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Angelina Jolie and Iraqi Refugee Children

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The actress and refugee advocate Angelina Jolie was in town yesterday to call for more support for the education of Iraqi children. She said that the United States and international community need to make it a higher priority to ensure that Iraqi children and children in other war-torn countries get an education. See "Angelina Jolie Highlights Iraqi Students' Plight," which was posted today at www.edweek.org.


Ms. Jolie also cited some recent figures for the rate that the United States is accepting Iraqi refugees and urged the U.S. to pick up the pace of admitting people who have fled the Iraq war. She said the United States took in 375 Iraqi refugees in January, 444 in February, and 751 in March. While she said that it's good that the rate of acceptance is increasing slightly each month, the United States is still 9,000 short of reaching its stated goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees in fiscal 2008 (which runs from Oct. 1, 2007, to Sept. 30, 2008).

In February, officials from the U.S. State Department told me that the count of Iraqi war refugees received by the United States had reached 3,040 so far, as of the end of January. Meanwhile, other Western countries, such as Sweden, have accepted many more refugees from the war than has the United States (but the situation is complicated in Sweden, too, according to a March 25 National Public Radio report, "Sweden Begins Sending Iraqi Refugees Home"). For an in-depth analysis of why the U.S. acceptance rate has been so low, see "The Iraqi Refugee Crisis: the Need for Action," a report released this year by the Migration Policy Institute.

I note all of this in my blog because some educators are serving children who have fled the Iraq war, and more of you may soon be in the same boat.

Barbara Gottschalk, an English-as-a-second-language teacher at Warren Consolidated Schools in Sterling Heights, Mich., told me, for instance, that her school district has received a few Iraqi families who had fled to Turkey and Jordan. The Iraqi children who came to the United States via Turkey received some schooling after leaving Iraq, she said. Not so of the Iraqi girl she is teaching who came via Jordan. While the girl has been placed in the 5th grade this school year, she had not been in school since she left 1st grade in Iraq, Ms. Gottschalk said. "She could barely hold up a pencil," said Ms. Gottschalk.

For more on what to expect regarding the schooling of Iraqi children, see the March 5 article I wrote about Iraqi refugee children in Jordan—"The Lost Years: Iraqi Students in Jordan." A reporter from Mother Jones on-line also picked up on the topic of the education of Iraqi schoolchildren in an interview with me published in March, "The Militias in the Middle Eastern Classrooms."

1 Comment

It sounds like a kid with lack of prior education or interrupted formal education. Why is it so shocking to people and why do they make so much out of it? I also fear the mentality that the child shouldn't be in the correct grade level for their age. It is very important for the child to be at their age appropriate level so they can develop language and social skills. To be placed with younger children doesn't help, it hurts. I have worked with several SIFE kids (Students With Interupted Formal Education) over the years and given appropriate help and education, they do learn well and become good students. I had a SIFE girl who was never educated in her home country come at 5th grade level. She learned speaking and listening fairly rapidly but reading and math came with difficulty. I had years of people trying to prove to me that she had a learning disability. Difficutly in math proved it, inability in opening her locker the first couple of weeks in middle school proved it, etc. I had to chase many educators away. Every year, teachers wanted her retained "to get extra help". Well she is in high school now and last year got a 5 on the AP Global History exam. She is good in math and thinking of becoming a doctor. Her older brother, who had about a second grade education and entered in 6th grade, didn't have as much help, (they took him out of ESOL and would only provide him 3 years of service) struggles a bit in English writing skills but is at St. Lawrence University. He was told by his high school guidance counselor that community college or a poor state college was the right place to be (he came from an African country). Good thing we didn't listen. He plans on getting a Ph.D. and has strong ambitions in the political realm. I am amazed sometimes at the message educators send to SIFE students and their families. Many programs aimed at helping them tend to be very unsuccessful and they use the students' background as an excuse for their failure. It is very important that students be placed with other students at their grade level and be given a good education. They can "catch up" and often surpass students who have been here all along.

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