The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Intersectionality in the Women’s March and the Classroom

Gender inequality often goes unaddressed in the classroom due in part to the complex, varied experiences of historical and current events through the lens of identity politics.

This can be unfamiliar or intimidating territory for teachers. Fortunately, experienced researchers and educators have shared strategies and tools for discussing these issues with students. We hope that the resources provided in this article further students’ understandings of how our unique identities influence our experiences—that may differ from our peers—and are connected to legacies of U.S. history, world history, and today.

Is feminism for everyone? The question remains open for discussion, building off of current developments, recent scholarship, and greater insight into our shared histories.

Millions of people contributed to the historic crowd-sizes of the worldwide Women’s March on January 21, 2017. Individuals organized across all seven continents, including Antarctica.  The women’s march is one example of recent gains, and increased visibility, for women’s rights as human rights—but also an example of how progress made has not been distributed evenly.

Many saw the march as an enormous statement of solidarity, seeking justice on a variety of topics such as women’s access to equal opportunity, other human rights issues like immigrant’s rights, and environmental issues. The video #WhyIMarch highlights some of the participants voices. Critics and contributors have pointed out that the march also created some division and exclusion amongst social groups. They say that the name, messages, and primary focus on the voices of white, middle-class women left little room for more marginalized groups: women of color, indigenous peoples, the LGBTQIA community, etc.

As reiterated in the Mission and Vision of the march, the goal is not to shift away from discussing women’s issues, but to continually open the conversation to everyone, and all individuals affected by oppression, and to consider the the varying challenges and privileges determined by our unique identities.

 

“The better we understand how identities and power work together from one context to another,  the less likely our movements for change are to fracture.” — Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality in 1989, “Why intersectionality can’t wait,” Washington Post, September 2015.

 

This echoes a struggle of the feminist movement that has existed throughout history from the very start—the challenge to unite and represent all women and oppressed genders, and to unite with other oppressed peoples to create change.

For example, a lesser known fact about the iconic Women’s Suffrage Parade of 1913 is that African American women were asked to march separately, behind white women—although some refused this compromise and marched where they wanted, such as activist Ida B. Wells. The second wave of the feminist movement began, in the 1960s, to include more perspectives and demonstrate the link between race, class, and gender oppression. This trajectory continued with the third wave, in the 1990s, by embracing more multicultural diversity and greater forms of gender roles and identity.

Today, women’s rights are often taught in the wider context of gender equality which includes LGBTQ rights and considers the gender spectrum as opposed to a male/female binary. The interconnected nature of today’s social media culture also highlights our ties to global current issues and considers gender inequalities through a comparative approach. For example, this two-minute video on The Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum received over twenty thousand views.

As classrooms and communities become increasingly diverse, it is often up to teachers to facilitate inclusive discussions and opportunities for greater understanding of our personal identities and their trajectories from history to today. The following resources look at the importance of talking about intersectionality and approaches for teaching it.

By Mackenzie Abernethy

 

Teaching the Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender:

What is intersectionality?

The idea of intersectionality acknowledges that we all have multiple identities that affect the way we experience the world.

Definition: Intersectionality refers to the social, economic, and political ways in which identity-based systems of oppression and privilege overlap and influence one another. Each person’s identity is made up of the intersections or overlappings of multiple identities—such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic class, (dis)ability, etc.

“It means understanding that different kinds of oppression are interlinked, and that one can’t liberate only one group without the others. It means acknowledging… intersectionality—the fact that along different axes, we’re all both oppressed and oppressors, privileged and disprivileged.” ― Shiri Eisner, Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, 2013

 

Why teach intersectionality?

  • Our backgrounds, identities, and the issues affecting us are diverse and can foster learning about how our the intersections of our identities shape our perspectives and the way we experience the world.
  • To assist students in recognizing which parts of their identity account for bias or might make them feel discriminated against, and to practice constructive communication skills for discussing these issues with peers and in the community.
  • “In the classroom, educators can use an intersectional lens to better relate to and affirm all students—like Nicole—and to help young people understand the relationship between power and privilege….” —Teaching at the Intersections article and case study from Teaching Tolerance.
  • The TED talk, “The urgency of intersectionality,” by Kimberlé Crenshaw highlights the “injustice squared” experienced by African American women. She highlights the importance of giving students the language and terminology to discuss issues that affect them and their peers.

 “Where there’s no name for a problem, you can’t see a problem, and when you can’t see a problem, you… can’t solve it…. Intersectionality was a lived reality before it became a term.” — Kimberlé Crenshaw

 

Resources:

 

The Choices Program assesses our curriculum units that cover Current Issues, U.S. History, World History for a balance of social, political, and economic perspectives, including underrepresented and non-elite actors such as social groups and individuals from diverse background, social activists, NGO workers, and more.

Header photo by Lynn D. Rosentrater (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement

On August 28, 1963, before a crowd of over 200,000 people in Washington D.C., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the most famous speech of the U.S. civil rights movement. “I have a dream,” he declared, “that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

The March on Washington has become one of the most celebrated moments of the civil rights movement, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the movement’s most famous leader. But the story of the fight for civil rights has more to it than large marches and speeches on national television.

Often out of sight of the national media, most civil rights activity occurred in local communities, in states like Mississippi, where thousands of everyday people organized themselves to fight against racial injustice. Instead of one national civil rights movement led by a few, we can think of the struggle of the 1950s and 1960s as a series of local movements for racial justice with many participants and leaders.

Judy Richardson was an 18-year-old when she join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and went to Mississippi to struggle for racial justice. You can get a sense of her experience in the video below.

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was just one chapter in the black freedom struggle. As many historians have noted, African Americans have been fighting for their freedom since the first slave ships arrived in the Americas. The Civil War ended slavery in the United States, but emancipation did not bring equal rights or economic opportunities to black people. While the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s spurred the federal government into action and won many legal rights for African Americans, challenges remain today.

The Choices Program has a free online lesson “Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement” that includes videos and stories of students who went to Mississippi, including those of Judy Richardson, John Lewis, Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, and Charlie Cobb. The lesson offers insight into the broad-based nature of the civil rights movement and its role in local communities.

The activists in the videos were not much older than high school students when they joined SNCC. The videos and lessons challenge students to consider important questions:

Did they relate to the SNCC veterans’ stories about joining the movement. Can students imagine themselves participating in the civil rights movement if they had been alive?  Do any students consider themselves activists now? What current civil rights issues or other political issues inspire students in the class? Is there a cause that students can imagine themselves dedicating their lives to? What lessons can students learn from these student civil rights activists?

A Digital Tool for Connecting with Stories of Immigrants

At a time when the refugee crisis and issues of immigration permeate social media and political debates, I wanted to put forth another resource that may provide teachers with an entry point for leading a one-day spotlight on the diversity of immigrant experiences or for continuing a longer discussion on this complex topic. This is applicable to all-ages and may be relevant to Social Studies, History, Language Arts, English as a Foreign Language, and Technology classes:

Ordinary Objects, Extraordinary Stories: Your Story, Our Stories invites teachers to “turn students into historians” using object and first-person accounts (often written by other students) to explore the still-unfolding history of immigration. The site welcomes people to post photographs of an object that illustrates a their family’s story of moving to a new country and experiencing different cultures.

For example, sixteen year-old Blaake-Kirstyn posted a story about her family recipes passed down from her great-great-great-grandmother who was a house slave on a Georgian plantation. Syrian refugee Zeina Joud tells a story about the fur coat that she had to leave behind when she fled her homeland. Fatemeh Jahanshahi shares the experience of a Taxi driver that she met in Iran.

You may wish to have your students interview a family member and share their own connections to immigration here to contribute and to see their work preserved in a digital museum exhibit that connects our shared history to today.

If you enjoy this resource, you may be interested in “Define American” videos of student immigrants sharing their stories and the Understanding Immigrant Experiences lesson plan in which students assess primary resource in our U.S. History unit Immigration and the U.S. Policy Debate.

The Tenement Museum also offers lesson plans for teaching with objects, primary sources, and oral history. The following questions can help spark constructive student dialogue:

What historical trends are revealed by the stories?

What is cultural identity and how does it shift over time?

What does it mean to be American?

How does personal history relate to American history?

Do you have any objects in your home that tell an immigrant’s story? Share your thoughts and classroom success stories on our Facebook or Twitter page.

 

Syria: Starting (and Continuing) the Conversation in the Classroom

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The other night, my younger brother, who is a sophomore in college, texted me. Normally, at this point in the semester, all the kid wants is help brainstorming ideas for his papers or someone to complain to about the absurdity and injustice of final exams. But this time, he said something different. He said that he had “just seen this thing about the White Helmets” and “they seem cool.”

The “White Helmets” to whom he was referring are the volunteer Syrian rescue workers who aid civilians caught in the destruction left in the wake of frequent bombings. We continued to text about it, which prompted him to mention that he wanted to “read some more stuff.”

Being the annoying, nerdy, older sister that I am, I proceeded to ask him what else he knew about the Syrian Civil War. His response—that he didn’t know anything else except for what he had gleaned from some photos on social media and a few articles online—didn’t surprise me.

Don’t get me wrong. My brother is, in my opinion, a smart, kind person. He is well-rounded, curious, and excelling at a competitive four-year university. But at the same time, he is also a busy, American student who lives far away from Syria’s everyday violence. In these ways and others, he is highly privileged. He, like many people throughout the world, has the ability to choose ignorance. But, in addition to his geographical and intellectual distance from the conflict, what was ultimately blocking his engagement with Syria’s war was simply not knowing where to begin. He was overwhelmed. He wanted to learn, but he felt like he was years behind—and he was right. The topic had not come up in any of his courses in college, nor had the earlier years of the war been covered in his high school social studies classes. His friends are not particularly interested in international affairs, so it only came up occasionally in conversation. He was unfamiliar with the long, complex history leading up to what is taking place in Syria today, and that made really digging into the conflict daunting for him. But, he finally realized that that was not a good enough excuse.

I suspect that, in this way, my brother is not unlike many of the high school students with whom educators work: students who are well-meaning and want to learn, but who just do not know where to begin. All students are different and have different experiences, but what they do have in common is the need for an entry point that is accessible to them. In my brother’s case, the catalyst for his learning was the White Helmets—seeing people risk their lives to help others escape a conflict about which he had the privilege of knowing next to nothing. For other people, it may be a photo in the news, the story of a family member or a classmate affected by the conflict, a personal experience with war and violence, a post on social media, a statement from a politician or activist, or a lesson in the classroom. Whatever it is, these entry points—and meeting students where they are in terms of their knowledge and the gaps in their knowledge in a non-judgmental way—is an important step in the process of nurturing students as they grow into both informed and empathetic global citizens.

The Choices Program provides a number of resources that offer an accessible entry point, and beyond, for students of all levels and backgrounds to engage with the war in Syria. Specifically, in addition to directing my brother to some reputable and diverse media sources and scholarly articles, I pointed him to a few free, online Choices resources, including videos by political scientist Bessma Momani and Teaching with the News Lessons “Debating the U.S. Response to Syria” and “Refugee Stories: Mapping a Crisis.”

Teachers may also find the Choices curriculum unit The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy useful as it introduces students to the conflict in Syria as well as many other regional histories and issues. We hope that these resources might help educators who are looking to prompt students to engage with the many dimensions of Syria’s war.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-8-22-32-am

 

Photo: Public Domain, United States Agency for International Development. 

The Death of Fidel Castro

The death of Fidel Castro marks a milestone. Castro was a key figure in U.S. foreign policy over the past fifty years, a villain straight out of central casting in the imaginations of many Americans. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, he actually wrote a letter to Khrushchev encouraging him to use nuclear weapons against the United States if it invaded Cuba. Khrushchev thought he was crazy. The short animation from our friends at the Armageddon Letters, gives some more insight and complexity to Cuba’s “maximum leader” Fidel Castro.

But Fidel has been playing less and less of a role for some time, and the new relationship between the United States and Cuba has most likely put the two countries on a very different path as this video from Choices with Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo suggests.

Cuba has been undergoing a transformation for a while. The death of Fidel marks an opportunity for high school classrooms to explore what comes next in Cuba. A dimension worth considering is what kind of future the people of Cuba want for themselves. Change is coming, but Cubans have very different opinions about their country and its history—this affects how they think about the future. A curriculum unit from Choices, Contesting Cuba’s Past and Future, helps students step into the shoes of ordinary Cubans and consider what comes next.

This curriculum helps students gain a broader understanding of the country that has often occupied the attention of the world since 1959. Besides offering an overview of Cuban history, the unit focuses on the legacies of Cuba’s relationships with Spain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Although most recognize Cuba’s role in the Cold War, recent research suggests that Cuba often marched to its own drum, and not that of the Soviet Union. The readings trace Cuba’s history from the country’s precolonial past to its  recent economic, social, and political changes. A central activity helps students recreate the discussions Cubans on the island are having about their future.

Contesting Cuba’s Past and Future contains lessons  and Videos that complement the readings and lessons.

Values and Public Policy in the Classroom

We have just been through a contentious national election. Some people are pleased with the outcome; others are not. Most, regardless of their views, are surprised and need to recalibrate. Our students are no different.

Since the election, we have heard from teachers around the country who decided to use the lesson Values and Public Policy to help their students consider their own values and engage in constructive civic dialogue. We’ve shared some of their stories below

Mashpee High School, MA

Celeste Reynolds from Mashpee High School used the lesson to help her students deal with their fears and confusion in the aftermath of the election.

“I am writing you to tell you and your staff thank you for your curriculum!  Yesterday I had students walking into my classroom scared and confused.  I was not sure what to say or do, so I got on your website, printed out the value cards, and started class.  It was one of the most moving classes I have experienced.  All of my students left class that day feeling safe and relieved for having a safe place to discuss the political environment.  Both sides were represented, but each side listened to each other in a civil manner.  I was so proud of each student for his or her honesty and courage.  Thank you for creating curriculum that helps create a safe learning environment and helping students learn to have civil, productive dialogue.”

Modern Global Issues in Chicago, IL

A teacher from a Chicago high school is using the activity with her 9th/10th grade Modern Global Issues class leading up to the election.

“After doing the values activity and the role play in the U.S. Role in the World, each student created his/her own option using the top three values he/she selected from the Values and Public Policy activity.  They shared their Options in creative visuals and written responses. Students created collages, 3-D representations of their values, etc.”

 

We invite others to share their experiences helping their students to discuss the results of the election and express their views. Send your stories to choices@brown.edu with “election” in the heading. We can’t promise to publish all of the reports, but will try to post a sampling of different approaches.

Podcast: Teaching the Presidential Election

The results of this election will be historic and consequential. For teachers, it’s a great moment to help students develop the skills to consider the substance of the election, as well as identify their own beliefs and values. In a highly-charged partisan atmosphere, there is an opportunity for teachers to encourage respectful civic discourse and participation.

One set of great resources is from Growing Voters.org. There are a fantastic range of skill building lessons for elementary, middle, and high school, as well for college classrooms. They provide engaging hands-on classroom activities to support teachers as they help students develop into informed and motivated participants in their own democracy. They are free.

The Choices Program also offers a free lesson that helps students identify their own values and analyze how candidates’ platforms relate to values and key policy issues.

Both Growing Voters and Choices give students the chance to be critical consumers of information, to engage in a substantive way in the political process, and, with the help of their teachers, to engage in civil, thoughtful discourse about the future of the United States.

Why should we teach current events?

Choices participated in a Twitter chat (#globaledchat) last night organized by the Longview Foundation. The focus was on incorporating current events into classroom. There were many interesting issues and good exchanges of ideas. One participant had a great question about rationales for teaching current events.

There are many good responses to that question, but Choices had a fun answer that highlights the utility of our new video site. Over the past several years, we have asked scholars and other experts nearly the same thing: Why should we learn about current events, history, and other countries? Click on the image below for forty different and often fascinating perspectives on that question.

Choices new video site has more than thirteen hundred short videos of Brown professors and other experts answering questions about current and historical events.

 

The New School Year: Processing the Summer’s Events in the Classroom

A lot can happen in a summer. With the new school year already off to a start for some and soon to begin for others, all of us at Choices want to take a moment to recognize the many tragic events that have taken place in the past few months throughout the world. International terror attacks, ongoing wars and conflicts, violence perpetrated against U.S. citizens of color, U.S. law enforcement personnel, and LGBTQ people in the United States, and other acts of violence and hatred have defined this summer, for many, as one of tragedy.

At Choices, knowing how to respond to acts such as these challenges all of us, and certainly there is not a perfect way to do so. But we also believe that these are issues that are on the minds of many students and teachers. Some teachers may find that the classroom can serve as a space in which students and teachers alike may begin to process and heal from these events by thinking critically and engaging one another in discussion. But at the same time, locating resources for facilitating these conversations is not always easy.

In response to this need, we wanted to remind teachers of resources that we offer, including two of our recent free, online Teaching with the News lessons—Black Lives Matter: Continuing the Civil Rights Movement (updated August 2016) and our Resource Guide on the Orlando Nightclub Shootings (June 2016). In addition to these resources, you may also find our blog post Approaching Race in the Classroom, Actively useful. In addition, Choices offers the curriculum unit Responding to Terrorism: Challenges for Democracy.

In our recently updated lesson on the Black Lives Matter Movement, students work in groups to review an interactive timeline of black activism in the United States from the 1950s to today and identify core themes of the civil rights and Black Lives Matter Movement. In our resource guide on the Orlando Nightclub Shootings, we have compiled an annotated list of sources that offer suggestions for various classroom approaches to the many dimensions of the nightclub attack in June 2016. Finally, in our blog post on approaching race in the classroom, we provide a wide array of information on relevant resources for teachers looking to discuss race in their classrooms. 

We hope that these resources prove useful as you navigate these difficult—but important—events and topics in the classroom throughout the upcoming school year.

Login to Learn—The Global Refugee Crisis: Where Do We Go from Here?

UNHCR Rwanda Mahama Camp - taken on on May 13, 2015

UNHCR Rwanda Mahama Camp – taken on on May 13, 2015

Login to a talk on the global refugee crisis with the Choices Program Leadership Institute, Friday, July 15, 1-2:30. Expert Madeline Campbell will discuss her work with refugees from Iraq and Syria at camps and communities throughout the Middle East, the confounding global circumstances, and strategies for addressing this growing crisis.

The UN reports that a tragic record of 65 million people have been displaced by global conflicts. It is urgent and increasingly important that we understand the issues surrounding global refugees as leaders worldwide search for solutions to the worsening Syrian crisis.

Campbell-madeline_100

Professor Madeline Campbell

Madeline Campbell is Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Worcester State University. She holds a BA and MA from Brown University and PhD from University of California, Davis.

Join Dr. Campbell for her talk at 1pm EDT, July 15.

Can’t make the live broadcast?  View it later on YouTube.

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