Changing Demographics: What Can We Do to Promote Respect?

In this lesson, students consider the meaning of the terms “respect” and “equality,” and learn about the kinds of actions they can take to promote respect and strive for equality for all people living in the United States.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:  

  • confirm, negate, and build information about the nation’s changing demographic using an organizational chart;
  • write a letter to respond to a viewpoint offered in the central text;
  • talk about their own multiple identities in relation to those around them.
Essential Questions
  • What can be done to ensure that all Americans are treated respectfully and equally?
  • How can the United States become a “more perfect union”? 
  • Enduring Understandings
    • The Declaration of Independence asserts that “All men are created equal… endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” In our multicultural nation, protecting those rights for all men and women requires balancing respect for ethnic traditions with a sense of common purpose, and an ongoing commitment to fair application of our laws.
    • The U.S. Constitution begins with the phrase “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect union…” Americans striving for an improved nation want all citizens to be knowledgeable, respectful, and involved in their communities. 


The series focuses on how the American identity has and will continue to change as
we move toward a nation of plurality, how the nation responds to that evolving
identity, how changing demographics relate to issues of equality, and what we
can do to promote respect for all people living in the United States. The
population of the United States has been changing in significant ways over the
past 50 years. Diverse ethnic backgrounds have brought a variety of religious
traditions and practices into the American experience, but have on occasion
resulted in misunderstandings and conflict. How can the residents of an
increasingly diverse society work and live together in harmony? In this lesson,
students consider the meaning of the terms “respect” and “equality,” and learn
about the kinds of actions they can take to promote respect and strive for equality
for all people living in the United States.


rhetoric [ re-tə-rik ] (noun) language that is intended to influence people and that may not be honest or reasonable

supremacist [ sə-pre-mə-sist, sü- ] (noun) a person who believes that one group of people is better than all other groups and should have control over them

demographic [ dē-mə-graf-ik, dem-ə-\ ] (adj.) relating to the dynamic balance of a population especially with regard to density and capacity for expansion or decline

naturalization [ na-chə-rə-līz-ā-shən, nach-rə- ] (noun) the process by which (someone who was born in a different country) becomes a new citizen


Suggested Procedure

1. This lesson requires students to do a close and critical reading of America’s uneasy ‘browning,’ the central text for this lesson. Although this article by Clarence Page was published in 2012, it still provides important information and overarching themes that establish context for a discussion of changes in the ethnic makeup of the United States. As students read the article, remind them of the date of the information, and ask them to consider if things have changed markedly in the years since.

 2. “America’s uneasy ‘browning” discusses the changing demographics of the United States and the national debate about the impact of that demographic shift. According to the text, “The Census Bureau now expects the nation will have no racial majority in 2042,” a development largely driven by immigration. Now distribute the handout to students. Ask them to list the facts that they consider important regarding the impact of changing demographics in the first column, What I Think I Know. Advise the students not to fill in any other columns yet.
3. Divide students into small groups to do a close reading of the article. Ask them to answer the following questions:

  • How are demographics in the United States changing? What evidence from the text supports your answer?
  • What does the author mean when he says, “America is quietly browning”? How does this browning relate to immigration?
  • Why would this demographic trend cause growth in hate groups and extremist groups?
  • Given this growth, what might our society need to do in order to promote respect for all people living in the United States?
  • What two different visions does the author describe for the national debate about the changing demographics of the United States?
  • How do the beliefs of the blogger, Roger, described in the article compare to historical reality?
  • What sentence from the article most closely aligns to your opinion, and why?
  • In the article, your generation is called the “more hopeful.” Do you agree with that description? What do you believe your generation could do to lead the United States to a “transformative integrated and post-racial era”?

4. Ask students to fill out the rest of the columns in the handout. These expanded definitions of what each column is asking for can help guide students’ answers:
Details That Confirm My Knowledge: Reader reflects on text information that reinforces facts and opinions he or she already believed.
Details That Challenge My Assumptions: Reader reflects on text information that rejects or corrects prior knowledge.
Details That Build New Knowledge: Reader reflects on text to identify information not listed as prior knowledge.
Questions about Text Information: Reader reflects on content that raises questions, based on close reading or additional research.
Sources and Answers to Questions: Reader identifies sources for research and follow-up to questions.

5. Assess students’ understanding by requiring them to ‘write to the source.’ Discuss with students the article’s contention that many U.S. residents are very resistant to the nation’s rapidly changing demographic, which has been called “the single most important driver in the growth of hate groups and extremist groups over the last few years.” The article goes on to quote a blogger who identifies himself as Roger saying that, “The USA is being transformed by immigrants who have high rates of illiteracy, illegitimacy and gang crime, and they will vote Democrat when the Democrats promise them more food stamps.” Ask students to work individually (or in pairs, for lower-level students) to write a letter to “Roger” that responds to his claims. Students should use what they have learned from the article, other sources, and their own knowledge and experiences. Did students support their claims with facts and evidence from the article and other sources? 

This activity addresses the following standards using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.

CCSS RI.9-12.1, 12.2, 12.4, 12.6, 12.8; W.9-12.1, 12.4, 12.9; SL.9-12.1, 12.2, 12.3,12.4; L.9-12.4; RH.9-12.1, 12.4, 12.8


Extension Activity

Do Something

Discuss the term “mulligan stew,” an improvised dish of available ingredients prepared by many different people. Ask: How is the term used in the central text? Ask: Is our school or community a “mulligan stew”? If you agree, discuss how that is so. If you disagree, explain your objections. Whose responsibility is it to “make that stew work for everybody and keep it from boiling over” — as stated in the article? What can we do to promote respect for all and help all races and cultures balance “respect for ethnic traditions with a sense of common purpose”?

Tell students they will be creating posters to promote respect for all identity groups at your school, while representing a shared purpose and unity among everyone. As a class, start by learning which identities (race/ethnicity, gender, religion, immigration, ability, LGBT, class) are represented at your school and in the broader community and by researching and learning what images and symbols would best represent those unique cultures. You will also want to get input from a broad cross-section of the school community about ideas for illustrating unity, tolerance and respect.

Teaching Tolerance collage of images

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