“I want to bring these lessons on teaching about the Civil Rights Movement to teachers in my school district.”
Raymond Brookter’s sentiment was echoed by all the participants in our summer institute for Mississippi teacher fellows.
On top of their full course load, these teachers rolled up their sleeves and made that vision a reality.
In early September, teacher fellows in Kosciusko, Laurel, and Hattiesburg organized full-day workshops for teachers and/or students in their respective school districts. Teachers in Harrison, Hinds, Marion, Benton, and Sunflower counties hosted sessions at the end of the month.
At the launch of the teacher fellowship, SNCC veteran Hollis Watkins urged the project partners to “make sure that we spread the work out so that we have a lot of hands on the plow.” The teachers (who had the honor of meeting Watkins this summer) took that advice to heart. Rather than simply bringing lessons on the Civil Rights Movement to their own classrooms, they are introducing the Mississippi history and interactive pedagogy to their peers.
Teaching for Change is assisting the teacher fellows with planning and implementation of this district based outreach. Mississippi teacher fellowship project director Julian Hipkins III traveled to each of the districts to conduct workshops. Here are highlights from the sessions.
Teacher fellows Jessica Dickens and Glendolyn Crowell made arrangements for a full day of professional development for the Kosciusko social studies department. They invited Hipkins to facilitate interactive lessons on Mississippi history and opportunities for reflection. The lessons included a gallery walk on the history of race and education in Mississippi and a meet and greet activity about the southern freedom movement. The response was enthusiastic:
Fantastic, energizing, refreshing…..great strategies and tactics to use in the classroom.
The day was a perfect balance between content, pedagogy, self reflection, and conversation. At no point was I bored or ready to leave like many professional development sessions.
This was a really great seminar. Probably the best I’ve been to in 22 years of teaching.
Jones County teacher fellow Raymond Brookter arranged for a day of lessons to expose students to the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement in the library of Laurel High School. Using the meet and greet activity about the southern freedom movement, students were each assigned the role of a Mississippi activist. Individuals such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, and Medgar Evers were brought to life as students donned name tags with images of their historical figure and met others involved in the freedom struggle. Students also had an opportunity to take part in the gallery walk on the history of race and education in Mississippi. This led them to share stories and insights about their own schooling. “Have the textbooks really changed?” asked one student.
Throughout the day, approximately 200 students participated in the lessons. “Thank you for sharing this history with us,” one student said. Another added, “I have never heard of these people before. We don’t learn, see, or hear about this part of Black history.”
In Hattiesburg and Jackson, high school students engaged in a gallery walk about the history of education in Mississippi. One student wrote “#BlackEducationMatters” next to an image about the unequal distribution of funds in the state during the early 20th century.
At Indianola High School, students explored the roots of contemporary wealth inequality with respect to race. Hipkins engaged them in a lesson on the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot when deputized whites killed more than 300 African Americans and destroyed the thriving community known as Black Wall Street.
In a human geography class at Gulfport Central Middle School, Hipkins made a world history connection to the Civil Rights Movement with an interactive lesson on the legacy of colonialism in the Congo. Reflecting on the current conflict and who is responsible, one student asked, “What is our responsibility as consumers?”
Journalism students at Murrah High School in Jackson examined historic Mississippi cases related to race and the media. They were shocked to see that the role of the media had been to suppress, rather than share, news about civil rights movement activism.
To bring these issues to an African American Literature class, Hipkins had the students read children’s picture books about the Civil Rights Movement. The students (in Benton County) were asked to critique the books based on content, illustrations, and overall impact. This led to a rich discussion about the appropriate age for young people to learn about racism.
In most of the school districts, administrators as well as teachers observed the classes and shared their enthusiasm. In Harrison County, Superintendent Glen East left a note for teacher fellow Cristina Tosto:
Ms. Tosto, What you are doing today is tremendously important in our Democratic society. You are providing a great compass for your students. Glen East
In Attala, Harrison, Hinds, Jones, and Marion counties, the teacher fellows also scheduled professional development sessions to introduce their colleagues to this content and pedagogy.
The fellowship program is still open for Mississippi teachers who would like to apply. This work is made possible by grants from the Kellogg Foundation and the Open Society Foundations and guidance from our project partners.