Rationale: The purpose of this lesson is for students to consider the issue of segregation as it applies to their own school and social experiences. Students research local demographics and explore patterns of segregation and integration in their school and community. In addition, they reflect upon their own experiences with social boundaries and hierarchies, examine the personal and institutional benefits of engaging in social action and identify concrete ways to create positive change in their schools.
- Students will consider the issues of segregation and diversity as they relate to their own school.
- Students will research and analyze demographic data about their school and community.
- Students will reflect upon their personal experiences with segregation and social boundaries at school.
- Students will examine benefits of engaging in social action.
- Students will identify ways to create concrete change in their school.
Handouts/Supporting Documents: How Diverse is Your School Community?, Don't Talk to Her, How to Mix It Up
Other Materials: chart paper, markers, local demographic data (optional)
Time: Two-three class periods or 1 hour 30 minutes - 2 hours 15 minutes
Techniques and Skills: collecting and analyzing data, cooperative group work, critical thinking, forming opinions, large and small group discussion, reading skills, research skills, social action
Key Words: barometer, border, boundary, clique, demographic, desegregation, inequality, integration, segregation, social justice
1. Post a sheet of paper with the word "AGREE," written in large print, on one wall of the classroom and another with the word "DISAGREE" on the opposite wall. Let students know that they are going to form a human barometer. (Make sure they understand that the word barometer refers to both an instrument for determining air pressure and for measuring changes, such as in public opinion). Tell students that you will be reading several statements aloud, and that they should move to the end of the room that best reflects their opinions about each statement-"AGREE", "DISAGREE", or somewhere in between. Instruct students that, during this part of the activity, they should move about silently and hold all questions and comments until all of the statements have been read. If it is not possible for students to physically move around the room, have them respond to the statements by raising an improvised sign or by clapping for their desired response. Read the following statements, one at a time, allowing enough time for students to position themselves on the "barometer." Encourage students to look around and notice the diversity of opinion among their classmates for each statement.
- Our school district has no problem with segregation.
- Our particular school has a diverse student population.
- In our school, all students have an equal opportunity to succeed.
- Students from different backgrounds can be found in most classes and school activities.
- Students from different backgrounds regularly socialize with each other at school.
- I feel comfortable socializing with students from different racial or ethnic groups at school.
After you have read the statements, allow some time for students to process the activity. Ask what they noticed about their peers' responses. Which statements generated the most agreement? Which yielded the least agreement? What might account for the disparity in opinions or experiences? Which items raised the most conflicts or questions for students? How can they learn more in order to clarify some of the differences in perspective or questions that arose?
2. **Note: This part of the lesson requires the collection of demographic data about your school and district. If it is not feasible to gather and/or openly discuss such information in your particular school, skip this part of the lesson and proceed to number 3 below.
Suggest to students that one way to learn more about the issue of segregation in their school and district is to research the numbers. If possible, help students to learn where they can find local demographic information and assign them various facts to collect (the handout, How Diverse is Your School Community?, offers suggestions). Alternatively, you can gather this information in advance and provide your students with an overview. Once the data has been collected, spend some time in class discussing any trends or patterns that emerge. Help students to see how the racial, ethnic and class composition of your school compares to other local schools, the district overall, and the community in which they live. If students have participated in Lesson 4, compare your school's numbers with national data from the handout, School Segregation: Current Trends. Discuss the ways in which housing segregation and other factors may contribute to demographic patterns at your school. Encourage students to reflect on whether or not they believe that segregation is a problem in their school and community and what, if anything, should be done about it.
3. Suggest to students that the issues of segregation and diversity may seem overwhelming and something over which they have no control. While the biggest problems may be for politicians to solve, however, there are ways in which individuals can make an impact. Distribute copies of Don't Talk to Her, which is an essay written by a middle school student struggling with the growing social boundaries that divide his friends into separate cliques. Read the story together as a class or have students read it to themselves. In small groups or as a whole class, discuss some of the following questions:
- As the author reflects on the cliques that exist at his school, he asks, "When did these boundaries go up around me?" Have you noticed such boundaries at your school? When and why do you think they surfaced?
- The author notes that his school cafeteria is divided into "Rockers, African Americans, Hispanics, and the Popular Kids." What "crowds" exist at your school? Do students socialize across these groups? What encourages or discourages them from doing so?
- The author says that "social boundaries are a way to avoid the things we are afraid of, things we may not understand about others." Do you agree? What differences keep people in your school apart?
- The author wonders how he can look beyond appearances when it's the main focus of everyone around him. What can individuals do to get beyond appearances and change some of the negative social patterns that exist at school?
4. Focus with students on the last question above. Challenge students to identify the benefits of moving beyond appearances and the ways they can bridge the social boundaries that exist at school. In small groups or as a whole class, have them share their ideas for concrete ways to de-emphasize cliques and encourage socialization across groups. Record their ideas on chart paper so that they can be discussed and put into action over time. Share information with the class about one or more of the model programs below. Engage the class in planning an action or solicit a small group of volunteers who are interested in working with you to create change in your school.
Mix It Up is a project that challenges students to move beyond artificial labels and exclusive cliques by socializing with students from a variety of groups and backgrounds. Every year on Mix It Up at Lunch Day, hundreds of thousands of students across the country sit in the cafeteria with students from different groups and backgrounds as a way to diminish social boundaries and stimulate ongoing dialogue about this issue. More information and the date of the next Mix It Up Day can be found on the project Web site, but students don't have to wait to get started. The handout, How to Mix It Up, provides students with action steps for planning their own Mix It Up event at school, including how to organize, publicize, and follow up on their Mix It Up Day.
Border Crossers brings together young students from segregated neighborhoods to explore issues of discrimination, inequality and social justice, and develop student leadership toward lasting social change. Students meet monthly to read literature, have discussions and play games that explore segregation and racism. They also examine the real and artificial borders that exist on maps and that separate people based on their differences. Students select people or groups who have been the targets of discrimination and initiate social action projects that involve other students, parents and their school communities. They design and facilitate presentations that bring family, friends and community members together to learn more about "crossing borders."