English teacher incorporating black history into lesson plan

| Monday, Feb. 13, 2012

McKeesport Area English teacher Bonnie Butler believes the lessons of Black History Month can shape students' understanding of the world in which they live.

In each of her course levels, Butler is incorporating African-American history lessons so that students may grasp the significance of the Civil Rights Movement.

"It builds background knowledge," Butler said. "And it informs students on what moved America toward civil rights for all people."

Students read and analyzed the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., likely the most prominent figure of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

Sophomore Sade Fletcher said her classmates are familiar with King's work and his role, but they were excited to learn about people they didn't recognize.

Students researched individuals such as Emmet Till, a 14-year-old boy murdered in 1955, whose public funeral drew attention from across the nation to Mississippi's lack of equality and civil rights for blacks; Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice to serve as an associate of the U.S. Supreme Court; and Oliver L. Brown, a parent for whom the Brown vs. the Board of Education landmark Supreme Court ruling against school segregation is named.

"I knew who they were," Sade said. "But I didn't know everything they did."

Sophomore William Gadson said the lessons impacted his awareness and his mindset as a young African American in today's society.

"I can look at these people and the roles they played, and I see what happened to let me be where I am today," William said.

William said he enjoyed the Microsoft PowerPoint presentations by his classmates because they were informative and eye-opening.

"After a while, you become interested in learning more and more things that you didn't know," he said. "You learn a little bit from your own project, and you hear what (classmates) are learning. We are finding out what happened in America."

Butler said its important to incorporate Black History Month lessons annually.

"As we move further away from the people and the time that shaped the Civil Rights Movement, we are losing the understanding of their injustice," Butler said.

"Today's students don't know much about many of the people who helped to move our country forward."

By researching individuals and the actions they took, Butler said, students are able to empathize with historical figures. They also are communicating with each other about their thoughts on history.

"If they don't have that experience now," Butler asked, "when will they get it?"

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