English 6780 Topics in English Education, Fall 2022

Teaching the Literature of
Migrants and Refugees

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
                         -- Robert Frost

Like animals and plants, people have always migrated. Human migration has been forced by changing ecosystems, economic necessity, and by invasion, enslavement, and conflict. Today, globalization, warfare, and climate change are accelerating displacement on an unprecedented, planetary scale. There are more refugees, migrants, and displaced persons in the world now than ever in human history -- and numbers will dramatically increase, likely in the billions, as climate further deteriorates.

In an atmosphere of anxiety and fear, refugees and migrants are being perceived as a threat that might compromise lifestyle, and used to foster nativism, racism, and “replacement theory.” A May 2022 poll by the Associated Press found that one-third of American adults believed that an effort was underway "to replace native-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains." Many first world governments have taken extreme measures to stop migrants and refugees from reaching their soil.

Refugees as a “problem” fails to consider the histories of immigration, colonialism, racism, economic inequality, who and how refugees are defined, what can be learned from migrants and the contributions they make, how we can transform systems of violence that foster displacement, the role and responsibility of governments in creating and failing to address conditions that require migration, and moral, ethical, and political issues of responsibility and solidarity.

The experience of migration often involves hardship, loss, personal and social challenges, entering liminal spaces, cultural, and linguistic transitions. It raises questions about identity, community, indigeneity, and relationships between generations.

The literature of migration also brings up issues of rights, justice, borders, climate change, militarism, and the challenges of making life in new contexts. This literature also raises questions about the construction of school knowledge and how and why we teach literature. This seminar will explore these questions, foster critical and creative thinking, develop strategies for teaching and research, and include input and involvement from and with local organizations.

We will draw on the power of the literature to understand others, imagine possible futures, and make a difference. Students will experience and develop teaching formed by thematic instruction, cultural studies, inquiry and critical theory, student choice and self-evaluation, service learning and active citizenship education.

The seminar welcomes and will be relevant to graduate students in English in literature, creative writing, writing studies, and English education.

As the semester unfolds the topic of migration will certainly be in the news. Students in this class are expected to read from a variety of news sources and are invited to bring issues to our class for discussion. WMU provides a free NYT subscription. The Guardian is also a good news source, and can also be accessed for free.

WMU Land Acknowledgement: "Land acknowledgment is a process by which individuals are prompted to consider the history of the space they currently inhabit. We would like to recognize that Western Michigan University is located on lands historically occupied by the Ojibwe, Odawa and Bodewadmi nations. Please take a moment to acknowledge and honor this ancestral land of the Three Fires Confederacy, the sacred lands of all Indigenous peoples and their continued presence."

Seminar Success

Since the seminar is discussion-based, attendance and preparation are essential to your own learning and to the learning of your classmates. Missing more than two weeks of the seminar will lower your grade and missing 3 or more may lead to failing. Study my philosophy regarding discussion, preparation, participation, attendance, grading, and learning -- and consider your own philosophy!

Your final course grade will be an average of grades for the major assignments, listed and weighted below. At the hour scheduled for the final exam students will present their final project.

This course will follow WMU policies regarding academic honesty.

WMU has many resources to foster student health and well being.!

My office is 723 Sprau Tower, 387-2605. Office hours are after class and by appointment. You can always reach me via email.

Reading / Viewing


Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (2005), by Laila Lalami

Human Flow (2017), film directed by Al Weiwei

Exit West (2017), by Mohsin Hamid

Tell Me How It Ends (2017), by Valeria Luiselli.

Borderlands: La Frontera (1987), Gloria Anzaldua

Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security (2017), Todd Miller

Sleep Dealer (2008), film directed by Alex Rivera

Parable of the Sower (1993), by Octavia Butler

Water Knife (2015), by Paulo Bacigalupi

Additional student selected reading on Mexican-American border

Selections From:

Braiding Sweetgrass (2013), by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (2011), by Christian Parenti

Migrant Futures (2018), by Aimee Bahng

The Immigration Crisis in Europe and the U.S.-Mexico Border (2021), by Victoria Carty

Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency (2020), by Mark Lynas 

And more, see syllabus below.

Major Assignments

1) Understanding Your Ancestors: Literary Analysis, Essay, Research Paper, or Creative Response, Due: 9/21 (20%)
2) Teaching Plan on the Mexican/American Border, Due: 11/2 (20%)
3) Climate Impacts: Literary Analysis, Essay, Research Paper, or Creative Response, Due 11/30 (20%)
4) Envision a Course, Due: 12/14 (20%) 
5) Community Involvement Project, Report Due: 12/14 (20%)

Electronic Syllabus

Aug 31: Introductions

Introductions, Syllabus

Discussion of literary studies, national traditions, borders, & migration

"Origins of World Literature," rise of capitalism from the Manifesto

Examine media representations: Fox News, immigrants, refugees, borders; Immigrants, White Supremacy, Alt-Right (ADL, Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch, Brennan Center, House Committee); Europe and Immigrants, EU policy w Turkey and Libya; Britain First, AfD Germany, Euroskepticism; Refugee and Detention Camps world-wide; Immigrants & political campaigns; Islamophobia; Remain in Mexico Policy; Migration and Climate Change; Ukrainian refugees vs refugees from Africa, Asia, or Middle East.

Sep 7: Your Connection to Migration

1. Read carefully through the entire on-line syllabus. Bring any questions about the syllabus and assignments to class.

2. Join our class phone message system, Remind. If you have a smartphone go to this page in your web browser and follow instructions: rmd.at/f6eb9b8. If you don't have a smart phone text "@f6eb9b8" to this number "f6eb9b8". If you don't have a cell phone go to rmd.at/f6eb9b8 and sign up for email notification.

3. Read: A novel or memoir or collection of short stories or poetry or an historical study about immigrants that, in some way, could be seen to connect to your own family or experience. Prepare to present what you learn to the class.

Sept 14: Contexts

1. Read: Trail of Death.

2. Read: from Braiding Sweetgrass.

3. Read: Immigration 1907/2017.

4. Read: Declarations and Conventions: Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, Global Compact for Migration, UN page on Global Compact for Migration.

5. Read: "The Great Uprooting" by Amitov Ghosh.

6. Read: Immigration: Arguments For and Against Open Borders from Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy.

7. Read: Ten Arguments for Open Borders from Democratic Socialists.

8. Read: A Refugee Puppet

Sept 21: Morocco and Straights of Gilbrater 

1. Read: Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, by Laila Lalami (2005).

2. Research: Find an article to update our knowledge about migration from North Africa to Europe since 2005, prepare to share with the class.

3. Due: Understanding Your Ancestors: Literary Analysis, Essay, Research Paper, or Creative Response.

Sept 28: Current Global Refugee Crisis

refugee button

1. Watch: Human Flow. Write brief comments on several scenes that interest you. (Record minute and second of scene - we may view in class.)

2. Read: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017).

3. Read: "Why Migration is a Fundamental Human Right" by Mohsin Hamid (2014).

4. Read: "Cruelty to Migrants" by Mohsin Hamid (2022).

5. Read: "Too Few Immigrants" by Bhargava & Stolz (2022).

Visit by Susan Reed, Director, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center

Oct 5: Mexican / American Borderlands

1. Read: Borderlands: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzalua.


Los Niños Heroes      Abe Lincoln and Mexican War

Oct 12: The Wall

1. Read: Storming the Wall by Todd Miller.

2. View: Sleep Dealer directed by Alex Rivera, available on Amazon Prime Video.  (Chicano futurism.)

3. Read: Selection from Migrant Futures about Sleep Dealer.

4. Find an interesting article about current Mexican border issues, prepare to share with the class.

Oct 19-21: Fall Break

Oct 26: Mexican / American Border Con't

1. Read: Tell Me How It Ends, by Valearia Luiselli.

2. Read: Additional work about Mexican/American border that you might teach.

Nov 2: Nativism / Replacement Theory

1. Read: Nativism in the United States

2. Read: "Immigration and the Rise of White Nationalism" from The Immigration Crisis, by Victoria Carty.

3. Read: Great Replacement Theory Explained.

4. Research recent articles/websites addressing nativism, ultra-nationalism, replacement theory, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and/or racist anti-immigrant ideas and prepare to present an interesting article/website to the class.

Due: Teaching Unit on the Mexican/American Border.

Nov 9: Climate Change and Migration





1. Read: Review of Our Final Warning by Bill Mckibben

2. Read: from Our Final Warning.

3. Watch: Greta's Ted Talk (2019).

4. Read: 22 Million at Risk of Starvation from Drought, UN Aid Shortfall

5. Read: Paragraphs 1-3, 10-26, 27-61 from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home by Pope Francis.

6. Read: Chapters 1, 2, & 3 from Tropic of Chaos by Christian Parenti.

7. Read: Historical Responsibility for Climate Change

Nov 16: Afro-futurism

1. Read: "California Heat Wave"

2. Read: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.

Nov 23: Thanksgiving Break

Nov 30: 21st Century Dust Bowl

1. Read: "Crisis on the Colorado" and "Colorado River Near Tipping Point"

2. Read: Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi.

 3. Read after the novel:  Water Rights Battle.

3. Due: Literary Analysis, Essay, Research Paper, or Creative Response

Dec 7: Teaching Literature & Preparing Envision a Course

1. Read: Chapter 1 of Teaching to Exceed, Third Edition.

2. Bring ideas for Envision a Course to class.

Dec 12-15 Final Exam Week

Dec 14 7:15-9:15: Final Exam

1. Presentation of Envision a Course

2. Report on Community Involvement


Good Reads: Immigration

Immigration and Refugee Poetry: Poetry Foundation, Warscapes, Poem Hunter, Hello Poetry.

University of Minnesota Immigration History Center

Critical Refugee Studies Collective