The Perspectives for a Diverse America anthology is dynamic, just like your classroom and our world. This week Teaching Tolerance added a new reading to the Central Text Anthology: “President Obama on the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday.” (Make sure you’re logged in to read this document!)
Each year in March people travel to Selma, Alabama, for an annual bridge-crossing jubilee. Thousands join Congressman John Lewis to reenact the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, honoring the courage shown and the blood spilled by demonstrators marching for the right to vote on March 7, 1965, also known as Bloody Sunday.
Last weekend marked the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, and once again the eyes of the world were on Selma. So much was different this time. Observers outside of Brown AME Chapel gathered under large-screen televisions and rejoiced and worshiped with those inside. Millions of people around the world watched the events live on televisions, tablets and phones. Marchers enjoyed the full protection of the law and were treated with respect and reverence, rather than contempt and brutality.
But nothing marked the passing of 50 years more powerfully than Congressman Lewis introducing President Barack Obama. “If someone had told me, when we were crossing this bridge, that one day I would be back here introducing the first African-American president,” Lewis remarked, “I would have said, ‘You’re crazy. You’re out of your mind. You don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
The president rose to the occasion with a stirring speech many analysts are calling his finest. His words were both an ode and a challenge to the United States of America.
“What could be more American than what happened in this place?” he asked, framing protest as patriotic. “What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than … the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many—coming together to shape their country’s course?” He also spoke about Selma in context of the U.S. Department of Justice’s report on Ferguson, Missouri, saying that conditions within the Ferguson police department “…evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement.”
If I were still teaching high school history, I would share Obama’s Selma speech with my students on Monday morning! Whatever our political feelings about the president, his words were rhetorically powerful and historically significant. In his speech, Obama points out, “… Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. … [I]t’s not a museum or static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:
‘We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.’
‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
But how would I teach it? It’s a long speech full of complex vocabulary. What supports would I provide? How would I check for understanding, connect the learning, integrate our learning goals and align to standards?
The truth is, I probably would have gone off the curricular
grid, like I imagine so many other social justice educators are doing this
week. What a shame to feel like we have to choose between “rigor” and
Perspectives was designed so that teachers no longer have to choose between covering material that is either rigorous or relevant. The Central Text Anthology houses nearly 300 readings, images and multimedia files that are both—texts like President Obama’s Selma speech. (Use our new key-word search box in the advance filter to locate it!)
Consider the learning plan that could be built around this powerful text. Start with choosing an essential question like, How have struggles in the past brought about progress today? Then, begin to explore that essential question by diving deep into the text.
- Introduce the text’s vocabulary with a “Word Work” strategy (e.g., Word Wall).
- Analyze the text with a “Close and Critical Reading” strategy (e.g., Thinking Notes).
- Facilitate a student discussion of the text with a “Community Inquiry” strategy (e.g., Text-based Fishbowl).
- Check for student understanding by customizing a “Write to the Source” writing task (e.g., Put the Story in History).
- Finally, bring the text home by empowering your students with a “Do Something” performance task (e.g., Spotlight on Change Agents).
We’ve created a short on-demand webinar that can show you how to build a Learning Plan like the one described above. Sign up here, and watch it whenever you want and as often as you’d like.
In the words of our president, “Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished. But we are getting closer.” Teaching Tolerance is here to help you and your students continue the march.
Find additional blogs, articles and professional development resources on Perspectives here.
Chiariello is a teaching and learning specialist with Teaching Tolerance.