North Star to Freedom
is historically rich with period posters, photographs and paintings, making it a wonderful starting point to focus on the human tragedies of slavery. The author, Gena K. Gorrell, gives a vivid ride on the underground railroad from the origins of slavery through the Civil War and beyond. From a crowded slave ship to the injustices of the galleries of human trade to freedom through the underground railroad, she shows the determination and strength of the passengers on escape routes and the conductors who risked their lives to help others. The people who were pivotal in roles they played are presented clearly. Those who became famous and those who remained obscure share equally in this book.
Objectives: This book is a major force in students' understanding of the perils of slavery and the consequences of a country engaged in the use of slavery. Socially, religiously, economically, and politically the mind is stretched to understand the perspective and attitudes of the diversity of thought on the issue. Students are to read the introduction and each chapter introduction and view the pictures on the opposite pages. Then each student will give a verbal response to what they read and saw.
Strategies and the Process: The following is an example of how the Group Model works. I always model the expectations of behavior and learning : Step 1. I set up a group of four with myself in it. We choose among ourselves what position each wants leader, recorder, timekeeper, or reporter. Step 2. I then take the direction of talking the process through as the facilitator using the book. Step 3. The group's objectives are to read the introduction and chapter introduction and view the pictures and notations about the pictures. Then they will give an oral response to what they read and saw. Step 4. The group is given three minutes to read the introduction; time- keeper tells the group when to stop. Step 5. The leader asks each person to tell the words or phrases they would like to discuss. The timekeeper gives the group 5 minutes to respond. The recorder writes down the responses. Step 6. Students are told by the group leader to turn to the chapter headings and look at the pictures on the opposite page; the timekeeper gives the students a total of 3 minutes to view pictures and 1 minute to then read the introductions. Step 7. The leader calls for verbal response of each one and a discussion takes place. The recorder writes down a summary of the discussion. Step 8. The reporter reports the summary to the others in the class. Step 9. The whole group recorder writes down each group's key summary responses on large chart paper. Step 10. I would have the students focus on similarities and differences in each group's responses and discuss any questions. Each group's summary is written down in individual reading/writing journals.
I use these strategies and process for the first two chapters with this group and make sure that the others in the class understand the process by going back over the process steps, questioning various points in the process, to solicit responses from the other students observing. In the process, some responses will show surprise and bewilderment. Vocabulary that sometimes seems so simple brings on new importance such as the word, "free", used in the introduction to stress how it is taken for granted (xiv). There are thoughts that are expressed by a little slave boy in the introduction who questions, after he had slept in the only clothes he had all night because it was cold, "Why do I still hurt from where the young master punched me yesterday? Why did the master do that? It wasn't my fault his puppy nipped him. Still, better be extra careful today. Why does he get so much? Why is he the lucky one? Why do you have to be the slave? (pg.l)
Upon completion of the introduction exercise the rest of the class gets in groups of four and uses the same process. This takes about another 20 minutes and each group can work at their own pace as long as the timekeeper keeps them on task. At the end of 20 minutes I signal all the groups to stop and the reporter of each group will give a brief summary of the group's responses. A recorder of each group writes the key summary points on large chart paper. The whole class then contrasts the responses of each group noting the similarities and differences of each groups responses. Then I take time for any questions that individuals would like to ask. This is a good introduction to the book and pricks their desire to read and hear the rest of the story.
In conclusion to this book's use, I believe students need to see, feel, touch, taste, and smell, if only through their imaginations, the events that led up to and through the Civil War and the events that would follow. At various points, from the slave ship filling up with its cargo of humanity, hearts pumping on the slave block, through to the flight to freedom following the North Star, I will have the students participate actively by placing them in imaginative settings to feel the human anxiety these people felt.
Students need to know the struggle isn't over. As a good friend of mine once said to me, "The freedom train hasn't stopped yet! There are still those who need to be freed. The struggle isn't over yet!, until all of God's children are walking a just road free from hate, ridicule, prejudice, and scorn." (A friend now passed on who rides a better freedom train.) And so, I read the dedications in each book and talk about what meaning they have, such as "To all those whose names have been forgotten" so the children won't forget.