Tag Archives: Race&Identity

Field Trip: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

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Learning does not only occur in the classroom. I love taking my students on field trips and experiencing learning beyond the walls of my classroom. When there is an opportunity for students to travel beyond the borders of our city and state to make curricular connections, learning is exponential. This past holiday weekend I went to Washington, DC with fifty eighth graders to see the sites and visit the American Holocaust Memorial Museum, Newseum, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African America History and Culture.

The eighth grade humanities curriculum begins with Reconstruction and then moves through American History ending as close to the Vietnam War as possible. The books read in English Language Arts coincide with the themes and time periods students explore in order to make connections and critically analyze choices made throughout history.

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The Smithsonian NMAAHC is an amazing museum with  powerful artifacts and stories depicting African American History from Slavery until today. There were shackles that were used on slaves on display, parts of slave ships, and along the walls of this exhibit the numbers of slaves that originated on a particular ship, it’s origin, and the number of survivors from the travels. There were painting of slave ships, a slave cabin, and even American bonds that depicted slave images on the bills.

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The museum states that the main messages of this exhibit include:

  • Slavery is a shared story resting at the heart of American political, economic, and cultural life.
  • African Americans constantly and consistently created new visions of freedom that have benefited all Americans.
  • African American identity has many roots and many expressions that reach far back into our past.

Walking through the History Galleries (I suggest you visit these floors first), there are artifacts like a Tuskegee Airplane, a segregated rail car, Emmitt Till Memorial, and hundreds of photographs, testimonies on displays that highlight the decades and movements of civil rights, and beyond.

Since many of my students read Melba Patillo Beals’ memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, the artifacts like photographs of the Little Rock 9 during desegregation and a sign from a segregated bus station in Birmingham, Alabama were reminders of what Melba, and  others, experienced during her high school years at Central High School.

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The museum has over 37,000 artifacts from history that help show and tell American history and celebrate African American contributions. The upstairs galleries highlight the artists, writers, musicians, actors, politicians, and military heroes. The music contributions are tremendous and you will see Chuck Berry’s red convertible Cadillac, RUN DMC’s Adidas’ sneakers, and clothing worn by Michael Jackson and countless others. This exhibit rivals the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There are learning opportunities for educators, one day workshops and a summer week long institute on race and identity. The museum states, “Our programs and resources are designed to ignite critical thinking skills and creativity, to generate self-pride and inspire life-long learning for diverse audiences.” To find out more about the professional learning events you can visit their website.

There is so much to see and reflect on. We did not spend enough time there and I cannot wait to go back. Attending an educator’s workshop is also on my list of things to do. As the museum states, “Race is an aspect of our American culture that is often ignored, glossed over or mishandled.  Additionally, to succeed in promoting equity, tolerance, and justice, childhood is the time to address these issues by understanding children’s development and encouraging positive feelings about their racial and cultural identity, as well as others’.  Working with youth makes it incumbent that educators are prepared to address issues of race whenever they surface such as in history or social studies lessons or when current events brings them forward such as events in our recent history.”

 

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Let’s Talk About Race: Writing & Discussion Prompts Inspired by The Other Wes Moore

“Very few lives hinge on any single moment or decision or circumstance. . . he inspired me and countless other young people to see ourselves as capable of taking control of our own destinies, and to realize how each decision we make determines the course of our life stories.”

My incoming 8th grade students are reading The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (2010) for the all grade summer reading requirement.  The Other Wes Moore is about two kids who grew up with the same name of Wes Moore. There were many similarities among the two of them in addition to the same name – they were both raised fatherless and they were born in the same neighborhood in Baltimore,Maryland in the late 70’s. During their formative teenage years their lives took different turns. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, dec­o­rated com­bat vet­eran, White House Fel­low, and busi­ness leader. The other is serv­ing a life sentence in prison for felony mur­der. The book tells the story of these two men coming of age and attempts to address the influencing factors how their similarities diverged into tragedy and success.

There are so many compelling passages that can spark important conversations around race, identity, and personal responsibility. I have pulled three particular passages that can be used as writing prompts and or critical conversation starters.

I.

“When did you feel like you’d become a man?” Wes asked me, a troubled look on his face.

“I think it was when I first felt accountable to people other than myself. When I first cared that my actions mattered to people other than just me.” I answered quickly and confidently, but I wasn’t too sure of what I was talking about. When did I actually become a man? There was no official ceremony that brought my childhood to an end. Instead crisis other other circumstances presented me with adult-sized responsibilities and obligations that I had to meet one way or another. For some boys, this happens later – in their late teens or even twenties – allowing them to grow organically into adulthood. But for some of us, the promotion to adulthood, or at least its challenges, is so jarring, so sudden, that we enter into it unprepared and might be undone by it. (2010, page 66)

Prompt: When do you become an adult? Some cultures have ceremonies that signify adulthood, but what age or experiences mark adulthood?

II.

“Do you think we’re all just products of our environments? His smile dissolved into a smirk, with the let side of his face resting at ease. 

“I think so, or maybe products of our expectations.”

“Others’ expectations of us or our expectations for ourselves?”

“I mean others’ expectations that you take on as your own.”

I realized how difficult it is to separate the two. The expectations that other place on us help us form our expectations of ourselves.” (2010, page 126)

Prompt: Are we products of our environment, expectations, or other?

III.

The common bond of humanity and decency that we share is stronger than any conflict, any adversity, any challenge. Fighting for your convictions is important. But finding peace is paramount. Knowing when to fight and when to seek peace and wisdom.” (2010, page 168)

Prompt: What does forgiveness look like and sound like? Is it easy or hard to forgive someone? Explain your response.

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