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Teachers as Allies: Transformative Practices for Teaching DREAMers and Undocumented Students

reviewed by Bruce Collet - July 05, 2018

coverTitle: Teachers as Allies: Transformative Practices for Teaching DREAMers and Undocumented Students
Author(s): Shelley Wong, Elaisa Sánchez Gosnell, Anne Marie Foerster Luu, & Lori Dodson (Eds.)
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807758868, Pages: 216, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, originally introduced to Congress in 2001, was intended to be a permanent and bipartisan legislative solution for the over 2.1 million immigrant youth and young adults who arrived to the U.S. as children, but who presently have no pathway to citizenship. While the DREAM Act has never passed, in 2012 President Barack Obama issued the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order, offering a temporary stay of deportations for qualifying individuals. Presently, there are an estimated 800,000 DACA recipients. Unfortunately, these young people are currently in a situation of great uncertainty, following the Trump administration’s September 2017 decision to terminate the DACA program (National Immigration Law Center, 2018). This decision was made within a larger ethos of profoundly anti-immigrant as well as anti-refugee sentiment.

The short book Teachers as Allies: Transformative Practices for Teaching DREAMers & Undocumented Students, edited by Shelley Wong, Elaisa Sánchez Gosnell, Anne Marie Foerster Luu, and Lori Dodson is a heartfelt and at times powerful call to action for educators working with one of our most vulnerable but also promising migrant populations. As Shelley Wong, Jennifer Crewalk, and Rodrigo Velasquez-Soto write in the introductory chapter, the book is written for educators who desire to be effective advocates for undocumented students but who are “in need of information, analysis, and strategies” (p. 2). The book is also intended to encourage teachers “who are not currently engaged with supporting immigrant students to become involved” (p .2).

Following a forward by Aviva Chomsky, the book is divided into five main sections. Chapters in Part One, titled “Working with Undocumented Students and their Families: Understanding the Issues and Strategies,” provide guidelines, real stories, and a framework to assist teachers in their response to challenges or cultural dilemmas related to immigration status. Contents in Part Two, “Reaching Students from Immigrant Families through Transformative Culturally Responsive Education,” in turn explore specific pedagogy as well as curricula aimed at uncovering both positions of privilege as well as marginality, and facilitating critical awareness of the national debate over immigration. In Part Three, “Accessing, Surviving, and Thriving: DREAMers go to College,” contributors discuss means of addressing higher education barriers such as legal, financial, academic, and socio-emotional challenges (including, in one entry, the challenges of “double exile” faced by LGBT students). In Part Four, “Finding, Sharing, and Transforming Identity through Art: DREAMers Perform,” chapters explore both art and music as vehicles for representing immigrant stories and, again, exposing the national polemic currently surrounding undocumented youth. Finally, contributors in Part Five, “Becoming an Ally,” discuss both methods and resources for those wishing to become activists and advocates for immigrant children and their families.

Teachers as Allies is strongest where its contents describe very specific and step-by-step curricular as well as pedagogical strategies. Three chapters stand out in this regard. Eva K. Thorp, Sylvia Y. Sánchez, and Elaisa Sánchez Gosnell’s entry, “Embracing Cultural Dilemmas: A Framework for Teachers Working with Immigrant Students and Their Families” (in Part One) defines and describes “cultural dilemmas” and a dilemma-based approach to working with students. The chapter includes a helpful template on how to document a cultural dilemma story, as well as specific advice on facilitating critical cultural self-awareness amongst teachers.

“An Examination of the DREAM Act from the Classroom to Capitol Hill: Analyzing the Arguments” (Part Two), by Tiffany Mitchell, Brett Burnham, and Gaby Pacheco in turn documents the experiences of 80 seventh grade students from the César Chávez Preparatory Public Charter School for Public Policy in Washington, DC, in their quest to analyze arguments for and against the DREAM Act. The three-week unit would see the students engage in lessons on social justice and immigration history, learn in detail arguments for and against the DREAM Act, and ultimately travel to Capitol Hill to present argumentative essays to members of Congress. The chapter includes informative tables mapping the unit on to Common Core Reading as well as Writing Standards.

Finally, Gertrude Tinker Sachs and Theresa Austin’s chapter, “Using Music for Deconstructing Immigrant Discourses: A Critical Analytical Approach” (in Part Four), describes an instructional approach that integrates music and various content areas while developing academic literacy. The authors describe procedures they used to identify five contemporary songs (representing genres from country to hip hop) that reflect pro, ambiguous, or anti-immigrant stances. They then provide a model that teachers and students might use to similarly identify and analyze songs concerning immigration, and they provide a chart aligning TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), History and Social Studies, and Music Standards with the activity.  

While the book is indeed strongest in its instructional modeling, it is comparatively weaker as a text defending advocacy on behalf of DREAMers. Despite the fact that the book is written in part to encourage teachers “not currently engaged with supporting immigrant students” to do so, it is clear across its chapters that it assumes an empathetic readership. Certainly that readership exists. According to a December 2017 Education Week survey of a nationally representative sample of teachers, school-based leaders, and district leaders about their politics and views of K-12 issues (1,122 educators in all were surveyed), 41% of the respondents described themselves as Democrats, while 27% identified as Republicans (30% said they were independents). In the 2016 presidential election, half the respondents stated that they had voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton, while 29% indicated that they had voted for Trump. On the particular issue of immigration, 44% of educators stated that they saw the impact of immigration on schools as “mixed,” while another 38% stated that it was a “good thing.” According to the survey, only 8% saw the impact of immigration on schools as a “bad thing” (Klein, 2017). Hence, Teachers as Allies would generally appear to have a market for those already disposed toward supporting DREAMers.

However, for the more centrist or right-leaning readers (and especially for readers who are hard-nosed on the topic of undocumented students), the book could benefit from an introductory discussion that uncovers, explains, and defends many of its implicit assumptions, including the idea that the United States is and should continue to be an immigrant-receiving society (noting that not all modern liberal democratic states are also immigrant-receiving societies), that immigration is enriching to the country, and that there is a strong legal as well as moral argument to support DREAMers and undocumented students specifically. Such an addition would help round out an otherwise valuable and timely work.




Klein, A. (2017, December 12). Survey: Educators’ political leanings, who they voted for, where they stand on key issues. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/12/13/survey-paints-political-portrait-of-americas-k-12.html

National Immigration Law Center (2018). DACA. Retrieved from https://www.nilc.org/issues/daca/



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 05, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22418, Date Accessed: 12/6/2021 4:26:21 PM

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About the Author
  • Bruce Collet
    Bowling Green State University
    E-mail Author
    BRUCE A. COLLET is an associate professor in the School of Educational Foundations, Leadership, and Policy in the College of Education and Human Development at Bowling Green State University. His primary research interests focus on migration, religion, and secular schooling in democratic states, with particular attention to the manners in which religion in acculturation may inform public school policies and practices. His research also involves questions pertaining to the securitization of migration as it affects the schooling of refugees and asylum-seekers in hosting states. Collet is the author of Migration, Religion, and Schooling in Liberal Democratic States (Routledge, 2018), and is editor of the journal Diaspora, Indigenous, and Minority Education.
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