Fun Facts about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s School Days

Students love to learn about Martin Luther King, Jr., but his achievements seem inaccessible to them. For kids, Dr. King was a fully-formed civil rights leader who always knew just what to do.

You can inspire children by teaching them about Dr. King’s school days. Then they will understand that he had to face obstacles, study, and learn. Kids feel so powerless sometimes—it’s good to show them that famous people were once children, and that everyone was a beginner at some point.

You and your class would enjoy taking Valerie Strauss’s MLK Quiz: His unorthodox education. Here are some no-context tidbits to get kids interested:

Did you know Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. …

> Was kicked out of school? (Okay, so it was kindergarten, and it was only because he was too young. Got your attention, though!)

> Was called an underachiever by his college professors?

> skipped two grades?

> thought about studying law or medicine?

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Posted in Academics,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Jan 23, 2017


Teaching the Civil Rights Movement, Part 2

Ruby BridgesPart two: ideas and resources for the classroom

The National Assessment of Educational Progress—commonly called “The Nation’s Report Card”—tells a dismal story: Only 2% of high school seniors in 2010 could answer a simple question about the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

This report certainly matches my experience as a teacher. Every year, I am shocked at how little students know about the civil rights movement. (You’d think I would learn, but I’m shocked every year.) The students—if I’m lucky—have hazy memories of learning about Rosa Parks and Dr. King.

Earlier, I posted a blog entry about the Southern Poverty Law Center’s study, Teaching the Movement: The State of Civil Rights Education 2011, which examined state standards and curriculum requirements related to the study of the modern civil rights movement in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

It’s interesting that the important concept the SPLC’s report noted was lacking in state standards—opposition encountered by activists—is the concept that helps kids understand the civil rights movement.

When you teach students about the racism, violence, and hate African-Americans lived with every day, students understand “why we find it difficult to wait.” Here are some suggestions for how to teach the civil rights movement at an elementary school level:

> Read “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. King. His descriptions of the pain of segregation always tear at students’ hearts. This is a good lesson to present early in your unit on civil rights.

>Read “Ballad of Birmingham,” about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 in which four girls were killed. Of all the lessons I present about civil rights, this is the most emotional and memorable for students.

> Really analyze the “I have a dream” speech. You can use the teaching notes I created to help you. Running alongside the speech, my notes explain important historical references, vocabulary terms, allusions, and examples of good rhetorical techniques. If you teach students about the speech before you show it on video, the students will be utterly entranced. They won’t forget how they felt the first time they heard it. My students always thank me, because they know I gave them a gift when I showed them how to appreciate the speech. Click here for an excellent DVD with the “I have a dream” speech and related documentaries.

> Watch “Our Friend, Martin,” an excellent animated movie that has real footage from the era. It’s voiced by an all-star cast including Whoopi Goldberg and Angela Bassett. The movie is very expensive, but you might be able to borrow it from a fellow teacher, your district video center, the public library, or Netflix.

> Read “Teammates,” a picture book about Jackie Robinson’s rookie year in Major League Baseball. With elegant and simple language and illustrations, this book shows the indignities faced by African-Americans and the hate they encountered.

> Listen to music from the era—starting with “We Shall Overcome.” Listen to it performed by the Morehouse College Glee Club on YouTube. You can also listen to other music about the era. My students love “Pride (In the name of love)” by U2.

> Teach students about Brown versus Board of Education. Note: modern parlance has led to the need to explain to students that “Brown” refers to the lead plaintiff’s name, Linda Brown, not the skin color of the plaintiffs. (My Mexican-American students were confused by this at first.) You can read an overview of the case, brush up on myths versus truths, and request free activity booklets to help you teach students about the landmark case.

> Watch the Disney movie Ruby Bridges. This movie pushes the envelope enough to really show the stakes, but it keeps things appropriate for school. Your students will be shocked at the brazenness of the white opposition—particularly the crowds outside Ruby’s school each morning. The movie addresses so much more—Ruby’s father’s experience in the “integrated” military, anti-Semitism in Ruby’s neighborhood, and the opposition her white teacher faced for standing by Ruby. Read my blog entry about the movie.

> Read everything you can! I set out my own collection of books and pictures books about the civil rights movement, and I check out titles from our school library for students to read. Once you get them interested in the civil rights movement, they will continue to learn on their own. Black History Month will continue all year.  It is a proud moment for the teacher when students tell each other about what they have read.

> Check out the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program. You can request teaching kits, subscribe to Teaching Tolerance magazine, and get ideas for classroom activities.

“An educated populace must be taught basics about American history,” said Julian Bond in his preface to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report. “One of these basics is the civil rights movement, a nonviolent revolution as important as the first American Revolution. It is a history that continues to shape the America we all live in today.”

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Posted in Academics,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Feb 16, 2012


Teaching the Civil Rights Movement, Part 1

Part one: Study shows more than half of states fail at teaching civil rights movement

The civil rights movement is one of the defining events in U.S. history, but most states fail when it comes to teaching the movement to students, a first-of-its kind study by the Southern Poverty Law Center has found.

The study, Teaching the Movement: The State of Civil Rights Education 2011, examined state standards and curriculum requirements related to the study of the modern civil rights movement in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. It includes a foreword by noted civil rights activist and historian Julian Bond. Click here to read the report.

In his foreword, Julian Bond writes that he feared he was “talking down” to students in civil rights history sessions at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, so he created a simple quiz. He need not have worried. None of the students could tell him who George Wallace was. (Answer: the segregationist governor of Alabama who stood in the door of the University of Alabama to prevent it being integrated. He ran for president.) Students knew sanitized accounts of the lives of Dr. King and Rosa Parks.

The study compared the requirements in state standards to a body of knowledge that reflects what civil rights historians and educators consider core information about the civil rights movement.

Interesting findings:

> 35 states received grades of F

> Of those, 16 states, where local officials set specific policies and requirements for their school districts, have no requirements at all for teaching about the civil rights movement

> Only 3 states received an A—Alabama, New York, and Florida.

> Generally speaking, the farther from the South—and the smaller the African-American population—the less attention paid to the civil rights movement. Most states receiving a C or better are in the South—suggesting the civil rights movement is viewed as a regional concern rather than a national interest

> Civil rights lessons tend to focus on a few leaders—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, rather than obstacles civil rights activists faced, like racism and resistance.

“For too many students, their civil rights education boils down to two people and four words: Rosa Parks, Dr. King and ‘I have a dream,'” said Maureen Costello, the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance director.

My newest novel, Double Switched, has a strong civil rights theme and a funny scene that illustrates just how little most students know about the civil rights movement. I assure you that in my experience as a teacher, the scene is very realistic.

Background: Connor and his friends do a group project about the civil rights movement. Connor presents information he learned from interviewing his father, who grew up in the (recently) desegregated South and went on to play for the New York Yankees. Tyler presents a report about Dr. King. Connor accidentally interrupts Tyler’s report, and then both boys step on each other as they continue presenting.

The class is utterly confused. To the kids, Dr. King and Connor’s dad are switched. Sample questions from Connor’s classmates:

> What position did Dr. King play?

> What was his ERA?

> Why do you keep calling him Doctor if he didn’t finish college?

> Who got a C in public speaking?

> Whose mom worked for a white family?

> When was Dr. King a Yankee?

Prevent such a mix-up in your class. Teach the civil rights movement!

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Posted in Academics,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Feb 13, 2012


The Edible Schoolyard from Chez Panisse Foundation

bookAlice Waters, the famous chef who pioneered the fresh food and local food movement, is ready to change how students think about food.

Many schools like to plant a garden.  Even better: an edible schoolyard!

The Edible Schoolyard is a one-acre garden and kitchen classroom at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California. It is a project of the Chez Panisse Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by chef and author Alice Waters.

The Edible Schoolyard is different from other school gardens, and not just because of the partnership with a world-famous chef.  The Edible Schoolyard began as a cover crop with once-monthly student participation, but now it is a whole acre, and each student participates in 12-30 sessions, depending on grade level.  Students enjoy eating from the Edible Schoolyard, but the project does not aim to supply the entire school with lunch each day.  For that, look to Alice Waters’ School Lunch Initiative.

In 2004, the Chez Panisse Foundation partnered with Berkeley Unified School District to change what the students eat at school and how they learn about food.  After three years, they have transformed the school lunch program.  The students now enjoy fresh, healthy, local foods made from scratch, with seasonal ingredients.  You can read about their success at School Lunch Reform. Be sure to click and read about their accomplishments and lessons learned.

Edible Schoolyard has an affiliate program with a few model Edible Schoolyards around the country.  You can read about the program and maybe even sign up for a workshop.

If you are ever in Berkeley, visit Chez Panisse and the lunch eatery, Chez Panisse Café.  It’s best if you can make a reservation—people book a month in advance.

During summer vacation, my family and I realized we were “in the neighborhood,” so to speak. We walked in to Chez Panisse and the place was packed.  The most gracious manager in the world, Renee, invited us to wait for a cancellation.  Lunch was worth the wait!  The ingredients were fresh and flavorful, the recipes inventive.  I had a strawberry sherbet packed with more strawberry flavor than I ever thought possible.

You can bring Alice Waters to your home with her cookbooks:

The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution
Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea
…and many titles with recipes from Chez Panisse

Celebrate Chez Panisse’s 40th anniversary the weekend of August 26 and 27thThere will be multiple events in the Berkeley area, mostly fundraisers aimed at increasing awareness of Edible Schoolyard.  If you can’t make it to Berkeley, perhaps you can attend one of the Eating for Education dinners at restaurants around the country.

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Posted in Education Policy and Reform,Food by Corey Green @ Aug 22, 2011


Matt Damon at Save Our Schools Rally

Matt Damon spoke  on July 30, 2011 in Washington DC at the Save Our Schools march.   I’ll post the text of his speech below, as if we need more reasons to love this man!

I flew overnight from Vancouver to be with you today.  I landed in New York a few hours ago and caught a flight down here because I needed to tell you all in person that I think you’re awesome.

I was raised by a teacher.  My mother is a professor of early childhood education.  And from the time I went to kindergarten through my senior year in high school, I went to public schools.  I wouldn’t trade that education and experience for anything.

I had incredible teachers.  As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all come from how I was parented and taught.

And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am … can be tested.

 I said before that I had incredible teachers.  And that’s true.  But it’s more than that.  My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me.  Their time wasn’t taken up with a bunch of test prep — this silly drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning.  No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle.  They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential.  They were allowed to be teachers.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point.  I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said,  ‘My kid ain’t taking that.  It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it’ll just make him nervous.’  That was in the ’70s when you could talk like that.

 I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.

I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test.  If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test.  If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.

I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had.  I sure as hell wouldn’t be here.  I do know that.

This has been a horrible decade for teachers.  I can’t imagine how demoralized you must feel.  But I came here today to deliver an important message to you:  As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up.  And I’m not alone.  There are millions of people just like me.

So the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated,  or at the end of your rope;  the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called “overpaid;”  the next time you encounter some simple-minded,  punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. … Please know that there are millions of us behind you.  You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt.  We love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.

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Posted in Education Policy and Reform by Corey Green @ Jul 31, 2011