As part of our Immigration unit, we spend a week or so examining old political cartoons dealing with immigration issues. (You'd be a little shocked at how viciously racist some of the 19th Century ones are.) We start out at a pretty basic level:
Me: "What do you see?"
Student: "Um... A man??"
Me: "That's a good start!"
By the time we've looked at and discussed ten or twelve of these, the analysis gets pretty sophisticated:
Me: "Okay, why do you think the artist has drawn Uncle Sam as Moses?"
Student: "Um... I think he's saying something, you know, religious? Like maybe the U.S. has been chosen by God? You know - to lead people out of suffering?"
Once we've spent several days doing this sort of analysis, we compare and contrast two poets and their most famous poems about immigration - Emma Lazarus and Thomas Bailey Aldrich. Lazarus' poem, "The New Colossus" is extremely well known - about half of the students have heard a line or two of it at some point - but Aldrich's poem, "Unguarded Gates" has mercifully sunk mostly into obscurity. Not to put too fine a point on it, it's pretty racist. There's a lot of material out there about Lazarus' poem that we can use in our discussion, but it's Aldrich who strikes a chord with our students.
Early in our Immigration unit, we read about the Shapiros, a family of Russian Jews whose house is part of the Strawberry Banke museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, about half an hour from our school.
It turns out that Aldrich lived directly across the street from the Shapiro's house (though not when they lived there). The irony of this rabid xenophobe living 50 feet or so from this immigrant family's house really appeals to my guys' sense of cosmic justice.
Anyway, once we've discussed both poems - if not to death, then to something approaching it - each student is randomly assigned one of the poets and tasked with drawing a political cartoon that reflects Lazarus' or Aldrich's political philosophy.
The results are awesome:
☜(For the best view of the individual cartoons, click on the Expanding-Arrow-Thingy at the bottom of the movie screen.)
Your comments, as always, are welcomed and will be passed on to the artists.