Lesson Plan: Evolving Concepts of Civil Rights


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Overview

Three different films, three different stories! The lesson can be used for all three or for each film alone. The first film, Boomtown, follows several Suquamish entrepreneurs during fireworks season. The second, Sweet Old Song, is the story of the relationship and life of the musicians and artists, Howard Armstrong and Barbara Ward. And the third, Brother Outsider, is the story of the life of activist Bayard Rustin. Seen alone students will gain a greater understanding of civil rights. Seen together, however, these three appearing disparate tales invite the viewer to consider the changing nature of our understanding of civil rights. Stimulated by these films, students will examine Americans' changing attitudes about Native Americans, the aged, and, the rights of African-Americans and LGBTQ folks as they seek answers to the questions:

  1. What are civil rights?
  2. Where do our ideas of "rights" originate?
  3. How have our ideas of rights evolved?
  4. How have the life experiences of the activists, artists, and entrepreneurs depicted in the films helped to shape our attitudes about civil rights for all Americans?

Grade Level: 9-12

Subject Areas: United States History and Government

Estimated Time of Completion: 4-5 class hours, some homework time


Note:Educational copies of Boomtown can be purchased from the University of California Extension Center for Media.

Lesson One: The Evolving Nature of Civil Rights

Objectives:

  1. Learn the chronology of Civil Rights in the United States
  2. Consider how civil rights get "created" in our society
  3. Examine how different people respond to the loss of their rights
  4. Begin to develop an understanding of how our sense of what ought to be a civil right has evolved over time and through personal experiences

Materials Needed:

Copies for each student of the following worksheets:

Computers with internet access

Access to 3 VCR's, monitors and videotapes of the POV/PBS programs

Board for class notes

Procedure:
Background before viewing the films: History of Civil Rights in the United States

Ask students to suggest a working definition for "civil rights". Accept several. Write them on the board. A simple definition is offered at: http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/civil_rights.html (5 min)

Hand out the chart What Are Civil Rights and Where Do They Come From? Ask students to write the working definition that they like best on their chart. Remind them that it is just a working definition. After some research, you will return to the definition and refine it. (2 min)


Homework

Hand out the worksheet Is It A Right? Ask students to read each statement, and to decide whether they believe it is a right or should be a right, or whether it is not a right or should not be a right.


Second Class Session

Ask students to discuss in small groups the worksheet Is It A Right? Then take a few minutes as an entire class to chart the class's areas of agreement and areas of controversy. Let students know that some of these issues will come up in the films that they will be watching. Ask them to watch for the reactions of various personalities in the film. Let them know that after watching and talking about the films they will return to these issues. (10 min)

Now the class is ready to view the films. Since most classes will not have the time for all students to see all three films, rather than lose the integrity of the stories, it is suggested that the teacher divide the class into 3 groups, assigning a different film to each group.

Hand out to students the worksheet Viewing Notes. Ask students to make note of the major events portrayed in each film. Ask them to consider which civil rights were important to the protagonists of the film? Which ones did they feel were lacking? Note what events or statements support each statement. After viewing the film, ask each student group to prepare a brief summary of their film, and to decide which 3 segments (or about 10-15 minutes of film) show a concern about a civil right that needed to be protected or denied. Students are to prepare to show their selected segments to the class, and explain their choice. (1 hour -- 1.5 hours)

Third Class Session

Share summaries and film clips with the class. Discuss as a class areas of similarity and difference among the films. Return now to the questions (30 -- 40 min):

  • What are civil rights?
  • Where do our ideas of "rights" originate?
  • How have our ideas of rights evolved?
  • How have the life experiences of the activists, artists, and entrepreneurs depicted in the films helped to shape our attitudes about civil rights for all Americans?

Homework

Ask to students to share their insights into the evolving nature of civil rights in the United States in an essay, poem, drawing or song for the next class. In the next class allow students to share their work.


Worksheets

Worksheet #1: What Are Civil Rights and Where Do They Come From?
DOWNLOAD: PDF

Worksheet #2: Is it a Right?
DOWNLOAD: PDF

Worksheet #3: Viewing the Film
DOWNLOAD: PDF