Culturally Responsive Webquests: Connecting Technology with Inquiry-Based Learning

Culturally Responsive Webquests: Connecting Technology with Inquiry-Based Learning

Erik J. Byker, University of North Carolina-Charlotte

Vicki Thomas, Stephen F. Austin State University

We open with a vignette. The middle school bell rings and fourth period begins. Sixth grade students are paired up on laptop computers working through a webquest on Central America. The webquest’s title is Un Viaje a Centroamérica or A Trip to Central America. The webquest exploration includes investigating Internet websites in order to create a map of Central America on a piece of paper. As the students create their maps, the buzz begins. One student exclaims to his partner, “I never knew Costa Rica was in Central America!” Another student turns to her partner and inquires, “What does the word tarea mean?” The partner replies, “I think it is a Spanish word that means something like homework or task.” The webquest is an interactive way for the middle schoolers in this vignette to engage in an authentic Internet based learning experience by exploring the culture, geography, and language of Central America through the aid of computer technology. As the students explore websites and webpages about Central America, they have the task to create a map of the region as the artifact of the webquest.

What exactly is a webquest? A webquest is an interactive web-based inquiry where learners engage in what Bernie Dodge (1995) explains is an, “inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the Internet” (p. 13). The webquest includes several parts to guide the inquiry: 1) an introduction; 2) a task; 3) a process or procedure to follow, which includes links to websites to explore; 4) a rubric for evaluation; 5) a conclusion of the activity; and 6) a credits page. When designed well, a webquest represents a technological tool that maps on to the National Council of Social Studies (NCSS) C3 Framework. The C3 Framework was published in 2018 and describes important role of inquiry—called the inquiry arc—in preparation for college, career, and civic life. Here’s how NCSS (2013) explains how “the inquiry arc emphasizes the disciplinary concepts and practices that support students as they develop the capacity to know, analyze, explain, and argue about interdisciplinary challenges in our social world” (p. 6). A webquest supports the inquiry arc as learners use technology to research a question or issue through an analytical process in order to communicate their findings.

Indeed, the point of the webquest is to guide learners in navigating Internet web pages and links in a constructivist way. The literature reveals how webquests provide a powerful platform for the integration of technology with social studies, language arts, and world languages (Author, 2014; Hung, 2015; Lipscomb, 2003; Simina & Hamel, 2005; Vanguri, Sunal, Wilson & Wright 2004). Researchers have also found how webquests guide learners in developing a wide range of skills including technological skills, literacy skills, and critical thinking skills (Author, 2014). Webquests reflect how educators merge their Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) to design a technology enhanced, inquiry based experience for their students (Author, 2013; 2014).

Conceptual Framework

As the introductory vignette reveals, a webquest can be designed in culturally responsive ways. Geneva Gay (2002) explains that culturally responsive teaching is defined as, “using the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively” (p. 106). More recently, Django Paris (2012) introduced the term culturally sustaining pedagogy to expand the notion of culturally relevant teaching. Paris (2012) explains that culturally sustaining pedagogy goes beyond a teaching moment and is a pedagogy that sustain “cultural and linguistic competence of communities while simultaneously offering access to dominant cultural competence; culturally sustaining pedagogy, then, has as its explicit goal supporting multilingualism and multiculturalism” (p. 95). The Central American webquest in the vignette is an example of how technology can be utilized in culturally sustaining ways through a multilingual platform. While the literature shows that webquests have many advantages, what are learners’ perceptions of webquests? Also, what are culturally responsive and culturally ways to design webquests? The purpose of this article is to address these larger questions. The article has two objectives. First, the article examines middle school students’ (n=33) perceptions of interacting with social studies based webquests. Second, the article describes how to design culturally responsive webquests. To meet these two objectives the article investigates the following three research questions:

  1. What are the participants’ perceptions of using webquests to engage in middle level social studies topics?
  2. What are the effects, if any, of using webquests in teaching middle level social studies?
  3. How can webquests be designed in culturally responsive and sustaining ways?


We used case study research design (Yin, 2008) to investigate the aforementioned research questions. We examined how a middle level social studies teacher implemented webquests as part of the classroom instruction. The case study includes an artifact analysis of the Un Viaje a Centroamérica Webquest as well as the artifacts the participants created from the Webquest. Additionally, the case study data are comprised of the participants’ responses to a Likert-scale style survey, which inquired about their perceptions of using webquests in social studies.

Data Analysis

We analyzed the Likert-scale survey’s quantitative data using descriptive statistics. These statistics provide summations of the participants’ perceptions of the Webquest. Our quantitative analysis also reports on the participants’ demographics. We analyzed the qualitative data—primarily the open-ended responses on the survey—using Miles and Huberman’s (1994) three-step interpretive approach. We first read the data and coded as part of data reduction. We then displayed the data in a visual way to establish categories. Finally, we made conclusions by a process of organizing the categories into larger themes.


The study’s sample size was comprised of 33 sixth grade students (n=33) from a middle school in a rural area of the Southcentral region of the United States. Of the participants, 55% were female and 45% were male. Almost half (48%) were bilingual as 16 students indicated that they speak Spanish at home. About 97% of the participants indicated they had some kind of computer device at home (i.e., a desktop, laptop, or an iPad) and 88% indicated that their families owned a cell phone. Slightly more than half of the participants (51%) indicated that outside of school they use a computer at least four days of the week. In response to that same question, though, 15% of the participants shared that outside of school they do not use a computer at all. When asked about their most important purposes for using the computer, 73% of the participants selected Search for Information and the next highest response was Listening to Music. The participants indicated that social studies was the subject they learned best when using computer technology.


Related to the first research question about participants’ perceptions of using webquests to engage in middle level social studies topics, 90% of the participants indicated they either strongly agreed or agreed that they enjoyed using webquests to engage in social studies. All the participants either strongly agreed (52%) or agreed (48%) that they work better with other classmates when using webquest. Almost 73% of the participants thought they learned more from webquests than from lecture notes and 85% of the participants preferred using webquests in social studies rather than using a social studies textbook.

The second research question inquired about any effects of using webquests in teaching middle level social studies. One effect the participants reported was increased engagement. Almost 88% of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that they were engaged with social studies content when it was delivered via a webquest. Likewise, 95% of the participants indicated that that they understood more about a social studies topic when exploring the topic with a webquest. In the open response sections of the survey, many participants shared how the webquest was meaningful experience. See Table 1 for a description of the open-ended response questions on the survey and examples of participants’ responses.

Table 1

Open Ended Response Question on the Likert Survey

Open-ended Response QuestionsExamples of Participants’
1) In your own words, how would
you explain to a friend what a
webquest is?
A webquest is an educational thing
to do on the computer. You search
information and use it.A site where
it brings you to a webpage and then you do stuff on that page so you
learn stuff.
2) When you think about a
webquest, what other words or
phrases immediately come to mind (try to list, at least, 2 other words or phrases)?
A learning journeyBilingual and funWebsites and social studies
3) What will you remember the
most from the webquest you explored?
The Central America Webquest was something that had a meaning to
me. My family is from Guatemala so reading about it meant a lot to me. Seeing the pictures and looking at
the websites helped me learn more
about Central America because I
was able to interact with websites

As Table 1 shows, the meaningfulness of the Central America Webquest was reflected in the participants’ responses to what they will remember the most from the webquest. For example, one participant identified a familial connection (i.e., family from Guatemala), which made the webquest meaningful. Another participant connected the webquest’s meaningfulness with its interactive design. The inclusion of multimedia helped this participant to better interact with content. A few of the participants also shared how the webquest was meaningful because it was bilingual—written in Spanish and English—which meant everyone could understand the webquest’s content. The participants’ perceptions and open-ended responses capture the possibilities of using webquests to make social studies meaningful. The participants found the webquest to be meaningful vis-à-vis its culturally responsive design and its interactive multimedia that supported their web journey into Central America.

The third research question inquired about how webquests can be designed in culturally responsive and sustaining ways. We focus on three ways in particular. First, webquests are responsive when they are multilingual. Creating multilingual webquests is not as difficult as some may imagine. For example, a webquest generator website called Zunal (Link: also contains a database of already created webquests. Educators can search for webquests on this website, which are in multiple languages. Second, learners can use Google Chrome or FireFox as the web browser for their webquests. Both of these web browsers will provide an option to translate websites written in another language—including websites geared for kids—into English. This option means that students who are bilingual or multilingual are able to access websites in their home language, while the students who speak only English also have access to a translated version of the website. Third, webquests are culturally sustaining when they include multiple representations of culture and people through images and text. The interactive power of webquest technology is represented not just through words, but also through multimedia. This is what makes a webquest like the A Trip to Central America so engaging, because students see themselves and their culture reflected in the websites they are exploring.


Webquests connect technology and social studies in relevant ways to young learners’ culture and history. Webquests also support and engage young learners through a process of inquiry. Furthermore, the inquiry arc within the design of webquest aligns with many of the NCSS (2013) C3 Framework dimensions, including: (a) Dimension 1. Developing Questions and Planning Inquiries; (b) Dimension 2. Applying Disciplinary Concepts and Tools; and (c) Dimension 3. Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence. Through the webquest tool, young learners participate in asking and answering questions about social studies big ideas. Like the Central America maps that the students in this study created, a well-designed webquest includes a creative outcome where learners apply the content knowledge evidence they found in their web investigation.

The C3 Framework vision is to help prepare young learners with the knowledge and skills for college, career, as well as for the “adult responsibilities in participatory democratic cultures” (NCSS, 2013, p. 89). Webquests support this C3 Framework as learners gain inquiry-related knowledge and skills, which can develop and sharpen their critical thinking, cultural competencies, and global competencies. The webquest technology is more dynamic than the traditional social studies textbook, which is too often Eurocentric and dominated by representations of a middle class monoculture. Yet, public school classrooms across the United States are anything but monoculture or monolinguist. The uses for technology have many affordances including for the development of cultural and global competencies (Author, 2012; 2015; 2016a; Harshman, 2016). A well-crafted webquest can guide students through an inquiry-based journey where they explore a topic and at the same gain expanded vision for how the topic relates to them and their classmates. At the same time, webquests can be used to support sheltered instruction of English, which is also known as the SIOP Model (Short, Echevarría, & Richards-Tutor, 2011). The SIOP Model is framed around supporting English Language Learners by making a lesson’s subject matter content and vocabulary accessible. This, in turn, assists English Language Learners in their development of academic language skills through content which can be accessed in multilinguistic and culturally sustaining ways.

Future Research

A future research agenda would include a deeper investigation into the effects of webquest designs based on the SIOP Model pedagogies. What are the benefits and challenges of webquests designed to support English Language Learners? What sheltered instruction features would be included in the webquests? How could such webquests be accessible and adapted for English Language Learners at all levels—including the elementary school level? These types of questions would help to drive future studies. More research is also needed at all school levels. This present study was centered on middle level learners, but what are the effects of using culturally responsive webquests with early childhood learners, elementary school students, and with secondary students? A future research agenda would also include a comparative and international scope. The comparative lens helps shed light on the similarities and differences in the contextualization of culturally responsive webquests based on where a school is situated.

Artifact creation is one of the distinguishing features of webquests. Rather than just consuming media, students are producing an artifact based on the webquest’s directions. Student authorship of media is a way to support students’ creative expression while recognizing the participatory role of learners with the tools of learning (Author, 2017). More research is needed into students’ perceptions of the artifacts they create based on the webquests they explore. Research questions might include: What are the students’ perceptions of media authorship in relation to the artifacts they create during a webquest? How are the artifacts’ culturally responsive? Finally, future research would also examine the relationship between how participants access and navigate webquests. Some participants in this current study indicated that exploring the Internet with a webquest was a fun way to learn social studies. Technological Play Theory (Author, 2016b) is a theoretical framework for examining how the role of play in using a technology. The theory can be instructive for educators in supporting learners’ curiosity and exploration of webquest. Future research can utilize Technological Play Theory as a conceptual lens for examining the degree to which students—at any school level—play with a webquest in order to master the webquest’s content.


We conclude the article by revisiting the culturally sustaining conceptual framework as well as share ways that practitioners and educators can search for already designed webquest or create their own webquests. Culturally sustaining pedagogy seeks to be responsive to and sustain the cultural richness of a pluralist society (Paris, 2012). Cultural vibrancy is reflected in a society’s customs, languages, literacies, and traditions. A webquest is a tool that learners can utilize to inquire about their own culture and the cultures that are reflected in a pluralistic place like the United States. Webquests show the flexibility of ways in which technology can be used for the development of cultural and global competencies.

There are many websites available for searching and creating webquests. The Teacher Web (Link: website contains a database of teacher designed webquests. Users of the website can search for webquests by key words or by state and Common Core standards. Another website called Webquest (Link: is both a database and teaching website. The site has webquest design advice and a plethora of resources for the development of webquest. Another site called Questgarden (Link: has webquest tools supported by a “drag and drop” method for building webquests. The site provides a user-friendly template and the option the webquest navigation system being translated to a dozen or so languages. Questgarden also includes a database of searchable webquests. The Questgarden is not a free site, though, and requires a yearly subscription. Whatever ways or subject matter an educator chooses to include in their webquest; it is important to support the design in culturally responsive and sustaining ways.


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Combatting Fake News with Media Literacy

Combating Fake News with Media Literacy

Nicole Waid, State University of New York-Oneonta

Fake news is news that intentionally misleads readers and is often verifiably false. Alcott and Gentzkow (2017) noted that some types of inaccurate information, like unintentional errors in reporting, satire, conspiracy theories, and news that is misleading but not factually inaccurate, are related fake news. During the presidential election of 2016, there was an explosion of fake news stories that permeated many forms of media. In the CIA report on Russian interference in the election, it made estimates that the Russian government used strategically placed pieces of propaganda to depress voter turnout or cause divisions among the American people. Since the CIA report, emerging reports by Alcott and Gentzkow (2017) revealed that approximately 38 million shares of fake news led to 760 million instances of a user clicking on a story and reading it. Using social media as a primary news source is a relatively new phenomenon. Gottfried and Shearer (2016) reported recent evidence that 62% of adults in the United States view news on various social media platforms. With electronic devices readily available, it becomes increasingly difficult to evaluate information for its integrity. Silverman (2016) asserted that the most sought-after fake news stories were shared on Facebook more than mainstream news stories.

While using social media platforms to spread false news reports seemed like a novel approach to influencing public opinion, fake news is hardly a new phenomenon; the dissemination of false news accounts spanned centuries. Fake news stories date back centuries in Europe. In 1475, a two 1⁄2-year-old baby went missing in Trent, Italy on Easter Sunday. Franciscan preacher, Bernardino da Feltre, delivered a series of sermons claiming that the Jewish community had killed the child, drained the blood and consumed it to celebrate Passover. The Prince-Bishop of Trent Johannes IV Hinderbach responded to the sermons and ordered the immediate arrest and torture of the city’s entire Jewish community. Fifteen Jewish community members were found guilty, and their punishment was burning at the stake. The story inspired surrounding communities to commit similar actions against Jewish people. The papacy intervened and attempted to stop the spread of both the story and the murders. Hinderbach felt threatened by the papacy’s attempts to discredit his claims, so he spread more fake news stories about Jews drinking the blood of Christian children. Hinderbach was not the first to disseminate false stories about Jewish people. Historians have cataloged fake stories maligning Jews that added to the foundation of anti-Semitism, back to the 12th century (Michael, 2008).

There were official news stories in the 15th century like church and political documents. There were also news accounts from merchants and sailors, but there were no journalistic ethics, and the statements lacked objectivity. By the 17th century, historians attempted to verify their reports by publishing footnotes that included their sources. After the trial of Galileo, Galileo’s court proceedings in 1610 also created a demand for scientifically verifiable news. The desire for accurate news sources led to the creation of respected news sources. Despite the push for more scientifically valid news stories, after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 stories were written attributing the earthquake to retribution against sinners. Philosophes like Voltaire disputed religious explanations of natural events making Voltaire an early critic of fake news concerning religion (Soll, 2016).

Fake news also caused divisions before the French Revolution. The French government had engaged in frivolous spending that created a massive budget deficit. Several groups in France produced conflicting news stories about the causes of the budget deficits. Thanks to governmental leaks and other verifiable news stories, people were able to have a general understanding of France’s finances. Just like in today’s political climate, the information and numbers that were released were still suspect to some people, and they had to skillfully figure out the truth in the news accounts.

In recent years, there have been changes in the way teens consume media. Mindich (2005) asserted that 80% of people under the age of 30 do not read newspapers daily. The median age of TV news viewers is 60. Mindich discussed how the generational shifts in news consumption could impact the future of how people engage in the democratic process (Mindich, 2005). Patterson (2007) cited a study by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy that also noted declining teen news consumption on public affairs. The findings of declining news consumption among teens reflect Bennett’s (2008) disengaged youth paradigm, which measures the possibility of a healthy democracy with young people voting and consuming news about public events. It is imperative that students are taught techniques to detect fake news stories, so they can be part of an informed electorate when they turn 18 and can vote.

The current explosion of fake news has created a challenge for social studies teachers to incorporate instruction that will help students develop media literacy skills so they can be more responsible about what information they share. Bennett (2008) stated that both informal and formal instruction of how to use critical media literacy skills could build a foundation for positive civic engagement. Martens and Hobbs (2015) explained that media literacy skills addressed multiple competencies such as analyzing media messaging and understanding how the media works. Improving these competencies in students may enhance their ability to weigh in on current events responsibly disseminated on social media. They went further to suggest when media literacy is incorporated into secondary education classrooms, teachers can assist students to make sense of news stories through inquiry learning. Hobbs (2010) said that if students had the skills to analyze media sources, they may be more responsible about what stories they share. That understanding provides students the appropriate social and intellectual support they need to become engaged in civic matters as adults.

Eighteen pre-service social studies teachers took a BBC online media literacy quiz in their social studies methods course to test their ability to detect fake news stories. On the seven-question quiz, no students answered all of the questions correctly. Twenty-two percent of the students correctly identified four or five as fake news stories. Forty-four percent of the students were able to identify three of the seven fake news stories. Thirty-three percent of the students were able to detect two or none fake news stories. After the fake news quiz was over, the students were asked about their responses. Some of the students said they had seen some of the questions on social media, and believed the stories. Most of the students indicated that they see so many news articles they are not sure what to think anymore.

The discussion about the fake news quiz was used as a springboard for a lesson on strategies to detect fake news stories. The students were given the following steps to detect fake news:

  1. Read the full story, not just the headline. Some articles use headlines that will elicit a reaction from the reader. Having a provocative headline to lure users to click on a story is referred to as “clickbait.” Clicking on a story often will take you to a website that has ads so that this practice may be a deceptive way of increasing advertisement revenue. An example of this would be When a story is clicked, there are multiple ads for supplements and vitamins sold by Info Wars.
  2. Verify the story through credible sources. The key to verifying a story is to find two other credible sources that have reported on the story. Sometimes multiple news articles will use a common article for sourcing. For example, when Tom Petty was near death, TMZ circulated a report of his death. Many other news sources reported on the singer’s death before he had died.
  3. Try to determine the purpose of the story. There can be many purposes for publishing news stories, ranging from to inform to damage a person’s credibility.
  4. Do not rely on technology to vet the reliability of news. Fact checking services sometimes can have an underlying bias. It is best to use first-hand accounts to verify news stories.
  5. Consider the source. The RJI Reynolds Journalism Institute conducted the Trusting News project, which asked twenty-eight partner newsrooms to ask viewers their views about the credibility of news sources. From 8,728 questionnaire responses, the Trusting News project provided lists of the ten most trusted and least trusted news sources. Not surprisingly, there were differences based on the political leanings of the respondents. People who said they trusted Rachel Maddow were liberals and people who trusted Rush Limbaugh were conservatives.

Teaching students to critically view media sources will make them less susceptible to being swayed by fake news. If students improve their knowledge of the media, independently analyze news stories for their truthfulness, and explore multiple sources to gain information on a topic, it may help them want to become more civically involved.


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Gottfried, J., Shearer, E. (2016). News use across social media platforms 2016. Pew Research Center, May 26. Retrieved from http://www. acrosssocial-media-platforms-2016
Hobbs, R. (2010). Digital and media literacy: A plan of action. Washington, DC: The Aspen
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Marchi , R.(2012). With Facebook, blogs, and fake news, teens reject journalistic “objectivity”. Journal of Communication Inquiry, (36)3.246-262.
Mayer, J. (2017). Who trusts-and pays for- the news? Here’s what 8, 728 people told us. Retrieved from what-8728-people-told-us.
Michael, R. (2008). A history of Catholic antisemitism- A dark side of the church. Palgrave Macmillian: New York.
Mindich, D. (2005). Tuned out-Why Americans under 40 don’t watch the news. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Patterson, T.(2007). Young people and the news (A report from the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press. Retrieved from content/uploads/2012/03/young_people_and_news_2007.pdf
Patterson , T. (2007). Young people and the news(A report from the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press.
Silverman, C. (2016). This analysis shows how fake election news stories outperformed real news on Facebook. BuzzFeed News, November 16.
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Sample 11th Grade United States “Enduring Issues” Essay

Sample 11th Grade United States “Enduring Issues” Essay

Henry Dircks, Mepham High School, Bellmore, NY

The “enduring issues” essay will be a hallmark of redesigned New York State Global and United States history Regents exams. This sample “enduring issues” essay and evaluation rubric was developed by Henry Dircks, a social studies teacher at Mepham High School, North Bellmore, New York.

DIRECTIONS: An “Enduring Issue” is an issue or topic that exists across time in U.S. History. It is an issue that the American people have attempted to address with varying degrees of success. Read or observe the five documents below. Then identify and define an enduring issue that is common to all the documents in the set. (For instance, documents such as the Dred Scott decision, a Reconstruction literacy test, a Harlem Renaissance poem, MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham jail and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would share the issue, “The African-American struggle for equality saw many achievements and setbacks.”) Finally, write an essay in which you:

  1. Identify and define the issue using evidence from at least three documents.
  2. Argue that this is a significant issue that has endured by showing either:
    1. How the issue has affected people or been affected by people, or:
    2. How the issue has continued to be an issue or changed over time
  • Include outside information from your knowledge of social studies and evidence from the documents.

DOCUMENT 1: Thomas Jefferson, Third Annual Message to Congress (1803)Source: The Avalon Project, Yale Law School Website

Congress witnessed, at their last session, the extraordinary agitation produced in the public mind by the suspension of our right of deposit at the port of New Orleans. They were sensible that the continuance of that privation would be injurious to our nation; we had not been unaware of the danger to which our peace would be perpetually exposed while so important a key to the commerce of the western country remained under foreign power. Propositions had, therefore, been authorized for obtaining, on fair conditions, the sovereignty of New Orleans; and the provisional appropriation of two millions of dollars, to be applied by the president of the United States, intended as part of the price, was considered as conveying the sanction of Congress to the acquisition proposed. The enlightened government of France saw, with just discernment, the importance to both nations of such liberal arrangements as might best and permanently promote the peace, friendship, and interests of both; and the property and sovereignty of all Louisiana have on certain conditions been transferred to the United States by instruments bearing date the 30th of April last. While the property and sovereignty of the Mississippi and its waters secure an independent outlet for the produce of the western States, and an uncontrolled navigation through their whole course, free from collision with other powers and the dangers to our peace from that source, the fertility of the country, its climate and extent, promise in due season important aids to our treasury, an ample provision for our posterity, and a wide-spread field for the blessings of freedom and equal laws.

DOCUMENT 2: An Act to Secure Land to Settlers on the Public Domain (1862)

Source: National Archives and Records Administration

SEC. 1.Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person who is the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and is a citizen of the United States, or who shall have filed his declaration of intention to become such, as required by the naturalization laws of the United States, and who has never borne arms against the United States Government or given aid and comfort to its enemies, shall, from and after the first January, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, be entitled to enter one quarter section of public lands… which shall not, with the land so already owned and occupied, exceed in the aggregate one hundred and sixty acres.

SEC. 2. And be it further enacted… that said entry is made for the purpose of actual settlement and cultivation, he or she shall thereupon be permitted to enter the quantity of land specified; And That he, she or they shall prove by two credible witnesses that he, she or they have resided upon or cultivated the same for the term of five years immediately succeeding the time of filing the affidavit, the settler shall acquire the absolute title to the land, and be en- titled to a patent from the United States.

DOCUMENT 3: Painting: “The Trail of Tears” by Robert Lindneux (1942)Source: Woolaroc Museum, Bartlesville, Oklahoma

DOCUMENT 4: Resettlement Administration Map (1935) Source: Library of Congress

DOCUMENT 5: Treaty of Paris (1898). Source: The Avalon Project, Yale Law School Website

The United States of America and Her Majesty the Queen Regent of Spain desire to end the state of war now existing between the two countries, who, assembled in Paris, have, after discussion of the matters before them, agreed upon the following articles:Article I: Spain relinquishes all claim of sovereignty over and title to Cuba and as the island is, upon its evacuation by Spain, to be occupied by the United States, the United States will, so long as such occupation shall last, assume and discharge the obligations that may under international law result from the fact of its occupation, for the protection of life and property.Article II: Spain cedes to the United States the island of Porto Rico and other islands now under Spanish sovereignty in the West Indies, and the island of Guam in the Marianas.Article III: Spain cedes to the United States the archipelago known as the Philippine Islands. The United States will pay to Spain the sum of twenty million dollars ($20,000,000) within three months after the exchange of the ratifications of the present treaty.

Rubric for Enduring Issues Essay Assignment

28-30Enduring issue is defined and
representative of documents
Enduring issue is guiding theme
throughout essay
Discusses task in body paragraphs (people OR change)
Uses more than three documents
Explains history, rather than just
describe it
Rich in outside information
Enduring issue is defined and representative of documents
Enduring issue is present
throughout essay
Discusses task in body paragraphs (people OR change)
May use more than three
May explain history, rather than
just describe it
More than satisfactory in outside information
Enduring issue is defined and
representative of documents
Topics discussed with little
reference to enduring issue
May discuss task in body
paragraphs (people OR change)
Uses three documents
Describes history; contains
satisfactory outside information
Enduring issue is not defined or
not present
No reference to enduring issue in
Does not discuss task in body
paragraphs (people OR change)
Uses three documentsDescribes
history; contains little outside
0-15No enduring issue
Does not discuss task in body
paragraphs (people OR change)
Uses fewer than 3 documents
Describes history; contains no
outside information

Everyman in Vietnam by Michael Adas and Joseph Gilch

Michael Adas and Joseph Gilch, Everyman in Vietnam, by Hank Bitten

Book - Everyman in Vietnam

In my reading of the first pages of Everyman in Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2018), I found the personal narrative of Jimmy Gilch, a young man from Runnemede, New Jersey engaging me with fresh perspectives about the conflict in Vietnam. The new perspectives are likely to motivate high school and college students in asking questions about the effects of colonialism on America’s foreign policies, the influence of domestic events, and the reasons for a fragmented foreign policy, and the failure of American intervention in Vietnam. Personal letters offer a perspective that is different from studying historical documents, viewing a film, or reading about battles and events in a book.

One advantage of Everyman in Vietnam is the author’s understanding of the importance of the relationship between the chronological perspective of domestic events and Vietnamese society and culture. History is the story of time and Michael Adas and Joseph Gilch intentionally introduce the historical time machine in an analysis of America’s involvement and why many baby boomers and some of their parents did not support this conflict as their parents and grandparents did in World War II or Korea. The narrative begins with the changes in postwar America that were developing in unexpected ways.

“During the 50s an entire industry built from scratch took hold of the nation. The first telecasts offered little beyond bland news programs and “Howdy Doody,” But by the mid-1950s the broadcast industry was booming. Within a ten-year span from 1949 to 1959, the number of household television sets increased from 940,000 to 44,000,000…. After school Jimmy would often race home and sit on the red carpet in the den watching television to avoid schoolwork. He watched cartoons and teen-targeted programs, such as Tom Terrific and Spin & Marty, His favorite was Tennessee Tuxedo.” (pp.23-24)

The post World War II years were a time of significant demographic, economic, and cultural changes that students need to know as part of their understanding of the decade of the 1960s. The numbers of Americans regularly attending worship services doubled during these years as many were convinced of the value of God and country in a world threatened by the evils of Communism. An example of a new perspective in the book was the impact of President Eisenhower’s speech in 1952 in New York City that “Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply religious faith.” (p. 24) It is in this context of political and religious conformity that Jimmy and many other youth in every state evolved into school rebels with D.A. haircuts and other modes of passive rebellion.

The suburbanization of America, the way people embraced automobiles, and the fascination of America’s youth with fads in music and other forms of popular culture support the argument that these were not times of unchallenged cultural conformity but rather questioning that would lead to revolutionary challenges in 1968 when Americans questioned the containment policies of the Cold War and the domino theory that spread fears of a collapse of capitalism and democracy.

“Jimmy claimed he was not interested in what others thought of him. He did not need their approval or guidance, but he was concerned with his image. A little vain, he spent a lot of time in front of the mirror combing his hair and practicing his smile. He saw Elvis as his ideal, sported a leather jacket, and popped its collar. He enjoyed rock and roll, and western or action films. Like so many Americans in the postwar decades, he was an ardent fan of John Wayne. Jimmy was willing to conform, but he craved independence. A driver’s license and a car allowed him to escape briefly the suburban sprawl. He bought an old green truck with a big engine and a heavy frame. It had a broken passenger door, smelled of gasoline, and had little in the way of chrome fittings. When he drove his sisters to school, he kept the windows up because he wanted people to believe the truck had air conditioning. Jimmy drove the truck like a hot-rod-hard and fast.” (p. 49)

The decade of the Sixties is complicated for students to understand because it includes poverty and affluence, the civil rights movement, the space race, nuclear proliferation and non-proliferation, changing roles for women, a revolution in communications, and conflicts in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. It is also a complicated period for teachers to cover because they are faced with time constraints and deciding which resources are most appropriate for engaging students with inquiry, discussion, analysis, and the evaluation of theses relating to the causes and effects of America’s foreign policy decisions in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.

A second profound perspective in Everyman in Vietnam is the explanation of the culture of the Vietnamese and their struggle for national unity since the 14th century. For example, in reading the chapter about the flawed agreements of the Geneva Conference, students might search for evidence on the multiple theses if the Vietnam War was an issue of independence from the Chinese, Japanese, or French; if the conflict was about the national unity of the diversity of cultures (Amman, Cochin, Tonkin); or the spread of communism and socialism in a country dominated by extreme poverty from three centuries of colonialism and capitalism.

The information presented by the authors on the dates of the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945; the proclamation of the recognition of the Viet Minh by the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, and the surrender of the fortress at Dien Bien Phu on May 8, 1954 (9th anniversary of V-E Day) gave me a new perspective of Ho Chih Minh, the importance of his travels to London, Paris, and New York in the 1920s and 30s, and how these historic events are turning points in Vietnam’s history and struggle for national unity.

“Ho began his brief but stirring address (before a massive crowd in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi on September 2, 1945, V-J Day) with a quotation from the American Declaration of Independence. Abbreviating what he termed an ‘immortal statement’ from that earlier call to armed resistance against colonial tyranny, he declared: ‘All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ Ho’s decision to begin the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence with the most resonant passage from the preamble to the American one can be seen as cruelly ironic in view of subsequent history. His choice of American precedents was almost certainly in recognition of the cooperation – and the deep, mutual respect it engendered – between Vietnamese guerrilla fighters and the American Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) in the final stages of the war against the Japanese.” (p. 12)

Within the next six months, Ho sent President Truman a telegram dated February 28, 1946 with references to the principles of both the Atlantic Charter (1941) and the San Francisco Charter (1945):


Although Secretary of State, George C. Marshall was critical of the French for their refusal to accept the realities of a postcolonial world after World War II, the economic importance of Indochina’s raw materials, rice exports, and rubber plantations, and opportunities for commercial development and investment shaped the fateful decision for ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ in the transformation of Vietnam into a future battleground that divided Americans.

The third perspective that influenced my inquiry as a reader of Everyman in Vietnam was the decision faced by students graduating high school to enlist or be drafted. I was a baby boomer and turned age 18 in the beginning of my third year of college (as a result of skipping a half year of kindergarten and seventh grade) and faced similar decisions until my Class IV deferment ended with college graduation. Just as high school students eagerly look for college acceptance letters in their mailbox or email Inbox today, many teenagers in the Sixties feared the announcement in the mail from the Selective Service Administration to report to their local draft board for a physical exam. There were choices for the young boys who graduated high school and were not enrolled in college. These included enlisting for four years with the hope of a placement in Europe, joining the Reserves or National Guard, applying for an exemption as a conscientious objector on religious beliefs, writing to one’s local congressman for preferential treatment, leaving the country, or applying for a medical deferment to avoid harm’s way.

The description provided in the personal letters of Jimmy Gilch to his best friend Gerry about his basic training at Fort Dix reveals the harsh reality of how the Army made boys into men. The experiences of basic training were not limited to the privacy of one’s family and as they were shared with others through conversation and visually illustrated on the nightly TV news, everyone understood how life in the military was different from the civilian life of rock concerts, beach weekends, drive-in movies, and ice cream sundaes at Dairy Queen!

“…I learned more about hand-to-hand combat today and boy can you really hurt a guy if you want too, but what the army is teaching is nothing to play around with, it doesn’t take much to hurt a person no matter what their size or weight, if you have good foot speed and fast moves it is hard to be beat, but the enemy is not just standing there singing. If you are slow when you come in contact with him [you’re dead]. but once you get him down you smash his head into the ground 7 or 8 times and give him the heel of your boot, then you decide how to finish dispose of him and that’s where I’m told the fun starts….” (p. 72)

In a letter to his mother at the end of his Advanced Infantry Training, Jimmy writes,

“Dear Mom,

…Too bad I did not know what I know now when I was home because I would have had more respect for both you and dad and the kid’s.(sic) I wish you made me study in school, and I wish you were a lot harder on me. Tell Georgie to leave the girls alone, he doesn’t know what it is like to be away. I’ve learned a lot that I would not otherwise have if I stayed in [Runnemede] all my life…thank god (sic) I found this out now while it is not too late. I would like to go back to school when I come out and make the family proud of me like I’m proud of dad and you and Georgie. I don’t see how dad kept the family like he does, I don’t blame him for being mad sometimes because he has a lot on his mind…and everything he tried to teach me I thought I knew, but I didn’t know anything. When I get out, I will really try my best to help instead of being a pain….” (p. 76)

The fourth fresh perspective in this book is in the analysis of the military strategies as a result of the information revealed in both the declassification of documents and the secondary sources of historians and authors over the past 50 years. The information about the tunnels, use of Armored Personnel Carriers, B-52s, helicopters, tanks, chemicals, and the nuclear option are informative and engage the reader in reflective thinking.

It is difficult for teachers and students to understand how our country won most of the battles in Vietnam but did not win the war. Michael Adas and Joseph Gilch provide an excellent analysis of America’s fragmented foreign policy in each presidential administration – Roosevelt (D), Truman (D), Eisenhower (R), Kennedy (D), Johnson (D), and Nixon (R). They also explain with strong documentation the frustration experienced by President Johnson regarding his agendas for civil rights and the Great Society with the escalating costs of the Vietnam War and the conflicting views of Clark Clifford (Chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board), Robert McNamara (Secretary of Defense), and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Although in 1966 the ratio was two American soldiers to one Vietnamese guerrilla, this was considered inadequate.

President’s Johnson’s frustration is expressed in an off-color analogy that he made following his deliberations at a meeting in Aspen Lodge at Camp David in the summer of 1966:

“If I left the woman I really loved – the Great Society – in order to get involved with that…of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose everything at home. All my programs; all my hopes to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless; all my dreams to provide education and medical care to the browns and the blacks and the lame and the poor. But if I left that war and let the Communists take over South Vietnam…there would follow in this country an endless national debate – a mean and destructive debate – that would shatter my Presidency, kill my administration, and damage our democracy.” (p.96)

There are lessons for teachers and students to contemplate on the human and economic costs of the war, the stories of refugees who came to the United States, the work of military chaplains, the resilience of the Vietnamese people, and the reconstruction of Saigon and Vietnam from war to a 21st century productive economy. Teachers and students may also compare the experience of our military withdrawal from Vietnam with decisions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Syria. The Epilogue in Everyman in Vietnam provides a concise analysis preparing students for an informed discussion on the lessons of Vietnam in the big picture of 20th century military conflicts involving the United States.

Jimmy Gilch died in combat in 1966 just a few weeks before he was to go on leave in Japan,

“On the night of July 20th, six days after the army terminated Operation Coco Palms, B Company was exhausted when they returned to Cu Chi. Nonetheless, it was again ordered back into the Filhol Rubber Plantation. Jimmy’s squad would head out the next morning….

The next morning B Company was ordered to start packing their APCs with C-4 explosives and antipersonnel mines….Jimmy and B Company left base camp at 0900, and entered the Filhol by late morning….they were hyper-alert as they continued into the Ho Bo Woods and around the village of Phu My Hung, which was a well-known, well-secured area that held two enemy hospitals, a fortified headquarters, and a training depot – all mostly underground. The Filhol area was notorious for hidden enemy entrenchments and snipers, who climbed high into the trees and hid in the foliage. The GIs in B Company expected to be ambushed, so they breathed a sigh of relief as the APCs maneuvered past ground that had claimed many of their friends.

But on the return trip, guerrilla forces ambushed B Company in the same place where earlier that afternoon they had dismounted their APCs and demolished an enemy entrenchment. The ambush began with small weapons fire from the earthworks one hundred meters away. An ammo box inside Lieutenant Jagosz’s APC was struck and exploded. Jagosz was knocked unconscious and pinned to the floor by falling ammo boxes. His driver was hit in the face by shrapnel and slumped over the gears, sending the track into reverse.

The VC had placed command-detonated mines all around the area. They also hung recycled US howitzer shells from low-lying tree branches, which they shot down on the approaching Americans….In an effort to flank the enemy, Jimmy and his third squad mates took it upon themselves to move their APC around the enemy trench line to support the units that were pinned down under fire. They were hoping their flanking maneuver would disrupt the enemy’s ambush long enough for A Company to arrive and repel the guerrilla’s assault. As their track moved across the trench, it was hit by a command-detonated mine. The blast set off several pounds of explosives stored in the overhead compartments. The hood covering their engine, weighing several tons, flew at supersonic speed through the air. The only thing left of the APC was the floorboard and the driver’s steering sticks. All seven soldiers aboard were killed instantly.” (Excerpts from pp. 189-191)

The book, Everyman in Vietnam by Michael Adas and Joseph Gilch, has information and insights for everyone

Holocaust Education in a Polarized Society: Importance and Resources

Holocaust Education in a Polarized Society: Importance and Resources

Brandon Haas, Plymouth State University

Hate is coming back to people who should know better. That hate is a killer that makes people deaf and blind.  -Rena Finder, Holocaust Survivor, 2018

Recent events in Charlottesville and related to immigration illustrate the divided climate in the United States, an issue that has garnered increased attention amidst the growing demonstrations emanating from the alt-right since the 2016 election. McAvoy (2016) suggests that social studies educators have an opportunity to engage with the issues of polarization for the greater good. These same events have also led to the re-emergence of the Holocaust in peoples’ stream of consciousness. Unfortunately, it is in a way that trivializes the devastation faced by millions under the Nazi regime. The constant site of Nazi flags in the media, without thoughtful discussion or analysis, normalizes the symbols of hatred in America.

McAvoy (2016) points out that this divided social and political climate is the “only political context that today’s middle and high school students have ever known” (p.31), suggesting the uphill battle for social studies educators. Salinas (2016) discusses the difficulty in conceptualizing how to “prepare an enlightened and participatory citizenry” (vii) in our work, something that many of us struggle with in the face of the media’s constant portrayal of a society wrestling with their values and identity. In response, we must stop to evaluate our pedagogical approach and rationale for difficult, yet pertinent, topics such as the Holocaust. Students today have unprecedented access to information, thereby establishing the need to infuse Noddings’ (1984) framework of care in order to further allow them to become moral philosophers. Barton and Levstik (2004) suggest that in order to have meaningful conversations regarding the historical events, students must care about them from the perspectives of those involved. Care that serves as the “mechanism for rendering history meaningful,” and “by which students…make personal connections to history” (Barton and Levstik, 2004,p. 241) thereby making connections to the affective elements.

Emphasis in Holocaust education today should focus on learning the history, while simultaneously providing for an analysis of larger issues of human behavior, choice, stereotyping, bullying, and prejudice (Haas, 2015). As students and teachers use history as a foundation for case studies on the present, students will grow in ways that meet the needs of the 21st century citizen. They will engage in controversial discussions, which Hahn (2001) points out as one of the most effective means of engaging students in the social studies, ultimately providing them with real-world opportunities for evidence-based learning and discussion. Investigating this material in the safety of a classroom community allows students to cultivate their understanding of the world and, in turn, transfer their learning about stereotyping, violence, and injustice associated with the Holocaust to a timely study of #BlackLivesMatter, Charlottesville, immigration and Standing Rock, among many other topics. Students would consequently consider actions they might pursue through civic engagement on varying levels and the role of emotion in these decisions.

We are living in dangerous times. Aviv Ovadya, chief technologist for the University of Michigan’s Center for Social Media Responsibility and a Knight News Innovation Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia, who predicted the 2016 “fake news” crisis, contends that we are swiftly moving towards a time when “reality apathy” could become its own crisis (Warzel, 2018), suggesting that a result of the continued attack on accurate information is that the public may become less concerned about truth. Ovadya questions the consequences of information manipulation, “What happens when anyone can make it appear as if anything has happened, regardless of whether or not it did” (Warzel, 2018)? Further, a lethargic approach to the truth may jeopardize the effectiveness of democratic governance and engaged citizenship.

Empathy and moral values are central to the the maintenance of civil society. The study of history opens the door to questioning and behavior that can develop these skills more fully. The Holocaust, for example, “provides one of the most effective subjects for examination of basic moral issues” (Parsons & Totten, 1993). If the “fake news” problem successfully erodes peoples’ demand for truth, then the foundations of what we understand, and can teach students, about the conditions that allowed the Holocaust to occur will deteriorate. The normalization of hatred and bigotry, such as what is occurring in the United States under the Trump administration, leads to a lack of understanding about the roles of government and individual choice in allowing events such as the Holocaust to occur.

In 2012, the Hungarian government unveiled its new constitution that deflects any complicity for the Holocaust away from the Hungarian people. More recently, Polish President Andrzej Duda signed legislation outlawing the linking of Poland to any responsibility for the Holocaust. Karen Murphy (2018), the Director of International Strategy for Facing History and Ourselves points out that this legislation outlaws the long-accepted term “Polish death camps,” as well as punishes anyone who suggests Polish complicity in the Holocaust (Murphy, 2018). Murphy (2018) argues that “using law and punishment to manipulate historical narratives raises troubling questions about how we remember the past”(np). Outlawing the acknowledgement of complicity in the Holocaust, in the country that was home to all six Death Camps, shifts the narrative towards Holocaust denial. The result in this disturbing trend necessitates a fresh look at the teaching of the Holocaust.

The history of Holocaust education is rooted in identity and history, but the need for drawing connections to students’ lives and society today is of growing importance due to recent events in which Nazi insignia and beliefs are often on display. Davies (2000) points out that “teachers rightly do not want to see the Holocaust only in intellectual or academic terms, and yet emotion is in itself not enough. There has to be a clear rational thought as well as an emotional response” (p. 5).

Totten and Feinberg (1995) describe the concern and provide advice for educators to consider prior to beginning a unit of study on the Holocaust. It is vital that the teacher closely analyze their rationale and resources. It is no question that one can never fully comprehend the horror that victims were put through, teachers should inspire students to “avoid simplistic explanations,” use “powerful opening and closing lessons,’ choose “appropriate sources of information,” and “personalize the Holocaust” (Totten & Feinberg, 1995). In addition, educators must strive to avoid the pitfalls such as the over-use of graphic imagery or using simulations for students to “experience” the Holocaust (Totten & Feinberg, 1995).

As the world continues down its violent and apathetic path, the importance of sound pedagogy about the Holocaust remains important as ever. Students remain interested in the complexity of the topic, yielding deeper engagement with the cognitive and affective elements of studying the Holocaust (Haas, 2015). Cowan and Maitles (2016) stress that “the Holocaust has dark connotations, and this alone explains why teachers who are not required to teach it will never engage in Holocaust education” (p.13). One of the difficulties is having an understanding of what resources and pedagogy to integrate into a responsible approach to teaching about the Holocaust, especially for teachers who are not steeped in the content of the Holocaust. This becomes more pressing with the recent surge of white nationalism and other events worldwide. Students see relevance in studying the Holocaust as events such as the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville are peppered with Nazi insignia. With varying approaches to Holocaust education, there is no single, stand-alone resource that encompasses all of the important elements of responsible Holocaust education. The following three resources provide sound pedagogy and opportunity for personalizing student learning, inquiry, and relevance. Echoes and Reflections as well as IWitness utilize testimony as a central element of the learning activities. The use of testimony provides human voice for otherwise abstract content and engages the students on an affective level and inspires them to take informed action (Haas 2015), one of the tenets of the NCSS C3 Framework. While each can be used by itself, the true potential comes in integrating all three into your unit of study. Most importantly, they bring in more nuanced elements that personalize learning for students and provide voice to the experience of those who suffered through this history, rather than learning about the Holocaust in abstract terms such as six million.

Facing History and Ourselves

Facing History and Ourselves seeks to enlighten students about hatred and bigotry so that students can effect change in the future. The Facing History scope and sequence is a framework that begins with the role of identity and choice as a starting point to discuss how events such as the Holocaust unfold, continues with the historical context, legacy, and comes to fruition with a look at how students choose to participate in their communities. Facing History seeks to engage students in inquiry that is integrates academic rigor, ethical reflection, and emotional engagement (Facing History, 2018). At its foundational level, the investigation of identity provides a lens through which students can make relevant connections to content across disciplines. The recently revised flagship resource, Holocaust and Human Behavior, provides ample historical context and progression in order to provide examples of the complicated history, while giving voice to individual action. For example, students “examine choices Germans made in the 1920s and 1930s” ( in their inquiry into the fragile nature of the Weimar Republic and then consider the reasons for the Nazis’ ascent to power. It is this element of choice that helps students come to the understanding that the Holocaust was not inevitable, but a human consequence. A study of the Weimar Republic provides students with depth as to the causes of the Holocaust and the rise of the Nazi party. Structured inquiry into Weimar Germany provides an avenue for students to make connections between issues that are bubbling below the surface, as well as those that are highly evident to the public, then and now. The Facing History scope and sequence actualizes care as discussed by Barton and Levstik (2004) Students begin to “care about” the people and content of the past, as well as “care that” these events occurred (p.241). As students progress to the Choosing to Participate stage in the scope and sequence, they demonstrate that they “care to” take action against issues of hatred and bigotry in their communities, local and global, and have the necessary tools to understand that one person can make a difference. The idea of students as change-agents empowers them as active citizens.

Facing History goes beyond the Holocaust with resources that address periods in United States History, teaching of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and necessary skills such as Fostering Civil Discourse. One of the greatest aspects of Facing History is that once you complete one of their professional development courses and become a Facing History Teacher, you have a direct line to continued support. Facing History Program Associates assist teachers in planning units and finding resources as part of an ongoing relationship. They offer continuous professional development webinars and courses, both online and face-to-face, that fit teachers’ schedules.

Echoes and Reflections

Echoes and Reflections is the collaborative culmination of the expertise of the Anti-Defamation League, the USC Shoah Foundation, and Yad Vashem. Echoes and Reflections provides a curated set of primary and secondary resources in ten lessons developed to give teachers a ready-to-go, interdisciplinary resource to teach about the Holocaust. It is a masterful blend of the expertise of the three organizations. While the depth and breadth of the resources are central for an effective and responsible study of the Holocaust, it is the curated clips of testimony from the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive that seamlessly integrate into each lesson that makes this resource stand out. Incorporating testimony into lessons with other rich resources provides human voice and, therefore, a unique opportunity for students to connect with a person who experienced this tragedy first-hand. This is a powerful learning experience because students can often demonstrate apathy to documents alone and graphic photos of the Holocaust do little to add value to students’ learning. Testimony, however, provides a person that students can connect with through their story, body language, and raw emotion as they share their experience.

In light of events since the 2016 election, Echoes and Reflections has released an eleventh lesson that focuses on Contemporary Antisemitism. This lesson encourages students to recognize that antisemitism did not end with the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel addresses the difficult reality of this continuing trend in saying, “Once I thought that antisemitism had ended; today it is clear to me that it probably never will” (Wiesel quoted in Echoes and Reflections, 2018). This quote and lesson uses resources that allow students to make connections between the Holocaust and contemporary events, further demonstrating the relevance of learning about the Holocaust.

In the lesson, Perpetrators, Collaborators, and Bystanders, students are confronted with the complexity of complicity. This lesson begins with students considering the meaning of the terms “guilt” and “responsibility” before engaging in inquiry to apply these terms to the Holocaust. Jan Karski, a survivor and resistance fighter who later became a professor at Georgetown University (Echoes and Reflections, 2018), discusses his memory of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his testimony. Students must do a close-read of Karski’s testimony clip as they consider his opinion of the President’s response to his question about what to tell the Polish people, demonstrating the importance of testimony as a primary source.

Students progress to a brief overview of the railroad system’s role in the Final Solution in order to provide context for the primary document analysis that follows. Students will analyze “Salitter’s Report,” a report from Hauptmann Salitter, an officer in charge of a transport of Jewish prisoners from Dusseldorf to Riga. Students work in small groups to analyze the document, with the knowledge that men were not forced to take jobs such as Salitter’s, which were considered prestigious. They are asked to analyze the tone and language of the report to draw conclusions regarding Salitter’s attitude towards his role, the possible reasons for some of the actions detailed in the report, such as placing children with their mothers, and to consider Salitter’s role in the murder of the train passengers in the camps.

Students’ next step is to draw up a list of people listed in the report and use a 1-4 scale to determine their level of responsibility for what happened to the Jews. This leads to small and large group discussion regarding guilt and responsibility, as well as the how and why people may have cooperated with the Nazi’s process of mass murder.

Echoes and Reflections offers professional development on teaching about the Holocaust and the use of testimony with different offerings. They are free, face-to-face workshops, webinars, and a self-paced online class. Once trained, teachers become more comfortable with integrating the resources and the effective use of testimony, which is applicable across content areas.

IWitness (USC Shoah Foundation)

IWitness is a web resource developed by the USC Shoah Foundation-the Institute for Visual History and Education and designed for classroom implementation ranging from upper elementary grades through higher education. It is an educational medium that allows students to learn through testimony in student-directed inquiry. Haas, Berson, and Berson (2015) point out that “Students and teachers may search, watch, and interact with testimonies to construct multimedia projects in a secure, password-protected space” (p.107) as well as being accessible in single-computer classrooms. The technology makes use of the institute’s Visual History Archive that contains the testimonies of approximately 55,000 Holocaust survivors and witnesses, as well as witnesses and survivors of the genocide in Rwanda, Armenia, and the Nanjing Massacre. It is important to teach about genocide beyond the Holocaust in order to make students realize that there is not one form it takes and to demonstrate that it is a problem that plagues the world. The collection of testimonies beyond the Holocaust further Totten’s (2001) argument that making other genocides part of the null curriculum is problematic.

IWitness provides a framework and space for students to develop questions and construct their own digital essays on a variety of topics. The library contains over 200 pre-built activities range that from 30-minutes to multi-day, all of which focus on information literacy, inquiry, and using evidence as support. Further, teachers can design or revise existing activities in order to meet the needs of your students. A recent initiative, entitled “Inspiring Respect” empowers students and teachers to be positive agents of change (USC Shoah Foundation, 2018). Some themes represented include: “Standing up to Indifference; Courage, Resilience, and Civic Responsibility, Countering Hatred, Intolerance, and Violent Extremism,” among others (USC Shoah Foundation, 2018). These themes demonstrate the applicable nature of studying the Holocaust as a means of promoting relevance to students’ lives and the importance of being an active citizen.

An activity entitled “Immigrants and the American Dream” is part of the Inspiring Respect initiative and, like all of the activities within this set, is especially timely given the current practice of targeting and separating immigrant families. This activity asks students to consider what they believe to be the “American Dream”. Students proceed through an inquiry into clips of testimony that discuss reasons for emigrating to America. Testimony clips come from survivors and of the Holocaust during World War II, a Tutsi survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, a survivor of the 1915 Armenian genocide, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide that ended in 1979, as well as someone who acted as a rescuer during the Holocaust. Within the activity, students reflect on one story that most resonates with them and make connections to their idea of the American dream before engaging with the work of their peers.

Like the other resources mentioned, IWitness offers professional development to strengthen educator understanding of testimony-based education. They offer regular webinars on various aspects of using testimony to deepen student learning. Teachers can create an account and add their students into a class so that they can monitor progress and provide feedback in a secure digital environment.


Each of the resources described above offer myriad opportunities for an in-depth study of the Holocaust. A strong unit could be constructed using elements from each and could fit most unit lengths. Just as the study of the Holocaust requires time to process and reflect, teachers need to give themselves time to explore these resources and to determine what their desired learning outcomes are.

We live in a time that will one day be reflected in history as a time of deep-seated division. Therefore, teachers should approach their study of history in order to facilitate meaningful learning opportunities for students to make connections between the past and present. As previously noted, the Holocaust has often been a topic that provides opportunity associate the underlying causes of the Holocaust and basic moral values (Parsons and Totten, 1993) and the need for these affiliations has become imperative in a society with an admitted Holocaust denier running for Congress in Illinois as a primary candidate for one of the major parties during the 2018 election. This disgraceful level of public acceptance is reminiscent of the period in which the Nazi regime strived to normalize their policies of hatred. Bergen (2016) discusses the period, beginning in 1934, when the Nazis sought “routinization…by passing laws to make measures look respectable” (p.90), mirroring the recent use of the legal system and ICE to separate families of immigrants. It is essential for teachers to gain an understanding of the history and the available classroom resources . Cowan and Maitles (2017) argue that “by applying an open and engaging attitude to Holocaust Education, the next generation of politicians and government officials will be better equipped than their predecessors to address topics of prejudice and genocide (p. 3).


Barton, K. C., & Levstik, L. S. (2004). Teaching history for the common good. Mawah, NJ: Routledge.
Cowan, P., & Maitles, H. (2016). Understanding and Teaching Holocaust Education. SAGE.
Davies, I. (2000). Teaching the Holocaust. New York, NY: Continuum.
Echoes and Reflections. (2005). Echoes and reflections: Leaders in Holocaust education. New York, NY: Anti-Defamation League
Facing History and Ourselves. (2011). Holocaust and Human History. Boston, MA: Facing History and Ourselves.
Finder, R. (2018). Comments on Poland’s Holocaust law is a threat to Democracy: Here’s why. Retrieved from
Friedlander, H. (1979). Toward a methodology of teaching about the Holocaust. Teachers College Record , 80(3), 519-542.
Haas, B. J. (2015). IWitness and Student Empathy: Perspectives from USC Shoah Foundation Master Teachers. (unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of South Florida, Tampa, FL.
Haas, B.J., Berson, M. J., & Berson, I. R. (2015). Constructing Meaning with Digital Testimony. Social Education, 79(2), 106-109.
Hahn, C. L. (2001). Democratic understanding: Cross-national perspectives. Theory into Practice, 40(1), 14-22.
IWitness (2018). Inspiring Respect. Retrieved from
McAvoy, P. (2016). Preparing Young Adults for Polarized America. Teaching Social Studies in an Era of Divisiveness: The Challenges of Discussing Social Issues in a Non-Partisan Way. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.
Murphy, K. (2018). Poland’s Holocaust law is a threat to Democracy: Here’s why. Retrieved
Noddings, N. (1984). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics & moral education. University of California Press.
Parsons, W. & Totten, S. (1993). Guidelines for Teaching About the Holocaust. Retrieved from:
Salinas, C. (2016). Foreword. Teaching Social Studies in an Era of Divisiveness: The Challenges of Discussing Social Issues in a Non-Partisan Way. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.
Totten, S. & Fienberg, S., (1995). Teaching about the Holocaust: Rationale, content, methodology, and resources. Social Education, 59 (6), 323-333.
Totten, S. (2001). Addressing the “null curriculum”: Teaching about genocides other than the Holocaust. Social Education, 65 (5), 309-313.
United Nations. (1948, December 9). Convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide. Retrieved from
USC Shoah Foundation. (2018). Institute stats as of 2018 Los Angeles, CA
USC Shoah Foundation. (2013). Bi-annual report on educational programs. Los Angeles, CA
USC Shoah Foundation. (2011). Master teacher institute. Los Angeles, CA.
USC Shoah Foundation., (2007). Quick facts about the archive. Retrieved from
VanSickle, R. (1990). The personal relevance of the social studies. Social Education, 54(1), 23-27.
Warzel, C. (2018). He predicted the 2016 fake news crisis: Now he’s worried about an information apocalypse. Retrieved from

A New Wave of LGBT Books for Children

A New Wave of LGBT books for Children

Peter Olson, California State Polytechnic University—Pomona

In 2011, California passed the FAIR Education Act which requires “instruction in social sciences to include a study of the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans… to the development of California and the United States” (FAIR Education Act of 2011). Many teachers across the country would like to expand their curriculum to include Lesbian, Gay and Transgender people. Fortunately, and possibly in response to the California legislation, there appears to have been in the past few years a noticeable increase in the publication of quality books for children that focus on the LGBT experience.

Many researchers have explored children’s literature that contain characters that are Lesbian, Gay, or Transgender. Wickens (2011) found that there has been a “progressive inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) characters [in young adult literature], highlighting some of the sociocultural shifts toward acceptance of LGBTQ individuals” (p. 149). Naidoo (2017) examined LGBT books written for younger children and advocated for their inclusion in the elementary grades. Cruz and Bailey (2017) argued the importance of an LGBT-inclusive curriculum: “Diversity in sexual orientation [and other personal attributes] are a part of the human experience…and because our students will necessarily be citizens in a diverse society, these topics deserve a place in the social studies curriculum” (p. 297). In this article, I attempt to build on the work of these researchers. I will analyze ten recently published books—each released in the past four years—that can be used by classroom teachers to discuss the roles and contributions of LGBT people in our society.

Family diversity

The topic of family diversity is an important concept in early grades. Decades ago children’s books about families rarely depicted LGBT individuals. However, it is estimated that almost 6 million children and young adults have a parent or caregiver who identifies as LGBT (Naidoo, 2017). “With shifting demographics in the U.S. that include more children and families from diverse background, it is incumbent upon educators to create inclusive curricular experiences that take into account various forms of diversity, including children or caregivers who identify as LGBTQ” (Naidoo, 2017, p. 308). Recently, many books are depicting families with LGBT parents and relatives. Each of the books in this section would be appropriate for elementary grade teachers to use when discussing families.

An excellent book for young children that explores family diversity is Families, Families, Families! (Lang & Lang, 2015). This book shows humorous pictures of personified animals in different family configurations. The book contains sixteen pictures of families with different attributes, such as children who live with their Mom, their Dad, their Mom and Dad, their grandparents, their two Moms, or their two Dads. On one page, two roosters wearing neckties are standing with their three little chicks. The caption reads, “Some children have two dads” (p. 6). A few pages later, an illustration of a family of koalas contains the caption, “Some children have two mothers” (p. 13). The book ends with a grand picture of all of the characters and declares that all families have love. One positive aspect of this book in comparison with other books about family diversity is that it does not directly contrast children with same-sex parents from children with opposite-sex parents. Having two Moms or two Dads are just two out of many features that can occur in a family.

While books about family diversity are useful, these books often provide only a snapshot of different types of families. Therefore, books that focus on one LGBT family (even if fictitious) can provide a more in depth look into the experiences of these families. Stella Brings the Family (Schiffer & Clifton-Brown, 2015) is about a young girl named Stella who lives with her two fathers. When her classmates find out that Stella has two dads, one classmate asks Stella who makes lunch for her since she does not live with a mom. Other classmates ask Stella who reads her a bedtime story or kisses her when she gets hurt. Stella confidently states that her dads do these things for her. Stella’s classmates have the misconception that since their mothers perform these nurturing tasks, then only mothers are capable of providing this assistance. This book can be helpful for students to better understand families with same-sex parents. Furthermore, this story could start a rich conversation about the variety of parenting styles in all types of families as many children with opposite-sex parents may have fathers who are caring and nurturing or mothers who are strong and protective.

Possibly in response to the legal victories and increased public support for marriage equality in the past decade, several recent children’s books highlight the marriages of same-sex couples. In The Flower Girl Wore Celery (Gordon & Clifton-Brown, 2016), a young girl named Emma is asked to be the flower girl in her cousin’s wedding. Emma does not know what a flower girl is, and she imagines herself in a large flower costume. She is also told that there will be a ring bearer, and she imagines an actual bear holding two rings. Emma is also told that her cousin Hannah will be marrying Alex, and Emma is later surprised to find out that Alex is a woman. At the wedding Emma asks Hannah, “Does this mean that there are two brides?” (p. 17). Her cousin says yes, and Emma—seemingly unfazed—starts to play with the ring bearer. The rest of the story depicts the wedding, which includes several Jewish traditions such as the couple standing under the wedding canopy and stomping on wine glasses.

Another story highlighting the marriage of same-sex couple is Willow and the Wedding (Brennan-Nelson & Moore, 2017). This story begins by showing the close relationship of the main character, Willow, and her Uncle Ash. Willow and Ash like many of the same things—going to the park, playing with dogs, and eating donuts. But, there is one thing that Willow loves to do that Ash does not like to do—dance. Partway through the story, Uncle Ash and his partner David announce to the family that they are getting married. Everyone is excited. Plus, they ask Willow to be the flower girl, which gives her great joy. But, Willow has an additional plan. She wants her uncle to dance at his wedding. So, she takes him to her dance class and convinces him to try dancing. At the wedding Uncle Ash surprises everyone when he and David start dancing. The book ends with all the wedding guests dancing and having a great time. This book is an example of LGBT children’s books in which there is no conflict or tension about the characters being Lesbian, Gay or Transgender. Every character in this story is happy that the couple are getting married. The conflict simply revolves around whether Willow can successfully convince her uncle to dance at his wedding.

Biographies about LGBT individuals can also enrich a curriculum about diverse families. Students can benefits from reading about real-life individuals and their partners, spouses and families. Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America’s Pioneering Woman in Space (O’Shaughnessy, 2015) is a detailed biography of American astronaut Sally Ride. The book, which is appropriate for upper elementary grades, explores Sally’s career as a scientist and astronaut. Furthermore, it provides an in depth look at her personal life from childhood to her death. The book is written by Sally’s life partner Tam O’Shaughnessy. Although they knew each other since they were teenagers, the author recalls a key moment about twenty years later: “When I looked back at Sally…my heart skipped a beat. She was in love with me—and I was in love with her” (p. 121). The book also states, “Fortunately, much of the fear that Sally felt about being gay was gone. Society was changing…. Sally was changing, too. She was becoming more accepting of herself” (p. 121). Another book that delves briefly into the personal life of a famous LGBT individual is U.S. Women’s Team: Soccer Champions! (Jokulsson, 2015). This book reveals the history of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team from its World Cup Championship in 1991 to its Gold Medal at the 2012 Olympics. It contains many photographs and short biographies of players, including star forward Abby Wambach. Wambach’s bio details her prolific goal scoring and her selection as World Player of the Year in 2012. In addition, it includes a picture of Wambach with her wife, Sarah Huffman, and identifies Huffman as her wife in the caption of the picture.

Gender expression

Some recent children’s books explore the issue of gender expression. Often, society pushes boys to act a certain way and girls to act a different way. Wickens (2011) states, “Having learned cultural and social mores regarding [gender], individuals perform in that manner, e.g., girls playing with dolls and boys playing with footballs, because that is what they learn is appropriate for their gender” (p. 150). The following books show examples of children expressing themselves in ways that may be different from how other people in society express gender.

In Jacob’s New Dress (Hoffman, Hoffman, & Chase, 2014), the main character, Jacob, likes to wear dresses. At school, he frequently takes a dress from his classroom’s dress-up center and puts it on over his “boy clothes.” His teacher is supportive of students wearing whatever they like regardless of their gender. Jacob also likes wearing dresses at home, and his parents are supportive of him wearing dresses in the house. One day, Jacob asks his mother if he can wear one of his dresses as his main outfit to school. His mother says that he cannot because those dresses are only for dress-up at home. Jacob asks if they can get him a school dress, and she does not have an answer. The next day, Jacob asks his mother again if they can get him a school dress, and she remains silent. “The longer she didn’t answer, the less Jacob could breathe” (p. 18). Finally, Jacob’s mother agrees to make him a new dress which he wears to school the next day. Jacob shows his class his new dress during sharing time. His classmates all have pleasant faces, except for one student who scowls and shouts, “Why does Jacob wear dresses?” The teacher replies, “I think Jacob wears what he’s comfortable in. Just like you do” (p. 26). In addition to addressing the issue of gender expression, this book shows interesting character development as Jacob’s mother at first is hesitant to let Jacob wear a dress to school but later supports him. Teachers and students can discuss why Jacob’s mother was reticent to let Jacob wear a dress to school even though she was supportive of him wearing dresses at home.

Annie’s Plaid Shirt (Davids & Balsaitis, 2015) has a similar theme as Jacob’s New Dress, but in this book the main character is a girl, Annie, who hates wearing dresses. The tension of the story starts when Annie’s mother tells her that they will need to go shopping to get clothes to wear for their uncle’s wedding. According to their mother, they are going to buy a new suit for her brother and a nice dress for Annie. Annie grudgingly goes to the store with her family, tries on several dresses, and hates each one. After the family arrives home with a new dress for Annie and a new suit for her brother, Annie angrily runs into her room and lies face down on her bed, clearly distraught. Her mother is concerned, but does not know what to do. On the morning of the wedding, Annie has an idea. She puts on her brother’s old suit with her favorite plaid shirt underneath. Her mother looks overjoyed, and says that it looks perfect. In addition to her choice in clothing, Annie displays other behaviors—such as swinging a bat and riding a skateboard—that are implied to be typical boy behaviors. The illustrations show some of her classmates with confused or disapproving looks in reaction to Annie’s behavior. Teachers and students could delve into how society often pressures girls to behave in a certain way which can inhibit them from acting athletically and assertively.

It is important that teachers expose students to some books in which a character’s nonconformist gender expression does not elicit a negative reaction from family members. An example of a completely supportive family is in One of a Kind, Like Me / Unico Como Yo (Mayeno & Liu-Trujillo, 2016). This story, with text in English and Spanish, is about a young boy named Danny who wants to wear a princess costume for his school’s costume parade. When Danny tells his family his costume choice, each member of Danny’s family is supportive of his desire. His younger sister immediately exclaims, “Oooh, princesa” (p. 6). His mother replies, “Okay. Let’s go find your princess dress” (p. 6). Even his grandfather gives Danny a warm wink and adds, “Try Nifty Thrifty. They have everything” (p. 6). The conflict and tension in the story surrounds the challenge for Danny and his mother to find a purple dress for the outfit. At the thrift store, they find several items which are purple—a robe, necktie and shower curtain—but no purple dress. Then, Danny comes up with the idea to create a purple princess dress with these items. It is important that students understand that many parents, relatives, teachers, and friends may react in a positive way toward their nonconformist expressions of gender. Also, these portrayals can serve as models for how children can act towards their classmates or siblings who display nonconformist expression.

Elle of the Ball (Delle Donne, 2018) is a young adult novel written by Olympic Gold Medalist Elena Delle Donne. In the acknowledgements section at the beginning of the book, the first person that the author thanks is “Amanda, my wife and best friend” (p. vii). The book is about a very tall twelve-year-old girl who loves playing basketball. Much of the book focuses on the athletic adventures of Elle and her middle school basketball team. But, the book also delves into Elle’s discomfort with certain gender norms. One of these issues arises around the Formal Dance Cotillion at her school. The cotillion is mandatory for the students. Furthermore, the required attire is gender specific—suits for boys, formal dresses for girls. Elle, who never wears dresses, expresses to her parents that she would rather wear a suit. Her mother does not agree to this suggestion and requires Elle to go shopping with her. When Elle complains, her mother replies, “Honestly, what twelve-year-old girl doesn’t want to go on a shopping spree?” In her head Elle thinks, “This twelve-year-old girl….” (p. 26). The story also explores Elle’s emotions when she is asked to dance with one of her female classmates during a dance practice session a few days before the cotillion. Elle and Amanda are paired together because their male partners are sick that day. Elle finds that she enjoys dancing with Amanda more than she had with any of the boys. For the first time she starts to look forward to the cotillion. Although she did not get to dance with Amanda at this cotillion, her mother tells Elle after the dance that she had spoken with the principal about some of Elle’s concerns. At future cotillions the school will not require girls to wear dresses, and they are considering allowing students to dance with any student regardless of gender.

Since many Lesbian, Gay and Transgender adults—such as author Elena Delle Donne—have noted that they displayed gender expansive behavior as children, gender expression is an important issue for many in the LGBT community. However, as mentioned by authors Sarah and Ian Hoffman (2014), children who show gender nonconformity do not always grow up to be Lesbian, Gay or Transgender. When discussing story characters who exhibit gender expansiveness, teachers should guide the conversations in a way that keeps open the possibility that any child might relate to these characters. Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Heterosexual individuals should feel free to identify with any aspect of these characters that ring true to themselves.


The ability to identify with a book is one of the most satisfying aspects of reading. As Tunnell and Jacobs (2008) state, “Almost all readers want to find an occasional title that reflects and confirms their lives” (p. 129). I hope with the help of this article, teachers can find some LGBT books that will be useful in their classrooms.


Brennan-Nelson, D., & Moore, C. (2017). Willow and the Wedding. Ann Arbor, MI: Sleeping Bear Press
Cruz, B. C. & Bailey, R. W. (2017). An LGBTQ+ inclusive social studies: Curricular and instructional considerations. Social Education, 81(5), 296–302
Davids, S. B., & Balsaitis, R. (2015). Annie’s Plaid Shirt. North Miami Beach, FL: Upswing Press
Delle Donne, E. (2018) Elle of the Ball. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
FAIR Education Act, California Senate Bill 48, Chapter 81 (Cal. Stat. 2011)
Gordon, M. G., & Clifton-Brown, H. (2016). The Flower Girl Wore Celery. Minneapolis, MN: Kar-Ben Publishing
Hoffman, S., Hoffman, I., & Chase, C. (2014). Jacob’s New Dress. Chicago, IL: Albert Whitman & Company
Jokulsson, I. (2015). U.S. Women’s Team: Soccer Champions! New York, NY: Abbeville Press Publishers
Lang. S., & Lang, M. (2015) Families, Families, Families! New York, NY: Random House Children’s Books
Mayeno, L., & Liu-Trujillo, R. (2016) One of a Kind Like Me/ Único como yo. Oakland, CA: Blood Orange Press
Naidoo, J. C. (2017). Welcoming rainbow families in the classroom: Suggestions and recommendations for including LGBTQ children’s books in the curricula. Social Education 81(5), 308–315.
O’Shaughnessy, T. (2015). Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America’s Pioneering Woman in Space. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press
Schiffer, M. B., & Clifton-Brown, H. (2015). Stella Brings the Family. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books
Tunnell, M. O., & Jacobs, J. S. (2008). Children’s Literature, Briefly. (4th ed.). Boston: Merrill Prentice Hall
Wickens, C. M. (2011). Codes, silences, and homophobia: Challenging normative assumptions about gender and sexuality in contemporary LGBTQ young adult literature. Children’s Literature in Education, 42, 148–164

Shake, Rattle, and Roll – and #Never Again: Student Activism in 1963 and Today

Shake, Rattle, and Roll—and #NeverAgain: Student Activists in 1963 and Today

Lisa K. Pennington, Governors State University

In March 2018, students across the United States participated in a walkout and March for our Lives to show their support for gun control reform. In the weeks leading up to the walkout and marches, outspoken student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, became well known as they developed a platform for gun control reform and started the #NeverAgain movement, after 17 of their peers and teachers were killed in a mass shooting on February 14, 2018 (Gans, 2018). The Stoneman activists, as well as the students around the country who have joined the movement, are an indication of what a formidable power young people can be when they mobilize. They can also organize and mobilize themselves quickly. The March for our Lives occurred only five weeks after the Parkland shooting. During that time, activists such as Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, and David Hogg focused their social media presence on gun control, developed a mission statement with specific gun control goals, organized the March, questioned legislators, and gave countless interviews and speeches. While it remains to be seen what influence these students have on government officials and whether the movement will result in any discernible gun control reform, these students are engaged, knowledgeable, and demand to be taken seriously.

The comments section of any news story about the Stoneman activists or the walkout reveals those who believe that students should not be involved in politics or protest. However, history indicates the opposite is true. Students have played a key role in multiple social movements in the United States such as the Greensboro sit-ins in 1960 and elsewhere in the world such as the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989 (Astor, 2018; Kaiser, 2015). Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow #NeverAgain widespread visibility, and traditional media outlets have also focused a great deal on the movement.   Historically however, the participation of students in social movements was not always widely known and even today the fact that students have played a role in the Black Lives Matter movement, or that students in Chicago are protesting against gun violence and the closure of schools is less well known (Martin & Corley, 2018). A noticeable difference between #NeverAgain and previous student led movements is the age range of those involved. Historically, such movements have been organized and carried out by college students. #NeverAgain however was organized and is driven by high school activists, and middle and elementary aged students joined the walkouts and marches. The age range of students involved in #NeverAgain brings to mind the Civil Rights Movement and the Birmingham Children’s March of 1963, in which middle and high school students, and one elementary aged student protested against segregation.

While these contemporary movements will hopefully inspire today’s youth to become politically active, showing students this is not a unique phenomenon and that children have often played a role in social movements which resulted in change may be beneficial. Research shows that students need to become interested in civic engagement before they reach age nine (The Civic Mission of Schools, 2003). If not, students are less likely to become civically active adults. Today, youth (ages 18-29) have consistently low turnouts in elections, particularly mid-term elections (The Center of Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 2018). Seeking to encourage higher turnout among youth, during the March for Our Lives volunteers and activists focused on registering young people to vote, and millions of teens will be of voting age prior to the November 2018 mid-term elections (The Center of Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 2018). However, while many students participating in the walkouts and marches were high school age, some middle and even elementary students took part (Shear, 2018).

In order promote interest among elementary students, sharing the story of the Birmingham Children’s March and making connections to contemporary student led movements like #NeverAgain could “hook” them on civic engagement and demonstrate how they too can make their voice heard. The following lesson covers several NCSS themes, including theme 2 (time, continuity, and change), theme 5 (individuals, groups, and institutions), theme 6 (power, authority, and governance), and theme 10 (civic ideals and practices) and is designed to introduce the role children played during the Civil Rights Movement to elementary students by discussing the Birmingham Children’s March.

Lesson outline

The lesson itself introduces the Birmingham Children’s March through the use of a children’s book entitled The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, A Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson. Students then examine primary source photos from the Children’s March to delve more deeply into the topic and practice historical thinking skills as described by Barton (2001).

As a warm-up activity, the teacher should allow students to independently create or fill in a concept map demonstrating their prior knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement. After this activity is complete, students will verbally share information from their individual concept maps to contribute to a whole group concept map. Once the class concept map is complete, and teachers are familiar with student’s prior knowledge about the topic, share the lesson’s guiding question: What role, if any, did children play during the Civil Rights Movement?

After the warm-up, the text is introduced to students, and a picture walk conducted. A picture walk is a method to generate student interest in a story and promote discussion. The strategy also provides support for emerging readers, English language learners, and students with disabilities as it uses pictures in a story as clues to help students familiarize themselves with the story before it is read (Reading to Kids, 2007).

To conduct the picture walk, teaches should guide students through the following steps:

  1. First, the teacher should show students the cover and read the title of the text. Using only the cover and title, ask students what they believe the story will be about and why.
  2. Second, examine the pictures in the text. The teacher may choose to stop and study each picture, or pick and choose pages they deem most appropriate and relevant to the lesson.
  3. Third, as the class examines each picture, the teacher should ask questions, such as “what do you think is going on?” “who is this character?” “when do you think the story is taking place and why?” “why do you think this character looks happy/sad/excited/mad, etc.?” “what do you think will happen next and why?” “how do you think the story will end and why?” Asking such questions encourages students to actively engage with the story, use their imagination, make predictions, and use evidence from the pictures to support their answers. Of course, teacher acknowledgement of student answers should remain vague and neither confirm nor deny components of the story.
  4. After examining the illustrations, the teacher should read the text aloud to students.
  5. During the read aloud, discuss ideas and suggestions made by students during the picture walk. Additionally, ask follow up questions such as “do you still think the story will end that way and why or why not?” “now that we know the situation, how would you describe the character’s reaction?” and “do you think this action was a good idea and why or why not?” These questions allow students to test their ideas, consider character emotions and actions, as well as cause and effect relationships.

The focus on the visuals prior to the read aloud also provides a frame of reference for students to draw on as they hear the story, allowing them to better organize and evaluate the information (Reading to Kids, 2007).

After the story is finished, a short class discussion can help students debrief the text, consider key ideas, and ask any questions they may have. For example, the teacher may ask “in the text it read “she was going to break a law and go to jail to help make things right.” Do you think this was the right thing to do? Why or why not?” Or, the teacher may wish to discuss why some adults were so scared to march, and why so many children were willing. Finally, students can share what they thought the most important event in the story was and why. Students may be interested to know that march organizers used the radio to disseminate information through codes. Radio disc jockeys in Birmingham during the time worked with Civil Rights activists to use music to let children know about meetings and workshops. For example, 1954’s “Shake, rattle, and roll” would sound out of place in a playlist of 1960s funk songs, or phrases such as “bring your toothbrush, you ought to brush your teeth” were used as signals to let students know it was time to march, and to plan for the possibility of spending the night in jail (National Public Radio, 2013).

Once class discussion has concluded, a primary source activity will allow students to examine photos taken during the Children’s March to learn more about the event. The suggested photos, with the exception of one, (see Appendix A) correlate to events depicted in The Youngest Marcher, to provide strong connections to the text. The photos depict children marching with signs, children being escorted to jail, a group of children in holding, and children being sprayed with fire hoses. The final photo, which teachers may or may not choose to include, shows a police dog biting the sleeve of the shirt of a 17-year-old boy. Including this photo provides further evidence of the drastic measures taken by authorities against children who participated in the march.

The primary source activity follows the process suggested by Barton (2001). A sample worksheet is included in Appendix B. Students should be walked through the following process:

  1. Students are told they will receive a set of photographs from the Birmingham Children’s March, May 1963. (Alternatively, students may be given the set of photographs in an envelope with Birmingham Children’s March, May 1963 written on the outside.) Students should not view the photos prior to completing step 2.
  2. Students should record what they think they will see in the photos.
  3. Students next examine the photos and record what they see. They should also note whether the photos are different or similar to what they expected.
  4. After completing the photo observation process, the teacher may have students explain what they believe is happening in each photo, and list evidence from the photos to support their answers. This step moves students from description to analysis. Teachers may also opt to provide questions to accompany the photos for the analysis component, such as when/where do you think the photos were taken?; what do you think the people in the photos are doing?; and who do you think is involved?
  5. For each guiding question, students should be asked to provide evidence for their answers to help them not only make inferences but support their inferences with data drawn from the photos (Barton, 2001).

After completing the photo analysis component, to provide further visual evidence about the Birmingham Children’s March, teachers may opt to show clips from the Teaching Tolerance documentary, Mighty Times: The Children’s March (Teaching Tolerance, 2004).

To conclude the activity, return to the concept map from the warm-up. The teacher should ask students to add information to the concept map based on the story, photos, and class discussion. This closure activity may be completed individually, or as a whole group discussion, and allows students to re-examine their prior knowledge and make any corrections or expansions based on the lesson. Extension activities may make connections to current events and the #NeverAgain movement, providing students with a contemporary example of children participating in and leading marches. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media and news stories provide a wealth of information for students to examine current day activists and draw comparisons between the children of Birmingham and those fighting today for gun control reform. A similar photo activity following the same format may be conducted with contemporary March for our Lives photos. Teachers may also opt to share excerpts from an article by Teaching Tolerance (Van der Valk, 2018) entitled “From Birmingham to Parkland: Celebrate the power of young voices” with their students. This brief opinion piece likens #NeverAgain to the Birmingham Children’s March and briefly describes the steps the Parkland activists took after the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. It also makes brief connections to other contemporary social movements involving young people including the Water Protectors at Standing Rock (Van der Valk, 2018), providing further evidence of social activism among today’s youth.

After completing the analysis activity with March for our Lives photos, as an assessment students may create a Venn Diagram comparing the Birmingham Children’s March and the March for our Lives, and identify similarities and differences between the two. Such an activity would allow the teacher to determine whether students have grasped key concepts such as the social causes for which children are marching, the platforms of each movement, and the planning and preparation undertaken by children to participate in the marches.


This lesson, while introducing students to student activists during the Civil Rights Movement meets several NCSS themes, including theme 2 (time, continuity, and change), theme 5 (individuals, groups, and institutions), theme 6 (power, authority, and governance), and theme 10 (civic ideals and practices).   In addition, it may be used to help students examine the movement from a different perspective, make connections to the content, and see themselves in the curriculum, all of which are important in social studies education (Ediger, 2000; Manak, 2012; Tschida, Ryan, & Ticknor, 2014). Takaki (2012) and Tschida, Ryan, and Ticknor (2014) discuss providing students with different mirrors or windows in which to examine content-mirrors or windows that allow students to make cultural connections and see beyond the “white, middle class representations” and understand the “diverse races, classes, religions, sexualities, abilities and other areas of marginalization” that have played a role in United States history (Tschida et al., 2014, p. 28).   McGuire (2007) also highlights the need for teachers to examine social studies concepts from multiple perspectives, in order to help students make connections between the content, rather than presenting information in disconnected bits. Additionally, McGuire (2007) points out the importance of helping students understand connections between content and their own lives, and their own responses and interactions to current events. Hopefully this lesson will aid teachers in making those connections to current events in order to help show relevance to the content and the role students have played throughout history in the fight for social change.


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Appendix A

Links to primary source photos
Photographer Bob Adelman Children’s March collection:
Specific primary source photos:
Students being escorted to holding
Female students in holding
Students leaving 16th Street Baptist Church
Students being attacked with fire hoses
Student attacked by dog