People’s Historians Online for Middle and High School

In support of middle and high school teachers and students while school buildings are closed, the Zinn Education Project will host online mini-classes with people’s historians.

We held our pilot session on March 27 with historian and author Jeanne Theoharis and high school teacher/Rethinking Schools editor Jesse Hagopian. The theme was “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks,” based on Theoharis’s book of the same title.

About 75 teachers, parents, and students participated via Zoom for the 75-minute session. We began with a presentation by Theoharis, responding to questions from Hagopian about why it is imporant to learn this history, Parks’s activism before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and her decades challenging racism in the North after the Boycott.

Midway through the session, we had participants get into small groups via Zoom breakout rooms for about 10 minutes to discuss insights and post questions. The breakout groups with teachers launched into conversations about how to bring this history to the classroom. One teacher added, “I didn’t know you could create small groups with Zoom, this will help me with my online teaching.”

Participants were enthusiastic about the chance to connect and learn in this time of social isolation. Here are a few comments from the closing evaluation about what they learned:

I loved the push to think about a whole life of activism and not just a moment. Such a powerful reminder that you never know what moment is going to flash to be “the moment.”

I found the reminder that we never know which of our multiple acts of activism or resistance will be the springboard to change very powerful.

I learned that Rosa Parks’s work intersected a lot of issues (racism/segregation, criminal justice, sexual assault, etc.) and spanned both the South and the North. I will use stories and testimonies from Rosa Parks directly to teach high school students about the complex history of the Civil Rights Movement.

Rosa’s extensive history with working on criminal justice and sexual assault cases both before and after her action. I want to apply this to my conversation with folks who are still under the impression that Rosa’s action [on the bus] was the only social justice and civil rights initiative she took.

I learned that Rosa Parks was one person in a long line of people who were protesting the segregated bus system. You don’t know when history is going to grab you and where the turning point will be. I’m not going to underestimate my ability to protest, not going to discount my actions and attempts to make a difference.

I knew about Ms. Parks’ lifelong activism, but learned about the Highlander Folk School for the first time. This past hour has inspired me to learn more about the whole lives of people whose activism I admire.

I learned that I need to finish Professor Theoharis’ book!

One participant added to her evaluation, “Thank you for getting us together and giving me hope that we are not alone, and that we can think and act ourselves out of this pandemic.”

High school teacher and Zinn Education Project teacher organizer/curriculum writer Ursula Wolfe-Rocca tweeted lessons from the session for today’s pandemic crisis.

We will host more sessions in the weeks and months ahead. Complete the interest form if you would like to be notified of upcoming sessions and to share your ideas for speakers and topics.

Questions? Write to [email protected]

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