback on the kit has been overwhelmingly positive. The documentary film made the short list for an Academy Award. Ninety-nine percent of teachers in a survey described the kit as "good" or "excellent" and said they would use it again.

Eighty-seven percent reported sharing the kit with other teachers. On average, each teacher used the kit with 90 students.

Teachers reported significant shifts in their students' thinking. Ninety percent said the kit increased their students' empathy for low-wage workers.

Film prompts classroom discussion
Teachers wrote to thank SPLC, reporting that the film made their Latino students feel proud and opened the door to classroom discussion of Latino history. Many teachers said their students gained an understanding of the connections between the farmworker strike and other movements for social justice.

"Our affluent students now have a better understanding of poverty and appreciating what they have, as well as examining how material possessions can be valued over human rights," wrote Carolyn Miranda of Northville, Mich.