Teaching about Slavery in the Fifth Grade

Alan Singer
Hofstra University

United States history is usually taught in fifth grade. One of the more difficult topics to teach with sensitivity and critically is about the enslavement of African Americans in British North America and the United States. Elementary school teachers that I work with often have only a superficial knowledge of history at best, particularly topics like slavery, which means that if they decide to teach about it they are drawn to packaged lessons. Many are afraid to even touch the topic because of news stories about teachers challenged by parents and administrators, and even removed, because of inappropriate lessons.

In response, I developed a series of full class and group based lessons. While I think it is important to help students understand the horror and injustice of enslavement, they also need to learn how people, both Black and white, risked their lives in the struggle to end it. A focus on abolitionists also addresses other key social studies goals including understanding what it means to be an active citizen in a democratic society and writing more women into the history curriculum.

I use a close reading and textual analysis of three songs from slavery days, “All the Pretty Little Horses,” “Go Down Moses,” and “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, to introduce three major themes. “All the Pretty Little Horses”is the story of a mother separated from her child and is about the sorry and injustice of being enslaved. “Go Down Moses” is a religious allegory, nominally about the enslavement of Israelites in Egypt, but really about the desire of enslaved Africans for freedom. “Follow the Drinking Gourd” tells the story of the Underground Railroad as a pathway to freedom. Versions of the songs are available on Youtube. I recommend Odetta singing “All the Pretty Little Horses,” Paul Robeson singing “Go Down Moses,” and Richie Havens’ version of “Follow the Drinking Gourd.”

Virginia Hamilton’s story “The People Could Fly” lends itself to reenactment as a play. It introduces slavery as an oppressive work system, explores the horrors of enslavement, and shows the resistance to bondage. Based on a traditional folktale, it ends with enslaved Africans on a cotton plantation in the South rediscovering the magic of flight to escape enslavement and return to Africa. I have performed this play successfully with students in grades 5 to 8. Some classes have opened and closed with performances of African dance.

The package “Abolitionists who fought to end slavery” opens with a full class lesson on abolitionists. It includes an early photograph that records an anti-slavery meeting in August 1850 in Cazenovia, New York. The meeting was called to protest against a proposed new federal Fugitive Slave law. Participants in the meeting included Frederick Douglass. The lesson includes a map of Underground Railroad routes through the New Jersey and New York. It concludes with instructions for the “Abolitionist Project.” Each team studies about one of ten leading abolitionists who fought against slavery. They produce a PowerPoint with between five and ten slides about their abolitionist’s life and achievements; create a tee-shirt, poster, or three-dimensional display featuring the life of their abolitionist; and write a poem, letter, skit, rap, or song about their abolitionist. The team’s PowerPoint and creative activities are presented to the class.

Traditional African American Songs from the Era of Slavery

A) All the Pretty Little Horses – The key to understanding this lullaby is that there are two babies.

Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry, go to sleep my little baby,

When you wake, you shall have, all the pretty little horses,

Blacks and bays, dapples and grays, all the pretty little horses.

Way down yonder, in the meadow, lies my poor little lambie,

With bees and butterflies peckin’ out its eyes,

The poor little things crying Mammy.

Questions

  1. Who are the two babies in this lullaby? Which baby is the woman singing to?
  2. Why do you think the woman was assigned to care for this baby?
  3. What does this song tell us about the experience of enslaved Africans?

B) Go Down, Moses – This song is an African American version of Exodus from the Old Testament.

When Israel was in Egypt land, Let my people go.

Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let my people go.

Chorus- Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt land. Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go.

“Thus spoke the Lord,” bold Moses said, Let my people go.

“If not, I’ll smite your first-born dead.” Let my people go.

Chorus- Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt land. Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go.

Old Pharaoh said he’d go across, Let my people go.

But Pharaoh and his host were lost, Let my people go.

Chorus- Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt land. Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go.

No more shall they in bondage toil, Let my people go.

They shall go forth with Egypt’s spoil, Let my people go.

Chorus- Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt land. Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go.

Questions

  1. What does Moses say to Pharaoh?
  2. Why do you think enslaved African Americans sang a song about ancient Israelites?
  3. What does this song tell us about the experience of enslaved Africans?

C) Follow the Drinking Gourd– This song is supposed to contain an oral map of the Underground Railroad. The “drinking gourd” is the star constellation known as the Big Dipper.

When the sun comes up and the first quail calls, follow the drinking gourd,

For the old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom, if you follow the drinking gourd.

Chorus- Follow the drinking gourd, follow the drinking gourd,

For the old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom, if you follow the drinking gourd.

The river bank will make a mighty good road, the dead trees will show you the way,

Left foot, peg foot, travelin’ on, follow the drinking gourd.

Chorus- Follow the drinking gourd, follow the drinking gourd,

For the old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom, if you follow the drinking gourd.

The river ends between two hills, follow the drinking gourd,

There’s another river on the other side, follow the drinking gourd.

Chorus- Follow the drinking gourd, follow the drinking gourd,

For the old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom, if you follow the drinking gourd.

Questions

  1. Why does the song tell passengers on the Underground Railroad to follow the “drinking gourd”?
  2. Why would runaway slaves prefer an oral map to a written map?
  3. What does this song tell us about the experience of enslaved Africans?

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The People Could Fly – A Play

Based on a story from the book, The People Could Fly, American Black Folktales byVirginia Hamilton (New York: Random House, 1993)

Background: Toby and Sarah stand in the middle bending over to pick cotton. The overseer and master loom in the background, either as giant puppets or as large images on a screen (scanned from the book). A leather belt imitates the sound of a whip. The play illustrates the oppression of slavery and the desire of enslaved Africans for freedom. The play follows the original story very closely.

Cast: 12 Narrators, Sarah, Toby, Overseer, Master

Materials: Belt for cracking like a whip, baby doll for Sarah, two giant puppets (water jugs attached to a broom stick, tape on a wire hanger and provide a long sleeve shirt)

Narrator 1: They say the people could fly. Say that along ago in Africa, some of the people knew magic. And they would walk up on the air like climbing up on a gate. And they flew like blackbirds over the fields. Black, shiny wings flapping against the blue up there. Then, many of the people were captured for Slavery. The ones that could fly shed their wings. They couldn’t take their wings across the water on the slave ships. Too crowded, don’t you know. The folks were full of misery, then. Got sick with the up and down of the sea. So they forgot about flying when they could no longer breathe the sweet scent of Africa.

Narrator 2: Say the people who could fly kept their power, although they shed their wings. They kept their secret magic in the land of slavery. They looked the same as the other people from Africa who had been coming over, who had dark skin. Say you couldn’t tell anymore one who could fly from one who couldn’t. One such who could was an old man, call him Toby. And standing tall, yet afraid, was a young woman who once had wings. Call her Sarah. Now Sarah carried a babe tied to her back. She trembled to be so hard worked and scorned. The slaves labored in the fields from sunup to sundown. The owner of the slaves calling himself their Master. Say he was a hard lump of clay. A hard, glinty coal. A hard rock pile, wouldn’t be moved.

Narrator 3: His Overseer on horseback pointed out the slaves who were slowing down. So the one called Driver cracked his whip over the slow ones to make them move faster. That whip was a slice-open cut of pain. So they did move faster. Had to. Sarah hoed and chopped the row as the babe on her back slept. Say the child grew hungry. That babe started up bawling too loud. Sarah couldn’t stop to feed it. Couldn’t stop to soothe and quiet it down. She let it cry. She didn’t want to. She had no heart to croon to it.

Overseer:  “Keep that thing quiet.”

Narrator 4: The Overseer, he pointed his finger at the babe. The woman scrunched low. The Driver cracked his whip across the babe anyhow. The babe hollered like any hurt child, and the woman feel to the earth. The old man that was there, Toby, came and helped her to her feet.

Sarah: “I must go soon.”

Toby:  “Soon.”

Narrator 5:  Sarah couldn’t stand up straight any longer. She was too weak. The sun burned her face. The babe cried and cried.

Sarah: “Pity me, oh, pity me.” say it sounded like. Sarah was so sad and starving, she sat down in the row.

Overseer: “Get up, you black cow.” ”

Narrator 5: The Overseer pointed his hand, and the Driver’s whip snarled around Sarah’s legs. Her sack dress tore into rags. Her legs bled onto the earth. She couldn’t get up. Toby was there where there was no one to help her and the babe.

Sarah:  “Now, before it’s too late. Now, Father!”

Toby: “Yes, Daughter, the time is come. Go, as you know how to go!” (He raised his arms, holding them out to her. ) “Kumyali, kum buba tambe. Kumyali, kum buba tambe.”

Narrator 6: The young woman lifted one foot on the air. Then the other. She flew clumsily at first, with the child now held tightly in her arms. Then she felt the magic, the African mystery. Say she rose just as free as a bird. As light as a feather. The Overseer rode after her, hollering. Sarah flew over the fences. She flew over the woods. Tall trees could not snag her. Nor could the Overseer. She flew like an eagle now, until she was gone from sight. No one dared speak about it. Couldn’t believe it. But it was, because they that was there saw that it was.

Narrator 7: Say the next day was dead hot in the fields. A young man slave fell from the heat. The Driver come and whipped him. Toby come over and spoke words to the fallen one. The words of ancient Africa once heard are never remembered completely. The young man forgot them as soon as he heard them. They went way inside him. He got up and rolled over on the air. He rode it awhile. And he flew away. Another and another fell from the heat. Toby was there. He cried out to the fallen and reached his arms out to them.

Toby:Kum kunka yali, kum … tambe!

Narrator 8: And they too rose on the air. They rode the hot breezes. The ones flying were black and shining sticks, wheeling above the head of the Overseer. They crossed the rows, the fields, the fences, the streams, and were away.

Overseer: “Seize the old man! I heard him say the magic words. Seize him!”

Narrator 9: The one calling himself Master come running. The Driver got his whip ready to curl around old Toby and tie him up. The slaveowner took his hip gun from its place. He meant to kill old, black Toby. But Toby just laughed. Say he threw back his head.

Toby: “Hee, hee! Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know some of us in this field? We are ones who fly!”

Narrator 10: And he sighed the ancient words that were a dark promise. He said them all around to the others in the field under the whip, “… buba yali … buba tambe …” There was a great outcrying. The bent backs straightened up. Old and young who were called slaves and could fly joined hands. Say like they would ring-sing. But they didn’t shuffle in a circle. They didn’t sing. They rose on the air. They flew in a flock that was black against the heavenly blue. Black crows or black shadows. It didn’t matter, they went so high. Way above the plantation, way over the slavery land. Say they flew away to Free-dom.

Narrator 11: And the old man, old Toby, flew behind them, taking care of them. He wasn’t crying. He wasn’t laughing. He was the seer. His gaze fell on the plantation where the slaves who could not fly waited.

Class:  “Take us with you! Take us with you!”

Narrator 11: Their looks spoke it but they were afraid to shout it. Toby couldn’t take them with him. Hadn’t the time to teach them to fly. They must wait for a chance to run.

Toby: “Goodie-bye!”

Narrator 12: The old man called Toby spoke to them, poor souls! And he was flying gone. So they say. The Overseer told it. The one called Master said it was a lie, a trick of the light. The Driver kept his mouth shut. The enslaved Africans who could not fly told about the people who could fly to their children. When they were free. When they sat close before the fire in the free land, they told it. They did so love firelight and Free-dom, and telling. They say that the children of the ones who could not fly told their children. And now, me, I have told it to you.

Abolitionists Who Fought to End Slavery

Abolitionists fought to end slavery in the United States. Some were Black and some were white. Many were religious. Some were former slaves who had escaped from bondage. Some believed the country could change peaceably. Some believed it would not change without bloodshed. Some believed abolitionists should obey the law. Some believed abolitionists should break the law. Some wanted slavery to end at once. Some thought it could end over time. They all believed slavery in the United States was wrong and must end.

A) This early photograph records an anti-slavery meeting in August 1850 in Cazenovia, New York. Abolitionists gathered to protest against a proposed new federal Fugitive Slave Act. The act would permit federal marshals to arrest and return to slavery freedom seekers who had escaped to the North. It would also punish anyone accused to helping a fugitive by providing them with food, a place to stay, or a job.

B) Cazenovia was a small town in upstate New York near Auburn, Syracuse, and Utica and just south of the Erie Canal. Participants in the convention included Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, about 50 fugitive slaves, and more than 2,000 other people.

C) In the photograph, Frederick Douglass is the African American man seated by the table. Behind him with his arm raised is Gerrit Smith, a leading white abolitionist. On either side of Smith are Mary and Emily Edmonson. They escaped from slavery in 1848 but were recaptured and sent to New Orleans to be sold. The girls’ free-born father raised money to buy their freedom. The Edmonson’s attended college in the North and became active abolitionists.

D) Frederick Douglass, who was a former fugitive slave, presided over the convention. The convention closed with a “Letter to the American Slaves” that offered advice and help to slaves planning to rebel in the South and freedom-seekers who escaped to the North. In the letter they wrote:

1. “While such would dissuade [convince] you from all violence toward the slaveholder, let it not be supposed that they regard it as guiltier than those strifes [fights] which even good men are wont to justify. If the American revolutionists had excuse for shedding but one drop of blood, then have the American slaves excuse for making blood to flow.”

2. “The Liberty Party, the Vigilance Committee of New York, individuals, and companies [groups] of individuals in various parts of the country, are doing all they can, and it is much, to afford you a safe and a cheap passage from slavery to liberty.

3. Brethren [brothers], our last word to you is to bid you be of good cheer and not to despair of your deliverance. Do not abandon yourselves, as have many thousands of American slaves, to the crime of suicide. Live! Live to escape from slavery! Live to serve God! Live till He shall Himself call you into eternity! Be prayerful — be brave — be hopeful. “Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.” [will be soon]

The Abolitionist Project

Instructions: Each team will study one of the leading abolitionists who fought against slavery. Start with the biography sheet for your abolitionist and conduct additional research online.

For your final project each team will create:

  1. PowerPoint with between five and ten slides about your abolitionist’s life and achievements. Your team will present this in class.
  2. A tee-shirt, poster, or three-dimensional display featuring the life of your abolitionist.
  3. A poem, letter, skit, rap, or song about your abolitionist.

Frederick Douglass: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States

Social Reformer, Abolitionist, Orator, Writer

1818 – Born enslaved in Maryland

1838 – Escaped from slavery

1841 – Met William Lloyd Garrison and became an active abolitionist

1845 – Published first edition of biography 1845 – Traveled to Europe to avoid re-enslavement

1847 – Returned to the United States and began publication of the abolitionist North Star in Rochester, NY

1848 – Attended the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY

1859 – Met with John Brown to plan slave rebellion. Fled to Europe to escape prosecution after Harpers Ferry.

1863 – Convinced Lincoln to enlist Black troops in the Union Army

1872 – First African American nominated for Vice President of the United States

1889 – Appointed U.S. representative to Haiti

1895 – Died in Washington DC

Famous Speech: “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

Frederick Douglass was asked to address the citizens of Rochester at their Fourth of July celebration in 1852. This excerpt from his speech shows his great power as an orator and the strength of his opposition to slavery.

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour. Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the every-day practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Henry Highland Garnet: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States


Abolitionist, Minister, Educator and Orator

1815 – Born enslaved in Maryland

1824 – Escaped with his family to New Jersey

1825 – Family settled in New York where he attended the African Free School

1828 (?) – Slavecatchers force his family to flee Brooklyn. Garnet harbored in Smithtown, NY.

1830 – Suffered serious leg injury (later amputated)

1834 – Helped found an abolitionist society

1835 – Attended interracial Noyes Academy in Connecticut that was burned down by rioters

1839 – Graduated from Oneida Theological Institute and became a Presbyterian minister in Troy, NY

1843 – Called for slave rebellion in speech at the National Negro Convention

1849 – Called free Blacks to emigrate out of the U.S.

1852 – Moved to Jamaica as a Christian Missionary

1863 – Enlisted Blacks in the Union Army. Escaped from Draft Riots.

1865 – 1st African American to preach in Capital building

1882 – Died Monrovia, Liberia

Famous Speech: “An Address to the Slaves of the United States”

From August 21-24, 1843, a National Negro Convention was held in Buffalo, New York. Delegates included Frederick Douglass. Henry Highland Garnet delivered a very militant speech calling on enslaved Africans to revolt.

It is in your power so to torment the God-cursed slaveholders that they will be glad to let you go free. If the scale was turned, and black men were the masters and white men the slaves, every destructive agent and element would be employed to lay the oppressor low. Danger and death would hang over their heads day and night. Yes, the tyrants would meet with plagues more terrible than those of Pharaoh. But you are a patient people. You act as though, you were made for the special use of these devils. You act as though your daughters were born to pamper the lusts of your masters and overseers.

Let your motto be resistance! Resistance! RESISTANCE! No oppressed people have ever secured their liberty without resistance. What kind of resistance you had better make, you must decide by the circumstances that surround you, and according to the suggestion of expediency. Brethren, adieu! Trust in the living God. Labor for the peace of the human race, and remember that you are FOUR MILLIONS.

Gerrit Smith: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States


Reformer, Abolitionist, Politician, Philanthropist

1797 – Born in Utica, NY

1818 – Graduated from Hamilton College

1819 – Managed family land-holdings in upstate NY

1828 – Became active in temperance movement

1835 – Became active as an abolitionist

1840 – Helped found anti-slavery Liberty Party

1846 – Gave land in the Adirondacks to free Blacks as homesteads

1848- His home became UGRR station

1848 – Liberty Party Candidate for President

1850s – Financially supported Frederick Douglass’ newspapers

1852 – Elected to Congress

1859 – Funded John Brown raid on Harpers Ferry

1865 – Advocated for mild treatment of the South after the Civil War

1874 – Died in New York City

Famous Speech: Statement on Slavery in Congress, April 6, 1854

Slavery is the baldest and biggest lie on earth. In reducing man to chattel, it denies, that God is God – for, in His image, made He man – the black man and the red man, as well as the white man. Distorted as our minds by prejudice, and shrivelled as are our souls by the spirit of caste, this essential equality of the varieties of the human family may not be apparent to us all.

The Constitution, the only law of the territories, is not in favor of slavery, and that slavery cannot be set up under it . . . I deny that there can be Constitutional slavery in any of the States of the American Union – future States, or present States – new or old. I hold, that the Constitution, not only authorizes no slavery, but permits no slavery; not only creates no slavery in any part of the land, but abolishes slavery in every part o the land. In other words, I hold, that there is no law for American slavery.

John Brown: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States

John Brown

1800 – Born in Torrington, Connecticut

1837 – Brown commits his life to fighting to end slavery.

1849 – John Brown and his family moved to the Black community of North Elba in the Adirondack region of New York.

1855 – Brown and five of his sons organize a band of anti-slavery guerilla fighters in the Kansas territory.

1859 – John Brown and 21 other men attacked the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Brown was wounded, captured and convicted of treason. He was hanged on December 2, 1859.

John Brown is one of the most controversial [debated] figures in United States history. He was a conductor on the Underground Railroad and an anti-slavery guerilla fighter in Kansas. In 1859, Brown led an armed attack on a federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His goal was to start a slave rebellion in the United States. Brown and his followers were defeated, tried and executed. While the rebellion failed, it led to the Civil War and the end of slavery in the United States.

Famous Speech:  John Brown to the Virginia Court on November 2, 1859

In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted, — the design on my part to free slaves . . . Had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends — either father, mother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class — and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.

The court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God . . . I believe that to have interfered as I have done — as I have always freely admitted I have done — in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle [mix]  my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments. — I submit; so let it be done!

Harriet Tubman: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States

Abolitionist, Political Activist, Nurse, Spy

1822 – Born enslaved in Maryland. Birth name Araminta “Minty” Ross

1834 (?) – Suffered severe head injury when she helped another slave who was being beaten

1849 – Escaped enslavement

1850s – Conductor on the UGRR

1858 – Helped John Brown plot Harpers Ferry

1859 – Establishes farm Auburn, NY

1861 – Served as a cook and nurse for Union Army

1863 – Became spy for the Union Army

1868 – Secured Civil War pension

1896 – Established an old age home

1913 – Died in Auburn, NY

Excerpt from her Biography by Sarah Bradford

Master Lincoln, he’s a great man, and I am a poor negro [African American]; but the negro can tell master Lincoln how to save the money and the young men. He can do it by setting the negro free. Suppose that was an awful big snake down there, on the floor. He bite you. Folks all scared, because you die. You send for a doctor to cut the bite; but the snake, he rolled up there, and while the doctor doing it, he bite you again. The doctor dug out that bite; but while the doctor doing it, the snake, he spring up and bite you again; so he keep doing it, till you kill him. That’s what master Lincoln ought to know.

Frederick Douglass Praises Harriet Tubman

The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day—you in the night. … The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown—of sacred memory—I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have.

Sojourner Truth: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States

Abolitionist and Women’s Rights Activist

1797 – Born enslaved in Ulster County, NY. Her birth name was Isabella (Belle) Baumfree. She spoke Dutch before she spoke English.

1806 – Isabella was sold for the first time at age 9.

1826 – She escaped from slavery with her infant daughter.

1827 – Legally freed by New York Emancipation Act.

1828 – Sued in court to free her son who had be sold illegally to an owner in Alabama.

1843 – Isabella converted to Methodism, changed her name to Sojourner Truth, and became a travelling preacher and abolitionist.

1850 – William Lloyd Garrison published her memoir.

1851 – Sojourner Truth delivered her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at an Ohio Women’s Rights Convention.

1850s – Spoke at many anti-slavery and women’s rights meetings

1860s – Recruited Black soldiers for the Union Army.

1870s – Campaigned for equal rights for former slaves.

1883 – Died in Battle Creek, Michigan

Famous Speech: “Ain’t I a Woman” (edited)

In May 1851, Sojourner Truth attended the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. She delivered a speech where she demanded full and equal human rights for women and enslaved Africans. The text of the speech was written down and later published by Frances Gage, who organized the convention. In the published version of the speech Sojourner Truth referred to herself using a word that is not acceptable to use. This is an edited version of the speech.

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter.  I think that between the Negroes [Blacks] of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon.  But what’s all this here talking about?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what do they call it? [Intellect, someone whispers.]  That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or Negro’s rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, because Christ wasn’t a woman!  Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together . . . ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!  And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

David Ruggles: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States

David Ruggles

1810 – Born in Lyme, Connecticut to free black parents

1815 – Attended Sabbath School for poor children in Norwich, Connecticut.

1826 – Moved to New York City and operated a grocery store.

1830 – Opened the first African-American bookstore.

1835 – Organized the New York Vigilance Committee.

1835 – A white anti-abolitionist mob assaulted Ruggles and burned his bookstore.

1838- Helped Frederick Douglass during his escape from slavery.

1842 – Became very ill and almost completely blind

1849 – Died in Northampton, Massachusetts

A Letter from David Ruggles

David Ruggles wrote this letter to the editor of a New York newspaper, Zion’s Watchman, It was reprinted in The Liberator by William Lloyd Garrison in October 1837. The New York Vigilance Committee helped enslaved Africans to escape and free Blacks arrested and accused of being runaway slaves.

I suppose, not one in a thousand of your readers can be aware of the extent to which slavery prevails even in the so-called free state of New York. Within the last four weeks, I have seen not less than eleven different persons who have recently been brought from the south, and who are now held as slaves by their masters in this state; as you know the laws of this state allow any slaveholder to do this, nine months at a time; so that when the slave has been here nine months, the master has only to take him out of the state, and then return with him immediately, and have him registered again, and so he may hold on to the slave as long as he lives. Some of the slaves whom I have recently seen are employed by their masters, some are loaned, and others hired out; and each of the holders of these slaves whom I have seen are professors of religion!!

Jermain Loguen: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States

Abolitionist, UGRR Station Master, Bishop

1814 – Born enslaved in Tennessee. His biological father owned Jermain and his mother.

1834 – Escaped to Canada on the UGRR

1837 – Studied at the Oneida Institute

1840s – An AME Zion minister, he established schools for Black children in Syracuse and Utica. His home in Syracuse was UGRR station.

1850 – Speech denounced Fugitive Slave Law

1851 – Breaks the Fugitive Slave Law helping a freedom seeker escape from prison to Canada

1859 – Published his autobiography

1868 – Appointed Bishop in the AME Zion Church

1872 – Died in Syracuse, NY

Famous Speech: Reverend Jermain Loguen Denounces the Fugitive Slave Law (1850)

I was a slave; I knew the dangers I was exposed to. I had made up my mind as to the course I was to take. On that score I needed no counsel, nor did the colored citizens generally. They had taken their stand – they would not be taken back to slavery. If to shoot down their assailants should forfeit their lives, such result was the least of the evil. They will have their liberties or die in their defense.

I don’t respect this law – I don’t fear it – I won’t obey it! It outlaws me, and I outlaw it, and the men who attempt to enforce it on me. I place the governmental officials on the ground that they place me. I will not live a slave, and if force is employed to re-enslave me, I shall make preparations to meet the crisis as becomes a man. If you will stand by me- and believe you will do it, for your freedom and honor are involved as well as mine- it requires no microscope to see that- I say if you will stand with us in resistance to this measure, you will be the saviours (sic) of your country. Your decision tonight in favor of resistance will give vent to the spirit of liberty, and will break the bands of party, and shout for joy all over the North. Your example only is needed to be the type of public action in Auburn, and Rochester, and Utica, and Buffalo, and all the West, and eventually in the Atlantic cities. Heaven knows that this act of noble daring will break out somewhere- and may God grant that Syracuse be the honored spot, whence it shall send an earthquake voice through the land!

William Lloyd Garrison: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States

Abolitionist, Journalist, Women’s Rights

1805 – Born in Massachusetts

1828 – Active in Temperance campaigns

1831 – Started publication of the anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator

1832- Organized the New England Anti-Slavery Society

1835 – Nearly lynched after speaking at an anti-slavery rally in Boston.

1840 – Demanded that women be allowed to participate in all abolitionist activities.

1841 – Starts working with Frederick Douglass after meeting at an anti-slavery rally.

1850 – Garrison and Douglass disagree whether slavery could be defeated through electoral means.

1854 – Garrison burned a copy of the Constitution calling it a pro-slavery document.

1870s – Garrison campaigns for full and equal rights for Blacks and women.

1879 – Died in New York City

Famous Essay: 1st Editorial in The Liberator

William Lloyd Garrison was a radical abolitionist who demanded an immediate end to slavery. This excerpt is from the initial editorial in The Liberator. It was published January 1, 1831.

I determined, at every hazard, to lift up the standard of emancipation in the eyes of the nation . . . That standard is now unfurled; and long may it float . . . till every chain be broken, and every bondman set free! Let southern oppressors tremble . . . let all the enemies of the persecuted blacks tremble. 

Assenting to the “self-evident truth” maintained in the American Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights — among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” I shall strenuously contend for the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population.

I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — and I will be heard.

Angelina Grimké Weld: An Abolitionist Who Helped End Slavery in the United States        

Abolitionist, Feminist, Educator

1805 – Born in Charleston, South Carolina. Her parents were major slaveholders.

1826 – Became a Sunday school teacher in the Presbyterian church..

1829 – Spoke against slavery at a church service and she was expelled from membership..

1835 – Joined the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society.

1836 – A letter published in The Liberator made her a well-known abolitionist.

1837 – Helped organize the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women.

1838 – In Boston, she became the 1st woman in the United States to speak before a state legislature. Threatened by a mob when she spoke at a Philadelphia anti-slavery rally.

1838 – Married abolitionist Theodore Weld and together they operated schools in New Jersey

1879 – Died at Hyde Park, Massachusetts

“Appeal to the Christian Women of the South”

Angelina Grimké was a religious Christian. Her religious beliefs convinced her to become an abolitionist. In her 1836 letter published in The Liberator, she wrote that abolition was a “cause worth dying for.” In her writing and speeches she appealed to other Christians to join the anti-slavery campaign. In 1837, she published a pamphlet that urged Southern white women, in the name of their Christian beliefs, to help end slavery.

I appeal to you, my friends, as mothers; Are you willing to enslave your children? You start back with horror and indignation at such a question. But why, if slavery is no wrong to those upon whom it is imposed? Why, if as has often been said, slaves are happier than their masters, free from the cares and perplexities of providing for themselves and their families? Why not place your children in the way of being supported without your having the trouble to provide for them, or they for themselves? Do you not perceive that as soon as this golden rule of action is applied to yourselves that you involuntarily shrink from the test; as soon as your actions are weighed in this balance of the sanctuary that you are found wanting? Try yourselves by another of the Divine precepts, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Can we love a man as we love ourselves if we do, and continue to do unto him, what we would not wish any one to do to us?

Learning Global Citizenship through UN Sustainable Development Goals

Jiwon Kim and Christine Grabowski
Monmouth University

We live in one world. What we do affects others, and what others do affects us, now more than ever. To recognize that we are all members of a world community and that we all have responsibilities to each other is not romantic rhetoric, but modern economic and social reality (McNulty, Davies, and Maddoux, 2010). If our neighborhoods and nations are both affecting and being affected by the world, then our political consciousness must be world-minded (Merryfield and Duty, 2008). A sense of global mindedness or global awareness must also be promoted in elementary school, but many educators still find it challenging. The purpose of this article is to explore how we engage elementary students in learning global issues and to examine how introducing United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to the elementary classroom helps young students develop their interest and understanding of current issues in the world and become active citizens.

Global Citizenship Education and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Scholarship on globalization suggests that new forms of democratic citizenship and politics are emerging (Andreotti, 2011; Davies, 2006; Gaudelli, 2016; Myers, 2006; Oxley & Morris, 2010; Parker, 2011; Schattle, 2008), and this demands critical and active global citizenship education. As Myers (2006) indicates, however, “while a global perspective is often incorporated into the curriculum and courses, the concept of global citizenship, suggesting a commitment and responsibility to the global community based in human rights, is less coherent” (p. 389).  

Citizenship is a verb – learning about our nation and the world, thinking about dilemmas of equality and equity, and acting on issues of collective concern (Boyle-Base and Zevin, 2009). Therefore, Global citizenship relates to important concepts such as awareness, responsibility, participation, cross-cultural empathy, international mobility, and achievement (Schattle, 2008). From this perspective, global education should be global citizenship education. Understanding and concern for such issues should lead to action, and local, state, and global studies should be used as a “springboard for deliberation, problem-solving, and community action” (Boyle-Base, et al. 2011). Boyle-Base and Zevin (2009) propose a three-part framework of citizenship: Young citizens of the world (and their teachers) should be informed, reflective, and active. This model means (1) becoming informed (about ideas, events, and issues); (2) thinking it through (presenting fair and balanced views), and (3) taking action (teaching deliberation, decision-making, and civic action) (Boyle-Base, et al., 2011).

We adopted this model in order to engage elementary students in global issues, by introducing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) to an elementary classroom. The Model United Nations is well known with many students participating in this program, but few realize that the UN SDGs are designed to educate our society and transform the world.  The UN SDGs, officially known as ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ is a set of 17 Global Goals around world issues. On September 2015, countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In 2016, the Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force, addressing the need to limit the rise of global temperatures. Governments, businesses, and civil society together with the United Nations, are mobilizing efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Agenda by 2030. Universal, inclusive and indivisible, the agenda calls for action by all countries to improve the lives of people everywhere. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved. The 17 goals are as follows:

The UN and UNESCO explicitly support these goals and resources that are useful materials for global citizenship education. While global citizenship is geared towards older students, there are many ways that elementary school teachers can apply these goals and resources within their classroom. For example, the World’s Largest Lesson, which is a website created in partnership with UNICEF and UNESCO, introduces the Sustainable Development Goals to children and young people everywhere and unites them in action through various projects. If educators are planning an assembly or a lesson to introduce the Global Goals, there are a lot of resources listed on the website and educators can choose them based on the specific goal (http://worldslargestlesson.globalgoals.org/). These resources include training courses, activities, books, films, games, lesson plans for each grade level, decorations and posters, as well as support for students’ action and change project. Materials are available in English and nine other languages. Students can share their work online and help create a map of the world, for instance, that reflects why Goal 5, Gender Equality, is so relevant worldwide today.

Context

Mrs. G, an elementary school teacher leads a multi grade third and fourth grade class of sixteen students. This unique style of teaching embodies project-based learning with one to one Chromebooks for the students.  They are not seated at traditional desks; instead students are seated at whiteboard tables with rolling chairs for flexible collaboration and learning. Self-driven students who take initiative in their own learning, had become integral parts of how this exciting project about the UN SDGs had grown and developed. 

The UN SDGs lessons started out as requirement for the preservice teachers of Monmouth University that were presented in the third and fourth grade classroom. As the interest piqued in the classroom, Mrs. G decided to capitalize on students’ enthusiasm and design classroom activities to address the UN SDGs at their developmental level. The goal was for the students to become more globally aware about issues in the world, while honing their reading, writing, research, and presentation skills. This unit project addressed multiple NCSS standards and C3 Framework.

Table 1: Social Studies Standards Addressed in This Unit Project

Social Studies Standards
Addressed in This Unit Project
         NJCSS C3 Framework
1. CULTURE



2. PEOPLE, PLACES, AND
ENVIRONEMNTS




3. INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT
AND IDENTITY



4. INDIVIDUALS, GROUPS, AND
INSTITUTIONS






5. POWER, AUTHORITY, AND
GOVERNANCE





6. PRODUCTION, DISTRIBUTION,
AND CONSUMPTION




7. GLOBAL CONNECTION





8. CIVIC IDEALS AND PRACTICES  
D1.2.3-5. Identify disciplinary
concepts and ideas associated with a compelling question that are
open to different interpretations.
D2.Civ.2.3-5. Explain how a
democracy relies on people’s
responsible participation, and
draw implications for how
individuals should participate.
D2.Civ.6.3-5. Describe ways in
which people benefit from and are challenged by working together,
including through government,
workplaces, voluntary
organizations, and families.
D2.Civ.7.3-5. Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school
settings.
D2.Civ.10.3-5. Identify the beliefs, experiences, perspectives, and
values that underlie their own and others’ points of view about civic
issues.
D2.Soc.3.9-12. Identify how social context influences individuals.
D2.Soc.6.9-12. Identify the major components of culture.
D2.Soc.7.9-12. Cite examples of how culture influences the individuals
in it.
D2.Soc.13.9-12. Identify
characteristics of groups, as well as the effects groups have on
individuals and society, and the
effects of individuals and societies on groups.
D2.Soc.16.9-12. Interpret the effects of inequality on groups and
individuals.
D2.Soc.18.9-12. Propose and
evaluate alternative responses to
inequality.
D4.3.3-5. Present a summary of
arguments and explanations to
others outside the classroom using print and oral technologies
(e.g., posters, essays, letters,
debates, speeches, and reports) and digital technologies (e.g., Internet, social media, and digital documentary)
D4.6.3-5. Draw on disciplinary
concepts to explain the challenges people have faced and
opportunities they have created, in addressing local, regional, and
global problems at various times
and places.
D4.7.3-5.Explain different strategies and approaches students and others could take in working alone and
together to address local, regional, and global problems, and predict
possible results of their actions.
D4.8.3-5. Use a range of deliberative and democratic procedures to make decisions about and act on civic
problems in their classrooms and
schools.

This was accomplished through a multifaceted project that included learning about the UN Sustainable Development Goals through reading, research, presenting a goal, and sharing. Additionally, there was discussing information through a class blog, and leading and participating in service projects. This project continued in the successive school year due to the success and interest in the project.

Part I: Becoming Informed

Reading and Research

While introducing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, one challenge was to ensure that elementary students could understand these complex concepts. In the beginning, students were introduced to two brief videos that gave an overview of the UN Goals in terminology that was easier for them to understand. Next, each of the sixteen students was assigned one of the goals to research in depth. They were given a rubric with specific items that needed to be included in their presentation. The students were required to include: the name of the goal, the definition of the goal, why the goal is important, and three interesting facts.     

The next step was to research the goals to truly understand the meaning, decide why it would be an important goal for citizens to be aware of and potentially take action. The UN website offers articles, video clips, facts and a plethora of additional information about the goals, but can be difficult for elementary students at various reading levels. The paraprofessional and teacher engaged individual conferences for each student to ensure that there was an understanding of what the student was reading, as well as recommendations of particular parts of the site to focus on for their research. The seventeenth goal, which was not assigned to a student, was completed together as a group. Using the classroom SMART board, Mrs. G led the class in modeling how to find appropriate research, navigate the United Nations website, and make decisions about information that was pertinent to present on the visual document.  

To further develop their reading and research skills, Mrs. G used Newsela, a large database of current events articles that are written at specific Lexile levels. Articles that related to the UN Goals were assigned to the students. They decided which articles to read to assist in gaining more knowledge and understanding of their specific goal. This platform worked well, because it is tailored to the student’s independent reading level, which aids in comprehension of the material. Some students worked with partners to help mitigate difficulties in reading articles and participated in discussions together, in order to better understand the topic of study. Individual conferences with partners and the teacher or paraprofessional were essential in supporting the students in tackling very advanced concepts.  Goal 9- Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure was an especially challenging concept for a young elementary student and required a good deal of discussion with the teacher to ensure understanding of a complicated topic. 

Reading informational text in social studies is the perfect way to enhance learning. However, when the vocabulary and content was above level for many of the students involved in the project, the teacher and paraprofessional met individually to read with students to ensure comprehension of the literature regarding the goals on the UN website. This one on one time was helpful in making sure the elementary school students understood their goal, and were equipped with the knowledge to become experts and explain it to others.                      

Part II: Thinking It Through

Presenting, Sharing and Discussing Information about the Goals

Next the students created a visual product to communicate the required information about their goal using what they have learned through reading and researching their assigned goal. The students created posters in the first year when the project was implemented, and in the next year they used Google Slides to present information about the goal. The expectations on the rubric were the same for both the poster and the digital presentation.

Figure 2: Sample Article from Newsela Website- www.newsela.com 

Table 2: UN SDGs Google Slides Rubric

Please include the following on your slide:

  • Name of goal                                         
  • Definition of goal
  • Why important
  • 3 Interesting facts

UN SDGs Google Slides Rubric

  3 2 1
Name &
Definition
The correct
name and an
accurate
definition is
present
The name or
definition may
be correct
The name and
definition are
not correct
Why Important A clear and
accurate
explanation of why the goal is
important in the world
Attempts to
write an
explanation of why the goal is
important in the word.  May have some ideas that are correct
Does not include why it is
important or it
does not make
sense
3 Interesting
Facts
3 appropriate
facts about the
topic are
present
3 facts that are
not relevant or
just 2 facts are
present
Did not include three facts
Design of Slide The pictures
and design are
related to and
represent the
goal.  Is well
organized
The pictures
make an
attempt to
represent the
goal. Shows
some
organization
The design does not relate to the goal, is
disorganized

The students reflected upon their presentations and completed the rubric self-assessing their work. The expectation was to either draw or find photos that represented the theme of the goal. When making posters, the required information was verbally presented in a recording that eventually was combined with other students using the DoInk app. They used the green screen to record and uploaded the recordings to the app to create a video. The other option was to use a shared Google Slides presentation where each student created one slide to represent their goal and provided the required information. 

Figure 3: Examples of Posters


Figure 4: Examples of Google Slide Presentation

Each student took a turn presenting their visual poster or Google Slide to explain and teach the class about their specific goal. They utilized speaking and listening skills to effectively communicate the information that they researched and engaged in question and answers from their classmates. Mrs. G could also further assess their learning by observing how well they could answer questions about their assigned goal. 


Deliberation through Blog Session 

Next, the students participated in blog sessions to further discuss the goals, their thoughts and opinions.  The blog is an effective tool and another way of assessing the students’ critical thinking skills, knowledge of content, and how they communicate. Google Classroom has a feature to “Create a Question” that allows students to respond to each other. These questions were posed to the sessions:

  • List your goal and write an interesting fact that you learned about your goal.
  • Explain something that surprised you about the goals. Why did it surprise you?
  • What can you do to help achieve the UN goals? 

The explanation of something surprising from the students was enlightening in providing a student perspective at their developmental level. The following is a sample entry with responses:

Student “O”: 

1. My goal is Quality Education. One interesting fact about my goal is more than half of children that have not enrolled in school live in sub Saharan-Africa.

2. Something surprising I learned from this lesson is that, Goal 16 Peace, Justice, and Institutions is that people all over the world do not have the freedom of speech for their rights. I feel that is devastating to live under rules that are hardly even thought about just made a law. They live under circumstances that are very sad, and that is very careless of people.

3. To help these goals we need to supply things that are needed. Americans can provide books all over the world for Quality Education, We can provide vaccines to needed, we can give food and vitamins needed to people in need.

Student “C”:  Also, for every 100 boys enrolled in school in Sub-Saharan Africa, there’s only 74 girls!

Student “A”:  Where is Saharan-Africa? What is it?                       

Student “J”:  Who tells them that they can’t go to school and why don’t they?

Student “O”:  Saharan is basically all the countries of Africa except the three at the top.

Student “O”:  They can’t’ go to school because some people (dictators, presidents, kings or queens) think that school is a waste of time. They rather kids go and work the fields and harvest crops

Student “J”:  Thanks for the answer

Student “S”:  It is very sad that people don’t get to go to school, but at the same time it might be fun to not go to school for a couple of days but never going to school would be hard. But everybody needs education.

Student “C”:  It’s not fun. The reason they avoid school is to make the kids do work. And they have to work on the fields, harvesting, growing, and taking care of crops ALL DAY, until night!

Student “E”: How many school houses are in Africa?

Student “O”:  Would it really be fun not to be able to read, write, and say the right words in a sentence? What would you do if you couldn’t read or anything? Would you ask your mom to teach you? What if you don’t have a mom? Put yourself in other people’s shoes.

Student “C”:  It wouldn’t be fun at all not to be able to read or write. If we couldn’t read or write, we couldn’t blog now!

Reading the responses of the students allowed Mrs. G to capture a conversation that the students might have in a group discussion in the classroom. It was determined that Student “O” understood that students in Africa and other parts of the world do not have the same opportunity for education that children in the United States are afforded.  The student expressed empathy for children who cannot attend school, and Student “C” even responds stating that they would not be able to blog if they did not have an education.  When the students blogged, there was silence in the classroom because they were all actively engaged using the technology in a meaningful manner. Mrs. G expected the students to answer the three questions and then thoughtfully responded to at least five students in the class with comments and insight. She accessed all of this and could comment on Google Classroom to leave feedback for students.  The use of technology like Google Classroom allowed the class activity to become more student-focused. By assigning students different UN goals, the students were able to take ownership of their own topic and became the class expert who is accountable for discussion on the goal. This enabled the teachers to see the student’s ability to comprehend the UN goals as well as to apply that knowledge gained to form a discussion with their fellow peers. This deliberation process helped students think about higher-order thinking questions beyond immediately noticeable facts. Students sometimes left with some simplistic and self-oriented/US-centric views of the world. Therefore, it was important for Mrs. G. to capture a troubled conversation and follow up as a group discussion in the classroom.

Part III: Taking Action

Leading and Participating in Service Project

Each year of implementation of this project has led to the students taking action to address the UN SDGs. In the first year, the class was saddened and upset to see the prevalence of poverty and hunger in the world. Through a class discussion, they decided to take action and have a food drive to support a local food pantry. Mrs. G led a discussion on local organizations that helped the poor, and ultimately the students decided to support St. Vincent de Paul Pantry at a church that some students attend. They gathered information from the church bulletin, organized a collection based on the pantry’s needs, created flyers and made announcements daily to the school promoting the food drive and giving the school community facts about hunger and poverty. The students used Google Sheets to collect data and provided updates to the school community about the number of items collected. The young learners took ownership of the whole project and completed it to its final steps of packing the donations and sending thank you notes to the St. Vincent de Paul members for their service to the poor. The class felt proud of themselves for spearheading this project that would align with the UN SDGs.

In the following school year, the service project that the class decided to organize was related to recycling and saving the environment. The students collected plastic film to be sent to the Trex Company, which uses recycled materials to make composite lumber. Many schools compete against each other to recycle the most plastic film and Mrs. G’s multi grade class took a leadership role with this contest. The students created a Google Slides presentation, developed flyers to be sent home with students in the school, and visited all of the classes in the school to explain what can be recycled, where the collection bins were placed and all of the details about the project. They weighed and packaged the plastic, as well as recording the data for the competition. The students were proud of their contribution to the UN SDGs and helping the environment. 

Service projects such as these were a wonderful way for students to feel empowered as elementary students.  It started with one student stating in class, “People are hungry, we have to do something to help!” Through this experience, they realized that their small contribution to helping the poor and hungry, or recycling to help the environment were ways that they could join people all over the world to obtain the UN SDGs. They were able to recognize their power as citizens of a global community. It was important to reflect and determine if there was a lasting impression made by studying the UN Goals.

Results: Impact of the Project on the Students

Mrs. G polled her students with Google Forms at the end of the school year to assess the impact that this project had on the students. There were seven questions ranging from how important are the goals to written responses about how they can be global citizens. One student wrote, “The food drive helps the people that are starving and have no money so they get food that is donated from other people. Then they can have food to fill their stomachs.”  Another student commented, “Doing Trex made us global citizens because we helped by recycling. So the world won’t be filled with plastic. Also because we can reuse it.”  Some even commented about the Marker Recycling Program that was underway in the school, or about the garden at their school. They were applying the knowledge that they had gained from the project and analyzing how activities conducted by other organizations relate to the UN SDGs. 

By exposing the elementary students to the UN SDGs, they were given an awareness of the world around them, beyond their community, state, and country. While engaged in this project, most of the students were shocked to hear some of the statistics. Student “S” wrote in her blog post that some people in the world live on $1.25 a day and it elicited quite a discussion. One response from Student “G” was that “People in North Korea and most of Africa live a daily life of poverty.” The class discussion was facilitated by the teacher to assist in explaining different cultures, religions, governments and such in terms that were on the developmental level of the children, including censoring material that would not be appropriate for discussion at their age. Students were more interested and empathetic towards the issues that were associated with their age group children, such as not going to school, than other issues, like living with little money and resources. Also, their understanding of those problems and causes were sometimes limited. This confirms that the blog session is a good tool to promote students’ learning, to assess their understanding, and to inform teachers what they need for the next instruction.

These UN SDGs are global objectives that are being addressed by corporations, governments and even students.  By teaching the children as young as elementary school, they are being provided with information, facts and statistics that reach beyond “their world”.  One young lady wrote a very impactful statement, “We can make our world a better place to be by making these small donations and commitments, but in reality, that can make a lifetime difference.” Empowering young children to believe that they can have an impact will cultivate adults and forward thinking global citizens. 

Conclusion                                                       

The project can be easily adaptable for multiple grade levels to provide elementary school students a creative and interesting way to learn about global issues and give them a lens into other countries and ways of life. Any classroom with Internet access and devices to utilize Google Classroom or other online program such as Otus, Kiddom, or Edmoto can apply the principles of this multifaceted project.  

The three-part framework: (1) becoming informed (about ideas, events, issues); (2) thinking it through (presenting fair and balanced views); and (3) taking action (teaching deliberation, decision-making, and civic action) effectively engaged elementary students in learning global issues. The UN SDGs were a good source and tool in carrying out this model.

While there are few studies and practices of teaching the United Nations and global issues in elementary level, this classroom practice provides a good example of how it can be successfully done and build young learners’ global awareness and active citizenship. ELA, science, math, and the arts can be integrated in addition to Social Studies as well as the skills of reading, interpreting, and presenting can be taught in this unit project learning. Because it deals with subject matter that is of immediate interest and bridges school learning with life outside school, it is highly motivating to critically think and take action. It provides elementary school students with information that they have not been exposed to and helps them build a knowledge base for understanding current and future problems.

References 

Andreotti, V. O. (2011). (Towards) decoloniality and diversality in global citizenship education, Globalisation, Societies and Education, 9(3-4), 381-397.

Boyle-Base, M. & Zevin, J. (2009). Young citizens of the world: Teaching elementary social studies through civic engagement. New York, NY: Routledge.

Boyle-Base, M., Bernens-Kinkead, D., Coake, W., Loudermilk, L., Lukasik, D. & Podany, W. (2011). Citizenship as a verb teaching students to become informed, think it through, and take action, Social Studies and The Young Learner, 24(1), 5-9.

Davies, L. (2006). Global citizenship: Abstraction or framework for action?, Educational Review, 58(1), 5-25.

Gaudelli, W. (2016). Global citizenship education: Everyday transcendence, New York, NY: Routledge.

Mcnulty, C. P., Davies, M. & Maddoux, M. (2010). Living in the global village: Strategies for teaching mental flexibility, Social Studies and The Young Learner, 23(2), 21-24.

Merryfield, M. M. & Duty, L. (2008). Globalization. In J. Arthur, I. Davies, & C. Hahn (Eds.), The sage handbook of education for citizenship and democracy (pp. 80-91). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Myers, M. P. (2006). Rethinking the social studies curriculum in the context of globalization: Education for global citizenship in the U.S., Theory & Research in Social Education, 34(3), 370-394.

Oxley, L. & Morris, P. (2013). Global citizenship: A typology for distinguishing its multiple conceptions, British Journal of Educational Studies, 61(3), 301-325.

Parker, W.C. (2011). ‘International education’ in US public schools, Globalisation, Societies and Education, 9(3-4), 487-501.

Schattle, H.  (2008). The practices of global citizenship, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Pushing the Boundaries of Elementary Social Studies Education: Teaching Young Children about Borders and Freedom

Greer Burroughs, Marissa Bellino, Morgan Johnston, Catarina Ribeira, Marci Chanin, Briana Cash, and Ellen Cahill 
The College of New Jersey, Ewing NJ
Bradford School, Montclair NJ
Edison Township School District, Edison NJ

The topic of immigration, who has a right to come to this country and who has a right to stay, has been at the heart of heated and emotional debates across the United States. In the summer of 2018 images and stories of children separated from their families at the southern border filled news and social media outlets. At the same time, the murder of a 20-year old woman in Iowa by an undocumented immigrant, led to calls for tighter border controls and for the governor of the state to proclaim that she was, “angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community,” (Klein & Smith, 2018). In recent years the nation has witnessed a series of executive orders to limit immigration from many majority Muslim nations, cuts to the numbers of refugees the U.S. will accept, a series of court challenges to these policies, increased arrests by ICE (Bialik, 2018) and outrage and protests from supporters on all sides of these issues. It is within this context that young children across the U.S. are developing a sense of what it means to be an “American”. A primary purpose of public education is to prepare individuals to be responsible citizens in this pluralistic, democratic nation, therefore schools should not shy away from addressing these issues.

Discussing controversial issues may seem daunting, or even out of place in elementary school. However, the National Council of Social Studies (NCSS) theme of Power, Authority and Governance, calls on educators to teach children about the functions of government, legitimate use of political power, how individual rights are protected and the conflicts that may arise when advancing fundamental principles and values in a constitutional democracy. The standards state that “through the study of the dynamic relationships between individual rights and responsibilities, the needs of social groups, and concepts of a just society, learners become more effective problem-solvers and decision-makers when addressing the persistent issues and social problems encountered in public life” (National Council for the Social Studies, 2010). Despite this charge, many elementary school educators avoid topics that can be deemed too political or upsetting to younger audiences (Zimmerman & Robertson, 2017). This stance turns a blind eye to the reality that these events touch the lives of children in many ways. Some children have experienced separation from family members or have fears members of their family or community will face deportation. Many children are exposed to unsettling images in the media or hear discussions among adults that may be laced with anger and fear. Avoiding controversial societal issues is, in part, to deny children’s awareness of their surroundings and can limit opportunities to help children make sense of difficult topics (Passe, 2008). Addressing these topics can be a vehicle to teach valuable concepts and skills of democratic citizenship (Harwood & Hahn, 1990; Parker, 2006).

In this article, we share lessons designed and implemented by a team of educators to address forced migration, asylum seeking, national borders and concepts of power and freedom with children in grades 2-4. Through the collaborative work, members of the team experienced shifts in their understandings of what should and ultimately could be taught to young learners. This evolutionary process, the lessons and what was learned from teaching the lessons to young learners, will be shared.

Where We Started

The team is comprised of three practicing teachers, two preservice teachers, and two education professors. The impetus for the project was a service learning trip most members of the team took to Lesvos, Greece in the summer of 2017. The island has been at the center of a migration crisis with millions of people fleeing war, human rights violations and economic hardships in their homelands. During the height of the crisis in November 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Commission reported that 379,000 individuals had already arrived on the island and an estimated 3,300 more were arriving each day, (UNHRC, November 2015). Along with the human toll of accommodating a massive influx of people, huge amounts of debris in the form of rubber dinghies, wrecked boats, personal items, plastic bottles and an estimated 600,000 life jackets washed-up or were left on the shores of the island. Organizations and individuals around the world responded by providing aid.

The goals of the trip were to study the interconnection between the ecological and social crises, while working with nonprofit organizations and people directly impacted. This involved learning with locals about environmentally sustainable practices, cleaning the beaches and providing aid for refugees. An additional goal was to advance education for sustainability by creating lessons for elementary children to teach about the impact of humans on the environment in the midst of a human and global crisis. Supporting the students in shifting their orientation towards a more social and eco justice orientation was an important objective of the entire experience.

Initially, the preservice teachers focused on the environmental side of the crisis and discussed possible lessons dealing with the negative impact of plastic on marine life, or the benefits of upcycling. One afternoon the group sorted clothing donations and prepared backpacks for children who had just arrived by boat on the island. That night one student noted in her journal that, “Getting adequate basics, clothes that fit, clean drinking water and food, was a reality for the refugees”. The team also interacted daily with volunteers who had been on the front lines of the crisis and heard first-hand accounts from people forced to flee their homelands. From these experiences, the human dimension became real. One journal entry captured this shift in perspective when the preservice teacher wrote “What makes a refugee? These people were just born in the wrong place, [it’s] all about the luck of where you are born…I am redefining human rights”. With this new perspective, what to teach about the crisis also began to shift away from just the environmental issues to the human story.

The Lessons

“Freedom is like a bird, a bird doesn’t get told what to do” 
- Second grader

In order to support the preservice teachers in the lesson plan part of the project, we invited in-service teachers as collaborators. In teams of two, lesson ideas were shared and refined. Drawing on their experience in Greece and the knowledge of the classroom teachers, the preservice teachers were able to work through some of their anxieties and conceptions of what young children could handle.  As one student expressed, “I don’t believe second graders can understand the concept of the refugee crisis.” The 2nd-grade teacher working with the student agreed and offered freedom as a concept that could be addressed and brought to the level of the children. From there the ideas came quickly and the two decided to begin the lesson with a children’s book. They choose the book Stepping Stones by Margriet Ruurs (2016). The book tells the story of a young girl and her family who are forced to leave their home due to civil war. The illustrations in the book show the family’s plight as they take only the belongings they can carry and flee on foot to find safety in Europe.

The second-grade team determined that once students understood the idea of being forced to leave one’s home, they wanted the children to relate borders and barriers to the concepts of freedom of movement.  They decided to use a simple simulation to help students connect to the idea. In both classes where this lesson was taught, the teachers divided the students into two groups and explained that the class was going to play a game. The in-service teacher brought her class outside and one group was told they could play on the playground for ten minutes, while the other would be required to stand in a small section of the blacktop. After ten minutes, the groups would switch. When the preservice teacher taught the lesson she began by asking the class to list classroom privileges they enjoyed and narrowed the list to two favorites; flexible seating choices and drawing on the whiteboard.  The preservice teacher then explained that one group could exercise these privileges for ten minutes while the other group needed to remain quietly in their seats.  In both classrooms, the idea that this was a game and that the groups would switch was repeatedly emphasized. After the lesson, the students were given opportunities to reflect on their experience and offer their own definitions of what freedom was.

During the activity, both teachers noted very strong reactions among the students. In a focus group, the second-grade teacher described her students as being, “distressed and outraged even though they knew they would get their turn [to play on the playground]”. In both classrooms students reflected on how they felt during the activity and the notion of fairness was applied to the experience by the students.  One child expressed dismay she had lost privileges even though she had been behaving well. This provided the teacher with the opportunity to explain that loss of freedom wasn’t related to one’s behavior and she reminded them how the family in the story didn’t do something bad to cause the loss of their home.

Another team designed a lesson involving a web-based, simulation activity in which students made choices for a woman escaping domestic violence in Nicaragua and seeking asylum in the United States. The simulation, The Walls We Don’t See (Public Radio International, 2017), follows multiple, true stories, of people leaving their homes as a result of violence, war, economic, or environmental degradation. Through the simulation, the students are asked to make decisions that impact the experience and ultimately granting or denial to the individual seeking asylum.

In preparation for the activity, students brainstormed a list of items they would take with them if they were forced to leave their homes. This prompted a discussion of how the children would feel if they were separated from their personal belongings, a favorite teddy bear or their favorite pair of shoes. In both a third and fourth grade class implementing this lesson, new vocabulary was introduced to students prior to the simulation. Students were encouraged to use the new vocabulary (ie. detention center, coyote, border control) in their discussions about the outcomes of the simulation. The students were highly engaged in the simulation activity and as a class, were very concerned with the outcomes of their choices for Maria (the woman in the simulation). After the simulation concluded, the children wrote letters to Maria sharing about a time when they also had to make a difficult decision.

What we learned

I think taking from the idea of freedom, that was so big and so complex, breaking it down and doing a simple activity where some kids were able to play and some didn’t,
Preservice teacher

Across all four classrooms, the children expressed common themes as a result of the lessons. Their ability to make connections between a global crisis and their lives was one big learning outcome. One child shared about his own family’s experience immigrating from Turkey and that he knew parts of his country were dangerous. Another boy shared about his father’s detainment when entering the U.S. from India. One fourth grader even informed the class that she knew many people were trying to gain entrance to the U.S. because she watched a TV show called, 90-Day Fiancé, where contestants seek to obtain visas by becoming engaged to a U.S. citizen.

In a fourth-grade classroom, the preservice teacher who went to Lesvos showed pictures of beach debris and refugee camps. When the image of a child’s shoe left behind on a beach came on the screen the students were stunned and asked, “This happened to children?” She described this as a moment when the student’s interest shifted and they could connect more to the stories. The in-service teachers were both able to make curricular connections to immigration, diversity, and culture and one had previously had a parent speak to the class about fleeing Cuba. This helped the children make connections between the woman’s story and the story of Maria from the simulation activity.

The students also made emotional connections with the refugees. One second grade student exclaimed “I felt like I was invisible, I kept thinking they couldn’t even see me!” Similarly, another child stated, “I felt like I wasn’t a part of the class anymore.” Making these connections helped the children develop empathy. One teacher asked the students based on what they experienced, would they do anything differently if the game was played again. Some of the students suggested they could help others who were denied freedom (i.e., couldn’t exercise class privileges), not feel so excluded by sitting next to them while drawing. In another instance, when a young boy learned that many of the refugees sought to build new lives in Germany, he explained that his mother often traveled there for work and asked if she could volunteer to help the refugees. Several third-grade students were so moved by the online simulation that during their recess they conceived of a plan for a hotel to house and aid refugees. After recess, they presented their teacher with a slide show outlining features the hotel would offer such as service in an individual’s home language to help them in their transition. These examples also demonstrate an emerging sense of civic responsibility, which is a primary goal of social studies education.

Teacher Reflections

I underestimated their intelligence and their ability to do something like this. I was nervous that they weren’t going to make connections to the story…. they took it much further than I anticipated. Preservice teacher

“If you’re telling the truth, not putting a spin on it, you’re okay. This is reality, I’m not telling them anything that isn’t true.” 2nd Grade Teacher

All of the teachers, both in-service and preservice, learned something from creating and teaching the lessons. One of the largest “ah-ha” moments for the preservice teachers was a better understanding of the capacity young learners have for engaging in a social justice-oriented dialogue. The preservice teachers struggled with trusting that young people would be able to actively participate and make connections to topics about freedom and immigration. By working alongside more veteran teachers, they recognized how significant these kinds of lessons are for children, and that to be a social justice educator, truth and discomfort may go hand in hand.

It also became clearer to all participants, how infrequently these kinds of dialogues occur in elementary classrooms. When discussing why this is the case, the reflections ranged from doubting the developmental capacity children have to engage in difficult discussions, to the time and curricular demands of teaching in the current high stakes, standardized testing school culture. Fear of reprisals by administrators and parents was also a common reason shared for why these topics aren’t taught more often. The veteran teachers were able to offer the preservice and novice teacher with models of teaching for social justice and inspiration. The idea that truth should always be taught became a significant theme for all of the teachers.

A final, more practical point was that opportunities to link global issues with an elementary school social studies curriculum do exist. Immigration is a common topic covered, as are colonization and civil rights. The veteran teachers described connections they helped the children make between the refugees fleeing the middle east and the Native Americans who were displaced by European colonists. By incorporating concepts of justice and human rights, the teachers are helping the children critically assess past and current policies and to begin to form their own beliefs on the kind of society they want to live in.

Conclusion

Teaching about issues of immigration and freedom are not topics that should remain invisible in our classrooms. The comments made by the children clearly illustrate that they have background knowledge of these issues, even negative aspects such as detainment and that not everyone who desires to come to the U.S. can. The children were also able to feel empathy for those who were denied freedom or faced difficult struggles. In the current political context, developing both the critical thinking skills to question the diverse contexts with which people migrate, as well as the empathy to connect to the experience of others, are valuable pursuits for teachers. Children can understand the ideas of justice and are capable of making personal connections to these topics. Concepts of freedom, security in one’s family, home and favorite belongings, are accessible to young audiences. The teachers experiences demonstrate there are opportunities in elementary social studies to push the boundaries of traditional topics and teach lessons that deal with important global and social issues.

References

Bialik, Kristen (2018) ICE arrests went up in 2017, with biggest increases in Florida, northern Texas, Oklahoma. FactTank. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/02/08/ice-arrests-went-up-in-2017-with-biggest-increases-in-florida-northern-texas-oklahoma/

Harwood, A. M., & Hahn, C. L. (1990). Controversial Issues in the Classroom. ERIC Digest.

Klein, Ann & Smith, Mitch (Aug. 22, 2018) Killing of Mollie Tibbetts in Iowa Inflames Immigration Debate, The New York Times, retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/22/us/mollie-tibbetts-cristhian-rivera.html

National Council for the Social Studies. (2010). National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: A Framework For Teaching, Learning, and Assessment.

Parker, W. C. (2006). Talk Isn’t Cheap: Practicing Deliberation in School. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 19(1), 12-15.

Passe, J. (2008). A Counter-Intuitive Strategy: Reduce Student Stress by Teaching Current Events. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 20(3), 27-31.

Ruurs, M., Badr, N. A., Raheem, F. (2016). Stepping stones: a refugee family’s journey. Victoria, British Columbia: Orca Book Publishers.

Ser, K. K. K. (n.d.). The walls we don’t see. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from https://interactive.pri.org/2018/02/walls-we-dont-see/index.html

United Nations Human Rights Commission (November, 2015) Lesvos Island, Greece Factsheet,
retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/protection/operations/5645ddbc6/greece-factsheet-lesvos-island.html

Zimmerman, J., & Robertson, E. (2017). The controversy over controversial issues. Phi Delta Kappan, 99(4), 8–14.