“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them” (James Baldwin)

One of the things I am proudest of for this spring semester is that I was able to get students interested in history…the history that isn’t often told in school, to be specific.

The first session of my Social Movement/Social Change class happened on January 13, a week after the events at the Capitol. I started the first class with sharing a poem by Lucille Clifton (see below) and we talked about that poem and what they thought it meant.

Out of a class of 26, not too many people offered their thoughts on this first day. Throughout the course of the semester, though, they became so engaged in discussion on various topics that we never got finished with all I hoped we would in a session. We were learning about the abolitionist movement, and about early resistance by indigenous peoples, and about workers’ rights movements at various stages, and women’s movements from suffrage to #metoo, and the United Farmworker’s strikes and the Chicano student sit ins and so much about the Civil Rights work in the south…throughout all of these sessions and more, at some point a student would say “why didn’t I learn this in school?” I heard this from students who went to private schools, academic magnets, charter schools, and public schools of all spectrums (rural, urban, suburban).

The book we used for the course is one I featured here, https://teachingbeloved.com/2020/11/21/we-the-resistance/ and I still heartily recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about what they didn’t learn in social studies or history. The book is made up of primary documents with just a little bit of overview in front of each by the editor, Michael Long.

There were numerous other resources I shared with students over the course of the semester as well, and some of the ones were related to envisioning how we could teach history in a less whitewashed fashion. These were the favorites in terms of usefulness, and a couple of students even used them for their final assignment in which they created lesson plans for elementary, middle school, or high school teachers with respect to specific topics.

Teaching for the Culture: https://teachingfortheculture.com/

Learning for Justice: https://www.learningforjustice.org/

Teaching for Change: https://www.teachingforchange.org/

Facing History and Ourselves https://www.facinghistory.org/

On the last day of the semester, I ended where we began, with the Lucille Clifton poem above. They had SO MUCH to say about what it meant, and it was rejuvenating to hear it. Like, “I wish I had recorded it” level of inspiration.

My favorite line on a student’s reflective paper at the end of the semester was how they planned to do some independent study on their own this summer about social movements and change efforts in their own state, both current and past, because “…I am now suspicious that the state of Texas didn’t teach me everything I should have learned about Texas history.”

One thought on ““People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them” (James Baldwin)

  1. What a gift that you got to see and hear with your own eyes and ears the impact of your transformative teaching on your students! I want to read this text (and take your class)!


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