Beacon Press: Making Americans
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Making Americans

Stories of Historic Struggles, New Ideas, and Inspiration in Immigrant Education

Author: Jessica Lander

A landmark work that weaves captivating stories about the past, present, and personal into an inspiring vision for how America can educate immigrant students

Setting out from her classroom, Jessica Lander takes the reader on a powerful and urgent journey to understand what it takes for immigrant students to become Americans. A compelling read for everyone who cares about America’s future, Making Americans brims with innovative ideas for educators and policy makers across the country.

Lander brings to life the history of America’s efforts to educate immigrants through rich stories, including these:
  • The Nebraska teacher arrested for teaching an eleven-year-old boy in German who took his case to the Supreme Court
  • The California families who overturned school segregation for Mexican American children
  • The Texas families who risked deportation to establish the right for undocumented children to attend public schools

She visits innovative classrooms across the country that work with immigrant-origin students, such as these:
  • A school in Georgia for refugee girls who have been kept from school by violence, poverty, and natural disaster
  • 5 schools in Aurora, Colorado, that came together to collaborate with community groups, businesses, a hospital, and families to support newcomer children
  • A North Carolina school district of more than 100 schools who rethought how they teach their immigrant-origin students

She shares inspiring stories of how seven of her own immigrant students created new homes in America, including the following:
  • The boy who escaped Baghdad and found a home in his school’s ROTC program
  • The daughter of Cambodian genocide survivors who dreamed of becoming a computer scientist
  • The orphaned boy who escaped violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and created a new community here

Making Americans is an exploration of immigrant education across the country told through key historical moments, current experiments to improve immigrant education, and profiles of immigrant students. Making Americans is a remarkable book that will reshape how we all think about nurturing one of America’s greatest assets: the newcomers who enrich this country with their energy, talents, and drive.
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“In this empathetic call for change, high school teacher Lander (Driving Backwards) offers concrete plans for reforming immigrant education in the US . . . Throughout, Lander buttresses her case with stirring profiles of her former students. The result is an inspirational must-read for educators, policymakers, and parents.”
Publishers Weekly

“Lander is an excellent storyteller, and this book is an involving read. VERDICT: A thoughtful, engaging book for any reader interested in immigrant education.”
—A. Gray, Library Journal

“Weaving together inspiring personal stories, powerful case studies, and a fascinating history of immigrant education in America, Jessica Lander shines a new, hopeful light on a perennial question: How does a young immigrant become an American?”
—Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed

“At times moving, instructive, sobering, and encouraging, Making Americans will captivate and enlighten all readers. And it will also equip teachers, voters, and policy makers to work together to overcome prejudice and help newcomers build on their talents to strengthen America while pursuing their own dreams.”
—Martha Minow, former dean of Harvard Law School and author of When Should Law Forgive?

“An eye-opening, crucial, and riveting account of how schools and educators have shaped the immigrant experience in the United States. It is an essential history of our nation, interwoven with narratives of students and teachers who are today reimagining what it means to become American. . . . A moving book for anyone who cares about the fate of our country, but especially for those of us who are descendants of people who traveled here from afar.”
—Bina Venkataraman, author of The Optimist’s Telescope

Making Americans is a beautifully written account. . . . With masterful interweaving of legal history, classroom case examples, and powerful student stories, what emerges is a compelling and timely work that informs as much as it inspires.”
—Sarah Ladipo Manyika, author of Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun

“Our nation’s magic is its ability to turn immigrants into Americans. Jessica Lander has written a brilliant and poignant book about how schools can help do this. This is an important book, and also a beautiful one. Everyone who cares about the future of America should read it.”
—Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

“Providing well-researched historical perspective along with hopeful current models of promising practice, Making Americans will no doubt become a mainstay for all who care to best serve our newest Americans!”
—Carola Suárez-Orozco, director, Immigration Initiative at Harvard Graduate School of Education

Making Americans provides just the sort of context too often missing from discussions of immigrant education. But what with its many terrific stories about students and teachers, it is more than informative: fascinating and inspiring, it is also a great read.”
—Gish Jen, author of Thank You, Mr. Nixon

“Lander’s immigrant-origin students—from a kaleidoscope of countries and cultures—come alive in these pages, until we feel we know them. . . . Her message is simple and powerful: New Americans make themselves with help from those of us who are already here. That making starts in school, as should our help. A compelling read.”
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America

Making Americans is a powerful affirmation of the importance of belonging and hope in our lives. In this important and groundbreaking work, Jessica Lander outlines what we can do to create conditions in schools and communities that support all students—especially our newest Americans. Along the way, she highlights the stories of people who have made a difference in this great country, as well as those who will have a hand in its future. This is a must-read for all educators. It’s a must-read for all Americans.”
—Don Vu, former teacher and principal, author of Life, Literacy, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Author’s Note

The Present: Lowell High School, Massachusetts
The Personal: Robert, Part 1

CHAPTER 1: New Beginnings
The Past: The Americanization Movement
The Present: Las Americas, Texas
The Personal: Srey Neth

CHAPTER 2: Community
The Past: The Settlement House Movement
The Present: Aurora ACT ION Zone, Colorado
The Personal: Julian

CHAPTER 3: Security
The Past: Meyer v. Nebraska
The Present: Fargo South High, North Dakota
The Personal: Choori

CHAPTER 4: Opportunities to Dream
The Past: Mendez v. Westminster
The Present: ENLACE, Massachusetts
The Personal: Safiya

CHAPTER 5: Advocates
The Past: LBJ and Education
The Present: Guilford School District, North Carolina
The Personal: Robert, Part 2

CHAPTER 6: Seeing Strenghts
The Past: Lau v. Nichols
The Present: The International School at Langley Park, Maryland
The Personal: Carla

CHAPTER 7: Acceptance
The Past: Plyler v. Doe
The Present: The Global Village Project, Georgia
The Personal: Diane

CHAPTER 8: Voice
The Past: Bilingual Education
The Possible: Reimagining Immigrant Education

EPILOGUE: Belonging
The Personal: Robert, Part 3


Making Americans: Stories of Historic Struggles, New Ideas, and Inspiration in Immigrant Education by Jessica Lander

Readers’ Guide Discussion Questions

Download the readers’ guide.

General Questions

  1. Lander writes that “belonging is fundamental” (pg. 8). What does belonging mean to you? In what ways does Lander argue that belonging is essential for immigrant students? In what ways does your own community nurture or fail to nurture a sense of belonging for young immigrants?
  2. Lander presents eight essential elements of belonging (pg. 7). Choose one of these 8 elements that speaks to you and describe why you think it is important for immigrant-origin students specifically, and for all students more generally. In what ways do you think schools and organizations can help nurture and ensure this element?
  3. Making Americans explores “the tension between welcome and exclusion” in the United States. What are some of the US national and state policies and programs highlighted in the book that welcomed immigrants? What are some that sought to exclude immigrants? What policies and practices today welcome or exclude immigrants?
  4. What different roles does Making Americans suggest schools can and should play in nurturing a sense of belonging in immigrant students?
  5. In chapter 1, Lander shares part of her own migration journey, writing about her great-grandfather who arrived in the US as a 7-year-old refugee from what is now Ukraine. Why do you think she included part of her own family’s migration story? Reflect on your own family’s story of migration—this could be movement across a city, across a state, across the country, between countries. Was this migration by choice or by force? When and why did your family move? Did they feel welcome or excluded when they came to their new home? Who helped them build new communities?
  6. In each chapter, there is one story from the past, the present, and the personal. Choosing one chapter, analyze the connections you see between the 3 stories in a chapter. How does each of these stories inform, deepen, and extend your understanding of the other two stories in a chapter?

Questions About the Past

  1. Italian educator Leonard Covello reflected on his and other immigrant students’ experiences learning in American schools in the early 1900s, when many educators had a narrow view of what it meant to be American. He wrote, “We were becoming Americans by learning how to be ashamed of our parents” (pg. 38). How have opinions and approaches to immigrant education changed over the last 150 years? Are there ways they seem to have stayed the same?
  2. Lander writes about the Settlement House Movement in Chicago in chapter 2, in which Jane Addams helped create Hull House to provide comprehensive support for the surrounding immigrant community, including pushing against schools’ tendencies to drive a wedge between immigrant students and their parents. Addams argued that schools and communities should recognize and value the many skills and strengths that immigrant families and children brought with them. How did Addams’s model inform the present-day Aurora ACTION Zone program in Colorado, profiled in chapter 2? What other examples in the book highlight the strengths of immigrant parents?
  3. Chapter 5 tells the story of US president Lyndon B. Johnson, who advocated for and signed into law key civil rights legislation, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. In what ways did the passage of these laws lead to the profound reshaping of American classrooms?
  4. In the 8 stories of the past, Lander introduces us to a wide range of people who advocated on behalf of immigrant young people. Some were educators, but many were not. Who are some of these advocates, what were their professions, and what type of advocacy did they do? What lessons can be drawn from their work? What connections do you see with people in your community today and the advocacy work they do to support newcomers?
  5. Making Americans explores key moments, laws, and cases that have transformed immigrant education over the last 150 years. Is there a historical story that you didn’t know about before reading the book? What lessons can be drawn from that story and piece of history? How does knowing that story of history inform how we understand the present?

Questions About the Present

  1. Lander writes, “Students at Las Americas carry with them much more than backpacks” (pg. 36). What does she mean by this, and what else are students carrying? What are strategies that Las Americas uses to help students with these additional things they carry? In what ways can schools support students outside of academics, and why might this be important?
  2. Mayra Hayes and her team in Guilford County, North Carolina, set out to help teachers reimagine literacy instruction at more than 100 schools (chapter 5). What strategies, big and small, do they use to put this new approach into practice? More generally, what lessons can be drawn about how best to successfully implement ideas and approaches across an organization?
  3. In what ways do ENLACE teachers’ personal stories and experiences help them understand their students’ families? How does that impact how they engage with parents and teach their students?
  4. Reflect on the importance of “voice” and the importance of recognizing and valuing student voice. In what ways do educators at some of the 7 schools profiled in the book value students’ voices?

Questions About the Personal

  1. Choose 2 of the 7 students profiled in the book. What were their expectations of the US and of US schools before they arrived, and how do those expectations line up with reality? What stands out to you about their first year in US schools? Who were important advocates for them, and what people, communities, or practices helped them begin to feel welcome?
  2. As a high-school student, Safiya (chapter 4) became a class leader when her class tackled an action civics project in their community. In this, and in many other of the stories of the personal, Lander’s students talk about engaging with their community. In what ways do these experiences affect them, particularly in how they see themselves? What is the role of civic education today in schools? What do you believe it should be?
  3. What is gained by listening to the stories and experiences of the young people profiled in Making Americans?
  4. Choose 2 of the 7 students profiled in the book: identify the strengths they have and how those strengths help both them and their communities.

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Making Americans

ISBN: 978-080701335-9
Publication Date: 10/3/2023
Size:6 x 9 Inches (US)
Price:  $19.95
Format: Paperback
Availability: In stock.
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