Pattie Sloan and Joan Flora: two teachers challenging the status quo
Giving us the wonderful movie, Selma, Hollywood allows us to peek into a transformational biopsy of American history and view the emotional, physical and spiritual struggles that created change in our country. This film is a must see for every student. Bringing to light the agony of decision-making to create a sustained movement, it allows us to see the debates surrounding the march on the Selma bridge. And although the movie paints a flawed picture of President Johnson, viewers realize the importance of this moment. And they see the courage it took to attempt to right a wrong and create change in America.
The Civil Rights struggle is such an important part of our American experience because it created an awakening in so many areas of our society. But classroom teachers struggle elevating this moment in the lives of students, and often times it becomes nothing more than searching for parallel structure in the “I Have a Dream ” speech. Yikes!
Once, when Pattie began her Civil Rights unit, a student wailed, “Ms. Sloan, I am civil-rights out!”
Whoa! So how do we keep apathy, even on the part of the teacher, from weakening the power of this awakening in our country? If we continue to treat the Civil Rights Movement as one more lesson, we totally miss the fact we are living in a time when the rights of people around the world are challenged for their gender, religion, or ethnicity.
Challenge: let’s take civil rights global and connect it to our history. Let’s take it out of the books and make it about today, too. Civil rights struggles are universal, so let’s assume a different posture and involve our students in what is occurring globally.
At the recent 7oth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the dangers to Jews was outlined and this was addressed:
- Boys in France afraid to wear yarmulkes
- Burning of synagogues
- Attacks and burning of Jewish businesses
- People of the Jewish faith fleeing to Israel and other countries for safety
He wasn’t talking about Nazi Germany but France’s current reality.
Making our lesson global allows us to examine the change agents in countries like China, Burma, or Iran where dissidents leaders are attempting to alter their countries treatment of its people. And we can connect that global information to our own history and current struggles. There have been and are so many people working to create change that we can create a lesson that will allow our students to come to terms with the struggles throughout our shared history. They will appreciate it as a struggle by people for a better world rather than a box to check in February.
Going Global Lesson Plan:
Begin the unit with the Essential Question to guide conversations.
The Essential Question: Should people be peacemakers or changemakers? Can they be both?
After a discussion, visit and share the website Biographies Online and lead the class discussing the achievements of the various women and men on the website. Refer to the Essential Question as the conversation progresses. Not one of the people represented was perfect in character or loved by all, yet they worked to turn their society right side up!
In groups, chose a man/woman to research and using the format I-Search, research and answer the following questions:
Questions to answer as they gather their information in computer search groups:
- What is the nature of the societal injustice they fought?
- How and why is the injustice accepted by the society?
- What changes did the change-makers try to carry out and what resistance did they meet?
- What is the result?
- How does their struggle parallel Dr. King’s struggle and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States?
- Teaching Tolerance offers a free documentary on Selma. Share that with the class and include it in your discussion
Note to teachers: using the I-Search format allows for more reflection on the part of the student, and you can adopt the I-Search to the essay style required on your curriculum map.
Change your Civil Rights a lesson and make it global and transformational. Make it a lesson that will create awe rather than apathy. We are teaching real people who will someday remember this lesson and change their part of the world. Adjust, adapt, and inspire. Hey, you can do it! You’re the teacher! We’re cheering you on.