March 19, 2010
There is a lot of serious reading going on in 5th grade. Earlier this week, Mr. Sucich’s windowsill was covered with books about the history of slavery and the African-American experience in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Students were given free choice to select one of the more than 30 titles on display. Some books are works of historical fiction; others are non-fiction. Topics include the underground railroad, buffalo soldiers, captured slaves, freed slaves, biographies, stories of escape, the efforts of abolitionists, and the roots of the civil rights movement. Over the next two weeks, the children will read at least one of these books as a way of expanding their knowledge about a challenging time in American history.
During their social studies classes, Mr. Sucich’s lessons focus on the historical details of slavery in the early United States. The slavery unit follows a comprehensive exploration of the colonial and revolutionary war periods and a unit about the Constitution. Mr. Sucich commented that the children have just learned the powerful phrase “all men are created equal;” now they are learning that the writers of that statement did not, in fact, count every person equally. “Who wasn’t created equal in the Constitution?” he asked the students.
Mr. Sucich began the unit by reading aloud from the first chapter of one of the books, Amos Fortune, Free Man, which tells the story of an African prince, At-Mun, who is captured along with many of the members of his village and transported to America to become a slave. The message that the prince whispers to his sister as he is dragged away is, “hold your head high, and remember who you are.” The dignity and sense of self displayed by At-Mun, who is re-named Amos, are important attributes for the students to consider as they embark on this study. Although many of our students bring some prior knowledge about slavery, this depiction of a boy, not much older than they are, makes the history more personal.
Details and perspectives from this and the other literature selections carry over into class discussions seamlessly. Spontaneous hallway conversations and quick exchanges about favorite passages add to the overall sense of learning through enjoyable reading. Mr. Sucich encourages the students to be alert to connections between the themes and events in the books they are reading and the topics raised in class. He finds that the students are eager to share their own knowledge and responses to the books, and that their comments broaden everyone’s understanding of the complex issues raised during this time period.
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