Teaching in New Haven puts you at many different intersections including race, law, citizenships, politics, and power if you are willing and able to take a look around. Our students are subject to these forces and they can have a heavy impact on them. One of my students, Lisa, told me various issues about her father, employment, and immigration status. While he held a job and had been living in the US for several decades, the law was a barrier to his legal status in America and thus the family's economic well-being. Since that became an issue, Lisa's academic performance has suffered this once strong honors student has seen her grades slip and decline. Historical citizenship issues trouble my students. Stories of slavery, Native American brutality, and discrimination weigh heavily on their minds and make deep impressions on them and their understanding of America. Without reflection and study, this is all they see. Students also need to learn how to research and learn how to change occurs in American through civic action and the legal system, a system that many of them are weary of.
The New Haven US History 2 curriculum starts with Reconstruction, The Westward Expansion, and Immigration. Initially, I struggled to teach these topics because they seemed very irrelevant and disconnected to my students' daily lives and to each other. But these subjects involved into how the law can be changed and morphed to deny freedoms. As we go through different units, students find those who defy the law to be heroes and sympathize with them. This includes the Civil Resisters and Native American Leaders but also the criminals featured in our class. In a discussion of the 1920's and Prohibition, Students found Al Capone to be the most sympathetic and interesting historical character from the era. When I asked why, my students didn't tell me that they liked anything specific about him just that defied the police and manipulated the legal system. For this reason, I want to push my students to better understand how the legal system can also expand people's rights and freedoms.
The best and most natural content to start with is the infamous
Plessy v Ferguson
ruling of 1896. This case presents both the best and the worst of political action and reaction of the Segregation Era. Starting with this particular case, a class can and should explore the various political ramifications of the case that start with whether or not segregation is legal and how the court came to rule that it was. The class can also discuss the actions of Homer Plessy and the actions of normal citizens on behalf of ending Segregation in the 19
Century. Exploring these stories and their tragic ending will illuminate to students that history is not a simple progression of positive changes but rather a series of challenges that confront us with mixed results. The research project will hopefully connect students with the struggle and how people organized and orchestrated change in their world.
To help students understand the issues surrounding segregation and de-segregation, we are going to focus our efforts on the issue of education. While
Plessy v Ferguson
was not an education case, the ruling had tremendous implications for education as Segregation quickly spread to schools. Students need to understand how this case, its opinion, and its dissent created decades worth of division and conflict for all Americans. Once the idea of "Separate but Equal" is established, the connection to segregated institutions and schools becomes clear. Students will need to understand how the idea becomes cemented in America in order to understand the resistance.
The reason to focus around education issues helps focus students' work and because of the importance of education in our lives and history. The resistance to Jim Crow and Segregation was strong and attacked the institutions on multiple fronts. The unit's organization around education allows students to see how African-Americans fought for their rights. The NAACP and the court cases provide for learning opportunities for these lessons. Schools are also the main way that we interact with our government. With Mandatory Attendance laws in every state, schools represent a key portion of how we enact and experience our citizenship. It makes sense then that the battle over schools, schooling, and education, became and remains one of our greatest civil rights struggles. Looking at schools for this unit isn't just a choice of focus, it's because schools hold a supremely important place in our society.
As Common Core approaches, it brings with it new requirements and tests. One of those is a response paper that requires students to read articles quickly and make an assessment of materials and a situation. This means that my students will be asked to complete a project that will assess their skills in reading, writing, and judgment. I want to give them lots of practice on how to read, research, and quickly assess materials to help them with this assessment. Providing a strong research component to this project will help my students improve their writing and their understanding of how to communicate ideas through different materials.