Sometimes the greatest lessons are incredibly basic. Today was the first day back from spring break and I was starting Civil Rights in United States history. I never know what to expect on the day after a long break – sometimes I get indifference, other times I get an inability to be quiet or sit still. So, I wanted to head off their behavior at the pass and get them involved from the get go. On Sunday, I staring at my Civil Rights Overview PowerPoint, and then it came to me. Within five minutes I had an idea that would get them involved, let them talk about their favorite thing (themselves), and hopefully spark some interest in the upcoming unit.
I begin by talking about race being one of the biggest issues this country will continue to face in their lifetimes. This is especially relevant at my school, which is about 85% white and has a history white power issues. We have banned symbol after symbol because racist groups keep using them to identify themselves. About six years ago, a young African American marine was paralyzed by a group of white kids who shouted racial slurs as they stomped on his body. Three or four of those boys graduated from my high school. This led to a short discussion of the community, stereotypes, and tolerance.
Then, I asked each student to describe two instances that they or someone they know experienced an act of discrimination or prejudice. After about 15 minutes of quiet, I broke them into groups to discuss their examples. At the end, each group shared out and we had a class discussion on the commonalities and variety of stories.
In both classes, it went beautifully. There was no inappropriate comments, they sat patiently and listened to each other, both in the small group and whole class discussions. The stories they shared were generally good, but the conversations they had were even better.
Tomorrow the PowerPoint.