Changing the Conversation about Migration: A Provisional Pedagogic Framework

This blog post is co-authored by Liz Dawes Duraisingh, Emi Kane, and Sarah Sheya.

Last year, Out of Eden Learn piloted and launched a new learning journey called Stories of Human Migration. We wanted to see if the curriculum design principles we had developed for promoting thoughtful cross-cultural inquiry and exchange  — inviting young people to slow down, share stories, and make connections between their own lives and bigger human stories — could be applied to convene teenage students in thoughtful ways around what are widely perceived to be contentious yet timely topics.

The empirically-grounded framework we present here is specific to the topic of migration and is still a work in progress. However, we expect the overall structure to be applicable to other sensitive topics — something we will be exploring and reporting on in the coming year.

Changing the Conversation About Migration: A Pedagogic Framework from Out of Eden Learn

migration visual final_Sept17-1This diagram is intended to evoke the metaphor of a kaleidoscope: the various parts are interconnected and can come together as well as expand or recombine in different ways. The diagram is color-coded according to three broad aspects of learning. The pink shapes represent the affective or attitudinal qualities we hope to promote among young people as they engage around the topic of human migration; the blue shapes represent the kinds of substantive understandings we want them to develop; the green shapes convey the dimensions of critical awareness that we believe to be important for navigating this topic in insightful and sensitive ways. At the center of the diagram and stretching across it are the core design principles of the Out of Eden Learn model, which we believe help to foster the attitudes, understandings, and capacities identified.

The framework offers a roadmap or set of aspirations for educators and students. We are not suggesting that every student be expected to demonstrate every aspect of the diagram, but taken together the elements form a composite of the richest and most encouraging work, comments, and reflections we have looked at on the Out of Eden Learn platform. Below are brief descriptions of each of the three core categories, including counter-examples that indicate some of the challenges of supporting young people to engage in learning about this complex and sensitive topic. The framework is grounded in our examination of work from Out of Eden Learn but is intended to have much broader applicability.

Respectful curiosity and engagement

This category is concerned with students’ stances or attitudes towards the topic. We are interested here in students asking thoughtful questions and actively trying to engage one another in discussion. Are students asking questions of one another that are respectful in tone and which suggest a genuine desire to find out more about other people’s stories, lives, and perspectives?  Relatedly, are they listening respectfully and empathetically to one another, especially when peers are sharing their own or their loved one’s stories of migration? Where appropriate, are they actively making connections to their own experiences? Finally, this framework takes a broad approach towards students’ actions or intentions to engage, which may be civic in nature: for example, do students express an interest in reaching out to newly arrived migrants (or perhaps to their new community if they have recently migrated), getting involved in discussions or debates, or learning more about the topic? Indicators that the goal of fostering respectful curiosity and engagement is not being achieved would include the following: flippant questions or comments, shutting down a conversation, or a general lack of interest or willingness to engage in the topic.

Nuanced understanding

Migration is a complex topic. This category is concerned with students’ substantive understanding of historical and contemporary migration. Do they show awareness of some of the ways in which the will or determination of individual people interacts with much bigger structural forces that are beyond their personal control—for example, climate change, war, economic forces, or religious or political persecution? Do students demonstrate an understanding that individual migration experiences or people’s perceptions of migration are shaped by context—be that historical, geographical, political, economic, social, or religious? And do they appreciate that there is enormous diversity in terms of how different migration experiences play out, both across different contexts and situations and within the same communities or groups of migrants? Educators may want to pre-empt the following challenges: students tending towards binary thinking (migration is good or bad; individual migration experiences are wholly positive or wholly negative), over-generalizing about migration from single stories, or solely focusing on the willpower and character of individual migrants rather than taking into account broader contextual or structural factors that impact their experiences.

Critical awareness including self-awareness

This category is fundamentally about perspective-taking. It is one thing for students to care about migration and to understand its complexity: it is another for them to think critically and reflectively about their own and other people’s perspectives on migration. One aspect of this category concerns what is commonly termed media literacy: do students show an ability to engage critically and discerningly with media stories and other sources about migration, rather than dealing with them as straightforward pieces of information? Do they recognize that understanding other people’s perspectives is challenging and are they sensitive to the limits of their own understanding regarding the topic of migration and people’s migration experiences? Are they able to reflect on the ways in which their own perspectives have been shaped by context and experience? We acknowledge that some aspects of critical awareness can be a tall order for young people—and indeed everyone—but it is vital for educators to foster these capacities in their students. We seek to avoid the following scenarios: students making easy assumptions about other people’s experiences or being overconfident in their understanding of a complex topic; assuming that their own perspective on the world is universally shared or inherently superior to others; not taking the time to reflect on their own thoughts and feelings about migration and how they may have been formed.

Migration is an age-old and essential part of being human – as our collaborator Paul Salopek highlights via his Out of Eden Walk. But at a time when the ways in which it is discussed as a political issue and experience have become particularly contentious, we need to provide opportunities to change the conversation. We owe it to our young people to offer them meaningful opportunities to engage around the topic in ways that honor their individual perspectives and experiences and that allow them to learn both with and from one another.


  1. […] groundwork for potential civic or political actions on the part of youth down the road. Indeed, the pedagogic framework behind OOEL’s migration curriculum foregrounds a set of learning outcomes – respectful curiosity, nuanced understandings, and […]

  2. […] migration. This blog post, the first in a series of two, revisits the emergent, empirically-grounded pedagogic framework for changing the conversation around migration that we previously shared. The intent is to share […]

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