First grade is a magical time. In first grade, students embark on many endeavors where they may find themselves for years to come. For many learners, first grade is when the joys of reading, writing, and even critical thinking are discovered.
It seems appropriate, at this crucial time of development, that a multicultural curriculum is in place. It is inevitable, that in this society, children will be confronted with many cultures and races different from their own. It is a teacher’s responsibility, if not every adult’s responsibility, to help children understand the differences as well as the similarities between cultures. We know that it is only through education, understanding, and finally acceptance, that one can begin to break down the walls of racism, bigotry, and prejudice, and aspire to co-exist effectively and harmoniously.
It follows logically that while it is necessary to learn about other people, it is also as imperative to study one’s own history. This unit, “An Analysis of Jim Crow Laws and Their Effects on Race Relations in America”, will focus upon the 60’s Civil Rights Movement. The unit is designed for first graders of a New Haven Public School. The students are predominantly African American, belonging to a low socio-economic level. Their academic levels range from very low to high. It is in this teachers opinion, however, that the students are all talented and gifted in some way or another!
My intention for devising the unit is to convey to young learners how laws, based on discrimination, can destroy the basic human spirit of all parties involved. Once the miserable truth is established about Jim Crow, and students gain full comprehension, a discussion will arise on the best route to embrace that would execute the alteration of unfair legislation. Hopefully, these young minds will process the information of their history, and construct meaning pertinent to their lives.
This curriculum unit will evolve in a language based classroom. All projects are geared to achieve one goal: language acquisition. Therefore, all related activities will center around children’s literature that illustrates and portrays universal aspects of African American culture from the 1960’s through the 1990’s.
As a result of the exposure to the literature, students will utilize Writer’s Workshop. Writer’s Workshop is a teaching strategy which demonstrates that craftspeople (authors, poets, artists, etc.) are actively engaged in creating, exploring, and manipulating materials and ideals for the sake of artistic expression. Students will realize that writing is more than a mere assignment, but it is a process that follows many structured steps.
Instructors must keep in mind that students should be given an amount of freedom to explore topics in a classroom setting. They must have the freedom to write and converse as a means to self-examination and open the door to their own beliefs and theories. The setting must be risk free, with the opportunity for students to share their works in progress.
Due to the sensitive nature of the unit, it will be necessary to implement social development lessons. The city of New Haven has adopted a social development program, called
. This program is designated to boost the self-esteem of students. It is intended through
that student decision making skills and self-awareness will increase. Several of the lessons deal with diversity and how to appropriately handle anger. The user of this unit is encouraged to look through the
Primary Project Charlie Manual
and employ the materials already developed.
Jim Crow was the name of an early Negro minstrel song. Throughout this unit, the term Jim Crow will be used. Jim Crow, within the context of this unit, refers to the official discrimination against or segregation of African Americans. Jim Crow legislation was officially instituted by the southern states when racial attitudes hardened in the 1890’s, shortly after the Emancipation and abolition of slavery. These laws were to remain instituted throughout the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, close to a century later.
During the years of Jim Crow, state laws mandated racial separation in schools, parks, playgrounds, restaurants, hotels, public transportation, theatres, restrooms, and so on. The allocation of funds for every segregated facility demonstrated unmistakably who was entitled to the best and the worst. Everywhere segregation was a symbol of supposed black inferiority.
The entire concept of Jim Crow is difficult to teach young students in first grade. For some young minds, it is not easy to comprehend a time and space outside of their immediate surroundings and environment. This fact is not so incredible. After all, it is just as difficult for adults to relate to a situation in which they are not directly involved as it is for children. According to Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist who is internationally renowned for his studies in the development of children’s thinking processes, the mental framework for processing and organizing information and ideas is one’s environment. One does not learn in a vacuum. Learning is social.
It is thus the teacher’s task to create a setting in which children can understand what life was like, living in the South, before the 1960’s for both African Americans and Caucasians. This goal can best be achieved through active experience and social interaction. There is substantial importance of children’s actions on the environment. Active experience is a key element in cognitive development.
Actions may be physical manipulations of objects or events or mental manipulations of objects or events (thinking). Active experiences are those that provoke assimilation and accommodation, resulting in cognitive change.
Educators often focus on Piaget’s work on cognitive development in the intellectual growth of children. Another significant factor in cognitive development is social interaction. By social interaction, it is meant the interchange of ideas among people. People can develop concepts classified as follows:
(1) those that have sensorially available physical referents (they can be seen, heard, and so on) and (2) those that do not have such referents. The concept-tree has physical referents; the concept
does not. A child can develop a socially acceptable concept of tree (physical knowledge) relatively independent of others because referents (trees) are usually available. But the same child can not develop an acceptable concept of honesty (social knowledge) independent of others. To the extent that concepts are socially defined, the child is dependent on social interaction for the construction and validation of concepts.
Social interaction can be of many kinds. Children interact with peers, parents, and other adults. The events that take place in a schoolroom are most frequently the interaction of students with other students and with their teachers. There is also the interaction with parents and others in the environment. All these interactions are important for cognitive development.
It is my firm belief that the concept of segregation for young learners is an abstract one and thus dependent on social knowledge. In most cases, the aforementioned concept has no physical referents available. Therefore, social interaction is needed.