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For the last two weeks I have been teaching the history and significance of the Consitution. I always begin teaching this in the first week of January because it is a perfect segue into the celebrations of Martin Luther King, Jr holiday and Black History Month. In general, students hear a lot about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman. But, they don't always get to learn about the contributions of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ruby Bridges, The Little Rock Nine, D-Day and so many other influential people and events found in the history of America until they are older. Unfortunately, some students never really get the full story and miss out on knowing a huge part of their history. When teaching the history of America and how we gained our independence from England, established a document and a government that would protect the citizens of the United States, and strengthened a thriving Nation, the text book or curriculum never really goes into detail about the the sacrifices of the Africans and African-Americans that were held in bondage for over three hundred years. Sadly, I can say that many students never really get the full history and/or teachings that highlight the strength, courage, tenacity, perseverance, and endurance of their Africans and African-American ancestors. I know when I was in school, it just wasn't taught. Luckily, I got it at home. I learned things as a child that most adults weren't aware of. Not because they didn't care to know, but because no one taught them. There is so much that I want to share with my kids and I always take full advantage of my teachable moments. As a fourth grade teacher (in a school that is 99% African-American), I give them a strong foundation so that even if they never get it in detail from anywhere else, they have a seed that has been planted inside of them and they know where and how to seek out information.
So tomorrow my students take a reading/social studies test that requires them to recall the branches of government and their jobs, identify the rights and freedoms found in the Bill of Rights, list 4 major historical documents that have helped to shape the United States, and interpret the Preamble to the Constitution. They will also compare/contrast the United States now to what the United States was like after the Revolutionary War. They are ready for it, we have been working hard all week! After the test, we will discuss how, at the time the constitution was written, it didn't apply to everyone. We already talked about slavery but we will go in to more detail in a week when I begin our next read aloud: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (of course some parts will be edited, but the theme of education and perserverance will definitely be reinforced). Following this discussion I will begin to talk about segregation and racism and what it looked like in the early 1900's. Now, how perfect is it that we celebrate the MLK holiday on Monday? I will begin talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his impact in the 1960's. We will discuss how segregation and racism denied African Americans of their constitutional rights and the significance of the Civil Rights Movement. I first introduce a small movie clip of Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his final speech. This is to peek the students' interest while also showcasing the passion in his delivery and the meaning behind his words. We then set the purpose for listening to the I Have a Dream Speech. The students listen to the speech with "pen in hand". Following the speech the students write thoughtful reflections using guided questioning.
Download activities for MLK I Have a Dream Speech
But this is just the beginning. Now they understand the purpose of why the Civil Rights Movement occurred. Over the next two weeks they will "experience" what it was like to live in the United States prior to the ending of segregation. I conduct a series of activities similair to that of Jane Elliot's Blue Eyed Experiment. I also share stories, biographies, videos and events (Ruby Bridges, Emmitt Till, etc.). I culminate these activities with the movie: Mighty Times: Children's March. This is a DYNAMIC movie that captures not only the most horrific events in the history of racism and segregation but also the strength of the CHILDREN who took a stand against it and helped to ignite major change across the nation for African-Americans. The "big idea" that I continue to reinforce is perseverance, strength, education, and endurance. I am constantly highlighting how far we have come as a country. I make sure I keep the discussions positive and productive (if not done right, these topics could create animosity and anger). I make sure that I present them with nonbiased facts and encourage them to create their own opinions. Additionally, I highlight the contributions that were made by NonAfrican-Americans throughout history that helped to get us where we are to encourage an evaluation of "actions" and not "people"; I make great effort to prevent the perpetuation of stereotypes and misstatements.
Following this , we begin to talk about some of the more recent accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans and complete another compare and contrast activity for "then" and "now".
Please check back as I update my blog with artifacts and thoughts from my unit of study over the next several weeks. Please feel free to share your thoughts and feedback.
Ms. Wainwright : )
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