Stories of racial tension and racial violence abound in the news. The controversy over forced desegregation and busing is again getting top billing in the newspapers. Should the United States government legislate desegregation? Is racial mixing desirable and/or necessary in our educational system? As a teacher I feel that these issues must be brought into the classroom in such a way that students can understand the different positions and can figure out their opinions. For adolescents, learning to work with and relate to people of all different backgrounds are important skills. For urban children, racial questions are of immediate concern. Schools are a major focal point for them. For this reason, I have chosen to study the history of school desegregation legislation with my students.
This unit has been organized for students with a high school reading level. Since 1982, when I prepared it, it has been used as a segment of a course at the High School in the Community, an inner city magnet high school which is teacher run and very supportive to teacher initiated curriculum. I first used the unit as the history half of an interdisciplinary course in English and history. The English component focused on forming opinions and writing essays. The class meet daily for three hours. I have since used this unit in conjunction with other subjects such as statistics and poll making, drama in the courtroom, and philosophy as reflected in various legal systems throughout history. Since this course has proven to be very stimulating for the students, I have also expanded it into a larger course on the American Legal System.
Although I have planned this course for a particular context, I feel that both the material content and the format can be applied in many other school settings. This course has stimulated student interest in history, current events and the power of the American legal system. Using primary sources such as legal documents, newspaper and magazine articles, and autobiographical essays, students are exposed to many different points of view. They learn that history is alive and powerful in their world. The legal system works with decisions made in the past, applies them to the present and then reshapes the future. The students in these classes have found that they really enjoyed studying and debating the legal issues that I have raised as they pertain to many different aspects of American life today.