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Lesson 4: Fifty Years Later

Rationale: The purpose of this lesson is for students to analyze current patterns of school segregation and to consider whether or not the promise of Brown v. Board of Education has been fulfilled. They begin by taking a quiz to gauge their sense of "how things are" in schools today and then examine statistical data to verify their responses. Students next review a case study about a school district struggling with resegregation and a proposed plan to address it. They participate in a role play that allows them to apply their own ideas about diversity and desegregation to the case study.

  • Students will learn about current levels of segregation in U.S. schools.
  • Students will analyze charts and graphs in order to better understand the present-day racial, ethnic and socioeconomic composition of U.S. schools.
  • Students will relate their historical understanding of Brown v. Board of Education and school segregation to current events.
  • Students will develop and articulate their personal viewpoints about the issues of diversity and segregation.

National Standards

    Handouts/Supporting Documents: Fifty Years After Brown: Are We Living the Dream?, Quiz Answer Key, School Segregation: Current Trends, Case Study: Lamron County School District, Community Meeting Roles

    Other Materials: chart paper, markers

    Time: Three class periods or 2 hours 15 minutes
Techniques and Skills: analyzing charts and graphs, case study, cooperative group work, critical thinking, debate, historical understanding, large and small group discussion, reading skills, role play, substantiating factual information

Key Words: achievement gap, boycott, busing, court-order, demographic, desegregation, dominant group, exposure, inclusive, integration, lawsuit, magnet school, majority, mandatory, minority, multiracial, non-dominant group, perspective, protest, racial ratio, resegregation, segregation, socioeconomic, substantiate, trend


Note: In this lesson, students are asked to discuss their personal feelings about segregation and to participate in a role play that may require them to explore the perspectives of racial and socioeconomic groups different from their own. While the lesson is intended to increase empathy and encourage students to broaden their viewpoints, there is the potential for stereotypical thinking and divisiveness. Before proceeding, consider whether your students are prepared to delve into such sensitive subject matter. You may want to adapt the lesson to create a more structured and safe experience for students, or omit the role play all together if you feel students will not be able to participate in a constructive way.

During this lesson, it is important to establish ground rules (see Establishing a Safe Learning Environment,) and to emphasize respectful ways to express opinions and communicate with others. In addition, students can be provided with opportunities to debrief and process their feelings at various points throughout the lesson if tensions arise or they are feeling unresolved. Wherever possible, small groups should include members of different racial and ethnic backgrounds so that students can learn from one another's experiences rather than work from assumptions that may be overly simplistic or prejudiced. Make sure students understand that the roles created for this activity were kept simple for logistical reasons and reflect broad patterns taken from current demographic data. They do not attempt to capture the varied and complex experiences of all members of any particular group.

Part I

1. Write the following quote on the board or read it aloud:
    "And so we must face the tragic fact that we are far from the promised land in the struggle for a desegregated society. Segregation is still a glaring fact in America…" (from a December 1956 address in New York City by Martin Luther King to the National Committee for Rural Schools, which sought to equalize public education in the rural South)

Ask students whether or not they feel that Dr. King's words still ring true. With regard to public education, has Brown's promise been realized? Have schools been successfully desegregated? Ask students to note ways in which they think school desegregation efforts have been effective and ways in which segregation is still a problem. Challenge them to back up their opinions with evidence from the news or their personal observations. After some discussion, provide students with a copy of Fifty Years After Brown: Are We Living the Dream? Let them know that this true/false quiz asks for their opinions on the state of segregation in schools today. Emphasize that students are not expected to know the answers, but rather to indicate their beliefs or their sense of how things are today in U.S. schools. Students can complete the quiz individually or in small groups, which would allow for some discussion and comparison of viewpoints.
2. After students have had sufficient time to complete the quiz, divide them into small groups of about four. (If students worked on the quiz collaboratively, they should remain in the same groupings). Provide each group with two or three pages from School Segregation: Current Trends. Explain that this collection of charts and graphs presents current demographic data related to the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic composition of schools and patterns of school segregation and desegregation. Make sure each group has no more than two or three graphs/charts to study so that the information does not become overwhelming. Tell students that they will be examining the handouts in order to learn more about the state of segregation in schools today, and to find the answers to the quiz they took earlier. After about ten minutes, gather the class and review the quiz one item at a time. For each item, ask if anyone found information to substantiate a true or false response. Use the answer key to fill in any missing facts and to extend the discussion. Conclude by asking students what facts were most troubling or surprising to them, and by restating the questions posed at the lesson's outset: Has Brown's promise been realized? Have schools been successfully desegregated?

Part II

3. Now that students have some understanding about the resegregation that is taking place in schools today, engage them in a discussion about what they feel the societal response should be. Use some of the following questions to frame your discussion.
  • Are diversity and integration goals still worth striving for? Why or why not?
  • Is it important for public schools in a democracy to be diverse? Why or why not?
  • What are the benefits of diversity for both "majority" and "minority" groups?
  • Do you think that diverse schools affect students' achievement and/or future opportunities?
  • Do you think that diverse schools lead to improved relations among people from different groups?
  • If you think integration is an important goal, what is the best way to accomplish it?
  • Should desegregation be an option or a requirement for local schools?
  • Should students be required to attend certain schools in order to achieve racial balance?

4. Inform students that they will be participating in a role play that will allow them to apply their ideas about diversity and desegregation to a case study. Distribute copies of Case Study: Lamron County School District and explain that it is a fictionalized account of a school district struggling with the problem of resegregation and a proposed plan to address it. Note that although the situation in the case study is made up, it is based on very real events that have taken place in a variety of communities in recent years. Read the case study together as a class or have students read it to themselves, and answer any questions students may have.

5. Next divide the class into small groups of three to four students. Explain that each group will play the role of one of the community members listed below. Depending on the number of students participating, certain roles may be omitted or assigned to more than one group.

• Student of Color
• White Student
• Parent of Color
• White Parent
• City Hall Representative
• School Official
• Community/Youth Group Representative

Explain that, in the role play, the community members will be preparing for an upcoming meeting where local residents will be able to express their support and/or concerns about the proposed diversity plan to school officials. Each group will take the perspective of their assigned community member and brainstorm the opinions, feelings, and concerns that they think such a person might express. Assign each group a role and provide students with the appropriate section of the handout, Community Meeting Roles, which provides a brief synopsis of each role and some questions to consider. Encourage students to take notes and record key points as they discuss the case study.

6. After groups have prepared their ideas, gather the class and conduct the mock "community meeting." The teacher's role should be that of moderator, setting the stage and the rules for discussion. One way to conduct the meeting is to ask each group to make a brief statement indicating approval or disapproval for the plan with supporting reasons. Another approach is to facilitate an open discussion in which "community members" express viewpoints and debate the issues in a free-style fashion. To conclude the meeting, students may wish to participate in a mock vote on the plan (either in their roles and/or as themselves) in order to learn where the class as a whole stands.

Option: If there is time and interest, this activity can be approached as a longer term project. Students can prepare for their roles over the course of several days or weeks by researching and reading current news articles, interviewing family and community members, and studying the statistics included in this lesson more thoroughly. The following Web sites offer useful news and reports on the issue of desegregation:


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