Students and Civil Disobedience: Lesson Plans and Activities

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Here’s a roundup of some of the material out there for introducing students to civil disobedience in a variety of historical settings. The material here is appropriate for middle and high school students.

  • From PBS Learning Media, a lesson plan called “Peaceful Protests.”
    • Integrated around video clips from the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, focused on Liberian women and the actions they took to help end that country’s civil war, this lesson plan is aimed at high school students, grades 9-12.
    • Note that some of the links are not functional! In particular, the article 198 Methods of Peaceful Protest is now found here, not at the link listed.
    • However, this lesson plan is still worth checking out, as it contains a wealth of resources that are still accessible and a nice, clear frame.

Students learn about nonviolent resistance movements that have taken place around the world and, using video segments from the PBS program Women, War & Peace:“Pray the Devil Back to Hell” explore how women’s nonviolent protests helped bring about the end of a bloody civil war in Liberia in 2003. In the Introductory Activity, students learn about nonviolent resistance, conduct research about nonviolent protest leaders in different countries and time periods, discuss the goals and impact of their actions, and place them on a timeline.

In Learning Activity 1,students learn about actions that Leymah Gbowee and the women of Liberia took to protest the civil war in their country. In Learning Activity 2, students explore different methods of nonviolent action and read and discuss the letter Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from jail in Birmingham, Alabama, as well as the statement from Alabama clergymen which prompted him to write the letter.  In the Culminating Activity, students examine nonviolent protest movements throughout history and discuss the goals and impact of those efforts. The lesson concludes with students writing and discussing reflection essays about the use of nonviolent resistance, citing examples studied in this lesson.

  • “A Time for Justice” comes from Teaching Tolerance and is aimed at students in middle and high school, grades 6-12. It’s centered around Teaching Tolerance’s film A Time for Justice about the Civil Rights movement. The unit contains five discrete lessons.
    • The unit is clearly aligned to Common Core Standards and includes a glossary and list of resources at the beginning of the lesson.

It has been more than half a century since many of the major events of the modern civil rights movement For today’s students—and some of their teachers—it can seem like ancient history But the civil rights movement transformed the country Through the persistent use of nonviolent strategies—including marches, court cases, boyco s and civil disobedience—brave black and white Americans joined forces to pursue the legal equality that the Constitution guarantees to all persons

This teaching guide provides lessons and materials about the modern civil rights movement—from the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision in which the Su- preme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional, and the passage, in 1965, of the Voting Rights Act The unit encourages students to imagine what life was like in the Jim Crow South, to understand why so many people were willing to risk their lives to change it, and to explore how they went about doing so.

  • Finally, “Slavery and Civil Disobedience: Christiania Riot of 1851” comes from Patricia (Kate) De Barros at Magothy River Middle School. The lesson centers around a riot that followed the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act.
    • The lesson contains detailed background information that can be used by educators and students alike.
    • The lesson itself is based around short biographies of people involved in the Underground Railroad. Students work as critical historians and compare and analyze different views of the Christiania Riot in order to draw their own conclusions.

The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 made it legal for slaveholders to pursue escaped slaves into any state or territory in the union. This meant that runaway slaves now had to reach Canada to avoid the threat of recapture. Immediately this law sparked outrage among abolitionists who viewed the law as further protection of the immoral institution of slavery. They vowed to engage in a form of civil disobedience; knowingly breaking the law that they felt was unjust.

One of the first tests of the act came in September of 1851 in Christiana, Pennsylvania when a slave owner arrived with a group of men to retrieve six of his escaped slaves. A local vigilance group was protecting the six, who were being safeguarded in an area home. A heated exchange between the two sides resulted in a violent riot. One account says that as many as 50 blacks came from the surrounding areas to aid the vigilance group. The slave owner asked some local white men to help him capture his slaves per the Fugitive Slave Act and they refused. The slave owner was killed in the struggle. Five white men and 38 black men were arrested for treason.

The first trial lasted three weeks and returned with a verdict of “not guilty.” By the end of 1851, all charges against every defendant were dropped. This was a tremendous victory for abolitionist groups who saw it as vindication of their stance that it was morally acceptable to ignore the law. In this lesson, students will examine primary and secondary sources detailing differing accounts of the incident in Christiana. They will summarize the conflicting views and analyze the validity of their sources. At the completion of the lesson students will form a written response as to whether they think non­compliance with slave laws was acceptable or not.

Next up, some tools for helping students to participate in civil disobedience in the present day, intentionally, safely, and effectively.

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.

 

 

Small Stones: A Recap

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Here’s what we’ve been up to since our initial post in November 2016:

Curating Curricula and Lesson Plans: 

We prioritize finding lesson plans and curricula that are high-quality, free to access and use, and applicable to the present political reality.

Reading Lists and Research:

We highlight resources and background reading that can be helpful for educators and students.

Original Lesson Plans and Activities:

Small stones creates lesson plans and activities where they don’t already exist. Keep an eye on this space for more coming soon.

Students and Civil Disobedience: A Reading List

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image via heavy.com

The right to public protest is a cornerstone of democracy in the United States, but it’s often presented in the classroom as a historical relic–or an activity solely for adults. Here are some resources that can expose students to this type of activism, both in the past and happening here and now.

Note: resources are grouped by suggested age-level, but may well be appropriate for students of many ages.

For elementary grade students:

  • Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside, by Kenneth Braswell, as profiled at The Root. Braswell’s book deals with contemporary Black Lives Matter protests as well as previous civil rights protests. Written for kids ages 6-9.
  • From Watch the Yard, a great reading list: “10 Multi-Cultural Children’s Books about the Importance of Protesting that Every Child Should Read.” Titles cover the March on Washington, the work of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Mama Miti (Wangari Muta Maathai)–and that’s just for a start.

For middle-grade students:

Gwen Gamble had just been released from jail and didn’t want to go back. Shortly before the crusade, the teenager had been arrested for participating in a lunch-counter sit-in and jailed for five days. “We were put in with people who had actually broken the law. It was scary. They weren’t nice,” says Gamble, who was 15.

She and her two sisters were trained by the movement to be recruiters for the Children’s Crusade. On the first day of the march, they went to several schools and gave students the cue to leave. They then made their way to 16th Street Baptist.

“We left the church with our picket signs and our walking shoes,” says Gamble. “Some of us even had on our rain coats because we knew that we were going to be hosed down by the water hoses.”

  • More information on the Children’s Crusade appropriate for middle and high school students can be found at Stanford’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Encyclopedia.

For high school students:

Despite warnings from teachers that there could be consequences for ditching class, students said they were proud to stand up for their beliefs.

Yesenia Flores, 15, a sophomore at Roosevelt High, held a sign: “Trump makes us fear for our lives.”

“All I’ve wanted to do is make my parents proud,” she said. “I can’t make my parents proud if they’re not here.”

Blanca Villaseor, a sophomore at Collegiate Charter High, said she was protesting the president-elect on behalf of her parents. The sign she was holding read: “Latinos contra Trump” — Spanish for Latinos against Trump.

Suzanne Rueda, 15, a sophomore at the downtown Ramon Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, said she’d been protesting since the day after the election. As of Monday, she hadn’t been reprimanded for missing class, but she said she’d heard an announcement that morning over the school intercom that students who missed school could be suspended. She thought that was misguided.

“It feels like we’re leading ourselves,” she said. “We can’t vote. This is all we can do.”

Who Googles Google? The Holocaust and Search Algorithms

Motivated users can manipulate search engine results

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Been going to Google for information about the Holocaust recently? You might have been presented with top results that include a white supremacist website.

As we posted previously, the idea that the internet is a neutral mass of information–and that search engines are neutral and unbiased–is one that increasingly needs to be challenged by students and readers of all ages.

Google results can serve as useful test cases to help students understand the inner workings behind what actually comes up in search results.

Fortune reports on the story in a short article appropriate for high school students.

The implications are alarming. Due to the search engine’s placement of the website, a young person unfamiliar with history, or a person seeking to validate a conspiracy theory, could easily get drawn into the Stormfront site as a jumping-off point for research.

The Guardian presents a more in-depth explanation of how Google’s autocomplete suggestions and ordering of search results can impact readers’ perceptions of an issue.

The increased scrutiny on the algorithms of Google – which removed antisemitic and sexist autocomplete phrases after the recent Observer investigation – comes at a time of tense debate surrounding the role of fake news in building support for conservative political leaders, particularly US president-elect Donald Trump.

Facebook has faced significant backlash for its role in enabling widespread dissemination of misinformation, and data scientists and communication experts have argued that rightwing groups have found creative ways to manipulate social media trends and search algorithms.

The Guardian’s latest findings further suggest that Google’s searches are contributing to the problem.

In the past, when a journalist or academic exposes one of these algorithmic hiccups, humans at Google quietly make manual adjustments in a process that’s neither transparent nor accountable.

At the same time, politically motivated third parties including the “alt-right”, a far-right movement in the US, use a variety of techniques to trick the algorithm and push propaganda and misinformation higher up Google’s search rankings.

 

Included in this post:

“How Google’s search algorithm spreads false information with a rightwing bias,” via The Guardian, 12/16/15

“A Top Google Result for the Holocaust Is Now a White Supremacist Site,” via Fortune, 12/12/16

The Civil Conversations Project

A Resource for Fostering Discussion

The public radio show “On Being” curates a series of interviews premised on the idea that people with opposing viewpoints can communicate calmly with one another. The series, called The Civil Conversations Project, aims to provide “tools and resources for renewing civic discourse at every level and nourishing common life.” It features audio, transcripts, writing, and activity guides appropriate for high school students and beyond.

Students can to listen to inspiring conversations between, say, opponents and proponents of gay marriage or abortion rights. Or they can try their hand at cultivating conversation among classmates or community members who come at issues relating to race, religion, economics, and the environment from differing or opposing perspectives.

The Civil Conversations Project (CCP) is an open, ongoing conversation offering tools and resources for renewing civic discourse at every level and nourishing common life.

In addition to the recorded interviews (podcasts), there are two guides for download. One, called Ask Three Questions, is for starting one-on-one conversations. The other is Better Conversations: A Starter Guide.

Great ideas, and the podcasts model the principles beautifully.

Moderating the Internet

Who regulates online speech? Is there a digital public square?

Since the end of the election, there’s been a lot of discussion about social media’s impact on the outcome, from the circulation of so-called “fake news” to Donald Trump’s use of Twitter.

Who decides what language and imagery is permitted on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest? The platforms are, after all, owned and maintained by private companies.

Here are some thought-provoking articles about how they establish and enforce their use policies. (Note that the language and situations described are crude). Students will be provoked to think hard about free speech and who gets to regulate it.