Margaret Saelens

I teach 7th and 8th grade classes in Renton, Washington about housing discrimination in the context of Pacific Northwest History. I begin this lesson by showing students examples of historical maps of where different ethnic groups lived in Seattle during different time periods. We also look through historic Seattle Housing Covenants to see where people were allowed to live and why they were restricted.

I then had students role play in the activity “Burned Out of Homes and History” by Linda Christensen, based on the Tulsa Race Riots. Students were asked to examine this event through the eyes of someone who experienced it, gaining new understandings for how many individual people were affected. We then examined the photograph of Aurora Vargas being removed from her home by police and of a Chavez Ravine house being bulldozed.

After looking at these historical events around the country, we zoomed back in on the PNW and discussed some current modern day examples of neighborhoods in Seattle and examine the effects of housing covenants and, more recently, gentrification on the city. Students do some individual research and annotate articles about specific places in our county that are being actively affected by gentrification. This lesson fits into the overall context of a unit on civil rights in Washington State and in the United States, and teaching children that while though race is a very real thing, it is a man-made, social construct.

After completing this series of lessons, student ultimately will focus on one group of people that have historically faced discrimination in the Pacific Northwest (such as Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Latin Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans). They analyze this group’s challenges, what were some events or strategies to battle discrimination, and examining what this experience is still like today.