After having taught in the New Haven School System for a number of years, I have come to realize the importance of trying to help my pupils understand and appreciate the struggles that have taken place as this country attempted to rectify the many years of social, political, and economic inequity which existed here since the beginning of slavery in America. With African American students comprising the vast majority of my pupils, I feel that this area of United States history is of particular relevance. To help provide the material which I believe is vital to my students’ development, I previously have written a number of units which attempt to clarify the events covering the time period from the introduction of slavery through Reconstruction, the backlash of Jim Crow Laws, and the drive for Civil Rights, culminating with the situation as it exists today. Though in these units I have approached the subject from a number of different angles, both general and specific, I primarily have focused on the areas of literature and poetry as vehicles to lead student toward my desired goal of developing an understanding and appreciation of this struggle for freedom and equality. As I continue in the same vein with this year’s unit, I have added another ingredient, film, as well as another area of concentration, the Negro Leagues, both of which I feel will enhance and add meaning to the study of twentieth century African American history, making it easier for students to grasp the facts and feelings of this period, while providing them with detailed information on a relevant but often overlooked segment of United States history.
Though easily adapted for use with older and, to some extent, younger children, of similar or different backgrounds, this unit is designed for a third grade class which averages about twenty-five pupils ranging in age from eight to ten. They come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds and home situations. Their academic ability and the level of their general knowledge also vary considerably. A few children have considerable trouble reading on grade level, while a few qualify for New Haven’s talented and gifted program. Generally, their basic academic skill level is below average, but many have potential well beyond this point. As in the school as a whole, over ninety percent are African America, a few are Latino, and there is seldom more than one white child in a classroom. Some students are members of families with multiple problems, Few of their lives are without difficulties. Though some might be reluctant to admit it, most enjoy school at this stage of their lives, but not just for the academics. Many, though not all, parents or guardians are supportive of the school in particular and education in general. Most want to be helpful but are not always sure of the best way to go about it. Often the struggles of everyday life thwart their efforts. Right now most of the children have lofty goals in life, but they soon will be facing the competition of more academically prepared peers, along with meeting the pressures which all children, especially those growing up in inner-city America, encounter.
Since the game of baseball is something to which most students, including girls, can relate, no matter what their age, race, socio-economic status, or ethnic background might be, much of the unit’s content can be adapted to almost any type of classroom, at almost any grade level. This should allow the scope of this unit to be expanded well beyond the group of students for whom it was written.