“Are citizens made or born?” Assistant Professor of Education Ramona Fruja began her talk “Conformity and Critique: Learning to be American Citizens in Naturalization Classes” with this question. The talk was delivered on Feb. 8 as part of the Department of Education’s Faculty Research Series.
Fruja focused on the government’s efforts to assimilate immigrants into American society. As part of her research, Fruja sat in on naturalization classes and observed the student-teacher interactions. She remarked that the classes are run similarly to a middle school social studies class in the American educational system. The curriculum is government-sanctioned and tailored to the information necessary to pass the U.S. naturalization test.
Fruja observed during her research that conformity was a major theme of the naturalization classes, and that the main desire of the immigrants was to fit in with American society. She noticed that the teachers of these classes would subtly critique the American government during class, but that there was always the underlying message that the American government was an all-knowing and all-powerful force. Fruja felt that this message instilled fear and anxiety about the government in the students.
“You would be surprised, those of you that are American citizens, the status that American citizenship holds,” Fruja said.
“The most interesting thing that I took away from the talk was to reflect on what it means to be an American citizen. As an American-born citizen I really take for granted the privilege that I have. If I were to go through any citizenship classes, I do not think that I would truly learn what it means to be an American,” graduate student Tricia Collins said.
The final comment of Fruja’s talk inspired the audience to create change.
“We, as a society, think naturalization classes are very important, yet we leave the task to volunteers and poorly-funded programs to get it done,” Fruja said.