My eighth graders have embarked on a significant journey this school year. We are attempting to understand how systems of racism in the United States have changed over time. This past week we jumped from understanding the origins of race and racism through the system of slavery to the opportunity of Reconstruction following the Civil War. In order to get students imagining what was possible, we used “Reconstructing the South: A Role Play” to kick off this portion of our unit.
Students worked together in small groups and independently to answer each of the six questions within the activity. Students were engaged and collaborating effectively. However, the real magic took place when we had a whole class discussion/debate about the best solutions.
There were clearly two ways of thinking for the students involved. On one side were students who were thinking pragmatically and trying to be realistic about what they thought they could have actually accomplished at this point in history. On the other side were students who were focused on doing what they believed was morally right and what solutions would best ensure the continued liberation of recently freedmen and women. The back and forth was powerful, and students were highly engaged in the process of not just thinking about history but participating in history. Finally, at the end of the day was a comparison between the solutions that won the argument and what decisions were actually made in history. The shock and disappointment were palpable.