The students asked to spend the last week of class really focusing on the US Citizenship exam, so that’s what we’ve been up to.
I decided to focus on the geography questions. One of them is, “Where is the Statue of Liberty?”
Interestingly, the official answers (the applicant must name one) are:
- New York (Harbor)
- Liberty Island
[Also acceptable are New Jersey, near New York City, and on the Hudson (River).]
I appreciate that the test reflects the fact that Liberty Island is technically over the New Jersey border but is widely considered to be in New York. The thing is, that kind of ambiguity is very difficult to teach Level 1 students!
On the theme of “Liberty,” we also dove into two of the history questions:
“What is one important thing that Abraham Lincoln did?”
“What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?”
In researching for class, I realized… Lincoln freed the slaves in 1863. The Statue of Liberty was officially opened to the public in 1886 (work began on it at least 9 years earlier, and the concept was older still).
Really? In just 23 years, we went from enslaving human beings to receiving a giant statue symbolizing the freedom and opportunities found in our country? Seems a bit hasty. Seems like maybe even a farce given that the freed slaves, their children, and their children’s children had to face being second-class citizens with very limited opportunities and terrorized by hate groups. Are you really free if you have reason to believe you’ll get lynched because of your skin color?
I couldn’t communicate most of that last bit to my students. Just the basics about the statue and about Lincoln were new information for most everybody (though I have one history geek in the class, which is awesome). We could not get into Reconstruction and race relations in the US in any meaningful way unless we switched into their first languages. We just took step one into the history with the simple background from the Citizenship exam. I hope I made it interesting enough that they’ll be excited to learn more in another class or on their own.