Saturday, February 1, 2014

Using Groups to Introduce Black History and Reading in the Classroom



Guest Blogger:  Jean Waites-Howard


Last fall I taught Social Policy.  I always want to introduce relevant Black Historical events that impact on Social Policy. I had recently learned about The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. This is a very long text which chronicles the Great Migration from the South to the North from 1915 to 1970. The book focuses on the adventures and trials of three migrants: Ida Mae Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster.  The book includes individuals and families seeking a “better life,” as well as those who played a major role in the transformation of America’s landscape. I really wanted the students to have an opportunity to read this well-documented, informative report of our history.

My Social Policy class was very large (37 students). I divided them into six groups. I divided the text into six sections. Each group was to read their section and respond to seven questions about the text. The students had to prepare PowerPoints for their group presentation and a two-page summary.

The student presentations were excellent. The students shared equally in the presentations. They worked together and really covered their assigned material. Several students encouraged me to use this book again for this course. Leaving the “Jim Crow South” and confronting racism in Chicago was eye opening for our students.

For instance, Ida Mae Gladney had attended a neighborhood watch meeting in Chicago where she had the opportunity to hear a young state senator named Barack Obama.  That led to the question of what the impact of the Great Migration was on Obama’s presidency. The students could connect this history with current events, as they could the fact that “the first black mayors in each of the major receiving cities of the North and the West were not longtime native blacks but participants of sons of the Great Migration.” (p. 529, The Warmth of Other Suns)

Group projects can reinforce learning and build our students’ skills. This is a creative manner to introduce important subject matter.


20 comments:

  1. Interesting! Thanks for sharing.

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  2. P.S. Previous comment was posted by Safro Kwame

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    1. I really appreciate the dialogue that was generated by my post. We don't often have an opportunity to discuss these issues.

      Thanks for your participation and research!

      Jean

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  3. Hi Jean,
    I enjoyed reading your blog. I recently completed a group project. Since the group members were all over the country, we set up a wiki and communicated via that tool. Collaboration is learned via group projects, which is a necessary skill in the work environment. Our group had to write two paragraphs about how we contributed to the group. I think that should be a requirement in group projects. I have heard of group projects where only a few students participate, while the others just get credit for being in the group.

    Respectfully,
    Brenda

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    1. I am pleased that there was only one student who had difficulty connecting with her group. The presentations reflected integrated group participation.

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    2. I like Brenda's initiative with the public domain Wiki and would like to learn more of how to create a Wiki online.


      Ganga Ramdas

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    3. Ganga,
      Here is a link to a "free for educators" Wiki tool: http://www.wikispaces.com/

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  4. I know the main theme of the discussion blog focuses on "Teaching Matters." However, I have an issue that always bothers me and need clarification, It is about the phrase AFRICAN-AMERICAN. On many forms in this country, there are spaces designated to identify the race or ethnic origin of the individual and one of such provided options is "African American." I have had students in the past from Tunisia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Algeria. Currently, I also have students from Ghana, Libya, and Kenya. They all have something in common- All of them are recent immigrants who are not yet US citizens. So, when completing the form, they either leave blank or those from North Africa check Caucasian (white)while others from other parts of Africa check African American. My question is who gave who invented the label "African American" for the first time? What label is available for those immigrants from different parts of Africa whose great grand parents moved to Africa from Asia, Europe, or Middle East but their children and grand children barley know their ancestoral lands only in name and they all identify their continent as "Africa? Personally, I know my elementary and high school classmates whom I went to school together whose great grand parents migrated to Ethiopia from Greece-Cyprus and Yemen, married to local women and had children. All spoke the native Oromo language (the ethnic group I belong to) and never been to their ancestoral home countries. They called their national identity as Ethiopians. If we go by skin color, they are all whites or light skin with blond hair. They are part of African fabric. Therefore, I really need satisfactory responses for my questions, specially from Afro-Centric colleagues or other experts in ethnic classification. Thank you for accommodating my request. --Admasu Tucho

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  5. Admasu:

    To me you just made the point that race as we use really doesn't exits. The 1700 German term needs to go.

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    1. From Answers.com This is a history that you are probably familiar with. I grew up with Negro, Colored, Black and Afro- American before the shift to African- American. I think we are comfortable using Black and African American interchangeably.

      Answer:
      For centuries, the question of what to call certain ethnic groups raged on in newspapers. In the case of black people, the terminology decided upon by the dominant white majority was "Negroes"-- but there were some people of both races who did not like that term. Thus, in some newspapers of the late 1800s and early 1900s, you would see such terms as "colored"-- as in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909. You would also see the term "Afro-American," which was the name of a popular black newspaper that was published in Baltimore beginning in 1892; this term was intended to recall the fact that most black people had African ancestry. In fact, we can find the term "African-American," as far back as 1899, although it does not seem to have been in popular use yet.

      The term "Negro" persisted well into the 1950s, and so did "colored." But as the Civil Rights movement gained in strength, there were voices demanding an end to these terms, which were now considered demeaning. By the late 1960s, "Afro-American" became more popular, and by the 1970s, we begin to see "African-American in some newspapers, as universities changed the name of their black studies departments to "African-American Studies." By the early 1980s, the term "African-American" was becoming much more widely used, such that it was now the preferred terminology.

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    2. The longer passage is from Answers.com
      My mother-in-law who's 80 years old still says "colored".

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  6. Jean:

    What I loved about this post is that it so clearly demonstrated student centered learning. Thanks for the example.

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  7. I'm not sure that the need for "satisfactory responses" to Admasu's questions can be satisfied; because these so-called labels are names or definitions which are stipulative rather than descriptions. Here are my answers:

    Q: My question is who gave who invented the label "African American" for the first time?
    A: See below.

    The term was popularized in black communities around the country via word of mouth and ultimately received mainstream use after Jesse Jackson publicly used the term in front of a national audience. Subsequently, major media outlets adopted its use. (Baugh, John (1999). Out of the Mouths of Slaves: African American Language and Educational Malpractice. University of Texas Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-292-70873-0. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American)

    From The New York Times, January 31, 1989: A movement led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson to call blacks African-Americans has met with both rousing approval and deep-seated skepticism in a debate that is coming to symbolize the role and history of blacks in this country. The term, used for years in intellectual circles, is gaining currency among many other blacks, who say its use is a sign that they are accepting their difficult past and resolving a long ambivalence toward Africa. (http://www.nytimes.com/1989/01/31/us/african-american-favored-by-many-of-america-s-blacks.html)

    From Online Etymology Dictionary: isolated instances from at least 1863 (Afro-American is attested in 1853, in freemen's publications in Canada), but the modern use is a re-invention first attested 1969 (in reference to the African-American Teachers Association) which became the preferred term in some circles for "U.S. black" (n. or adj.) by the late 1980s. Mencken, 1921, reports Aframerican "is now very commonly used in the Negro press." (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/african-american)

    From Ebony 23 (November 1967): 46-48, 50-52, 54.: Within the last year, several organizations have gone on record in opposition to continued use of the words. At the Racism in Education Conference of the American Federation of Teachers, the delegates unanimously endorsed a resolution which called on all educators, persons, and organizations to abandon the "slavery-imposed name" "Negro" for the terms "African American " or "Afro-American." A similar resolution was unanimously adopted at the National Conference on Black Power. (http://www.virginia.edu/woodson/courses/aas102%20%28spring%2001%29/articles/names/bennett.htm)

    Q: What label is available for those immigrants from different parts of Africa whose great grand parents moved to Africa from Asia, Europe, or Middle East but their children and grand children barley know their ancestoral lands only in name and they all identify their continent as "Africa?
    A: No universal label. Different countries use different names which are stipulative rather than descriptive.

    This is an area in need of theoretical (argued) definitions but, unfortunately, is loaded with stipulative or persuasive definitions (name-calling or made-up definitions).

    From Mabogo P. More in A Companion to African Philosophy, edited by Kwasi Wiredu: In 1996, just before the adoption of the new South African Constitution, Nelson Mandela’s successor to the presidency, Thabo Mbeki, opened his address to the country’s Constitutional Assembly with the firm declaration: ‘‘I am an African.’’ In response, white opposition leaders such as the former president of the apartheid regime, F. W. De Klerk, also declared, ‘‘I am an African.’’ This response subsequently led to a question that has been at the center of popular discourse in the country and has a bearing on the conception of African philosophy: who is an African?

    Safro Kwame

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    1. Dr. Kwame and the the rest of you who responded to my post;
      Thanky you! If I get back to the center of my confusion, is it fair to replace the phrase "African American" by "African Origin"? Just asking.
      A. Tucho

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    2. That's one approach, particularly, as used by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

      Remember that most words or terms have more than one meaning.

      Safro Kwame

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  8. Note on African American:

    1. From U.S. Bureau of the Census: Black or African American -- A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as "Black, African Am., or Negro"; or report entries such as African American, Kenyan, Nigerian, or Haitian. (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/meta/long_RHI125212.htm)

    2. Some people distinguish between African American (black American who is a descendant of a slave or an African who is in America because of slavery) and African-American (black American who is not a descendant of a slave or an African who is in America not because of slavery).

    Safro Kwame

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  9. Note "slavery" refers to the specific or historic Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

    Safro Kwame

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  10. FURTHER SOUTH IN THE CARIBBEAN

    I would like to suggest that students point their research further south and examine the contributions of the descendants of former slaves and indentured servants from the Caribbean to the transformation of the American landscape through their interaction and correspondences with American scholars. Lessons were learnt from both sides of the Atlantic.

    Marcus Garvey from Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica was a printer’s apprentice at the tender age of 14. Later in 1918 he published the Negro World newspaper, a major accomplishment in his day. He formed a mass organization United Negro Improvement Association, a vanguard organization that promoted black pride. Garvey’s father had a large library and encouraged his son to read. This reminds me of my poem, ‘Books in the Hand, Dreams on My Mind’.

    Guyana’s national hero. His name was Kofi, of Akan heritage. He was captured and sold into slavery to work on Dutch sugar plantations. In 1763 he led a revolt of more than 2,500 slaves against his colonial oppressors and inspired many national leaders to fight for national independence from the British. A bit of Akan drives the spirit of Guyanese today.

    Dr. Walter Rodney, of African descent in Guyana’s modern era, wrote a book, ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.’ These leaders kept the dream of freedom and national aspirations alive. Young leaders in America, the Caribbean, and the rest of the world could learn from the lives of those who ‘identified their battlefield, chose their (intellectual) weapon, and used it’ as we learnt from Pastor, Dr. Alyn Waller, two weeks ago.

    Ganga Ramdas

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  11. Great post Jean;I use collaborative sharing in the Reading Lab. This approach allows those students who are less confident to be assisted by their peers in determining answers in Reading Comprehension passages.

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