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Schools teach perspective, citizenship to honor Martin Luther King

Schools teach perspective, citizenship to honor Martin Luther King

This April will mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis. Schools all over the country today, including in the north country, teach their students about his messages of good citizenship and maintaining, multiple perspectives, and tolerance.At Case Middle School in Watertown, Anthony C. Hazard says he uses Dr. King and other prominent African-Americans of the civil rights era to help his students understand what segregation was.“I think learning about what they experienced helps students understand that, even though African-Americans were no longer slaves, they still were treated as second-class citizens.”Mr. Hazard, who began teaching in 2006, said he encourages his students to look at what is not included in their history books, or what parts of history seem minimized. He used the example of the Trail of Tears — which forced Cherokee people from their lands in the mid 1800s — as a segue into looking at history from several perspectives.Mr. Hazard said he uses a series of TED-Ed videos called “History Vs.” to look at both the good and bad in historical figures. He said he encourages his students to have open minds, especially in their discussions of current events. “I think it’s important because of how easy it is to get into a sort of bubble of insulation from outside opinions online.”Mr. Hazard and his colleague Garry J. Downey, who teaches eighth-grade social studies, said he uses recurring themes in history to connect events and concepts to students’ lives today.He said that he also plans to connect anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II to anti-Muslim sentiment following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, “to show the similarities between all these groups fighting for equality throughout history.”Mr. Downey said one goal in his curriculum is to “get across what it was like for African-Americans all throughout history.” He said his students will soon be learning about World War I and the Roaring ’20s; for this unit, he plans to incorporate the Harlem Renaissance and the experiences of African-American soldiers fighting in Europe.Now in his 25th year of teaching, Mr. Downey said he also finds it helpful to show students different viewpoints within the same group. “During our Civil Rights unit, we’ll talk about both Dr. King and Malcolm X, and Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois, to get a diverse perspective on these topics.”Students learn more about Dr. King, and his lessons on good citizenship, as they reach high school.Victoria L. McCullouch, head of Indian River High School’s social studies department, said that new state-level social studies curriculum changes encourage greater civic responsibility. When they return from the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, Mrs. McCullouch’s students “take the day after to reflect on why we had that day off. So we’ll read some of Dr. King’s speeches, learn about who he influenced, and some people who influenced him.”Mrs. McCullouch’s former colleague, retired art teacher Tracy L. Robertson, lived in the north country during the civil rights era and was one of the few African-American people in the community at the time. He said that even though he had friends and relatives move south to join pro-civil rights demonstrations, he stayed in the north country. Mr. Robertson said he “was able to have really good conversations with other teachers and develop good relationships with them” by remaining in the area and focusing on establishing himself as a teacher.He said he also had good conversations with students during his 50-year tenure at Indian River, and recalled one comment a younger student made to him.“A class had taken a trip to Rochester, and I guess one of the students had seen some black people there. So this student came up to me and asked if I had a brother in Rochester,” Mr. Robertson said, telling the story with a laugh. “But it led to a good discussion. I asked him to look at me physically, and look at my features, to figure if he and I really looked alike.”Mr. Robertson said he felt “a real calling to help children understand where they’re going and who they’re going to be,” and considered being a guidance counselor at one point. His desire to help led him to be an unofficial facilitator when it came to conversations about race at the district.Today, conversations about diversity are ever-present in school districts like Indian River and Watertown, where about a third of the student population is non-white, according to State Education Department statistics. Along with conversations about diversity, Mrs. McCullouch said conversations about media literacy are now a common part of classroom discussions.“If we can’t teach our students about how to be good citizens, we’ve essentially lost the foundations of our society,” she said. “A large part of that is critical thinking, like identifying what a good news source is.” Mrs. McCullouch said another goal is to remind students that “sensational news headlines don’t always equate with good content,” and that “one person’s opinion is not fact.” Mrs. McCullouch, Mr. Downey, and Mr. Hazard said they now teach their students to look for “fake news” by citing multiple sources, and considering the character of the source. Mr. Downey said he links the concept of “fake news” to his unit on yellow journalism during the Spanish-American War. “It’s definitely not a new concept,” he said.Mr. Robertson said he feels a similar sense of “deja vu indeed” with current social movements to the civil rights era. “We still have an element of society that doesn’t necessarily know where they fit in the big picture,” he said. “But they know that they don’t like what’s going on in the picture.”
Source: Watertown Daily Times Latest News
Schools teach perspective, citizenship to honor Martin Luther King

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