Civil Rights: Then and Now
The following ideas are shorter adaptable classroom activities that encourage students to be active citizens.
1. Have students read the profiles of students who participated in the Young People's Project on the NOW Web site. Why do they volunteer? In what ways do they contribute to the Algebra Project? Do students feel a duty to give something back to their community, perhaps in a less direct way by serving a group that might need help or have fewer advantages? Have students explore opportunities to give something back. A peer tutoring program might exist in your school, but ask students if they might have more impact if a pair of them work with a group of children at another school. Students with athletic abilities might work with physically disadvantaged students, or students with artistic skills could volunteer with children with developmental disabilities. Or they might be able to spend time with senior citizens or help non-English speakers. Have students keep a journal of when they volunteer, and reflect on how they're helping an individual, a group, and the community as a whole.
2. The November 8, 2002 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast features an in-depth report on the civil rights work of Bob Moses. (Note: A free transcript of this report is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from ShopPBS.) In this report, Moses talks about getting the people "oppressed by the system to rise up." The article "The Moses Factor" talks about Moses' belief in the importance of grassroots organizing. Have students discuss Moses' philosophy. What does the former sharecropper quoted in the article say? What grassroots movements do students see taking place in their community or elsewhere in the United States today? Ask students if there is an issue in their school, neighborhood or community that might benefit from a grassroots effort. Is there a bullying problem at school? A neighborhood park that needs to be cleaned up? Have students plan their organizing efforts, first considering how to engage community members in the solutions to the problem.
3. Robert Moses returned to the civil rights movement a decade after his first involvement, because he saw that African American students, particularly in Mississippi, were not learning the math skills they needed. Start a discussion about the civil rights movement-do students believe that it persists today? Based on their experience, are there different levels of achievement between white students and other groups in their school? Does their school have a racial makeup similar to others in the area (perhaps this is worth demonstrating by having students call the school board to collect data and then create a series of graphs), and are certain schools known to have higher achievement levels? Have students familiarize themselves with the Urban League and the National Council of La Raza. What are their missions? Do they have affiliate groups in your community? Have students select one of these organizations' programs (or a locally-based one) that they think addresses a pressing need, and find a way to support it.
4. Black History Month is February each year. Have students write a play to perform during Black History Month about the life of Robert Moses or the Algebra Project. It might include characters Robert Moses and his daughter Maisha, students who studied under Robert Moses, and other students who benefited from the Young Peoples Project and are now giving back by teaching math themselves. Students can use the Bob Moses resources on the NOW Web site and the Algebra Project Web site as sources.
About the Author
Hannah Leiterman is editor and Webmaster for the Metropolitan Planning Council, a planning policy and advocacy organization in Chicago, and freelance Internet educational content developer. She has written social studies activities for teachers for PBS and for NCSS' SOCIAL EDUCATION magazine. She spent two years teaching English in an Armenian secondary school for the Peace Corps.
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