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NOW with Bill Moyers

Civil Rights: Then and Now
Starter Exercises

The following adaptable classroom activities suggest various approaches for introducing and/or extending learning related to the civil rights work of Bob Moses.

1. Have students read RADICAL EQUATIONS-the book Robert Moses wrote about civil rights and the Algebra Project-with a critical eye, then write a review of it for the school newspaper. (An excerpt from RADICAL EQUATIONS is available on the NOW Web site. For more on this book, see the Algebra Project's Web site.) Have students consider the following as they write their reviews: Does Moses make a compelling case for the idea that math abilities are as important as voting? Do you agree? What evidence does the book present that the project is effective and making a difference in the communities where it is used? Is Moses as good a storyteller as he is a math teacher? In their reviews, students could also include an interesting story from the book to get fellow students interested.

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.) Have students watch the segment on Moses and pay special attention to his work as a civil rights activist in the 1960's and his work now with the Algebra Project. What problem was he responding to then and now? What methods does he use to try to solve it? What hasn't changed since the 1960's, when he first left his comfortable life in the North, and what has? Moses' children say that he has found his 'life's work.' Is there one cause that seems to have motivated his life's work? Have students discuss what motivates them. Ask students if there is an issue so important that they could make it 'life's work'? Ask students to write a few paragraphs about this idea, and then try to imagine what they'll be doing in 20 years. Encourage students to save their writing in a safe place so they can read it later and see how accurate they were in determining their own lives' work.

3. Have students create a timeline leading up to the work of Robert Moses and the problems of unequal education that he tries to address through the Algebra Project. Have small groups make brief presentations to the rest of the class on how each of the following contribute to the timeline: the antebellum South, the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, the free education movement, the Jim Crow south, the Supreme Court case "Plessy v. Ferguson" (1896), and the Supreme Court case "Brown v. Board of Education" (1954). The NOW Web site provides a brief history of the free education movement. Northwestern University's The Oyez project is a good resource for Supreme Court cases.

4. Robert Moses started Freedom Summer in 1964, organizing people from all over the country to get Southern African Americans registered to vote. Have students research Freedom Summer and design a poster to tell the story to other students. (One online history with citations can be found on the Watson.org site.) The poster could include: an explanation of the problem organizers hoped to solve, a timeline of key events and dates, quotations from important individuals and biographical information, a map including the states and cities involved, and photographs and drawings to make it appealing and illustrate the story. Official government documents related to the events of Freedom Summer are available from the National Archives and Records Administration.

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.