The Atlantic: “It’s become a necessity to have teachers equipped and willing to talk about race and racism.”
Chalkbeat: “‘This pilot program will further level the playing field for children in underserved cities across the state by expanding their access to programs and community resources that will help them get ahead in school and later on in life.’”
Education Dive: “[Superintendent Mark Laurrie] hopes an increasingly diverse staff will lead to improved academic outcomes for students, namely test scores and graduation rates. He believes it will also improve the school culture and make everyone in the school community more accepting of diversity.”
Education Week: “Research shows that chronic absenteeism is linked with lower achievement, disengagement from school, and increased risk of dropping out. And it disproportionately is a problem among low-income students and students with disabilities.”
The Huffington Post: “There’s one key issue where it turns out protesters and law enforcement officers overwhelmingly agree: Bad cops aren’t held accountable.”
Mic: “[Bureau of Indian Education] schools are routinely among the worst-funded and lowest-performing in the nation. Students who attend these institutions graduate high school at rates nearly 20% lower than the overall Native American high school grad rate.”
National Public Radio: “While some states are working hard to get kids a diploma, others have lowered their standards or turned to questionable quick fixes.”
The New York Times: “Dr. King’s message of equality and justice for all are best embedded in the curriculum all year round.”
Shana V. White: “Complicit behavior has no color. Educators must remember it is our responsibility to speak out.”
The Tennessesan: “One of the most important roles a state can play is ensure we are focused on all students. ... And that comes in our own transparency of our metrics.”
The Washington Post: “It is believed that about 1 in 5 of the more than 50 million students in America’s public schools are suffering with one mental condition or another. That’s a problem for parents and educators alike, especially given that most don’t get treated and most school districts don’t have the resources to provide adequate mental health services for students.”
The Washington Post: “The question is whether public schools owe disabled children ‘some’ educational benefit—which courts have determined to mean just-above-trivial progress—or whether students legally deserve something more: a substantial, ‘meaningful’ benefit.”
Weld for Birmingham: “What affects the Birmingham City School system affects the entire city indirectly, by way of corporate recruitment, poverty levels, crime rates, and overall prosperity.”
If you come across a current article or blog you think other educators should read, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put “What We’re Reading This Week” in the subject line.
As Inauguration Day draws near, many educators are wondering how to address the ending to one of our most controversial election cycles. Instead of focusing on who won the election and who didn’t, consider teaching about the inauguration itself with a critical literacy lens. This non-partisan approach acknowledges history in the making while also acknowledging the history that led up to this point.
You can start by teaching about what occurs during an inauguration. Inauguration Day usually includes nine activities planned by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. USA.gov provides a comprehensive overview of Inauguration Day routines and traditions that you can review with students.
One tradition many presidents have upheld is to choose words and actions to unite the country in a common goal and purpose on this day. One example can be found in Richard Nixon’s choice to have public prayers led by Christian, Jewish and Greek Orthodox ministers. Ask your students what message they think Nixon was sending and how a modern president attempting to send the same message might do so. Have students research other inaugural acts and discuss their findings with each other.
Inaugurations can also be a time for a new president to make a significant symbolic gesture. Abraham Lincoln invited African Americans to march in his second inauguration in 1865, a presidential first. Fast-forward to President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013 when he swore his oath on two Bibles, one owned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and another used by Lincoln at his 1861 inauguration. Ask your students: How did this act symbolize the significance of our nation’s first African-American president? If you were president, what symbolic gesture would you make to show the American people the type of president you would be?
Of the inaugural traditions that have developed over the years, one is constitutional: The president-elect is required to pledge an oath before they can assume their duties as president. However, the oath is a mere 35 words long. Have students break down the oath and come up with revisions: Should the president’s oath mention specific groups of people, concepts or ideals for the office to uphold? Can you think of examples in which presidents have not upheld the oath when it comes to certain groups of people, concepts or ideals?
A more recent tradition is that of poets reciting their work during the inaugural ceremonies. Robert Frost was the first, reciting “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration. The next instance of an inaugural poetry reading didn’t happen again until 1993, when Maya Angelou famously read “On the Pulse of Morning” during Bill Clinton’s 1993 ceremony. Each of these poems emphasizes unity and the individual being a part of something greater together. Angelou said about her inaugural poem, “In my work, in everything I do, I mean to say that we human beings are more alike than we are unalike, and to use that statement to break down the walls we set between ourselves because we are different.” Have students read or listen to different inaugural poems and analyze their respective purposes through close reading and engaging tasks and strategies.
Inauguration Days of the past have seen their fair share of demonstrations, and 2017 is no different. For instance, a Women’s March is planned for the day after the inauguration this year. Tie this march in with other marches on Washington, and discuss how protest and resistance have played pivotal roles in our country’s history. The women’s suffrage parade, held the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration in 1913, is an excellent example. Using these events as case studies, discuss women’s involvement in social justice movements and introduce your students to some female activists they may not be familiar with.
Inauguration Day is also a chance to teach about the long road to the White House. Many facets of the electoral process are unique to the United States, from winner-take-all primaries and caucuses to the Electoral College. Consider taking students through interactive videos and graphics that explain these processes. Then, encourage them to think about the right to vote and voting access. In spite of constitutional voting rights, American history is riddled with struggles to actualize those rights and with examples of widespread voter disenfranchisement for a number of groups, including American Indians, African Americans, Mexican Americans, women and former convicts. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is considered one of the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation, yet its power was recently diminished and it continues to be challenged to this day. Encourage students to critically analyze our voting systems for misrepresentation and equal voice.
For more ideas about how to approach the inauguration, see “Countdown to January 20.”
Mascareñaz is a teaching and learning specialist for Teaching Tolerance.
The 2016 presidential campaign and election was rough on many educators and students. With the inauguration just around the corner, some schools are bracing for more tension, more targeting and more conflict.
But we learned something encouraging from our post-election survey. While a staggering number of educators witnessed a spike in anxiety and biased behavior in their students, others told us their students were divided but handling it well. These educators had something in common: They teach at schools that had climate programming and protocols in place. In these schools, friendship is highly valued and children feel safe.
With that in mind, we’re encouraging schools to proactively prepare for the inauguration. Whether your students are blowing up balloons or organizing a walk-out, setting the stage early will increase the changes of a peaceful school day on January 20 and a more cohesive student body moving forward.
Talk about current events leading up to the inauguration. Make sure students are aware of what is happening, and give them space to debrief. Use Newsela to bring current events into the classroom, whatever level you teach. Combine current-events texts with a strategy like Text Talk Time (grades 3–5 or grades 6-12) or Value Lines (grades 3–5) to help students become new analysts, rather than just passive consumers. (Free Perspectives for a Diverse America registration required.)
Make a 100-day plan. Explain to students that new presidents often release a plan for their first 100 days in office. Tell them you’re going to count the number of days until the end of the school year and make a plan for what your classroom or school community will accomplish during those days. Use this template to guide you. Younger kids might enjoy reading “The First 100 Days” as preparation for this activity. (It comes with a toolkit!)
Hold pre-inauguration discussion circles. Enlist the help of your school counselor, a local mediation service provider or a mental health provider. Create a structured opportunity for any student with concerns to communicate their fears. If you have a large population of immigrant or undocumented students at your school, consider hosting an event just for these students and their families. Bring in local nonprofits that work with immigrant justice issues and share “Know Your Rights” resources. (Be on the lookout for a story in our upcoming magazine issue for more on supporting undocumented students.)
Address students in advance of the inauguration. If you are a school leader, address students honestly, either in an all-school setting or in individual classrooms. Tell them that the culture of the school is important to everyone and express what you hope to see from them on Inauguration Day. If your school will be watching the inauguration, let students know ahead of time and explain why. For students who express unhappiness about about the inauguration, give them a response activity (journaling, letter writing, drawing) to do during the broadcast if they so choose, or give them the option of opting out altogether. Some schools may choose not to show the broadcast at all. If you don’t show it, consider teaching about the traditions that surround U.S. presidential transitions instead.
Whether you choose to broadcast the inauguration or not, reinforce the school’s values and provide concrete examples of how each student can embody them in the days leading up to and on Inauguration Day—and beyond.
Introduce Speak Up for Civility—with students and adults. If you signed the Speak Up for Civility contract during the presidential campaign, resurface it now and remind those who signed it what they’ve agreed to. If not, print out a copy and bring it to a staff meeting or your classroom. Re-establish norms for communication, even if the subject matter divides the group. Consider leaning on these other “getting along” resources to help students bring the best version of themselves to any disagreements they may experience.
Deliberate planning won’t prevent all potential conflict or discomfort, but it can go a long way toward establishing a strong foundation for productive conversations—with and among students. Articulate how you expect students to treat each other and the value of being a community of diverse ideas. This shared understanding will diminish anxiety and foster social emotional skills that will benefit students long after January 20, 2017.
Editor’s note: Several very useful readings from Perspectives for a Diverse America are included in this blog. Be sure to log into or create your free account so that you may explore these items. Also, find more suggestions for a meaningful MLK Day here.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches, many of you may be making plans to teach about him and his legacy. It’s important to seize the opportunity this holiday affords to teach about his activism and students’ own capacity to be change agents. Too often, however, lesson plans fail to move beyond “I Have a Dream,” to examine King’s status as a “hero” or to acknowledge the depth and complexity of the movement he helped to lead.
Instead of doing the “same old, same old,” consider a wider range of approaches to teaching about King that will deepen your students’ understanding of his legacy and his role in a broad, dynamic movement that involved many people, organizations, strategies and events. The four domains of Teaching Tolerance’s Social Justice Standards—Identity, Diversity, Justice and Action—can guide you.
Identity and Diversity
For elementary students, the identity and diversity lenses are good initial approaches to King’s work, which called for everyone to love one another, regardless of skin color. Lessons in which students create their own beautiful self-portraits and examine racial identities in children’s books or through writing poetry encourage students to be proud of their identities and appearance while still validating and respecting others’. For even younger learners, try a lesson focusing on different types of hair and watch as students delight in their differences while celebrating their individuality.
Justice and Action
King’s masterful “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” presents an opportunity to go beyond the most familiar King quotes and to do more critical analysis. For example, help students draw connections between his stance on nonviolent resistance and the number of times he was arrested and jailed. It’s also a great chance to compare King’s concept of justice with that of the clergy he addresses in the letter, including those he identifies as “white moderates.” Another consideration is to tie the systemic function of his jail time as a movement leader to that of Nelson Mandela, who was jailed for 27 years for leading a civil rights movement in South Africa.
When it comes to King’s philosophy of nonviolence, mention to students that he was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi to lead through peaceful resistance. Then read educator and activist Septima Clark’s experiences as a witness to King’s nonviolence in the face of physical violence, threats and anger. You might then have students create a timeline of specific events—including triumphs and obstacles—on the path toward equal civil rights in the United States. Students can interact with multiple readings, photographs and more to create a dynamic timeline online or on paper that will help them see the scope of the civil rights movement, of which King was one of many participants.
The movement was multifaceted. One aspect, for instance, concerned workers’ rights to fair wages and humane working conditions. King’s last speech, the night before he was killed, was about sanitation workers’ rights, and he was one of many people fighting for workers during the civil rights era. (Listen to “Dr. King’s Final Speech,” a StoryCorps interview in which a couple recall hearing this speech in person.) César Chávez was fighting the battle to form unions for California’s migrant workers during the same time. Explore a telegram from King to Chávez, and have students discuss similarities and differences between the two leaders and their work.
Interact with Dr. King! Show your students images, video clips and audio recordings of him. Let them experience the dynamic leader and orator he was instead of a one- dimensional worksheet. Try beautifully illustrated books like the ones recommended by Black Children’s Books and Authors. If you can find books that come with an audio CD featuring King, students can listen along to his words.
King’s words are powerful and full of symbolism and imagery—another way into his messages. Teach a lesson on figurative language and do a close reading of one of his speeches. Parse out pieces of the text to your students and have them analyze the meanings, look up places he may reference, and encourage them to come to their own conclusions about his language choices.
King’s life and legacy are dynamic and complex. As you prepare to honor him this month, next month and beyond, take the time to place his life and legacy in the context of the civil rights movement at large. Doing so will allow your students to see King and the movement beyond the most famous words and images. It will also set the stage for more robust teaching about the civil rights movement, which relied on thousands of foot soldiers too often obscured by a narrative that focuses exclusively on King.
For more ideas about how to teach the civil rights movement, explore our Teaching the Movement resources.
Mascareñaz is a teaching and learning specialist for Teaching Tolerance.
Walking and other types of physical movement played a critical role in the progression of the civil rights era. But the physical movement started well before the civil rights movement, with such notable examples as Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad—first called the “underground road” since most people traveled by foot, not train.
Years later, in late 1955, civil rights activists launched and participated in the 381-day-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, opting to walk or travel in personal or charted vehicles instead of riding segregated city buses. In 1963, around 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington, using their presence and voices on the National Mall to call for civil and economic rights. And two years later, in 1965, civil rights activists marched 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, calling for the basic right to vote.
The underlying themes of these examples and the civil rights movement at large were sacrifice and purposeful, organized action. How do educators build a deep, conceptual understanding of such abstract ideals? The first step is to set the scene.
When I was in elementary school, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was not established as an official day off from school. However, I had a mother who believed that this day should be dedicated to serving the community and learning about the dynamic life and contributions of Dr. King. My mother pulled me out of school in order to visit museums and engage in community service, and those childhood experiences imparted an important lesson in activism. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not a day off. It’s a day out in the community where we exercise the original missions of the civil rights movement while using our voices and actions to stimulate necessary changes.
Since 2015, the school I work at has opened its doors on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day so that families can gather together and walk for causes that are personally significant to them. Our district has walked 775 miles over the last two years. Each participant arrives, writes their personal cause on their nametag and then proceeds to our outdoor track for a minimum stretch of five laps. Some people have walked to take a stand against educational inequity, health disparities and bullying, just to name a few. The idea is that it’s an individual’s choice to identify an area of passion and purpose. As I scan the nametags and causes, I always gain a broader perspective of the diverse cultural values that exist in our community. And the lessons learned on this day—for students, families and educators—can be transferred back to classroom discussions and activities.
With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day around the corner, here are some steps educators can take in their classrooms to prepare.
- Don’t assume. Ask your students what they know about
Activate background knowledge using developmentally appropriate tools. For primary grades, use a KWL chart. For upper elementary and beyond, create an anticipatory set. Note that students who have immigrated to the United States may need additional scaffolds, including bilingual learning tools. Ask these students to compare and contrast the civil rights movement in the United States with the progression of civil rights in their native countries in order to build background knowledge.
- Incorporate action-based activities.
In addition to teaching about how critical physical movement was to the civil rights era, offer opportunities for students to participate in hands-on civic engagement. It might be a school-wide event, a classroom-based activity or community service opportunity. For inspiration, see the “Do Something” tasks in Teaching Tolerance’s curriculum tool, Perspectives for a Diverse America. (Free registration required.) These tasks build civic engagement and critical literacy skills.
- Use historical primary resources.
Incorporate primary resources into your instruction, such as a virtual tour of Dr. King’s childhood home and documents and photos that require inferential thinking. For tips and suggestions for teaching with historical primary sources, see the Teaching Tolerance feature story “National Treasures.”
- Let students choose an area of research.
Instead of designing a teacher-centered unit where everyone in the class studies the same topic, create a topic list based on class discussions and questions. Then, students can develop research teams for further investigation of the topics. This approach increases engagement and promotes reciprocal learning on a larger scale.
- Infuse technology and Maker work.
Produce podcasts with students interviewing each other about the power of Dr. King’s legacy. Publish student-created web quests that chronicle the civil rights era. Ask students to create a mathematical replica of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial using hands-on materials.
- Invite local members of the community.
Use the resources in your community. Find out who lived through and participated in the civil rights movement. Ask them to bring in artifacts and to orally share their experiences. Allow students to create discussion questions for a local panel, and then follow up with a writing prompt for students to reflect.
Note: Find more suggestions for a meaningful MLK Day here.
Wills-Taylor, a fourth-grade teacher, is one of the five recipients of the 2016 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching.