The other day, my ESL class had started, and a woman was continuing to text on her phone. I asked her to put it away, and she told me that her Iranian parents, who were planning on visiting her, were now not allowed to applied for visas. She was so distraught. I normally don’t talk politics in my classes, but I thought that this could not be ignored. So, I asked the class how many people were worried about the policies coming out of Washington, and all their hands went up. I thought I had to address it then, and later I could present a prepared lesson on what was going on.
Thinking to myself, I started to wonder what was going through the heads of my students as they attempted to learn more English grammar as these executive orders out of Washington continued to flow. These new rules could alter the paths that these international as well as resident students were planning on taking. How could they even begin to contemplate an adjective clause while their dreams might be disappearing?
Luckily I know my grammar book well enough to realize that a chapter on immigration was coming up, and that I could refer to it even though it was grammar that the students hadn’t learned yet. (This is a grammar book mind you.) The chapter looked at the waves of immigrants starting with 1848. The reasons were given for the different groups: the Chinese due to famine, the Italians for work, the Vietnamese to escape war, etc. It also mentioned that the country has at times shut the door on immigration as it did in the 1920s and then reopened the door in the 1960s. It also showed how Charlie Chaplin had been banned from entering the country in 1952 for his political ideas, and that 20 years later he was invited back to the U.S. to accept an Oscar for his lifetime achievement in films.
In doing this, I wanted to emphasize that such periods of acceptance or rejection of immigrants is temporary. I also had seen the CBS news the night before and knew that it was available online, so I showed the news with the crowds of people at different airports protesting the new order. I wanted to let the students know that it wasn’t the entire country that was against immigrants, and that they, the students, could witness for themselves the First Amendment in action.
It also occurred to me that the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities might also be appropriate, so I found the first page online and projected it up on the screen. I knew that my students wouldn’t understand all of it, but surely they would understand, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” And I asked my students how that might apply to now. (Does this sound like Up the Down Staircase or what?) I was hoping that they would be able to see that the orders may be part of the worst of times, but that the protests could be seen as the best of times. (At least I could see it that way.)
I don’t know how successful I was. One talk is not going to alleviate the worries growing day by day, but it seemed to me that it was worth a try. Then Thuy’s letter was sent out, and in the following class I projected the letter on the screen and went over it point by point so that my students would understand how we at Foothill would be looking out for them. The letter came at the right time. Who knows what will happen next?