I’ve posted before about a series of lessons I teach to my 15-16 year old pupils on the theme of immigration and how artists have related to, and worked with the subject. When I initially started to put this module together about four years ago my main intention was to try and show my classes how art can be used to engage with real world issues and show that it has a contribution to make in difficult and complex areas.
I have also written before that my immigration theme seems to becoming more and more complex year on year as I teach it each spring time. There seems to be additional dimensions to add and discuss each time round. I am planning to teach it again in late May and my mind is already wandering and pondering how to bring it to my pupils. The module seems to have become so much more than it was when I started. I have gathered so many artistic work forms that have tackled the broad theme of immigration; films, books, visual art and photography.
How exactly the various cultural practitioners have tackled this issue is my first port of call. Most of the work approaches the theme in a fairly non-judgmental way, observations are sensitively presented and more often than not the viewer is asked to come to their own opinions and positions. I would say that this is why it is such good material to be showing to my pupils, it focuses on individuals, real world narratives, storylines that they can relate to. The news and media often seem to have little time to tune into the individual story and perhaps more importantly to ask the question ‘what would you do in such a situation?’ Such an approach doesn’t offer answers of course but it does offer important perspectives that maybe broadens the minds of our young people and enables them to come closer to making their own minds up in a balanced and informed way.
Inevitably it also raises questions of a political nature which I try to answer as best I can. The world seems to be full of dramas on so many different fronts at the moment but the political rhetoric regularly seems to be brutal and sweeping in its nature.
It all begs the question, what should we be offering our pupils in turbulent times?
Immigration isn’t a new issue. There is constant crossing of borders and relocation for so many different reasons. From the Netherlands where I now live, back in the first half of the twentieth century there was significant immigration to the US and Canada, I myself am an immigrant, having made the relatively small trip from the UK over to the Netherlands back in the early 1990s. My own subject of art and culture in a secondary school offers good possibilities to broach this difficult subject sensitively and with integrity. But language lessons could do the same and geography, history and religious studies could all have a part to play in contextualizing the issues that confront the impressionable minds of our teenagers.
Many of us in education are, in various ways, idealists. We’re in there with intentions and dreams for a better world for our young people. These are difficult issues, often way outside of our normal teaching comfort zone, but can we afford to ignore them?
If you are interested in the cultural materials that I draw from, many of them are enlarged on at the link below: