Best Intentions

Over time, the practice of education has become more and more of a collaborative endeavor. We think of students as “our kids” rather than “my kids and your kids” when we are planning for instruction and analyzing student assessment data. To me, one of the key requirements for effective collaboration between anyone and in any situation is to assume good intentions. We work better together when we believe that our coworkers are doing the best that they can to make a difference in the lives of their students. It also seems to me that if we assume best intentions, we are more able to understand and empathize with others.

In Patricia Reilly Giff’s book, Until I Find Julian, issues of undocumented immigration are addressed without judgments of right or wrong. The protagonist, Mateo, crosses the border from Mexico to the United States to look for his older brother Julian who had come to find work to support his family. Julian crossed the border with a friend who returned to Mexico with news that la migra had come to the construction site where they were working and everyone had scattered. He did not know where Julian had gone. Mateo sets out alone to find Julian but soon realizes that he will need the help of a young girl, Angel, who has frequently crossed the border, if he is going to succeed in his quest.

This story is about an issue that is currently quite divisive in our national conversation. However, it is also about family and about being better together than we are apart. Mateo, Julian, and Angel are not perfect, but they have good intentions. Giff paints a picture of people, just like us, who are experiencing something most of us can’t imagine or even understand. This book does not set out to answer the question of whether or not undocumented immigrants should be allowed to become citizens. It also does not tell the story of detention centers or deportation. It tells the story of family and friends who are trying to achieve something better for each other.

Until I Find Julian would be a great book to use when teaching about characters or point of view. Each of the main characters are dynamic and the story is written from Mateo’s point of view. Mateo’s inner dialogue as well as his conversations with various characters would also work well as theatrical interpretations, leading students to work collaboratively and develop a deeper understanding of the story and of each other.

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:

Diversity 6- I like knowing people who are like me and different from me, and I treat each person with respect.

Common Core State Standards:

RL.3- Describe characters in a story and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.

RL.6- Distinguish their own point of view from that of the narrator or those of the characters.

SL.1- Engage effective in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Published by socialjusticeinchildrenslit

My name is Leah Cole and I was a teacher in Iowa for nine years. My passions for education, social justice, and children's literature led me to create this blog. Students are faced with issues of justice and fairness from the time they are very young. The Social Justice Standards developed by Teaching Tolerance help teachers to support the development of students who recognize and embrace their own identities while respecting and valuing those who are different. In this blog, I will attempt to identify and review books that support the social justice standards.

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