Lesson Plan

Pearl S. Buck: "On Discovering America"

A Jewish girl and her Chinese friends in the Shanghai Ghetto during WWII, from the collection of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum
Photo caption

A Jewish girl and her Chinese friends in the Shanghai Ghetto during WWII, from the collection of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum.

"The future of America depends on immigration— it must, or we who are here will grow stagnant with too little life of our own."

—Pearl S. Buck, "On Discovering America" (1937)

American author Pearl S. Buck returned to the United States in 1934 after spending most of her life in China. Upon her return, Buck found a climate of religious intolerance and ethnic prejudice as various groups struggled to identify themselves as the only "true" Americans. In her essay, "On Discovering America," published in the June 1937 issue of Survey Graphic magazine, Buck explores the meaning of the term "American" and immigrant relations in the 1930s. In this lesson, students will explore American immigration patterns in the 1930s and look at how the media portrayed immigrants during that time. Through a study of Pearl S. Buck's essay, "On Discovering America," they will learn about American attitudes toward immigrants and the meaning of the term "American" to both native and immigrant populations.

EDSITEment offers a companion piece on immigration history entitled "Everything Your Students Need to Know About Immigration History" that includes a comprehensive timeline, lesson plans, and other resources for K-12 classrooms. 

Guiding Questions

How did media influence the ways in which Americans viewed and responded to immigrants arriving in the 1930s? 

How does Pearl Buck's essay portray immigration and its role in the history of the United States?

To what extent are the issues addressed in the essay relevant today?

Learning Objectives

Describe some of the myths and realities of immigration in America.

Explain how Americans viewed immigrants in the 1930s, citing examples from Pearl S. Buck's essay, "On Discovering America"

Illustrate how the media portrayed immigrants in the 1930s through manuscripts, images, audio, and video from that time.

Evaluate how immigrants and immigration have been portrayed across modes of media and time in U.S. history.