“What is your American dream?”
This is a question I asked adult students in my English as a Second Language (ESL) class last year. It was not the first time this question had come up in a class discussion, or was found in a lesson from a textbook. Yet, for this intermediate class, it was a difficult question to answer.
One student asked, “Teacher, how can I answer this question?” Another student added, “I am new to America, I don’t have a dream.” According to the textbook, the American dream is when people come to the United States in an effort to make a better life for them and their families. In asking this question, I wasn’t looking for one particular response. I didn’t want this to be a true/false question, or a fill in the blank type of answer. Instead, I was interested in how they feel living here, what their goals are, and how they hope to accomplish them.
I took a moment to let my students ponder this question while drawing a bubble map on the board. We often use a bubble map to brainstorm ideas in class. It’s a great tool to get students talking while visually seeing their ideas come to life. I put “American dream” in the center bubble and drew empty bubbles around it.
I asked students, “When you think of America, what comes to mind?” I received many responses ranging from freedom, to employment, to money. Some said education was the American dream, because they feel the education here is better than it is in their countries. I then asked, “What is your dream living here?” There was silence for a while until one student raised her hand. “My dream is to give my children a good life. I want them to be healthy. I want to bring them back from China to here. I miss them very much.” There was silence with a few head nods. One student replied in a low voice, “I know,” but didn’t look at the woman. For a moment I didn’t know what to say. I felt it was a profound statement, and appreciated her for sharing it.
The American dream originates from the United States Declaration of Independence which states that “all men are created equal,” and people living here have the right of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When I collected the students’ thoughts on what the American dream means to them, we were able to create this sentence: “An American dream is an opportunity to set goals and work hard to accomplish them to make your dream come true in the United States.” I think that is something we can all agree on.