Introduction to Special Issue: International Migration and Social Justice Education


Da Encyclopaideia n°34, 2012 

Introduction to Special Issue:

International Migration and Social Justice Education (Vol. 2)


Christine Brigid Malsbary

University of Hawai’i – Manoa


In the introduction to the first volume of this special issue, Carlos Alberto Torres and I discussed how a politics of belonging shapes the contemporary, international, migratory experiences of individuals (2012). This politics of belonging, we argued, permeates the cultural incorporation of families and individuals, ignoring their contributions to the global economic system. Contributors to the last volume explored the politics of belonging in contexts ranging from Portugal – a previous migrant sending country that is now receiving migrants (Cortesão, Silva, Neves, & Vieira, 2012), to Los Angeles, where youth democratically organize around issues pertaining to immigration (Rogers, 2012). Locke and Ovando examined exclusion of Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica (2012). Other authors considered the sociopolitics of immigrant integration into the host society: Orellana and Johnson examined discourses surrounding immigrant children as “anchor babies” (2012), Malsbary illuminated how some immigrants become the “focal immigrant” while others experience “cultural flexibility” (2012), and Apple discussed how the “epistemological veil” in teacher education that ignores the context of globalization and migration (2012). Overall, contributors to Volume One of this special issue identified conditions effecting migrants and argued for a paradigm shift in and out of schools. In the second volume, contributors build on the work of the previous volume and shift from issues of belonging and integration writ large, to how international migration is manifested in the everyday lives of public schools, asking how policy and planning either contributes to, or hinders, social justice education for immigrant students.

The papers in this volume speak to several factors that will be of interest to scholars interested in social justice education for immigrant students. A primary argument the unites the papers that we need to understand how organizational policies and processes enable individual teachers to act on behalf of immigrant students. Danny Walsh and Stacey Lee’s paper, for example, showcase the social justice curriculum and actions of a teacher in New York City taken to negotiate high stakes testing policies. Their paper is timely as it answers many of the questions teachers may have about what is needed to continue implementing interdisciplinary, project-based, thoughtful curriculum during this period of educational policy that asks teachers to become testing automatons. Victoria Wreden-Sadeq and Bob Arnove’s paper documents the history of establishing a school for newcomer refugee and immigrant youth in the context of a hostile, nativist environment in the state of North Carolina, a top destination for migrants to the United States. Luca Ghirotto’s paper, on the other hand, narrates how the centralized Italian Ministry of Education has failed to train teachers to work with migrant students despite the rise in the population over the last few decades. Ghirotto notes the gap between the official Italian policy of welcoming migrants, and the reality of no to low support for teachers to actually guarantee the educational rights of migrant youth. In Italy, Ghirotto reports, some 42.5% of non-Italian students do not finish their education. As such, all three papers demonstrate how concrete social justice policy at the state and school levels is entirely necessary to the work individual teachers. Moreover, all of the authors demonstrate the impossibility of separating politics from immigrant education. Education is always political, but schools that serve immigrant youth in the context of anti-immigrant sentiment are specially positioned to take up roles as advocates for equitable education policy.

This brings us to the second organizing factor in this second volume: method. Each of the articles in this volume draw on phenomenological approaches, appropriate to the mission of the journal. Phenomenology is commonly understood as the detailed study of concrete experience of individuals, and the belief that their experience is a valid and valuable source of knowledge. Rooted in Edmund Husserl’s thinking and writing, phenomenology began in the early 20th century as an effort to counter normative positions that positivist science was the only source of knowledge. Scholars write that phenomenology as method is also “a way of being, a stance encompassing a passive-receptive way of being, an open attention, a reflective discipline” (Mortari & Tarozzi, 2010). This stance is of critical importance in research that aims to discuss education in social justice ways.

In a post-colonial era, we know that indigenous and marginalized people’s epistemological orientations to the world have been systematically ignored by Western science (1999), leaving social justice researchers with a responsibility to listen to the communities we research. Thus, a phenomenological approach to research with immigrant communities is a method to address dichotomies between academy/community, researcher/researched, migrant/native. All of the papers in this volume rely heavily on first-person account, and most are co-authored by teacher-researcher collaborations. The voices in the pieces shift from student to teacher to researcher to activist, as the authors grapple with ways to represent data and tell stories that include multiple participants. The Hamann-Vandeyar-Eckerson writing team includes a U.S. based researcher and teacher educator (Hamann), a South African visiting researcher and author (Vandeyar) and a doctoral candidate/high school teacher (Eckerson). Their fascinating narrative documents a single conversation that, while physically located in the rural U.S., indexed multiple transnational affiliations (South Africa, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras). The conversation demonstrated the universality of the human heart during the process of migration, coalescing around themes like identity, loss, longing, and language. Penny Jane Burke’s narrative highlights the notion of subjectivity in migration, whereby the subject “practices agency and intent whilst also being subjected to the discourses that name and position her or him”. Her analysis is framed in poststructuralist feminist perspectives that allow her to represent her male participants’ interviews as “discursive and partial accounts of the men’s memories and experiences”.

In addition to the focus of these collected papers on social justice policy at the collaborative school level, and phenomenological method as the product of teacher-researcher-student collaborations, the papers speak to other facets of the migratory experience necessary to unraveling the complex relationship of immigration and education. From gendered participation in higher education, to multicultural curriculum, and to a luminous student account of the trauma of war and life in a refugee camp, the authors in this collection write past sterile academic conventions. Their writing is both intellectual and emotional, as their rendering of the experiences of everyday individuals documents the nitty-gritty reality of schooling in an era of international migration. As a collective contribution, it is my belief that these teacher-scholars contribute to social justice in part due to the emotional presence of their work, speaking to the critical role that compassion, justifiable anger, and joy play in scholarship.
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