American Studies: Diversity and Identity in U.S. Society

What does it mean to be American today? In the U.S. History textbook, Out of Many, authors write that, “the underlying dialectic of American history… is that we need to locate our national unity in the celebration of the differences that exist among us. … [P]rotecting the ‘right to be different’ is absolutely fundamental to the continued existence of democracy.” This class will explore to what degree this ideal is successful in the United States through historical and contemporary cases studies.

As a foundation, we will consider questions such as: What is a nation? What is the “glue” that holds it together? What unifies Americans as a nation? What tensions challenge this unity? Through our case studies of inclusion and exclusion we will also ask: How do societies deal with a difference? Can people be treated differently and still be equal? How can a society be both diverse and unified? What is the difference between assimilation and pluralism? What encourages or discourages relationships across race and culture? The goal is for students to be able to represent and to articulate more complexly the diverse experience of “Americans” and to find themselves somewhere in the stories they create.

Unit One: What does it mean to be American?

Unit Two: Reading the Census: What do statistics tell us about American identity? What do they not tell us?

Unit Three: Immigration Laws—How have laws shaped who is included or excluded?

Unit Four: Relationships Across Race and Culture in a Diverse Society—What encourages or discourages relationships across race and culture differences?

Unit Five: Looking Abroad—France and the Headscarf Ban in Public Schools
How has France defined national identity in comparison with the U.S.? What conflicts have arisen when different cultures meet? How is multiculturalism defined or restricted? What can we learn from this case study about our own society?

Unit Six Final Project: This American Life-styled Radio project
“Encounters—what happens when different groups meet?”

Readings: 
Chinese Exclusion Act, National Origins Act, Displaced Persons Act and 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act
Case Study—Oakland, California’s Freemont Media Academy as described in Farai Chideya’s book, The Color of Our Future
Facing History and Ourselves case study: What Do We Do With a Difference? France and the Debate over Headscarves in Schools.
Media Used: 
U.S. Census statistics
The Chinese Experience, PBS Documentary Series
Significant Assignments: 

Unit One: What does it mean to be American?
Group Project: Historical interpretations
Assignment: Personal Identity Essay—What shapes your identity?

Unit Four: Relationships Across Race and Culture in a Diverse Society—What encourages or discourages relationships across race and culture differences?
Part One: School communities as sites for building multicultural awareness & relationships
Case Study—Oakland, California’s Freemont Media Academy as described in Farai Chideya’s book, The Color of Our Future

IHS survey and reflection

As part of a collaboration with an English class’s reading of West Side Story:
Love across race and culture—Legacies of anti-miscegenation laws and interracial relationships

Part Three: Puerto Rican migration to New York City
Assignment Creative Writing Assignment—Family Rivalries and Forbidden Love
What would be today’s Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story?

Class Debates on key issues (using SPAR model)

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Unit Two: Reading the Census: What do statistics tell us about American identity? What do they not tell us?
• Group Project: Graphing U.S. Census statistics for Race, Language, Income, Education and other basic demographic indicators, nationally and for NYC.

Unit Three: Immigration Laws—How have laws shaped who is included or excluded?
• Group Mini-Research Project: Posters on Chinese Exclusion Act, National Origins Act, Displaced Persons Act and 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act

Unit Six Final Project: This American Life-styled Radio project
“Encounters—what happens when different groups meet?”
• Group Project Radio Show in 4 Acts
This culminating project will draw from themes throughout the course that illustrate what happens when groups or individuals with perceived differences meet. These encounters can lead to various outcomes: they can inspire bystanders to speak up; they can lead to cultural diffusion; negative encounters can result in powerful learning experiences; they can lead to exclusion or inclusion; and they can often lead to personal or cultural transformation.

Sample PBATs: 
Graphing U.S. Census statistics for Race, Language, Income, Education and other basic demographic indicators, nationally and for NYC. What are the connections between population trends and immigration laws
Unit Five: Looking Abroad—France and the Headscarf Ban in Public Schools How has France defined national identity in comparison with the U.S.? What conflicts have arisen when different cultures meet? How is multiculturalism defined or restricted? What can we learn from this case study about our own society?