Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow. 8 pages.
Role play in the form of a trial to determine who is responsible for the death of millions of Tainos on the island of Hispaniola in the late 15th century.
This role play begins with the premise that a monstrous crime was committed in the years after 1492, when perhaps as many as three million or more Taínos on the island of Hispaniola lost their lives. (Most scholars estimate the number of people on Hispaniola in 1492 at between one and three million; some estimates are lower and some much higher. By 1550, very few Taínos remained alive.)
Who — and/or what — was responsible for this slaughter? This is the question students confront here.
The lesson begins as follows:
1. In preparation for class, list the names of all the “defendants” on the board: Columbus, Columbus’ men, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the Taínos, and the System of Empire.
2. Tell students that each of these defendants is charged with murder — the murder of the Taíno Indians in the years following 1492. Tell them that, in groups, students will portray the defendants and that you, the teacher, will be the prosecutor. Explain that students’ responsibility will be twofold: a) to defend themselves against the charges, and b) to explain who they think is guilty and why.
Download PDF for the rest of the procedures and the student roles.
As you can see from the photos below, students become very engaged during the People vs. Columbus trial. (Teacher: Julian Hipkins, 11th grade at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Rick Reinhard, 2012.)
This lesson was published by Rethinking Schools in Rethinking Columbus. For more lessons like “The People Vs. Columbus, et al.,” order Rethinking Columbus with more than 80 essays, poems, interviews, historical vignettes, and lesson plans edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson. See Table of Contents.
Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow. A lesson examining the motives, goals, and environmental consequences of the coal mining industry.
The teaching activity is on the Rethinking Schools website.
In 30 years of teaching, I’d never taught explicitly about coal. Coal appeared in my social studies curriculum solely as a labor issue. We read passages about the 1914 Ludlow Massacre of striking coal miners and their families in Colorado, and watched John Sayles’ excellent film Matewan when we looked at early-20th-century labor struggles. But coal was mostly invisible in my history classes.
At the risk of sounding melodramatic, the world cannot afford this kind of curricular invisibility today. Forty percent of the main greenhouse gas produced in the United States, carbon dioxide, comes from burning coal for electricity; so does two-thirds of all the sulfur dioxide pollution. According to the American Lung Association, coal is responsible for 24,000 premature deaths every year. More than 50 percent of this country’s electricity comes from burning coal: more than a billion tons of coal every year—almost 20 pounds of coal burned each day for every person in the United States. And most coal mining in the United States these days is strip mining—the earth is essentially skinned alive to get at the coal seams within. Coal companies have sliced the tops off 500 mountains in Appalachia and dumped the waste in the valleys, burying 1,200 miles of streams and poisoning residents’ water. The term for this is mountaintop removal, and it’s not a metaphor.
So I decided that it was time to break my curricular silence on coal.
In this teaching activity, students have the opportunity first to play and later to analyze a game created by The American Coal Foundation. In this way they learn to think critically about the coal industry’s motives and goals. By writing creatively from the perspective of the coal-mining environment, its residents, and environmental activists, and by watching excerpts from films portraying the effects of U.S. coal mining after playing the game, students also expand their contextual knowledge of coal mining and its consequences. [Description by Bill Bigelow.] Continue reading.
This lesson was published by Rethinking Schools in an edition of Rethinking Schools magazine, “Climate Crisis in the Classroom,” (Spring 2011; Vol. 25, #3). For more articles and lessons like “Got Coal? Teaching About the Most Dangerous Rock in America,” order Rethinking Schools magazine, “Climate Crisis in the Classroom.” See Table of Contents.
Article for Teachers and High School Students. By Ruth Shagoury. 6 pages.
A review of children’s picture books about the life of Helen Keller reveals the omission of any description of her active role in key social movements of the 20th century.
It’s time to start telling the truth about Helen Keller. The “Helen Keller story” that is stamped in our collective consciousness freezes her in childhood. We remember her most vividly at age seven when her teacher, Annie Sullivan, connected her to language through a magical moment at the water pump. We learned little of her life beyond her teen years, except that she worked on behalf of the handicapped.
But there is much more to Helen Keller’s history than a brilliant deaf and blind woman who surmounted incredible obstacles. Helen Keller worked throughout her long life to achieve social change; she was an integral part of many important social movements in the 20th century. She was a socialist who believed she was able to overcome many of the difficulties in her life because of her class privilege—a privilege not shared by most of her blind or deaf contemporaries. “I owed my success partly to the advantages of my birth and environment,” she said. “I have learned that the power to rise is not within the reach of everyone.”
More than an icon of American “can-do,” Helen Keller was a tireless advocate of the poor and disenfranchised. Her life story could serve as a fascinating example for children, but most picture books about Helen Keller are woefully silent about her life’s work.
|Americans Who Tell the Truth: Helen Keller: Painting by Robert Shetterly and short biography.||The Radical Dissent of Helen Keller: An article in Yes! Magazine by Peter Dreier provides a biography of Helen Keller including her activism.|
|Letter to German Students: Helen Keller’s blistering letter to students in Germany preparing to burn her books in 1933. Read related article at Slate.com.|
Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow and Norm Diamond. 18 pages.
Role play on the 1912 Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence, Mass.
This activity embodies a couple of key insights of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. One is that history is not inevitable. People’s choices matter. Through role play, students in this lesson explore some of the actual dilemmas faced by strikers in Lawrence, Mass., in 1912. Here, the teaching methodology is designed to match the history itself, as students portray Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) organizers deciding how—and for what—to conduct a massive strike. The other is that social class matters. Too often, traditional textbooks and curricula neglect the way social class has shaped our country’s history and how people’s understanding of class has influenced their actions.
Social class is at the heart of this lesson, as it is at the heart of so much of Howard Zinn’s work. This activity—co-authored with Norm Diamond and included originally in the book The Power in Our Hands: A Curriculum on the History of Work and Workers in the United States—highlights how unions can have different goals and structures than the ones that predominate today. In “Lawrence, 1912,” students contrast the American Federation of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World. Students act as, and empathize with, union organizers. The role play illustrates, well, the power in our hands—one of the first major victories for U.S. labor, and an inspirational instance of worker solidarity. This lesson broadens students’ sense of what workers can and do fight for beyond wages and benefits.
This is one of the 16 lessons available from The Power In Our Hands. Other lessons available for individual download are:
Order the book online from Rethinking Schools.
Teaching Activity. By Wayne Au. 7 pages.
The author describes how he used a study of the Black Panther’s Ten Point Program to help students assess issues in their own communities and to develop Ten Point Programs of their own.
During the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement, in particular, community self-determination was central to many peoples’ struggles. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense sought social justice for African Americans and other oppressed communities through a combination of revolutionary theory, education, and community programs.
Their party platform, better known as the Ten Point Program, arose from the Black Panthers’ assessment of the social and economic conditions in their community. It became part of the party’s philosophical backbone and served as a model for many other community groups such as the Brown Berets, the Young Lords, and the Red Guard.
I taught about the Panthers in the context of a high school African Studies class in Seattle that focused on African history and the experience of the Diaspora. Of the 30 working- and middle-class students, most of them 10th graders, 25 were African American, four were white, and one was Chicana. When I teach about the Black Power Movement, I try to connect the movement to today’s issues. One way is by having students review the Black Panther Party’s Ten Point Program and develop their own personal versions of the program. This lesson, of course, has to take place within the context of a larger unit on the Panthers and African American history in general.
Teaching Guide. By Bill Bigelow. 2008.120 pages.
Lessons to introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of U.S. history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula. Published by Rethinking Schools.
A People’s History for the Classroom helps teachers introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of U.S. history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula.
It includes an introductory essay by veteran teacher Bill Bigelow on teaching strategies that align with Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
These exemplary teaching articles and lesson plans—drawn from an assortment of Rethinking Schools publications—emphasize the role of working people, women, people of color, and organized social movements in shaping history, and raise important questions about patterns of wealth and power throughout U.S. history.
An understanding of the “people’s history of the United States” provides the perspective and analytical tools so important for making sense of—and improving—today’s world.
“I can think of no better way to excite young people about the history of our country than to introduce them to the teaching activities in A People’s History for the Classroom.” —Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States
Teaching Guide. Edited by Enid Lee, Deborah Menkart and Margo Okazawa-Rey. 2006. 436 pages. Guide for teachers, administrators, and parents shows how teach from a multicultural perspective that goes beyond the superficial “heroes and holidays” approach.
This award winning interdisciplinary guide for teachers, administrators, students, and parents offers lessons and readings that show how to:
- Analyze the roots of racism
- Investigate the impact of racism on all our lives, our families, and our communities
- Examine the relationship between racism and other forms of oppression such as sexism, classism, and heterosexism
- Learn to work to dismantle racism in our schools, communities, and the wider society.
Beyond Heroes and Holidays has sold over 45,000 copies to date and is used as a core curriculum in college courses.
ISBN: 9781878554178 | Published by Teaching for Change.