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Educators explore ways to teach students about identity and citizenship in a global context through Stanford workshop

In today’s globalized world, the relationship between citizenship and identity has become increasingly complex.

A group of middle and high school educators discussed ways to incorporate this critical topic into their social studies curricula through a virtual workshop led by Stanford Global Studies and the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching (CSET) in the Graduate School of Education.

“Schools have a tendency to compartmentalize topics into specific classrooms, whereas the way we view identity and belonging plays out in all areas,” said Lalita du Perron, associate director of Stanford's Center for South Asia, who helped organize the event.

“Our work is to support the understanding for how topics we cover in these workshops can be embedded into other things, so that they are an integral part in understanding the main ideas of any given content,” added Nicole Lusiani Elliott, assistant director of CSET.

Over the course of three days, teachers from as far away as Bangkok, Thailand had the opportunity to hear from leading scholars who explored citizenship as a legal category, an identity marker, and a product of history in contexts around the globe. Following each talk, the participants discussed strategies to introduce this topic into the classroom in a way that could nurture cross-cultural understanding and encourage their students to think critically about historical events and narratives.

“Most people understand a particular topic from their own vantage point and may not be aware of different iterations and ramifications in other regions or cultures. I hope the workshop showed how complex the topic of citizenship and identity is,” said du Perron. 

Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist and senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, kicked off the workshop with a talk about the global rise of identity politics. He emphasized the need for political leaders to promote a national identity that is tolerant and based on substantive ideas such as constitutionalism and human equality, rather than one that excludes individuals based on religion, race, or ethnicity.

The following day, participants had the opportunity to hear from Leisy Abrego, professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UCLA. Abrego highlighted the legally violent ways U.S. immigration policies shape the day-to-day experiences of Latinx immigrants. Through interviews with more than 100 members of mixed-status families living in Los Angeles, she showed how immigration laws impact all members of a family, even when only one or a few family members are categorized as undocumented. Her talk also underscored the ways citizenship can be both a privilege and a burden.

Later that day, Christoph Sperfeldt, a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne, examined the evolving relationship between citizenship, state power, and human rights in a talk on statelessness. Using case studies from Southeast Asia, he explained how multiple factors including the impacts of colonialism, changes in state power, flawed legal processes, and discriminatory practices collectively act to leave millions of people without a nationality. In discussing how legal identity has increasingly become tied to rights, he illustrated the obstacles that stateless individuals face in accessing fundamental resources and opportunities while highlighting how international efforts, such as the #IBelong Campaign, aim to combat statelessness around the globe.

The course concluded with a talk from Kalyani Ramnath, a lecturer at Harvard University. Ramnath offered historical perspectives on citizenship in South Asia from the 1947 Partition of India up to the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Bill of India, which gives certain religious minorities the ability to apply for citizenship. The bill has faced opposition from those who argue it is unconstitutional because it bases citizenship on an individual’s religion and intentionally excludes the Muslim community.

Throughout the weekend, participants discussed pedagogical approaches and best practices to engage students in learning about identity and citizenship. They focused specifically on ways to use oral histories as a tool to empower students to participate in the preservation of history and give a voice to marginalized communities.

“What oral histories do is they humanize history, putting a name and a face and a voice to the story. In this way, it invites students to consider how history has had an impact on their lives, as well as the current context, because it feels more real,” said Lusiani Elliott. “Further, it supports the gathering of stories from people who are from the non-dominant group and/or use the non-dominant language because they are often not represented in history books.”

This workshop on Identity and Citizenship is one of several professional learning opportunities for teachers offered through Stanford Global Studies and CSET, and is partially funded by the U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center grant. Two upcoming courses include Rising Up: Movements for Change and The Resurgence of Great Power Politics.