The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees Education Essay

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The United States has always been one of the primary destinations for immigrants and refu 0gees of the world. According The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) by the end of 2011 more than 42 million people became "forcibly displaced" because of a war situation and/or political repression in their country. Of these 15.2 million were refugees. Globally this number is the highest in the last two decades and almost half a million more than it was in 2009.

As for the United States, after a sudden drop in 2002 and 2003 following the September 11 events the number of refugees in this country steadily increases. According to the UNHCR report, in 2011 264,800 refugees found a new home in the United States. In fact, the number of the refugee population turned out to be higher in 2009 than in the pre-September 11 years of the decade. (The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2012)

The condition of being a refugee can often be characterized as a state of limbo. Persecution or other humanly unbearable circumstances drive them away from their homelands, yet when they arrive in their country of repatriation they are often not received with overly warm welcomes. They are often treated as sub-citizens, although they have legal rights to work and education. No wonder that in spite of their intentions and desires lots of refugees give in and accept their second-class citizenship status.

One of the first contextual needs of an adult refugee is the need to learn. All of a sudden they are thrown into a situation where they must learn or relearn many things. Learning a new language is certainly a factor and there is special anxiety in being introduced to a second language at an adult age. Language itself is a big part of one's identity and in this sense a carefully planned and executed English as a Second Language (ESL) course can constitute a stable point in a highly unstable and potentially threatening new life of struggling to find work, physical challenges of potentially racist and abusive hosts, interactions with lawyers and other officials, sudden re-housing or homelessness, refusal or losing of benefits and so forth. (Baynham, 2006)

For many years assimilation has been a goal of refugee-specific education; however, it does not seem to be a goal that is consistent with the refugee's needs. Refugees are not necessarily interested in becoming "Americans." They often note that they are interested in adapting the aspects of the American Culture that they need for survival or that they view as valuable, yet in doing so they want to maintain as much of their cultural background as they can. Although many of the refugees are interested in becoming an American citizen, they don't believe that it is necessary to sacrifice their original culture, tradition s and language. In spite of the fact that refugees actually prefer acculturation to assimilation, conditions of being a refugee often do not encourage the acculturation process, what's more, they often lead to self-initiated (and society-based) assimilation.

In education, on the surface, multicultural approaches are widely accepted and very popular nowadays but as a practice they can be highly contested. Among others, they have neglected the complexity of notions of identity and differences (Edgerton, 1996; Grossberg, 1994; McLaren 1995) and ultimately have become permeated with the mainstream discourses they once challenged.

In the field of language learning/teaching language is the content and the medium of the course. The problem is, no language is "innocent"; they do not exist independently from a wider semiotic system in which they were permeated with ideological and political relations. (Pennycook, 2001)

Education itself is a fundamentally political process involving the production and reproduction of social differences. The same people who have the power to make decisions in society at large are the ones who also have the power to design and implement educational systems. Thus language teaching programs should have a fresh new approach; one that unmasks the underlying cultural values and ideologies of the educational settings and the society to create a context where students and their instructors can make their first steps together towards their empowerment and positive social changes. It would be especially important in the field of ESL for adult refuges/immigrants as this approach would provide the potential for these marginalized groups to explore ways of changing their new society for a better, more democratic and receptive world, and improve their social status and conditions.

Adult ESL classes offered to new refugees and immigrants should have a way to improve their English language skills while at the same time they should develop a sense of critical consciousness of the world around them.

This statement seemingly contradicts a widely accepted view: for a long time teaching English has been regarded as merely teaching the means of communication which does not have significant ethical issues or much political or critical significance. Thus language has been reduced to a system for transmitting messages rather than considered as a living organism that plays a central role in how we understand ourselves and the world. Also, with this attitude teachers/instructors are reduced to be merely classroom technicians instead of being autonomous intellectuals. (Pennycook, 1990)

One way to change this is, to implement a strong critical pedagogical attitude in teaching English as a second (or third, etc) language to adult refugees / immigrants who are about to restart their life. Generally speaking, critical pedagogy focuses on questions of social and cultural inequality; it is not merely descriptive, rather, it aims to be transformative. Furthermore a defining feature of critical pedagogy is to change the conditions of inequality that it describes.

There are clear signs that second language acquisition research (together with literacy studies) has taken "the social turn" and there has been a shift from the psychological focus on motivation towards notions of identity. (Norton B. , 2000) Critical pedagogy has also been around in the ESL/EFL (English as a Foreign Language) fields for a while (Canagarajah, 2005), but its practical consequences have rarely been studied and discussed. Even if it gets in the limelight among ESL professionals it is mostly about its rationale instead of applying it to the actual world of ESL classroom practice.

While materials are generally considered as one of the core resources in language learning practices (Richards, 2010), remarkably little has been done on ESL materials development where the main principles of critical pedagogy are included and applied. Curriculums, course books, and other ESL resources for adult refugees / immigrants are almost never based on the students' real life situations, needs and interests in spite of the fact that prominent researchers have pointed out that by tying the content of materials to the students' existential situation the motivation to learn almost always rises. (Freire, 1970) If education - and within it: ESL education - is considered as a transformative action for creating better life conditions for the students (immigrants and refugees) than it is essential that they have a true understanding of their lives and all the factors that might lead to the perceived inequalities. This understanding could be developed by addressing students' realities in ESL context, in other words, "bringing the outside in".

One of the consequences of this undesirable process is, that ESL classrooms do not seem to use enough resource materials that the refugee population considers "authentic" and thus interesting and engaging. Although most of the textbooks and other resources do try to depict other cultures than the American middle class values, they are mostly authored from the American middle class point of view and hardly ever deal with the specific (….) that a refugee experiences.

In this thesis I am trying to highlight how ESL teachers can engage adult refugee learners in authentic experiences, using and creating their own culture's texts following the traditions of comic strips, comic books and graphic novels. By doing so, refugees engage meaningfully in interactions with each other and the society they live in, giving them the feeling of equality and equally importance as the members of the culture they are surrounded with. Creating their own material and using ones that come from an immigrant/refugee community provide learners many opportunities to reflect on their real life situation as refugees. As they find that others are interested in and can benefit from their thoughts and experiences (including the members of the dominating culture), they are assured that their experiences (and their lives) are validated in their new country. This kind of authentic multicultural approach goes toward the refugees' unitary, naturalized self with a stable core that is essential for finding their place in their new life. In the first part I define the most frequent and important terms I use in this thesis. I also review the theoretical background of the social emancipation of refugees, the rationale for using comics in teaching English to adult refugee students, and how the latter contribute to the former. In the second part of the thesis I am analyzing three authentic multicultural graphic novels based on my theoretical findings of the first part trying to decide if they are in fact suitable and useful sources in the process of helping the adult refugee population establish another social identity through language. The third part of my thesis provides a plethora of activities that use comics for adult refugee learners for a variety of language and content learning purposes, integrating Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing, with a number of instructional approaches and strategies and detailed suggestions for implementation. I also list a rich list of resources for teachers intending to take up this approach, including short reviews of other comic books and graphic novels from a multicultural point of view, recommended titles (with reasons why they are suitable for ESL purposes), how-to-make comic books resources, comic inspired movies and online comic sources.

Literature Review

Critical Pedagogy: Definition, History and Key Concepts

Critical theory focuses specifically on pedagogy that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s

when educators started to wonder how societal power structures were perpetuated within

classrooms. Freire initially (1970), followed chronologically by Apple (1982), McLaren

(1989), Shor (1992), Giroux (1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997), Kincheloe (1993, 2005) and

many others have brought issues of power and social inequality in schooling to the forefront of

educational debates, and have offered critical pedagogy as an approach to confront these

issues. They argue that schooling always involves the privileging of certain forms of

knowledge and that these forms of knowledge serve to reproduce social inequalities. Critical

pedagogy entails recognizing how the curriculum and the approaches to teaching put forward a

perspective on the world that serves to silence certain voices and marginalize certain ways of


Education in the critical sense reveals the connection among knowledge, authority and power (Stevens, 2011) Critical pedagogy emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, though the term itself does not come into use until about two decades ago, in 1983, by Henry Giroux in his influential book, Theory And Resistance in Education.

Critical pedagogy talks about the purpose and the process of education - but it is not easy to give a concise definition of the term because attempts to do so may lead to solidify and discipline this vibrant area of educational work. (Ellsworth, 1989)

Critical pedagogy does not seem to be a solid theory but "a way of doing learning and teaching," (Canagarajah, 2005) or in other words: teaching with attitude. (Pennycook, Critical Applied Linguistics: A Critical Introduction, 2001) Critical pedagogues are after the transformation of society through education (including language teaching). They argue that educational systems are reflections of the societal systems in which they operate, and since in all social systems there are discrimination and marginalization in terms of race, social class, or genders, the same biases are reproduced in educational systems. Alastair Pennycook writes (Pennycook, Towards a critical applied linguistic for the 1990s, 1990):

Viewing schools as cultural areas where diverse ideological and social forms are in constant struggle, critical pedagogy seeks to understand and critique the historical and sociopolitical context of schooling and to develop pedagogical practices that aim not only to change the nature of schooling, but also the wider society. (p 24)

Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, the pioneering figure of the movement, intitially talked about the issues of power and social justice in the literacy programs and put forward critical pedagogy as an approach to face these issues. Freire, in his most celebrated book Pedagogy of The Oppressed, argues against the banking model of education in favor of a dialogic and problem posing education. (Freire, 1970) He objects the traditional way of education (banking model), in which students are considered as "empty vessels to be filled" by the teacher (p. 79). According to Freire the practice of the banking model leads to the domination and oppression. As a remedy, he proposes problem posing education which takes place through dialogue in which teachers and students become critical co-learners and all teach and all learn. In problem-posing education the teacher challenges the students' existential situation by asking simple but stimulating and probing questions concerning the problems of learners' lives.

In a sense, critical pedagogy is about the relationship between the word and the world. Taking an overall look at a critical curriculum, Freire and Macedo maintain that an educational program should be much more than learning how to read, and a critical curriculum prepares students to "read the world" while "read the word". (Freire & Macedo, 1987) By "reading the world" they mean helping learners be aware of the differences between the world of nature and the world of culture while the former is made by natural forces and cannot go under change by individuals and the latter is made by humans and can go under change. (Sticht, 2006)

One of the distinctive features of critical pedagogy is dialogue. In the dialogical context, individuals in the classroom are considered members of one community in a way that everyone teaches and everyone learns. In this way, a mutual acceptance and trust between the students and the teacher could be (and would be) created. (Heaney, 1995)

Critical Pedagogy in ESL Programs

For a long time teaching ESL has been regarded merely as teaching a means of communication in a "clean and safe" way with few ethical issues. (Baladi, 2007) However, critical advocates argue that such apolitical principles are certainly stimulated by sociopolitical issues (Canagarajah, 2005)

Canagarajah's perspective is similar to Pillipson (cited in Baladi, 2007) who was one of the pioneers in paying attention to the ethical problems of ESL. In line with them, Pennycook (1990) also states that governing linguistic principles are masks to hide the controversial materials and ideological goals of ESL courses.

Trying to define critical pedagogy in ESL, Canagarajah (2005) views critical pedagogy as a practice-oriented process where critical pedagogy "is not a set of ideas, but a way of doing learning and teaching. It is a practice motivated by a distinct attitude toward classrooms and society." (p 932) Students and teachers permeated by critical pedagogy are to bring their actual life experiences and needs to the classroom to demystify and reveal power implications in pedagogical activity and try to alter the means and ends of learning in order to create a more ethical, educational, and social environment. In this sense, Akbari (2008) suggests that "the discourse of critical pedagogy is the discourse of liberation and hope" (p. 277). Critical pedagogues in second language teaching are interested in exploring the ways how social relationships and issues of power are settled in language (Norton & Toohey, 2004) Norton and Toohey (2004) add that from this point of view language is not just a means of communication rather it is "a practice that constructs, and is constructed by the ways language learners understand themselves, their social surroundings, their histories, and their possibilities for the future". (p 1)

As early as 1978 Linda Crawford listed twenty principles as a basis for critical pedagogy in ESL/EFL. (Crawford, 1978) Among them she states: " [8] dialogue forms the context of the educational situation; [9] …the organization of curriculum recognizes the class as a social entity and resource; [10] …the teacher participates as a learner among learners [11] …teachers contribute their ideas, experiences, opinions, and perception to the dialogical process."

The Trouble with ESL Materials From the Point of View of Critical Pedagogy

ESL materials, as one of the most important elements of the ESL educational settings have gone under critical assessment. Researchers question the content of mainstream materials in the ESL world. Brown (1990) argues that "best sellers are increasingly marketed to westernized young adult" (p. 13) Rinvolucri (1999) has also been bitterly opposed to the content of ESL course books where the ESL world stays away from the dark side of the life with no mention of death, poverty or war. Crawford (1978) claims that such materials detach the student from responsibility and opportunity to be creative and active in the language process. Crookes (2009) suggests that the practicality of critical second language pedagogy would be improved by more accessibility and variety of "fully worked out sample materials." (p. 9).

There are three big areas I am interested in in this thesis. First, I am going to show that an authentic multicultural approach does give voice to underrepresented (refugee) groups and goes toward greater autonomy and ultimately their true emancipation in the society. Secondly, I am bringing arguments for using graphic novels in the classrooms in general. There are relatively few studies and articles that look specifically at the intersection of the two areas: using graphic novels (comic books) as vehicle for second language acquisition, but quite a lot of researches about the language development of native English speakers using graphic novels, comic strips, etc. Findings in this area will be discussed in terms of their potential application to nonnative speakers; generalizing from first to second language students is warranted given the many similarities between first and second language development (Dulay, Burt, & Krashen, 1982) (Brown H. , 2000). Within this part I will look at the possible use of two main kinds of graphic novels: commercial ones and student-made ones. The third part of my interest in the area leads to the combination of the first two: why to use multicultural graphic novels, comic book, comic strips, etc with adult refugee language learners. Apart from what I have mentioned in the Introduction I want to show that graphic novels are complex visual metaphors in which language learners are able to imagine and interpret the character's experiences (both the good and horroristic ones) that are far removed from their own daily life as refugees in a new country, but that are definitely essential to shape their identity.

Several concrete, large questions emerge from the above described situation. Probably the most important is, how we can help refugees' emancipation in their new society through ESL education. Do graphic novels help adult students develop second language skills? Can graphic novels help with the new culture learning? Can graphic novels help with maintaining their own culture within their new culture? Can graphic novels be used with students at any language proficiency stage? I would also like to examine questions and issues confronting teachers intending to use comics in the adult refugee classrooms (myths about comics, content appropriateness, material readability/variety, use of comics with reluctant learners/readers).

Speaking of myths, there are several misconceptions and confusion about the terms "comic strips", "comic books", and "graphic novels". Here is what I mean by them:


They offer a slice of life, almost always humorous, in a single, stand=alone panel. The panel (frame) is the basic building block of all comics. Example: The Far Side.

Comic Strips

They tell their stories in sequenced, horizontally arranged block of usually three to five panels. They are published in thousands of newspapers around the world, the dailies in black and white the Sunday strips in color. Example: Get Fuzzy.

Comic Books

They take the strip format and stretch it to 20 to 40 pages. These comics look more like magazines than books, but they have been called books since at least the 1930s and so books they are. Some titles contain complete, one-shot stories, many others feature "continuity plots" that unfold - and typically cliffhang - issue to issue. Example: Bone, Donald Duck.

Graphic Novels

They are comic books' plumper cousins. In size and scope, they are full-fledged, full-length books. Example: Ghostworld, American Born Chinese.

I speak a lot about "authentic" material in the sense that is a bit different from what we usually mean by this in second language acquisition. By authentic material I mean DEFINITION

The rationale for using comics rests on principles pulled from three areas: second language acquisition, brain-based teaching and progressive literacy.

Second Language Acquisition

Over the past couple of decades, countless second language teachers have retooled, switching from grammar-based to communication-based programs, from a focus on form to a focus on message. That revolutionary switch to communicative language teaching and content based language teaching were driven, in large part, by the work of theorist and researcher Stephen Krashen (1982, 1985, 1992).

Today, Krashen's (2003) about the dynamics and optimal conditions for second language development continue to influence how huge numbers of ESL and foreign language teachers do their job. Two cornerstones of Krashen's theory are the input hypothesis (also called the comprehension hypothesis) and the affective filter hypothesis. The input hypothesis claims that we acquire a second language by receiving comprehensible input (understandable messages) and that students get this type of input when they are involved in activities using language for genuine communication. Communication-based activities as opposed to grammar-based activities where L2 (second language) structures are analyzed an practiced, automatically provide students with language a little beyond their current level, "I", in Krashen's term, and help them move from "I" to the next level up, "i+1". Krashen holds that second language learners acquire L2 structures not by focusing on the form of the message, but on the message itself. The hypothesis further asserts that messages are made more understandable "by utilizing context, extra-linguistic information, and our knowledge of the world" (Krashen 1994, p.54)

The affective filter hypothesis points to the impact of emotions on second language acquisition. Students who are self-confident and highly motivated tend to make more progress in second languet than students who are low in self-esteem and motivation (Gardner & Lambert, 1972; Krashen 1982). Moreover, a student's level of anxiety, or "affective filter", plays a big part in determining the amount and speed of second language development. When learners feel worried and on the spot, the affective filter is high and messages have difficulty getting through the filter and "into" the student, regardless of how comprehensible those messages may be. Conversely, learners who are comfortable an secure have a low affective filter. More understandable messages are available for processing, resulting in greater and faster language acquisition.

Input an affective filter hypothesis are inextricably linked an underpin Krashen's bold, and oft-repeated contention that "compressible input is the only causative variable in second language acquisition." He maintains that students will acquire a second language "when they obtain comprehensible input and when their affective filter is low enough to allow the input in" (Krashen, 1994, p. 58).

Comics and graphic novels provide both the needed input and positive affect. Abundant visual clues increase the amount of comprehensible input an consequently boost reading comprehension an L2 acquisition. Increased comprehension, in turn, keeps the affective filter low by elimination or considerably reducing the anxiety and frustration may students feel when confronting "inconsiderate" text, test that is miles above and away from their current lives and competency level.

As I mentioned literature abounds on second language acquisition, ESL or on comic books. (Rhode & Bullough, 2009) Comics Research Bibliography contains nearly 17,000 entries covering a dizzying range of subjects, everything from Mexican comic books, French graphic novels, and the history of Superman, to censorship, stereotypes, sexism, wordless comics, and comic strip journalism.

But if you combine the two areas (ESL and comics), you can hardly find any professional literature. Given that dearth of research the review that follows includes studies and articles targeting comics and second language learners and others that target comics and native English speakers.

The literature review is organized into two parts. Part 1 contains studies and articles focusing on the use of commercial comics. Part 2 contains those focusing on the use of student-made comics. This arrangement by material type helps teachers match comic to learning outcome. The common denominator is the use of comics to develop successful adult second language learners.

Commercial Comics - trying to answer the question: "Why comics?"

Swain (Swain, 1978) administered a questionnaire about comic book and comic strip reading to 169 students in grades 4 through 12 in Durham, North Carolina. Students were divided into two groups, about half making "good" grades (a grade point average, or GPA, of 3.0 or higher), the other half making "poor" grades (a GPA or 1.0 or below). Huge number of students in all grades reporting reading comics. For example, 100 percent of the "good"-grade and 89 percent of the "poor"-grade elementary students read comic books and/or comic strips. By the high school years, the percentages were only slightly different, with 95 percent of the "good"-grad and 90 percent of the "poor"-grade students reading one or both types of material. Throughout the grades, the "good"-grade students read more comics than the "poor"-grade students. Students who read comics also read other types of books. A little over 90 percent of the "good"-grade students an almost 80 percent of the "poor"-grade students reported reading library books.

Ujiie and Krashen (Ujiie & Krashen, 1996) confirm Swain's finding about the popularity of comics. The researchers surveyed 571 seventh graders at two schools in Southern California regarding comic book reading. One school was middle class; the other was a Chapter 1 school where a little over 80 percent of the students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. 28 percent of the students at the Chapter 1 school were classified LEP (Limited English Proficient).

There was no significant difference between schools in how often student read comics. Analysis of the results, however was restricted to boys, since boys read comics far more than girls in both samples. 83 percent of the boys at the middle-class school reported they always or sometimes read comics; at the Chapter 1 school, the figure was nearly identical at 82 percent.

Finding from the study help demolish one of the enduring myths about comics reading, that comics somehow inhibit an interest in other types of reading. Quite the contrary: at both schools, boy who read more comics also read more for pleasure, enjoyed reading more, and read more books (other than comics). The authors speculate that since frequency of reading and reading ability are consistently related in reading studies, comic book readers may well be better readers.

Finally, Ujiie and Krashen were surprised by the fact that despite the high cost of comics, middle-class and far less affluent students read comics at the same frequency. This argues for the "attractiveness of comics" as reading material.

Like Ujiie and Krashen (Ujiie & Krashen, 1996), Russikoff and Pilgreen (Russikoff & Pilgreen, 1994) found that comics, far from locking student into a lifetime of light reading, actually served as conduit to heavier, more complex reading. The authors surveyed 18 doctoral students at a Southern California university regarding reading patterns and preferences as young and adults. 82 percent of the students indicated that they enjoyed light reading when young. Light reading, as defined by the researchers, included comic books as well.

The study supports the hypothesis that light reading leads to more serious reading and should help calm the fears of those teachers and parents who still believe that "going light", especially with comics means "staying light". One caveat related to terminology. Comics fans typically bristle when all comics are labeled "light". Many comics are typically lightweight fare but many others are demanding - and serious - reads (like the three graphic novels I am going to review closely later in the thesis).

Finally, a reading preference study by Worthy, Moorman, and Turner (Worthy, Moorman, & Turner, 1999) offers additional evidence regarding the popularity of comics among middle school students. It also examines student preferences in relation to the availability of favorite materials at school. In a survey of 419 6th grade students at 3 schools in a socioeconomically and ethnically diverse district in Texas, researchers found that the two most preferred types of reading material were scary books at 66 percent and cartoons and comics at 65 percent. Comics, in fact, placed in the top two or three preferred materials regardless of students' income, reading achievement, attitude toward reading, or - contrary to Ujiie and Krashen (1996) - gender.

Researchers also interviewed teachers an librarians regarding their opinions on using student -preferred material. Perhaps the most interesting - and troubling - aspect of the fining is the disconnect between what students liked to read and what schools provided. Out of the top ten favorite the only material that earned a "very good" label for availability was ninth ranked funny novels. Comic books were "unavailable", meaning absent from all three libraries.

Staff attitudes help explain the unavailability of comics. Two of the three librarians surveyed felt that comic books were inappropriate for school, though none disapproved of comic strip books like Garfield. Many of the teachers, too saw comics as unsuitable, something to read at home perhaps, but not at school.