PBS Premiere: Aug. 27, 2002Check the broadcast schedule »

Escuela Debate

For many years, social activists, politicians and educators have debated several proposals to improve the lives of migrant workers and their families. The POV program "Escuela" can be used to introduce and heighten awareness of several of these issues. In "Escuela," Liliana and Elizabeth Luis -- two Mexican-American migrant sisters -- try to make their way in 21st century America. For Liliana, who begins her freshman year in high school, this means dealing with the harsh demands of work in the fields, constant travel and endlessly changing schools, classes and friends as she migrates with her farm-worker family between California, Texas and Mexico. For Elizabeth, a limited education and the struggle to secure citizenship for her husband combine to create an uncertain economic outlook. In this compassionate portrait, "Escuela" tells the story of one Mexican-American family's drive towards a better future.

In this lesson, teams of four students will research and debate a series of proposals of change in the status quo. The students will use established debate formats and are judged using a standard rubric. (Tip: Click on the items below and go straight to that section.)

Grade level: 9-12
Subjects: Government, Sociology, Social Problems, Civics, Communications, Speech, Language Arts
Estimated time of completion: five days to 3 weeks

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Please visit our Film Library to find other films suitable for classroom use or to make this film a part of your school's permanent collection.

Students will:

  1. Learn about conflicting views regarding life and education for migrant families
  2. Recognize the contributions of migrant farmworker families and gain an appreciation for their way of life
  3. Develop persuasive speaking and argumentation skills
  4. Develop proper research skills (both online and using print media)
  5. Develop an appreciation for the impact on American culture of immigrant groups, their culture, and language


  1. A Copy of the POV program "Escuela"
  2. Access to the internet, and a television and VCR


A. Suggested Pre-screening Questions:

Before viewing the film, discuss with students the excitement, anticipation and anxiety of the first day of high school. Consider how it would feel if you were entering high school in a different community without any of your friends. Imagine if your first language was different from that of the new school (i.e., you were entering school in Japan, France, or Spain with only one year of foreign language study.) Now, imagine entering a new school four different times in a school year.

As they watch the film, ask students to pay attention to depictions of values as they relate to work, family and education. Take note of Liliana's experience as she and her family move from one state to the next. Focus on her emotional experience as it relates to re-enrolling in school, home life and the move itself. Also take note of Elizabeth's reflections on her high school experience as they relate to her current economic situation.

B. View the film together as a whole class.

C. Using cooperative learning groups of three to four students answer the film guide questions (see Appendix 1).

D. After small group discussions, the class should reconvene to share their conclusions.

E. Chose a Debate Topic from the list provided. Prepare the students for developing concepts and ideas for the debate. The teacher should mention that a debate is a "gentlemanly argument," and that the purpose of a debate is for the contestants to prove their point and sway a judge or judges to their view through the use of logic and evidence. The teacher also needs to ensure that students are aware that debates, while often adversarial in nature, should be friendly in nature. (See Appendix 2 for Standard Debate Format).

1. Resolved: The United States Government should enact legislation banning bilingual education and institute an "English-only" policy in all U.S. schools.
2. Resolved: The U.S. Congress should pass Senate Resolution 1291 allowing undocumented migrant students who have graduated from a U.S. high school to pay in-state tuition at state universities.
3. Resolved: The Texas system of TAAS testing should be used as a model for all states and school districts as a means to raise student scholastic achievement, particularly in areas with large populations of migrant students.
4. Resolved: Growers who employ migrant workers should be required to provide adequate housing.
5. Resolved: All migrant workers should be included under the National Labor Relations Act.

F. Require that students use individual case studies or incidents from the various videos as evidence in their debate.

G. Encourage students to supplement their evidence with their own research (a sample list of resources that can be used is included below). One of the more complete search engines that students can use to gather information online is Google ( Students may also utilize traditional forms of information, such as encyclopedias, books, magazines, etc.

H. Develop a rubric to judge the debate (or to allow the class to judge the debate) based on criteria including speaking style, development of logical arguments, questioning skills, and evidence. The best way to do this would be to develop a grid of some sort with a 1 -- 5 scale for each category (1= poor; 5= excellent). The teacher should also add a space for comments on what they felt as far as a critique of the debate. If the school offers an interscholastic debate program, the school's forensics coach may have ballots that may be utilized. A sample rubric that can either be used "as is" or adapted to fit a specific class instance can be found at:
This rubric is fairly "straightforward" in that it simplifies the evaluation of the debate and makes it easy for both sides to understand the criteria. It can easily be used by the teacher, students in the class, or others to effectively judge the debate.

The teacher can judge the debate personally, or have students act as judges. Generally, the winner of the debate is determined by which team scores higher in the rubric. Traditionally, since the negative (those opposed to the resolution) represents the status quo and it is the affirmative's view that change is needed, the negative wins any tie.


If the teacher desires to involve more students, they may elect to change the debate format into one of a panel discussion. While the issue under consideration is the same, the format and outcome are somewhat different. In a discussion, the group works together in order to reach a consensus decision.

In interscholastic forensics competitions, discussion groups usually run six to seven students, but the teacher may decide to increase or decrease the number to fit their class situation. The teacher may also elect to divide the debate topic into smaller, discussible subtopics, such as "Should bilingual education be allowed on the elementary level, and phased out on the secondary level?" or "Should students demonstrate a proficiency in English as a requirement for high school graduation?"

In a discussion, one student is selected as "leader." It is their job to keep the discussion going smoothly, maintain order, allow all participants an opportunity to speak, and summarize each of the discussion segments. In some discussion formats, the leader is scored and assessed separately from the other participants. The leader has the right to add comments and participate in the discussion as do the other participants.

Once the leader is selected (either by the teacher or the other participants), the following format is maintained (within the scope of the class period):

- Definition of terms
- History of the situation/problem
- Problems with the current system
- Solutions to the problems identified by the group

Again, there is no set time frame for any one segment, however, the teacher and group should recognize that if this is a one class period activity, enough time must be set aside for each segment as well as the summaries by the group leader.

Once the discussion is completed, participants can be evaluated in a rubric created by the teacher. While the teacher may wish to develop his or her own assessment tool, a sample rubric is included as an example below.

Alternative Lesson Assessment

1. Knowledge of the subject material (20 points): How much research did the participant do toward the discussion? How effective was the research used?____________________points.

2. Participation (20 points): How often did the participant speak? Was the participation worthwhile? ____________________ points.

3. Development of logic skills (20 points): How well did the participant utilize logic skills in making points and demonstrating viewpoints? _________________________ points.

4. Speaking ability (20 points): Did the participant make points well? Use correct grammar? Were they able to be heard by the audience? _____________________points.

5. Cooperation (20 points): Did the participant act in a manner of cooperation toward the leader and other members of the group? Did the participant tend to monopolize the discussion, or did they contribute significantly to the final solution? _____________________ points.


A. Research Projects

The teacher may desire to have students research current trends toward (or against) the following related topics. Using information they acquire, they can write editorials either supporting or rejecting their ideas.

a) Investigate contributions of migrants to the U.S. economy
b) Study the role of Agribusiness in the third world and the U.S. (benefits and harms)
c) Study the history of the United Farm Workers movement.
d) Study issues and controversies of the World Trade Organization
e) Study the effects of standardized tests on raising student achievement levels i.e., what is the relationship between high test scores and a well-rounded education.
f) Research current policies concerning bilingual education.

B. Letter Writing Campaign

After researching the issues, teachers may elect to have students use the information they gather to write letters or petitions to the editorial page of local newspapers, to state and national legislators or to their local school board.


PBS News Hour Forum

A PBS News Hour forum page dealing with the plusses and minuses of bilingual education.

American Association of School Administrators

An American Association of School Administrators web page discussing some of the problems and ideas regarding developing programs teaching non-English speakers to speak and read English.
The Washington Post

A story from the Washington Post which noted that Maryland teachers are being encouraged to include many non-English speaking students in "high-stakes" testing in an attempt to get them involved in actual classroom work and learning English.

California Association for Bilingual Education

A page from the California Association for Bilingual Education site which highlights ideas to create a quality bilingual education program.

Saskatchewan Education

A Saskatchewan Education web page discussing ideas and practice for a successful kindergarten program for students for whom English is a second language.

San Jose Mercury News

A story from the San Jose Mercury News that states that many school officials in the Bay Area oppose the elimination of bilingual classes.

Education Update

A page from the Education Update web site, in which former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani outlines the city's plan to scale back bilingual education.

National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition & Language Instruction Educational Programs

The web page of the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition & Language Instruction Educational Programs (formerly the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education).

PBS Online News Hour

A transcript from a PBS Online News Hour broadcast in which reporter Gwen Iffil discusses the future of bilingual education with two California school superintendents.

Office of Migrant Education

The official site of the United States Department of Education's Office of Migrant Education.

Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools

This educational clearinghouse offers online and print versions of publications addressing resources and strategies for assisting in the education of migrant children.

National Association of State Directors of Migrant Education

National Association of State Directors of Migrant Education

Migrant Education

The nation's largest Migrant Education Program is in California. This site provides information about the 23 regional offices administering services to over 200,000 migrant students.

Division of Migrant Education

Provides resources for leadership in the field regarding programs and services that promote academic excellence and equity for the migrant and immigrant students of Texas.

National Labor Relations Board

The National Labor Relations Board website provides information on the enforcement of the National Labor Relations Act. Start by going to the Help Desk page.

National Labor Relations Act

Provides a description and purpose of the National Labor Relations Act.

Immigration Related Bills

Provides a list of immigration-related bills introduced during the 107th Congress.

Sacks & Kolken, Immigration Lawyers

The website for a journal published by Sacks & Kolken, Immigration Lawyers. Many articles concerning immigration law, policy and advocacy opportunities.

American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The website for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Has a link to "Immigration Myths and Facts." Also discusses Senate Resolution 1291.


This lesson addresses the following national content standards established by McREL

Understands the impact of major demographic trends on the United States (e.g., population growth, increase in immigration and refugees).

Understands the effects that significant American political developments have on other nations (e.g., immigration policies; opposition to communism; promotion of human rights; foreign trade; economic, military, and humanitarian aid).

Understands major contemporary social issues and the groups involved (e.g., the current debate over affirmative action and to what degree affirmative action policies have reached their goals; the evolution of government support for the rights of the disabled; the emergence of the Gay Liberation Movement and civil rights of gay Americans; continuing debates over multiculturalism, bilingual education, and group identity and rights vs. individual rights and identity; successes and failures of the modern feminist movement).

Uses criteria to evaluate own and others' effectiveness in group discussions and formal presentations (e.g., accuracy, relevance, and organization of information; clarity of delivery; relationships among purpose, audience, and content; types of arguments used; effectiveness of own contributions).

Adjusts message wording and delivery to particular audiences and for particular purposes (e.g., to defend a position, to entertain, to inform, to persuade).


Liliana Luis -- 14 years old
Juanita Luis -- Liliana's mother
Eliazar Luis -- Liliana's father
Alma -- Older sister, left school after 8th grade
Elizabeth -- Older sister, graduated from high school
Yesenia -- Younger sister, in 8th grade
Janet -- Liliana's cousin
Jackson Serros -- Migrant coordinator Arvin, California
Hector Cuevos -- Principal La Joya High, Mission Texas.

Chavez Junior High -- Mission, Texas
Arvin High School -- Arvin, California
Arvin Labor Camp -- Arvin, California
La Joya High School -- Mission Texas
Luis Family Residence -- Los Ramones, Mexico


1. What is the local economy like in Mission, Texas? What work does the Luis family do? Why?
2. What does Liliana do with her wages when she works in the fields?
3. Why does Liliana have to register at school four times during a single school year?
4. How does this make it difficult for her to earn credits? Give specific examples from the film.
5. What problems were revealed by Jackson Cerros -- the migration coordinator in Arvin, California?
6. What challenges to the school system were outlined by Hector Cerros, Principal of La Joya HS, Texas?
7. What was your evaluation of the TAAS vocabulary and TAAS testing procedure as a method to help raise student test scores. (What benefits and problems?)
8. What proposals would you make to raise student test scores? Do you believe that high test scores equals a good education? What other aspects of high school life are important to a well-rounded education?
9. Why did Elizabeth, who had earned a high school diploma, return to migrant farm work with her family?
10. How would you describe the travel conditions of the family? Give specific examples.
11. Use specific examples to describe the living conditions of the family.
12. How would you compare Liliana's family to that of other teens? What are their values with regards to work, family and education?
13. In what way is Liliana's life like that of a typical teenager? How is it different?
14. What happened to Elizabeth and her older sister's education when their family needed them to work? What kind of modeling did they have, both in and outside of school? What kind of role models does Lili have?
15. One teacher explained that changing technology would affect all the students future employment opportunities. Explain.
16. What example of racial or ethnic profiling did we see in the film? How would you feel if you were stopped on the highway and asked to prove citizenship?
17. Should all teachers in schools with large Latino populations be required to be fluent in both Spanish and English?
18. Should migrant students with poor English skills be taught some classes (i.e., math, science, health, etc.) in their native Spanish? Meanwhile they would study English as their second language. This program is called bilingual education.
19. Does bilingual education essentially create "two Americas" (one native English speaking, the other speakers of another language)?
20. Should some sort of English proficiency be required for certain rights and privileges of citizenship or residence, such as permanent alien status, student visas, job benefits, etc.?
21. How was Liliana's social life affected by being a migrant? What happened to Liliana's feelings about attending school? Based on what you've seen, do you think Liliana's experience in high school will be a successful one?


**Students who participate in the National Forensics League Debates must research both sides of the topic and be prepared to debate affirmative or negative on a coin flip. In order to discourage students in classroom debates from signing up for the affirmative or negative position they already believe, they could be required to follow the same rules of researching/preparing both sides and then being assigned a position on the day before the debate by a coin flip.

a. Based on the resolution, one team (usually two students, but can be adapted for more or less) takes the affirmative side, while the other takes the opposing or negative side. The affirmative side, in this instance, is in favor of easing asylum rules, while the opposing or negative wants to maintain things as they are. In other words, the opposing side is in favor of maintaining the status quo.

b. Time frame for the debate goes as follows: each "constructive" speech is eight minutes long, while cross-examination is three minutes per session. Rebuttal speeches (one per team member) are four minutes.

c. On the affirmative side, the opening statement includes the following information: a stating of the resolved topic, a short definition of germane topics, and an explanation using evidence that shows that the current policy is inherently ineffective. The opening opposing statement attempts to show that the status quo is effective. The second affirmative speech sets forth their "plan" to change the system to make it more effective (at least in the view of the affirmative), while the second negative or second opposing speech seeks to show that the affirmative plan will not succeed. The rebuttal speeches attempt to review each side's respective cases, and attempts to remind the judge(s) that the other view is wrong.

d. Debate format is as follows:

- First affirmative constructive speech (8 minutes)
- Cross-examination (negative asks questions of the 1st affirmative speaker) (3 minutes)
- First negative constructive speech (8 minutes)
- Cross-examination (affirmative asks questions of the 1st negative speaker) (3 minutes)
- Second affirmative constructive speech (8 minutes)
- Cross-examination of second affirmative speech (3 minutes)
- Second negative constructive speech (3 minutes)
- Cross-examination of second negative speech (3 minutes)
- First negative rebuttal (4 minutes)
- First affirmative rebuttal (4 minutes)
- Second negative rebuttal (4 minutes)
- Second affirmative rebuttal (4 minutes)

* NOTE: This is the standard format for contest debate as set by the National Forensics League, which is the national organization for interscholastic speech and debate competitions across the United States. Teachers wanting to utilize a formal debate structure can find information regarding competitive debates at (Debate Central). A less formal debate format can be found at