Seventh grade Humanities is well underway with our studies of Black History Month. I want to share what we’ve done thus far, as well as send home an article for dealing with sensitive subject matter in our next project, which is reading To Kill A Mockingbird.
To begin Black History Month, students studied the development of kingdoms in West Africa. Students learned to take Cornell Notes, which is a system of note taking that helps students organize information. We used the Cornell Notes to study what we’d learned the previous day for the first ten minutes of each class. For the unit assessment students had to imagine they were a historian designing a website detailing all of their findings for the development of West Africa. Each student designed their own website in Google Sites and I’m so proud of their work! Please ask your child for the link or URL to their site. They are quite excited that you can go online and google their site.
Next we studied Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. We explored acts of resistance and Freedom Quilts in particular. Freedom quilts of the Underground Railroad describe a controversial belief that quilts were used to communicate information to African American slaves about how to escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad (wiki). The theory suggests that there was a code woven into the quilts and relayed to slaves when there was an Underground Railroad “conductor” in the vicinity. The quilts gave directions for travel with the use of animal paw prints or a tool might signify that it was time to pack your belongings. In this spirit, our class made a freedom quilt. Our guiding principle was to honor those who had to risk their lives for freedom and to reflect upon how we resist injustice in our lives today. Here is a photo of our “quilt” made from fabric and glued to card stock. Each student made their own square. Can you guess which square is your child’s?
Lastly I want to introduce our next novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve taught this novel many times but this is my first time teaching it to seventh grade, which is a compliment to the maturity level of your children. I introduced the novel today and we began by exploring our own identity (who I believe I am) in relation to the mores held by our community and society. This exercise is to encourage students to examine how much (or how little) their identity is determined by society and is the lens we’ll use to study the main characters in the novel—three people who try to resist societal mores that perpetuate racism and injustice while also figuring out how to “fit in” (or not) to their community.
There are many sensitive topics in this novel but the one that often draws the most confusion and heated discussion is the use of the n-word. The n-word is used throughout the novel as it is reflective of the language used in the south in this time period. I don’t say the word in class when I discuss the book but a difficult discussion around the word usually happens more than once. Attached here is a great article about the use of the n-word and I will use this article in class. I read something recently about a school that took this book out of their curriculum because the novel made students feel too uncomfortable. The collective response to this action was that this is exactly the intention Harper Lee had when writing this epic piece: to make people feel uncomfortable. That said, our class has taken care to create a safe and supportive classroom environment where sorting through uncomfortable issues is not seen as a negative. I’m confident your child will remember this novel and I think it’s a great way to end our Black History Month unit.
Please feel free to contact me with your thoughts or questions.