A Letter from Coretta Scott King

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An excerpt from Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter to Congress 

In honor of Black History Month, we would be remiss if we didn’t help amplify the voice of Coretta Scott King, testifying in 1986 against Senator Jeff Sessions’ appointment to a federal judgeship. Senator Elizabeth Warren was prevented from reading this letter in the Senate last night.

Unfortunately, as you probably already know, Sessions has been confirmed as Attorney General of the United States. One Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of Virginia, joined the Republican senators in a party-line vote.

We won’t get any deeper into politics of the Senate or the arcane workings of rules designed to avoid fistfights. We simply ask that you take a moment to read the letter, if you haven’t already; if it’s appropriate for your classroom, share it with your students. To paraphrase, learning from history is preferable to repeating it.

The full text of King’s letter is available here via NPR.

 

Resources for Black History Month…and All Year Long

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Allan Rohan Crite, School’s Out, 1936. Via Smithsonian Education.

Here are a few things that we’ve encountered lately that would be great additions to the classroom, whether during Black History Month or at any other time of the year.

The National Museum of African American History & Culture has an interactive online feature, Collection Stories,  curated by NMAAHC staff. Staff members choose an area of focus based on items in the museum’s collection. The resulting stories include images of the items, historical discussion, and thoughts from the curator on why these stories are so important to African American history and culture.

We especially enjoyed “Dress for the Occasion,” a story centered around the dress that Carlotta Walls wore when she integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957 as one of the Little Rock Nine. Check it out get a glimpse of the school, her diploma, and the process behind choosing the dress that she wore for that first day of school.

From Smithsonian Education, we’d like to highlight two sets of lesson plans. Both include material appropriate for kindergarteners all the way through high school, available for download as zip files.

The Art and Life of William H. Johnson includes detailed information on how the curriculum meets Visual Art, History, and Language Arts standards. Younger students analyze color choices, subject matter, and older students conduct comparative analysis with works from other artists (including this post’s header image, by Allan Rohan Crite).

Finally, The Blues and Langston Hughes does just what you’d think: compares the poetry of Langston Hughes with blues rhythms, structures, and lyrics that most students are probably already familiar with, whether they know it or not. Younger students write their own simple poems; older students dig into the Smithsonian Folkways’ collection of blues recordings from The Great Migration.

And speaking of Smithsonian Folkways…we have one more recommendation after all. Check out Say It Loud for hours from their collection of African American Spoken Word recordings, whether from Langston Hughes himself, an interview with W.E.B. Du Bois, or a recording of Angela Davis.

Oral History: An Introduction

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We often think of history as big events—think battles, coronations, explorations—that’s observed impartially, recorded faithfully, and carefully preserved in libraries and universities for later generations. But history is as much about the lives of every day people as so-called great events, and we all can play an important part in preserving our own, and our community’s, history.

And these days, it’s hard not to feel as though we are all in the process of making our own contributions to history.

Over several posts, we’re going to present materials for learning about oral history, great examples of oral history that students can easily access, and methods for incorporating oral histories into the classroom. We’ll even focus in on how students can take their own oral histories and preserve their communities’ stories.

To begin, two organizations doing incredible work in this field.

Storycorps, frequently featured on various NPR programs, has been helping people interview each other since the first story booth in New York City’s Grand Central Station in 2003.

Their mission is simple:

StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.

The site is beautifully organized, making it easy to find educational materials, locate a story booth and make a reservation to conduct your own interview, or simply listen to a curated selection of stories for the week. Right now the front page is filled with stories about love, and you can take your pick: two immigrant New Yorkers, one from the Dominican Republic, one from Pakistan, discussing how they first met twenty-five years ago while working together at a hotel; a woman who grew up in Georgia in the 1940s telling the story of her love for another woman that she could never fully experience; and two sets of identical twins reminiscing about how they met and fell in love, with each other.

There are also several thematic collections.

One of the things we love most about using Storycorps material in the classroom is the way students react to hearing people describing their own history, in their own voices. Since there are no visuals, listeners can focus in on the language people use and the way they describe their lives. There are few other ways we’ve found to make recent history so vivid.

Voice of Witness is another wonderful place to begin with oral histories. They seek out, record, and “amplify unheard voices” in a series of books that range from stories from a Chicago housing project to undocumented immigrants living in the United States to incarcerated women to survivors of Burma’s military regime.

OUR MISSION

Voice of Witness (VOW) is a non-profit that promotes human rights and dignity by amplifying the voices of people impacted by injustice. Through our oral history book series and education program, we foster a more nuanced, empathy-based understanding of human rights crises.

Our work is driven by a strong belief in the transformative power of the story, for both teller and listener.

OUR HISTORY

Voice of Witness was cofounded by author Dave Eggers, writer & educator Mimi Lok, and physician Lola Vollen. Eggers originated the VOW book series with Vollen in 2005. In 2008, Lok transitioned Voice of Witness to a 501(c)(3) organization and established its education program.

For over ten years, VOW has illuminated human rights crises in the U.S. and globally. Our oral history book series has amplified hundreds of seldom-heard voices, including those of wrongfully convicted Americans, undocumented immigrants, and people in Burma, Zimbabwe, and Colombia.

Our education program serves over 20,000 people annually. Our oral history pedagogy has been used to train a broad range of advocates for human rights and dignity, including educators, writers, journalists, attorneys, and medical doctors.

Take it from an educator; I’ve used VOW material in the community college classroom myself, and I can’t speak too highly of how students respond. And if you’re going to be at AWP this year, check out their panel (and then tell me how it was!):

PANEL: AMPLIFYING UNHEARD VOICES

When/Where: Thursday, February 9th, 2017 from 4:30-5:45 pm in Room 202B, Level Two
Moderator: Dave Eggers
Speakers: Mimi Lok (Executive Director, Voice of Witness), Jennifer Lentfer (Director of Communications, Thousand Currents), Lorena (VOW narrator, Underground America)

Weekend Reading

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Bear with us–the news is moving fast, and we’re working hard! Check back in soon for posts re. immigration, students’ rights, and Black History Month. In the meantime, here’s some of what we’ve encountered this week.

From the Zinn Education Project, an article in advance of Presidents’ Day. Dr. Clarence Lusane’s post would fit well in a discussion of what is included (or not) when history is written.

One of the presidential slaves was Ona “Oney” Maria Judge. In March 1796 (the year before Washington’s second term in office ended), Oney was told that she would be given to Martha Washington’s granddaughter as a wedding present. Oney carefully planned her escape and slipped out of the Washingtons’ home in Philadelphia while the Washingtons were eating dinner. Oney Judge fled the most powerful man in the United States, defied his attempts to trick her back into slavery, and lived out a better life. After her successful attempt became widely known, she was a celebrity of sorts. Her escape from the Washingtons fascinated journalists, writers, and others, but more important, it was an inspiration to the abolition movement and other African Americans who were being enslaved by whites.

Lida Dianti’s 2016 piece on Black History Month in the Daily Trojan is worth a look if you missed it last year. Dianti makes the case for Black History Month in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In honor of BHM — and seeing that Black History is not taught from a black perspective but a predominantly white one — it is more than appropriate to use the history itself to explain how the past defines the racial injustices of today. There are two fundamental works conveniently left out of all levels of education: Slavery by Another Name and The New Jim Crow — the first, a documentation of the advent of industrial slavery in post-Civil War America and its criminalization of black people into second-class citizenry. At this time, the convict lease system relegated black Americans into forced laborers, imprisoned by the U.S. justice system as encouraged by states, local government, white farmers and corporations until World War II. The latter work traces the narrative of segregation and so-called integration well after the Civil Rights Movement, as seen with the mass incarceration of black Americans as a result of the disproportionate and skewed policing of the war on drugs. Since the 1980s, black Americans have been segregated through legalized discrimination and unfair prison sentences, which resulted in the inability to integrate in society after incarceration.

NPR Books reviews two YA novels that focus on immigration, Melissa de la Cruz’s Something in Between and Marie Marquardt’s The Radius of Us. Both have been added to our reading list.

De la Cruz’s protagonist, Jasmine, is devastated when learns that she and her family are living in the U.S. illegally: “I’m breaking apart, shattering,” she thinks to herself. “Who am I? Where do I belong? I’m not American. I’m not a legal resident. I don’t even have a Green Card. I’m nothing. Nobody. Illegal.”

The truth comes out after Jasmine, a classic overachiever, wins a prestigious scholarship. Like a lot of immigrant kids, de la Cruz says, Jasmine works hard to prove she can succeed in this country. “I wanted to, you know, put this all-American girl who happened to be Filipino … through the ringer. Like, what if you’re head cheerleader, class president, valedictorian — but then, all of a sudden, you’re not that special anymore because of how you came to this country?”

Magda Pescayne may be familiar to you as the woman behind Ask Moxie. These days she’s starting a column on parenting under Trump. Her emphasis on routine and predictability, to the extent that it’s possible, can also apply to the classroom.

Kids need routine and stability. You need routine and stability. In the middle of the world falling down around us, the only one who can provide routine and stability for you and your children is you.

You may be feeling like you can’t keep it together logistically, if things get any worse (and that may be true). You may be feeling like you can’t keep it together emotionally for much longer (or that you aren’t currently keeping it together emotionally). But you have to stick to routines, for your kids and for yourself.

Finally, at Teaching for Change, a little more information on protest for those of us new to it from someone who’s been at it a long time. Bruce Hartford was a civil rights worker for Dr. King in the 1960s, and he has a couple of techniques he’d like to revive.

I’ve recently participated in several protests aimed at building resistance to Trump and Trumpism. But from what I could see, there appeared to be little conscious effort to use those demonstrations as organizing tools in effective ways that were second nature to us back in the bad old days. So I would like to suggest two techniques that I think would be effective today…

Rest up, take care, and let us know what you’d like to see.

Small Stones: Meet the Editors

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After spending about 36 hours post-election wishing she were a lawyer, Emily Breunig created Small Stones. Emily is a writer, educator, and editor who has edited and designed interdisciplinary curricula in both non-profit and corporate settings. She’s spent years in community college composition and literature classrooms, where her courses centered around issues of social justice, psychology and decision-making, and critical thinking. She’s also served as the ELA instructor in professional development institutes for K-12 science teachers, with a focus on climate change.

Eva Kaye-Zwiebel is a social scientist and project manager and the co-founder of Small Stones. She trained as a political scientist with a focus on community-level institutions in northern Kenya and has taught political science, done program evaluation, and managed the creation of a public finance data portal. She talked about the 2016 election and her family’s history in this Small Stones post.

Week Two: Resources to Use Now

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There’s a lot going on right now.

As Trump’s first 100 days continue, we will be doing our best to provide resources and materials that can be immediately useful. If there’s something in particular you’d like to see, please let us know.

For today, some background reading and lesson plans.

From EdSurge, a piece about how Social Studies and Civics teachers in particular are scrambling to keep up with the first weeks of the new administration. We recommend clicking through; the article mentions several tech tools that help students understand how the US government functions–or, has functioned up until now.

One of those teachers is Sabrina Brooks, a seventh grade humanities teacher at San Francisco Friends School, who began her class yesterday by having students read and discuss material in Nicholas Kristof’s editorial, “President Trump, meet my family.”

Brooks didn’t have Kristof’s editorial etched into her lesson plans until this weekend, when protests around the country unfolded in response to the travel ban. But it fit with the unit she has been teaching on decision-making in times of injustice. The unit, as Brooks describes, looks at “history of immigration policy marginalization of at risk groups, the factors that led to Hitler’s rise, and the behavior of people who were bystanders and upstanders in these contexts.”

From The New York Times, a lesson plan appropriate for high school and college students, “Analyzing Trump’s Immigration Ban: A Lesson Plan.” The lesson relies mainly on articles but does incorporate video elements that could be skipped if students do not have easy access to tech in the classroom.

Mr. Trump’s executive order fits into a larger pattern of U.S. history. In 1882, Congress excluded Chinese immigrants from entering the U.S. Later it prohibited almost all Japanese immigrants. And still later it gave preference to immigrants from Northern and Western Europe, making it difficult for people from other parts of the world to immigrate to the U.S. But the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 changed all of that. It did away with the national origins quota and banned discrimination based on where a person was from.

However, with Mr. Trump’s pronouncement on Jan. 27, the U.S. once again excludes immigrants based on national origin from countries like Iraq, Yemen and Sudan.

This activity invites students to analyze Mr. Trump’s stated purpose for his executive order (as explained within Section 1 of the text), then consider three pieces in The Times that question its effectiveness, legality and interpretation of American values.

The lesson plan also includes a list of other lesson plans from The Times’ Learning Network that educators may find helpful.

The Times directs readers, finally, to a post over at Facing Today: “3 Ways to Address the Latest News on Immigration With Your Students.” The post is an excellent starting point for any investigation into these issues and policies. The material here is organized around three main points:

  1. Affirm the right to education and respect for all students…
  2. Use the ‘universe of obligation’ to consider how we define our responsibilities towards others…
  3. Put debates about immigration and refugees into historical context.

An added bonus is, strangely enough, the comments section. Teachers who are currently figuring out how to deal with these issues in their own classrooms are weighing in.

More as we have it.

Re. Inauguration

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image by Shepard Fairey, available for free download

Well, it’s here. We’ve got a few things that may be useful now and in the short term.

First, get your images. Via The Amplifier Foundation, download the series of We the People protest art, for free. One of these amazing images above.

Resistance 101: A Lesson for Inauguration Day Teach-Ins and Beyond comes from Teaching for Change. This is a middle and high school lesson focused on allowing students to “meet” a variety of activists. Students conduct interviews, taking turns acting as the American activists.

There’s a wealth of information, including short biographies with photos, and the handouts are easy to use. The list of activists ranges from Ella Baker to Yuri Kochiyama to Mother Jones to Ida B. Wells. There’s also good information on other places to conduct further research.

Note: this lesson requires a name and email in order to access the download. 

The lesson is based on the format of a Rethinking Schools lesson called Unsung Heroes and draws from lessons by Teaching for Change on women’s history and the Civil Rights Movement, including Selma.

This lesson can make participants aware of how many more activists there are than just the few heroes highlighted in textbooks, children’s books, and the media. The lesson provides only a brief introduction to the lives of the people profiled. In order to facilitate learning more, we limited our list to people whose work has been well enough documented that students can find more in booksand/or online.

Teaching After the Election of Trump comes from the Zinn Education Center. This is a landing page that curates the Zinn Education Center’s resources and lesson plans that are most appropriate for this political moment, and they are grouped by subject. Categories include Environment, Civil Liberties, Economic Inequality, Muslims, Press, Immigration, and more.

Check out this website when you have a little more time to spend–there’s a wealth of information, and it’s well-organized. Each section also invites you to click a link to learn more about various topics, and there’s a lot of great material here.

No doubt, still reeling from this poisonous election, it is hard to be hopeful. But we invite you to draw on curriculum at the Zinn Education Project to help your students make sense of this new context. We include lessons—some highlighted below—that:

  • Show how social movements have made important strides even during dark times.
  • Help students explore other moments in history when elites have mobilized to roll back racial and economic progress.
  • Highlight examples of “divide and conquer” politics.
  • Help students explore aspects of Trump’s agenda—immigration, the environment, Muslims, civil liberties, the press, and economic inequality.

It’s vital that we introduce our students to the individuals and social movements that have made this country more just.

#TeachResistance is a group after our own heart, founded in the aftermath of election results to help teachers, students, and families navigate both education and resistance.

January 20th is their Inauguration Day Teach In; you can read more about this project here. We’re coming to the teach-in a little late, but fortunately it looks as though this group of NYC-based educators is going to continue putting out good material.

There’s a toolkit available for download that contains lesson plans for K-5th grade, and while it’s linked to the inauguration, it’s well worth checking out for use at any other time. Currently, they feature teachers and books on their Tumblr and link to lesson plans that those teachers have developed.

From their statement of purpose:

WHEN

  • #TeachResistance is designed to support a Teach In on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017, but the work is bigger than one day, and it is bigger than all of us. We envision it as part of the ongoing collaboration between educators, parents, and all those who want to prepare children to be an active part of our democracy.

HOW/WHAT

  • The goal of the #TeachResistance toolkit is to share stories of resistance from the past and teach strategies for resistance in the present. Students will learn about ways that young people have fought back against injustice in different times and different places.
  • Through age appropriate read alouds and suggested activities, we will introduce students to stories of communities coming together to make a difference.

What is small stones?

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What is the only thing worse than beginning the term of a president-elect who enables and promotes racists, misogynists, climate-change deniers, union-busters, autocrats, and vote-suppressors?

Beginning that term in the middle of the school year.

Teaching is never a task for the faint of heart. Teaching in a time of Trump promises to make unprecedented demands, both of teachers and students.

Here at small stones, we aim to make the lives of educators, traditional or otherwise, a little easier. We gather, curate, summarize, and create free-to-use educational material with an emphasis on anti-racism, community engagement, and student empowerment. And we keep an eye on usability and grade-levels, to better allow these additions to make their way to your classrooms, wherever those might be.

Need something? We take requests. Have an idea? We love guest contributors. Have feedback? We’d love to hear it. We are working to make this site as useful and accessible as possible. Please get in touch.

What we are creating here is small. But we hope to make it as mighty as possible for those who need it most–educators who help students create a world that welcomes us all.

Keep some small stones in your pocket. There’s no telling when they might be useful.