In the April monthly Q&A session, with Jesse Hagopian, Teaching for Black Lives co-editor, study group members shared their teaching stories in response to the prompt:

What lessons have you done this year that you feel like really connected with students?

Redwood City, California

Abbie Korman, English high school teacher and study group coordinator, used the “Teaching SNCC: The Organization at the Heart of the Civil Rights Revolution” lesson and said

It was really powerful to see students learn about people their age or a little bit older that made change. Some of the students had heard of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) but didn’t realize how young they were.

I have a lot of Latinx students who were excited to learn about Roberto Alvarez and Sylvia Mendez who integrated schools in California before Brown v. Board.

Students came up after class and said, “How come nobody’s talking about this? How come I never learned anything about someone who looks like me?” 

What I appreciate about the lesson is the reality that the system doesn’t want to change. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of failures, pain, and struggle and we have to keep continuing. It contextualizes history for students to see you can make a difference. Student eyes light up at the possibility.

Flint, Michigan

Sam Machinski, high school social studies teacher and study group member, teaches “The Ten Stages of Genocide” by Dr. Gregory H. Stanton. He said,

I teach a 12-week unit on genocides and make it applicable to the present day. It’s the same vocabulary, classification, and dehumanization polarization. But instead of just applying the stages to the Nazi Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, we applied it to the Flint water crisis.

If you take the term genocide and make it bigger than just killing of a generation, make it a killing of a culture and it follows the same stages of genocide. The outcome was that a certain group of people was harmed. One neighborhood over, they were just fine. It wasn’t gonna happen in the suburbs and the wealthy areas.

You ask, “Who was targeted?” And then you can take those stages again and you can apply it to what’s happening in Gaza right now. You can’t argue that ethnic cleansing is not happening there.

In February, we discussed the enslavement of the African diaspora and Jim Crow after effects. One student said, “It’s a slow motion genocide.” We’re talking about a body count in the millions. And the students really reacted to that and the modern news’ very one sided view of what’s happening. One side dies and the other side is murdered. Reading Teaching for Black Lives reinforced what’s going on in the U.S. and it’s forcing us away from a traditional narrative that’s focused on a white male protagonist into ideas and views from all over the world. Students really like it.

Brooklyn, New York

Ina Pannell-SaintSurin, elementary teacher and alumni study group coordinator, shared a story related to a lesson she taught for the Black Lives Matter at School week of action. She said, 

We study the 13 Principles for the week of action, one week at a time. The 5th-grade team came up with the idea to create artifacts of what they learned. A lot of children chose the principle of empathy. 

To help them create, we shared videos of the artist Adrian Brandon who is a Brooklyn based artist who sketches and paints the people who have died at the hands of police brutality. He sets a timer for a minute of each of the years that they’ve lived. When those minutes end, he stops painting and that becomes the artwork. 

Kids made a podcast, choreography, songs, poems, and a lot of other very interesting projects that really blew our minds. We had parents come in to see the projects in a gallery walk at their desks and they were also very impressed.