The “Second Line Blues” song reflects the current state of gun violence, the senseless loss of life, mass murders, and police brutality in our communities. It pays homage to many who are known and unknown including Emmett Till, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Amadou Diallo, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Susie Jackson, Sean Bell, Tamir Rice, Ethel Lance, Cynthia Hurd, Eric Garner, Myra Thompson, Daniel Simmons, and the mass killings in Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech and many more. It is written and performed by founding member, Louise Robinson. It is inspired by the New Orleans tradition of funeral procession. The first line of the band is the procession and the second line of the procession consists of the mourners.
And a classic by Sam Cooke, “A Change is Gonna Come”. More about its history here from the New Yorker.
In honor of the general strike happening in some places today, this week’s A Day Without Immigrants, and the upcoming A Day Without A Woman, we’ve gathered some resources for teaching students a little bit about the history of the labor movement, with an emphasis on general strikes.
The Seattle General Strike Project has a wealth of information. Never heard of the Seattle General Strike? We hadn’t either. Lucky for we uninformed, the site has great background information.
The Seattle General Strike of February 1919 was the first city-wide labor action in America to be proclaimed a “general strike.” It led off a tumultuous era of post-World War I labor conflict that saw massive strikes shut down the nation’s steel, coal, and meatpacking industries and threaten civil unrest in a dozen cities.
The strike began in shipyards that had expanded rapidly with war production contracts. 35,000 workers expected a post-war pay hike to make up for two years of strict wage controls imposed by the federal government.
When regulators refused, the Metal Trades Council union alliance declared a strike and closed the yards. After an appeal to Seattle’s powerful Central Labor Council for help, most of the city’s 110 local unions voted to join a sympathy walkout. The Seattle General Strike lasted less than a week but the memory of that event has continued to be of interest and importance for more than 80 years.
There’s a LOT of information on this site, so here are a few things we recommend:
Check out Rob Rosenthal’s 1977 interviews with those who remembered the events. (This is also an excellent way to incorporate oral histories into the classroom!) Audio is available for some interviews, as are searchable transcripts.
For 11th grade teachers, there’s a full lesson plan on the general strike. Students role play as newspaper op-ed writers and are required to utilize first-hand accounts.
Photographs. Lots of them, both historical and present day.
This lesson is intended to foster, in Grade 11 and 12 students, a knowledge and understanding of the issues raised in the film On Strike and to promote progressive, democratic considerations around values and attitudes regarding Canadian citizenship. Cross-curricular connections include Socia l Studies, Language Arts, Political Science, Economics and History.
The activities will help students develop their inquiry, research, critical thinking, communication, and media literacy skills. Students will brainstorm current events around strike action issues; compare the rights of workers in the past and today; research and prepare a debate based on principles in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Labour Code; and write an editorial on the filmmaker’s point of view.
Students will be able to:
• learn the causes of the Oakland General Strike and what it achieved
• critically assess news coverage of labor issues for point-of-view bias
• analyze the significance of a general strike as a strategy for collective worker action
Post-war tensions are revealed by a strike of mostly women retail clerks in two down- town Oakland department stores, which expands to become the last city-wide General Strike in US history. When the video repeats a newsreel segment with alternative voiceovers, viewers learn how “news”—like history itself—is constructed from a point of view. And through the exemplary solidarity of streetcar driver Al Brown, we learn how workers can make history, too. [We also gain a unique insight into the longest run- ning farm labor dispute until the 1960ʼs, the DiGiorgio strike of 1947-1950, through the footage of a “lost film” made by Hollywood supporters of the strike.]
We’re still pursuing resources on music that has motivated movements. Continuing past the music of the civil rights era (which we blogged about here) and the Anti-Apartheid movement, here’s a lesson plan from the New York Times: Teaching With Protest Music.
It has overviews and embedded music from the older movements, but also to music from Beyoncé (***Flawless), Pussy Riot, and Los Tigres del Norte. The article also introduced us to Genius, a remarkable lyrics annotation site.
Here are some of the ELA prompts for students:
About the role of music:
Write and Discuss: Why do you listen to music? How does music make you feel? Does music serve a different role in your life depending on your mood, who you are with or what you are doing? Does music ever cause you to think differently, to feel a part of something larger or to want to rise up and take action?
Engaging with a particular song:
Listen and Annotate: Next, listen to ____________, a protest song from the time period we are studying, while reading along with the printed lyrics. As you listen, annotate by underlining, highlighting or writing in the margins — reacting or responding to anything in the lyrics or in the music itself. (You may want to play the song a second time, if it would be helpful.)
About a song the student has selected:
Bring in Contemporary Music That Speaks to an Issue or Era in the Past: What songs today have something to say about the past, whether because people are still struggling with the same issues, or because the lyrics seem symbolic or ironic when seen through the lens of the past?
There are also links to editorials and op-eds written by scholars and musicians: many great resources and jumping-off points!
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:
#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.
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.
Should students get involved in civil disobedience?
The answer to that question has everything to do with circumstances: who the students are, what actions they plan to take, and what they are protesting. And that’s just the beginning.
Given our political reality, however, it’s naive to think that students and their families whose lives may well be directly impacted by policy change won’t be eager to have their voices heard. For some, this will mean civil disobedience.
So here are some resources that may be helpful for anyone who plans to protest.
The list is grouped into categories that include “Formal Statements,” “Communication with a Wider Audience,” “Drama and Music,” “Actions by Consumers,” “Symbolic Public Acts,” and more. Note that this resource is a critical part of the PBS Learning Media lesson plan covered here.
One of the things we like most about this document is the breadth of methods presented. Not all students will want, much less be able to, join street demonstrations, but most will be able to find a method here that helps them use their voice in a way that’s powerful. Maybe that’s #18, Display of flags and symbolic colors. For another, it could be #2, Letters of opposition or support. Others might make use of #36, Performances of plays and music. (And we have material that can help with both options!)
For those who will be joining demonstrations, Right to Protest has a detailed list of steps to take to best ensure safety for protestors.
The tips begin with Before You Go and run through Get Back Safely and Share Your Story.
One place to find demonstrations that may be near you is here. However, you know your students and situation best; we can’t recommend enough that educators vet protests and demonstrations to the best of their ability before encouraging students to take part. Safety is paramount, and there are many ways to be heard.
Got additional resources on this topic? Any tips or stories? We’d love to hear them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”