Rationale: The purpose of this lesson is to engage students in an examination of the history of segregation in U.S. schools and the pivotal events leading up to the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Students begin by considering the role of public education in a democracy. They view a brief timeline of examples of school segregation, and discuss the contradictions between these examples and the role of education articulated earlier. In small groups, students then work on a class timeline of key historical events leading up to the Brown decision. Each group researches one topic or event from the "road to Brown," makes a visual representation of the event for the timeline, and reports back to the class on the significance of the topic researched.
- Students will articulate their beliefs about the purpose of public education in a democracy
- Students will learn about historical examples of segregation in U.S. schools and consider the ways in which segregation undermines the purpose of public education in a democracy
- Students will examine key topics and events in the post-Civil War era that set the stage for Brown v. Board of Education
Handouts/Supporting Documents: Equal Opportunity for All?, Topics and Links
Techniques and Skills: cooperative group work, creating a timeline, critical thinking, historical understanding, large and small group discussion, reading skills, research skills, using the internet
Other Materials: chart paper, markers, LCD or overhead projector (optional), access to internet for students (optional)
Time: Three class periods or 2 hours 15 minutes
Key Words: amendment, black codes, civil rights, conflict, contradiction, democracy, desegregation, discrimination, equal protection, integration, internment, interracial, NAACP, public accommodation, segregation, separate but equal, tolerance, unconstitutional, values
1. Pose the following questions to students: "What do you think is the main purpose of public education in a democracy?" Have them discuss this question for about 5 minutes with a partner or in small groups of 3-4 students. Reconvene the class and ask each pair or group to share one purpose and chart their responses. Point out that debate over the central purpose of public education goes back to the very beginnings of U.S. history and is still taking place today. While some have always maintained that schools exist solely to teach academics-the "basics" or the "3 R's"-others have looked to schools to teach democratic and civic values, vocational skills, and social tolerance. During the 19th century, for example, Horace Mann (considered by many to be the father of public schools) suggested that public education would strengthen democracy by bringing together children of all social classes. During the early 20th century, schools were called upon to "Americanize" a growing immigrant population through an emphasis on hygiene, civics and English language skills. In the 1960s, schools were seen as a remedy for the problem of poverty, and unprecedented federal legislation was passed that provided increased funding and services to impoverished children and schools.
2. Tell students that although schools have always been looked to as a means to promote democracy and address social problems (and have often been successful in these endeavors), public education has not always been available to all citizens in equal ways. Note that the U.S. has a long history of separating and segregating students in schools based on various differences. Ask students if they can cite examples. Post or distribute copies of Equal Opportunity for All?, which is a brief timeline of examples of segregation in U.S. education. Ask for volunteers to read each example aloud.
3. Direct students to consider the list they generated earlier about the purposes of public education in a democracy. Ask them to discuss the conflicts and contradictions between these purposes and the examples of segregation from the timeline. In what ways has segregation undermined the very purpose of public education in our country? Tell students that they are going to create a timeline of their own that takes an in-depth look at one of the most important cases in U.S. history related to school segregation. As they develop the timeline of historical events leading up to the famous decision, they will further explore the ways in which segregated schooling conflicts with core democratic values.
4. Remind students of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision and the Ruby Bridges story that you discussed in Lesson 1. While most students will know much about Brown and the subsequent desegregation efforts of the Civil Rights era, many may be unaware of the pivotal events of the preceding hundred years that set the stage for Brown. Divide students into groups of 3-5 and assign each group one event on the "Road to Brown" (see Topics and Links). Provide each group with readings and/or Web site links to assist them in learning more about the assigned event. Assign groups the following tasks:
(a) Create a visual representation of the assigned event that can be placed on a class timeline of the "Road to Brown" (e.g., copy of a primary document, symbolic artifact, illustration, imagined letter or journal entry in the voice of a historical figure, etc.)
5. Using the Topics and Links included in this lesson, allow students ample time to read, research and prepare their presentations. When the students are ready, allow each group about 5 minutes to present and to help form the class "Road to Brown" timeline.
(b) Prepare a brief (2-3 minute) oral presentation summarizing the significance of the event on the "Road to Brown."
Note: The "Key Court Challenges" section of the Topics and Links handout includes 5 subtopics and should not be assigned entirely to one group. Divide these cases among 2 to 3 groups or ask one group to choose the 2 to 3 cases they find most interesting to study further.