The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Author: Mackenzie Abernethy

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.

 

Approaching Race in the Classroom, Actively

Authors: Mackenize Abernethy, Camisia Glasgow, and LIndsay Turchan

Inequalities embedded in the history of the United States—the legacies of colonialism, slavery, and imperialism—and the resilience of communities of color striving for liberty and equity, may gain more of a spotlight in the classroom during Black History Month.

These discussions may raise new questions for some students and a stronger desire to see more diversity represented in history. Many educators recognize the importance for all students to see themselves (and their ancestries) reflected in roles and events that have shaped our world. Educators might encourage students to discuss experiences of race on a more personal level, sharing lived experiences and their understandings of identity. As campuses and classrooms become increasingly diverse, it is often up to teachers to create opportunities for equitable inclusion. This can be unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or intimidating territory for teachers and students alike. Fortunately, many experienced researchers and educators have shared tips and tools for success.

Here we have compiled an annotated list of online sources that we hope will equip teachers to constructively engage students on topics of race, diversity, and identity, as well as create and sustain inclusive classrooms, and expand conversations about civil rights and contemporary inequalities beyond Black History Month. This list is certainly not complete, and we invite educators to share other useful resources.

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Racism: The Elephant in the Room (or Park). Photo by John Duffy. Seattle, WA, August 17, 2015.

Talking About Race:

What is race? What is racism? Should teachers talk about race in the classroom? Why can it be difficult to discuss? How can we productively approach complex, sensitive or controversial topics with students? The following resources, lesson plans, and activities offer suggestions for guiding thoughtful classroom conversations and helping students work towards a conceptual understanding of race and racism.  

  • The lesson plan Talking About Race and Racism from Teaching Tolerance asks students to rate their personal comfort level when it comes to talking about these complex topics, consider differences in the intention and the impact of words, and review inherent bias and stereotypes.
  • Race and Violence Should Be a School-Wide Subject, a blog post from Edutopia, analyzes school and classroom responses to racism. The post offers a series of suggestions for how to talk about race and racism, providing numerous examples for why this is particularly relevant today.  
  • Helping Students Deal with Uncertainty in the Classroom, a blog post from Edutopia, discusses the difficulties, but also the benefits of encouraging students to grapple with uncertainty in the classroom. While this post does not specifically address how to talk about race, it does provide a number of arguments for pushing students to confront the uncomfortable, as race and racism often are for many students.
  • Edutopia offers eight five-minute videos that explain concepts such as race, diversity, and inequality. The videos may serve as a helpful introduction into conversations about these complex ideas and others.
  • My Multicultural Self, a lesson on identity as it shapes our world views, also from Teaching Tolerance, encourages students to map out the various layers of their own identities. In doing so, students reflect on how identities influence the way that people experience the world, and they discuss ways to communicate more effectively with one another.

 

Deconstructing Narratives of Race:

What are the origins of race and racism? What do we mean when we say that race is a social construction? Why is it important to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about race? The resources outlined below focus on contesting untrue narratives of race that some students may not have thought about critically in the past.

  • What White Children Need to Know, an e-newsletter from the research and community-building cohort Be’chol Lashon, offers tactics and conversation starters for talking about race and inequality in the classroom. This resource provides insight into processes of passive racial socialization and tips for combatting it in the classroom.
  • The Zinn Education Project’s lesson planThe Color Line,” challenges students to understand race and racism as historically and socially constructed. In this lesson, students study the origins of racism in the United States. Students examine the creation of racial divisions as a strategy used by the powerful to maintain the status quo. Note: to use lessons from the Zinn Education Project, you must register to create a free account (or login via social media).
  • Facing History spotlights one teacher’s effective lesson plan analyzing and discussing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” Adichie’s talk demonstrates that stories, while powerful, can also be dangerous, discussing the damage that interpreting one story as a representative of an entire  group of people can do. The lesson plan engages students in important conversations about identity and stereotypes.
  • The Unequal Opportunity Race, a video by the African American Policy Forum is useful for visualizing the ways in which systemic racism and privilege operate and disadvantage many. The video may help students understand how racism operates in society in ways that often go undiscussed. However, there has been controversy regarding whether it belongs in the classroom and whether it induces “white guilt.” Some teachers who have chosen to use the video as a tool with their students have faced backlash.

 

Creating Inclusive Classrooms:

What does it mean to create and sustain a racially inclusive classroom environment? How do teachers design racially inclusive curricula? How do teachers teach to students of different racial backgrounds, or to racially homogenous classrooms? The following resources provide some guidance for teachers looking for ways to tackle these complex and important questions in their classrooms.

  • For teachers looking to choose texts that represent people of many backgrounds, Reading Diversity from Teaching Tolerance provides suggestions. For detailed, step-by-step guidance, the extended version of their guide may prove especially useful.
  • Learn to Listen/Listen to Learn: Developing Deeper Conversations, a Facing History guide for facilitating classroom discussions maps out how teachers may wish to incorporate journaling, small group discussions, and class presentations to help students improve their ability to communicate and listen effectively. This approach may be particularly useful in creating a classroom culture that is both safe and productive for all students when discussing complex or sensitive topics.
  • Opening up dialogues in which students are free to discuss their personal experiences and hear many perspectives, Serial Testimony is  a method of facilitation that seeks to empower students by emphasizing that their personal insights are important. In addition to the facilitation method itself, this post from Teaching Tolerance discusses how approaches like Serial Testimony, created by Peggy McIntosh—author of “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” a personal essay on facing privilege—came to be and what they can offer in the classroom.
  • This educator’s book review endorses Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education (2012)the first in a series on multicultural education by Columbia Teachers’ College—as a “necessary book.” The book’s authors approach complex theoretical concepts (socialization, discrimination, oppression, privilege, etc.) in short, intuitive chapters, and aims to answer specific questions that students often ask when confronting issues of inequality. For example, two of the book’s chapter titles include, “What is oppression?” and “‘Yeah, but…’ Common Rebuttals.” Sample a free chapter for download at Teachers’ College Press.

 

Applying the Skills, in and out of the Classroom:

How can students apply their knowledge of concepts such as race, racism, and identity, to the world that they encounter, both in and out of the classroom, everyday? The following curriculum resources, lesson plans, and activities provide opportunities for students to apply the analytical skills that they have developed for thinking critically about race to their coursework and beyond.

  • Allyship is yet another important concept for students to discuss. Teaching Tolerance’s lesson A Time to Speak: A Speech by Charles Morgan, explores the idea and role of allyship through an analysis of a speech by Charles Morgan following the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Students complete a K-W-L chart, actively listen to the speech, and engage in a discussion about their analyses.
  • The Death of Michael Brown: Teaching About Ferguson, from the New York Times Learning Network, offers a collection of ideas from teachers about how to approach race, particularly in the context of the events in Ferguson, in the classroom. The article includes links to lesson plans, activities, and tools for the classroom that teachers have found useful in their classrooms. In the wake of Ferguson, educators lead by Dr. Marcia Chatelain also united to create #FergusonSyllabus on Twitter and share resources and classroom experiences in  this collective Google document. In addition, Mapping Police Violence, an infographic, may spark discussion in the classroom about the relationship between race and police violence in particular with its visual representation of statistics.  
  • Introducing ‘The New Jim Crow’, a lesson plan with discussion-leading tips for teachers and student reading strategies from Teaching Tolerance, invites students to analyze excerpts from The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration During the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (2010). Bringing scholarship from an expert in the field into the secondary classroom in an accessible way, the lesson challenges students to draw connections between the criminal justice system and racial inequalities.
  • Some students may be interested in becoming involved in the ongoing activist efforts that they have heard about in school and on social media. The Black Lives Matter website offers background on the movement as well as opportunities to engage in activism, online or in person. Exploring the website will allow students to become more informed about the ongoing activism. Other students may wish to get involved by coordinating their own event at school or in the community that calls for racial equality. Black Futures Month, a new, annual initiative by BLM (in conjunction with Huffington Post), is an online repository of the latest news, blogs, and community conversations to keep interested students and teachers up to date about continuing the conversation on racial inequalities and injustices beyond a designated month.

 

The Choices Approach:

  • A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in New England, a curriculum unit from The Choices Program, uses readings, activities, and a simulation to help students explore the institution of slavery in New England. Students also think critically about how history, and the telling of history, affects people today. Teachers may also wish to consider constructing a short listening exercise with the 4 minute radio segment All Americans Share a Complex Racial Past” from NPR, which also engages issues relating at the history of slavery in New England.
  • Another curriculum unit from The Choices Program, Colonization and Independence in Africa, invites students to think critically about colonial and decolonial efforts in Africa. The readings, activities, and simulation challenge students to consider the perspectives of Africans–particularly Algerians, Congolese, Ghanaians and Kenyans – and the ways in which they responded to European colonialism.
  • Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, a curriculum unit from The Choices Program, explores the history of the civil rights movement at the local level as well as the national level. Students complete readings, activities, and a simulation that equip them to think more complexly about how people from different backgrounds experienced and understood the civil rights movement.
  • In the online lesson Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement from The Choices Program, students hear and analyze stories from former civil rights activists about what motivated them to join the movement.
  • In this free lesson from The Choices Program’s Teaching with the News series, Fifty Years after the March on Washington: Students in the Civil Rights Movement, students read and analyze stories and letters written by activists who partook in the events of the Freedom Summer.

 

This post is part of a series that will address different aspects of teaching Black History as American History in secondary-level classrooms.

Seed Magazine: News Engagement Series #3

October 6 is National News Engagement Day, a day when “everyone is encouraged to read, watch, like, tweet, post, text, email, listen to, or comment on news.”

News and the media is a vital part of social studies education today, which is why the Choices Program does our best to make current affairs content available for teachers to use in their classrooms. Our Current Issues Series deals with some of the most important challenges facing the world today, encouraging students to consider the decisions made by policy makers and citizens in facing a changing future. We also produce Teaching with the News lessons to address situations as we see them come into the focus of the media.

For the week of National News Engagement Day, some of the Choices staff shares the news-related resources they use to inform and inspire their work.

This post follows #1 and #2 in the National News Engagement series.


 

MacKenzie Abernethy, Program Associate, Choices Writing Team

 

My recommendation for a news-related resource: Seed Magazine

What it is:   Seed is an online science magazine published by Seed Media Group that connects science, culture, and current events. Search the expansive archives by categories including globally impacting issues on the World page (or under subtopics such as Politics, Development, and the Environment.) Readers may also explore specific topics on the hashtag sidebar, like Education.

 

Why I like it and think you might find it interesting:

  1. Seed promotes a cross-disciplinary approach to current challenges. CEO of Seed Scientific and creator of Seed, Adam Bly (Canadian) considers science a “creative human enterprise.” His leadership drives Seed to connect readers across disciplines of the arts, politics, etc., by spotlighting contributions of other fields and showing the widespread applications of science.

“It’s about applying neuroscience to economics, math to global health, virology to manufacturing, and genetics to law… It’s about experimenting all the way to understanding. It’s about changing your mind with new evidence – and getting as close to truth as humanly possible. Getting 7 billion people to think scientifically has never been a small mission. And it has never been more important.” – Seed Media Group

  1. Seed offers free tools for the classroom. Alongside thought provoking, discussion generating articles, the magazine offers downloadable “cribsheets” that help teachers explain scientific topics such as climate change and solar power.
  1. Seed empowers readers. The magazine often encourages action and provides the tools to contribute to the conversation on environmental policy. For example, this article asks readers to email government and business officials about biodiversity, climate change and water access. Seed Media Group says that it takes scientific thinking to parliaments, courtrooms, hospitals, construction sites, boardrooms around the world – to catalyze scientific thinking at scale.

 

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Climate Change and Questions of Justice

First Edition. January 2015

 

 

Recommended with the National Science Teachers Association’s “highest praise. . . This latest curriculum offering from Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies is one of the best introductions to teaching about climate change that is currently available on the market.


Bonus:  Share Neil Degrasse Tyson’s lifelong love for astrophysics with students via this interactive tour of his personal space.

Continual Reconstruction: The Confederate Flag Controversy in the Classroom

The Confederate flag stands—or sits in a museum display case—as a symbol of very different sentiments depending upon perspective.

For some, the flag flies in pride of past Civil War fighters and American heritage, but to others, it is an archaic symbol of racism, segregation and slavery in the United States. Following the fatal shooting of nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley finalized a bill to remove the flag from the state capitol building on July 10, 2015.

“No one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel pain. No one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel like they don’t belong.”  Governor Nikki Haley

When the Charleston shooting first spurred national debate about whether the Confederate flag should be lowered, one female activist took it upon herself to scale the 30-foot flagpole and remove the battle flag herself.

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June 27, 2015. Bree Newsome climbs South Carolina Capitol building’s flagpole, removes flag.   Washington Post.

“I’m prepared to be arrested,” Brittany Ann “Bree” Newsome told police, who demanded that she come down. Then she climbed a bit higher to unhook the flag before descending to greet the authorities, who handcuffed her and immediately put the flag back in its former position.

Newsome spoke for a greater community when she explained her motive:

”We can’t continue like this another day. It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.” —”Bree” Newsome

Politicians have struggled to reach an agreement about how to best honor history through the flag’s placement. A majority of civilians and government officials haven chosen instead to focus on what lies ahead; whether or not the flag represents a commendable moment in time, it does not represent the future of the United States.

An immense, mostly cheering crowd gathered to see the official lowering of the Confederate flag on July 10 — in the state that was the first to secede from the United States in 1860. Back then, Southern states that depended upon slave labor saw Abraham Lincoln’s election as a threat to their lifestyle and liberty. South Carolina lead the way in separating from the Union to form a new nation called the Confederate States of America. Ten other Southern states followed suit: Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The ideological and legal division between the (Northern) United States and the Confederate States of the South led to the Civil War.

[mediacore height=”375″ public_url=”https://brown.mediacore.tv/media/was-the-american-civil-war-a-war-over-slavery” thumb_url=”https://mediacorefiles-a.akamaihd.net/sites/11066/images/media/3668705l-6ZtcRbOI.jpg” title=”Was the American Civil War a war over slavery?” width=”670″]

“It wasn’t just about rights for African Americans, it was about reconstructing the nation…. It was about wholesale re-conceptualization of rights, on a national and international scale.” — Michael Vorenberg

Tensions continued to rise after officials removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol. On July 19,  confrontation occurred at a rally between members of the Ku Klux Klan and the New Black Panther Party.   At the height of the Klan in 1925, there were an estimated 5,000,000 members, while in the Civil Rights era (in the 50s and 60s) there were about 42,000 members. Approximately 24,000 remain today. While the KKK has diminished over time, this is the first Klan rally in South Carolina since the late 1980s.


Perceptions of race and its relevance throughout history remain a highly contested topic. Still able to provoke anger and pain, past instances of racial inequality can be difficult to discuss.   For students and future leaders who will likely face similar challenges, this history is important to learn.

New standards of the Texas State Board of Education in 2010 will introduce a new social studies curriculum to 5 million public school students this upcoming semester. Many people are concerned that stories of suffering and fighting for civil rights are veiled, important lessons left unlearned.

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