Whose America? Americans in the Americas and Inequality

byEduardo Valladares


While working at Yale University on this curriculum unit, I have learned more about the privilege of coexisting at such an elite and prestigious university. This institution has been  part of a strong tradition amongst the elites of a global society who, from all geographical locations, send their children to acquire the skills and knowhow to impact the world. The stunning architecture and the plentitude of resources available give insight into why the most privileged in society send their family here. Unfortunately, just across the street of this university you see impoverished people asking for money and finding ways to get by and survive under unjust social structures. The true state of inequality in a society that encompasses class, race, gender, and other variables hits us all constantly regardless of how privileged one might be. The blatant inequality of our society does not just showcase itself at Yale but all over the world; which is why, in my perspective, we as a society are still clearly in the struggle to attain full civil rights for all.

Intimately, I have deep feelings about equality and civil rights; raised and loved by working-class immigrant parents from Mexico, I take the injustices that people of Mexican descent have suffered in Mexico and in the United States personally. As a child, my mother would tell me of the impoverished conditions my father lived under in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. As the oldest in his family, my father had to drop out of school in third grade to help support his family financially. He eventually immigrated to the United States with no other goal but to make a better life for himself and his future family, a reasonable and just objective. My father made a living in Mexico as a construction worker and worked just as hard in the United States despite suffering through constant discrimination to be able to support his family on both sides of the border. My father was selfless in this sense and never complained, yet even as a child I was aware of the injustices that my father suffered through and could not understand why any society would let this happen to any one of its people. Growing up in San Jose, California, I began to see that these injustices were mild compared to other stories within my community. Hardships such as whole families crossing the border under dangerous environmental conditions without any sympathy; people working in menial labor jobs and then getting swindled out of their pay and basic benefits by their boss; some sacrificing their bodies working in the highly toxic Silicon Valley tech factories and getting “let go” when their productivity declined from the poison they breathed in day in and day out. These stories became part of my history and identity because I knew my family’s past and where I came from: immigrant working-class people who suffered through injustices without a complaint due to the historically founded disempowerment of the non-elite and non-white of the United States. As I grew older, I began to analyze the narratives of people like my family more deeply and I wanted to work against these injustices. I eventually realized how existing economic and political structures have established and continue to drive the injustices and inequalities people like my family have endured. These structures deny equality of opportunity to people in order to maintain exorbitant wealth within the elite, create blatant lack of respect for people's lives, and encourage an inhumane social norm in society. This normalization of dehumanizing people through social inequality became part of my community’s identity-- which in effect left us without a voice to set forth our grievances and keep us from being fully seen or acknowledged in society.

Through personal experiences of injustices based on race, class, and education on this very topic, I realized I wanted to be seen. I wanted to be heard. I wanted equality and I wanted it for everyone. My community has been victimized, but I am committed to do everything within my power to prevent us from adopting being voiceless victims as part of our identity. Fighting for equality has been a part of my identity for about 20 years of my life, and as a history teacher I still see narratives that exist in a number of history books perpetuate the structures of oppression and inequality of marginalized groups. This is the reason why I believe it is important to teach my students to find their voices through marginalized historical characters to rewrite a more accurate history and gain a greater sense of self and humanity. 

School, Students, and Rationale

I teach at my alma mater, San Jose High School, serving a working-class neighborhood in the northeast side of the San Jose, California. Founded in 1863, San Jose High is the second oldest public school in California, and it became an International Baccalaureate (IB) school in 1986. The IB program is an internationally recognized academic program with rigorous international standard criterion that IB schools must focus on offering to every student. About 81% of the student body of San Jose High School receives free or reduced lunch and 27% of students are English Language Learners per the state of California. The ethnic demographics of the school consists of 82%  Latina/o, 8% Asian, 4% white and the remainder are smaller percentages of different ethnicities. 

After having taught Social Studies for seven years at San Jose High, my initial pedagogical focus was to implement multiple-ability tasks so that students could understand and benefit from the power of different abilities by having better access to content through each other’s strengths. My second through fifth years at San Jose High, I taught ninth grade World Cultures with the overarching goal of building intrinsic motivation in students through thought-provoking lessons and multiple-ability tasks that required strong collaborative and analytical skills but with less emphasis on formal academic writing. 

Now, I teach an eleventh grade IB History of the Americas course that has given me more insight into what skills and information students need to succeed in IB History courses. Through vertical planning with my social science department for our ninth to twelfth grade course, we concluded that students need to greatly improve their writing skills to be successful in IB exams. These efforts will also foster students writing development for college level writing.  From this planning and reflection, I have determined that students need more support in writing and that cultivating intrinsic motivation to write for social, political, and personal purposes can help students write with more purpose, and in turn become better writers. By exploring identity throughout the history of the Americas, I intend to develop students’ intrinsic motivations that were lost, to some extent, due to the rigor of the content load and methodological writing methods necessary for success in the IB class. The struggle of attempting to consistently motivate students and create an engaging class has led me to find more ways to connect the rich content to students’ lives through the process of analyzing their own identities, potential for self-advocacy, and desire for change. 

I chose to create a unit on Equality, Foreign Policies in the Americas, and Civil Rights, 1880-1996 for my IB History of the Americas course because it is a time period that allows for an extensive discussion of people self-reflecting and transforming their identity for greater change. In the past I have taught foreign policy in the Americas as a unit in isolation to a civil rights unit, but I have decided to combine these units to hopefully provoke an understanding of macro to micro power structures and the methods of changing them. My plan is for this unit to be twelve weeks. Combining these two units also supports the course level question specifically focusing on “American identity” and “people's interactions” based on this piece of their identity; furthermore there will be more conceptual redundancy of these ideas to foster more of a enduring understanding.  I want students to see how people have transformed and developed their identity and continue to do so to combat centuries of imposed negative character portrayal. The struggle to gain full equality and civil rights remains pertinent to the current state of our society; until we, as a global society, fully support and implement fairness and equality for everybody we will continue to be in a civil rights era. Therefore, by reclaiming aspects of identity such as culture, language, and aesthetics we help shape a new identity that becomes an empowered mindset and a source of pride.

Many of the historical actors of the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s  impacted how I viewed my own identity and the methods I would use to create change. I have always hoped for this class and unit to propel students to a state of academic consciousness that would lead them to take more action to make change. This course is for eleventh-graders, where many students begin to form their identity as workers, leaders, and students of higher learning. My goals are for students to be able to analyze excerpts of life writings of historical actors, reference them as suitable evidence in their own historical writings, and answer the course level and unit level questions regarding identity. They will also be analyzing other types of sources regarding issues of equality to evaluate the power of voice on identity and social change.   

My International Baccalaureate (IB) History of the Americas course must align to the California state standards and the IB standards for an IB course.1 In the 2016-2017 academic year, the state of California began to roll out a new  Social Studies framework which  prescribes content standards for the Social Sciences and focuses on historical thinking guidelines that help foster more enduring understanding of historical perspectives, events, and subsequent consequences. One of the guidelines in the new Social Studies Framework is for all history courses to have a series of cascading questions: an overarching course level question that every unit in the course is aligned to; a unit level question that could be answered in the culmination of the daily lessons within that particular unit; and lesson focus questions that are explored during each class session and help support the larger course level and unit level questions. 

Content Objectives: Equality, American identity, and perspectives on foreign policy

My course level question is, “To what extent does American identity impact its peoples’ interactions in the world?” In order to rethink what it is to be “American,” students will define “American” based on the United States’s hegemonic construction of the term and then redefine the term based on geographical location and an analysis of some non-United States perspectives. Students will then deconstruct what an “American” is and the various reasons people in the Americas do not always feel “American” even though they are living in the geographical location of the Americas. As a class, we will further discuss how the politics of powerful nations have influenced the extent to which people identify as “American” in the Americas and how identity is explicitly related to the global inequality between nations in the Americas. This goal is an effort to compare and analyze the macro to micro systems of inequality and the social evolution of equality. This is why we will start by studying countries’ foreign relations and policies at the beginning of the unit. 

The Americas in Global Affairs

This unit begins with the emergence of the Americas in global affairs. This section of the unit exposes the economic and military inequality between countries in the Americas and also addresses the question of how disparity of wealth between countries may impact the ability of  “underdeveloped countries” to gain equality amongst their own people.  Students will analyze how disparity of power between countries promotes global and domestic inequality. Furthermore, students’ analysis will be guided with the question of whether nations under the hegemonic influence of stronger nations can provide equality to its peoples. Students will also be able to identify and describe the multiple layered, macro to micro, hierarchies within the hierarchies of nations and the societies within nations in the Americas. This will lead to a discussion of the long-term effects of colonialism and imperialism that have led to the further degradation of under-developing regions and their impact on attaining true equality within these countries. This will require a review and synopsis of European colonization of the Americas, the postcolonial emergence of the United States as a superpower, and its imperialistic foreign policy throughout the Americas such as in the Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, and other interventions in the Americas. 

The understanding of the impact of “American” identity and interactions between countries in the Americas will be guided by the 19th century’s Cuban poet and independence leader, Jose Marti, and his poem Nuestra America (Our America)  that “attempted to define Latino and indigenous America as Nuestra America separate from and opposed to US-American efforts to construct a Euro-American heritage.”2 This non-US perspective of the Americas displays cultural and identity differences within the Americas during the end of the 19th century and the significance of the political and economical emergence of United States as a global and imperialistic power.  This component of the unit asks students, “how do people's view of their own ‘American identity’ impact their interactions with others?” Marti’s view of American identity, preserves Latin America’s claim on being American. 

Another non-US perspective that will be delved into is Jose Vasconcelos and his book La Raza Cosmica (The Cosmic Race) that claimed Latin America as a more accurate depiction of “America” because of the diversity it embodies and the attempted cultural inclusiveness of diverse populations such as in various nations” promotion of indigenismo (indigenousness), African, and mestizo as part of national identity throughout Latin America.  Furthermore, Vasconcelos argues against the attitudes that considered the Iberian Americas as a lesser “new world” to the Anglo Americas even though US American “exceptionalism” had made special claims of its own dominance.3 

“For Vasconcelos, Europe's expansionist project had served as ‘a bridge’ uniting the ‘four racial trunks: the Black, the Indian, the Mongol, and the White.’ An overarching cultural difference remained between the dominant colonizers of the modern period, Spain and England, but more precisely, between ‘Latinism’ and ‘Anglo-Saxonism.’ As a child, Vasconcelos grew up on the US-Mexico border and attended school in Eagle Pass, Texas. Having experienced the United States first hand, he state[d], ‘ideologically, the Anglos continue to conquer us.”4 This passage depicts his fears of inequality in the Americas which led to a counter narrative of a theoretical future in the Americas that thrived through its ethnic diversity and not through monoracial exceptionalism. 

These views of “American” identity will be examined along with how personal views impacted these people's interactions or influence in global affairs. Students will also take a look at how identity is formed through self-claiming and imposed labels. Furthermore, “American” identity will be studied from various perspectives in the Americas and will be analyzed by describing who in the Americas has been identified as “American” and what have been the internal and external social, political, cultural, intellectual, and economic forces that impacted their inclusion of identifying as “American.” Students will explore how much of the ‘American identity’ has been claimed, imposed, and denied, what that says about the meaning of being “American”, and how that definition should still be redefined to be more inclusive of all the people that reside in the Americas. Continuing with the theme of equality, students will discuss civil rights movements in various nations of the Americas.  This part of the unit gives another clear opportunity to break down equality and identity through the course level question with writings that explicitly discuss ‘American identity’ and its impact on social and political equality.  This will also further look at how being denied the label of being “American” on the American continent possibly impacts people's sense of equality and being included.

Civil Rights in the Americas: marginalized groups struggle for equality

The challenge of teaching civil rights and the impact of inequality on one's own identity has led me to find impactful literary texts, poems and short writings in my lessons so they can serve as portals into historical events, that hopefully elicit a deeper understanding why the struggle for equality matters on people's identity. One of my unit’s essential question is directly from Langston Hughes’ poem “Dream Deferred”: “what happens to a dream deferred?”5  Using this poem will help the unpacking of what African Americans might ‘dream’ for after emancipation from slavery and would include the discussion of various types of social and political equality. Sequentially, this poem will also be used more broadly to analyze what might be the common dream for other oppressed groups in the Americas and discuss how people belong to multiple historically oppressed groups. In this section of the unit I would like to see students analyze how access to the ‘American identity’ prompts the question of how social equality could be attained without “American identity.”  With this question, I hope to further discuss the impact of keeping some people from embracing being “American”. After studying the social history for many marginalized groups in the Americas, we will focus on answering, why might some living in the Americas rather not be called “Americans?”  What does being “American” or America represent to marginalized people who did not want to claim it as a part of their identity? 

Another poem by Hughes that I will have students analyze is “Let America be America Again”6 to discuss the ideals of what America has idealistically meant to early European settlers and how those ideas are debased when it is denied to anyone on the continent in the Americas. An understanding of Hughes’ life as a historical actor will help the class understand the origins of his writings and their historical significance more deeply. This would build off of the value of life writings as historical sources and what these can tell us about the past. Other questions that I hope would facilitate discussing the connection between identity and historical study are: How does identity impact a person's writing and what does that reveal about the past?  How do experiences and historical context impact identity? Finally, to begin to reintroduce how writing can be a form of agency I would ask, what were the various purposes of Hughes’ writings and when do personal life writings take on a public purpose?

The historical content of this unit has gone through constant filtering and refinement due to the number of historically significant people and valuable sources that help analyze Civil Rights in the Americans. Just as understanding Langston Hughes’ life helps unpack his writings, students will be prompted to research and understand other historical actors to better understand the origins and historical significance of a source. In the unit, students will have four major sub-unit sections that will entail a civil rights movement in the Americas: women in the Americas, indigenous peoples of the Americas, African Americans, and Mexican Americans. 

These sub-unit sections will set up the context for each of the aforementioned movements and entail historical actors that find themselves within intersections of marginalized groups which in turn led to a cross section of many movements during this time era. The intersectionality of people in many of these movements and identity commonalities will be discussed through the analysis of the historical actors and writings of Cherríe Moraga, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Betty Friedan, bell hooks, Rigoberta Menchú, Zapatistas (EZLN), Gustavo Gutierrez, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Cesar Chavez, and Luis Valdez. Identity analysis of these people with the question ‘how does identity impact our actions?’ will help students further think about their own identity and how that may have impacted the actions they have taken thus far and actions they may want to take now in the society they live in.

Intersectionality and Feminist Movements in the Americas

The women's rights section will begin with excerpts of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa to begin a discussion on feminism, intersectionality, and the cross sections of inequality7--when people are discriminated for being of multiple marginalized groups. This book will help students understand the struggles and concerns of Third World women in the Unites States and exemplify the impact, agency, and necessity these types of writings have in the world. Thereafter, students will read a section of bell hooks’ book, Talking Back, to begin to understand the struggles of African American women in the United States and the discussion of women of color and their initial exclusion from the US feminist movement.8  These readings that further detail intersectionality and inclusion in movements will be vital for the remainder of the unit to emphasize the historical continuity of this issue evident in the movements aforementioned.

In continuing to connect  intersectionality and the struggle for civil rights, I will have students watch an excerpt of the play “Sliver of a Full Moon”9 by Mary Kathryn Nagle that depicts the history of the North American struggle against domestic violence of Native women.  This film addresses how government agencies such as the US Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women Acts of 1994 has fallen short in many cases in protecting Native women from abuse by non-Native men due to the men’s exemption for being outside of the jurisdiction of these acts. This piece will analyze the struggle for government protection of Native women and the impact government policies have on Native women in the US. Students will also discuss the play’s display of the projected identity by outsiders towards Native women and how this identity projection impacted the US government’s lack of concern for their well-being. Furthermore, we will hold a discussion regarding the extent of how a play as a form of writing helps create change towards fairness and equality for United States Native women. We will also discuss Nagle’s role as a lawyer and Native American rights activist and how that impacted the play’s message and purpose. 

The issues and struggles for equality of United States Native women will segue to a larger discourse on the Women’s movement in the United States -specifically the impacts of Betty Friedan, the National Organization of Women (NOW), the equal protection law clause (1972), and Roe v. Wade. The class will examine the historical narrative that focuses on white women and how this focus impacts the Feminist movement in the US after 1945. What were the concerns and struggles of white women in the US and to what level did their struggle coincide with issues of other civil rights movements? With further examination, students will begin to understand the influences of other movements in this historical context such as the use of militant tactics and public protest.

Indigenous peoples and Civil Rights in the Americas

Following Women's movements, the unit will steer in the direction of indigenous peoples’ struggle for equality in the Americas, focusing first on indigenous people of Latin America between 1945 and 2007. This will include understanding the impact of  Gustavo Gutierrez, Rigoberta Menchú, and the Zapatistas (EZLN) on indigenous people in Latin America. Excerpts from the book A Theology of Liberation by Peruvian and Dominican priest Gustavo Gutierrez will help trace how the Catholic Church in Latin America impacted indigenous rights movements in this region to help promote structural change as a way to gain equal rights. This will also display the impact of Liberation Theology on other leaders in the Catholic Church such as Oscar Romero in El Salvador. Thereafter, this unit would continue to focus on Central America, moving towards an analysis of life-writings by Rigoberta Menchú of Guatemala. In her personal written accounts, Menchú depicts the genocide of indigenous people during the Guatemalan Civil War. She also discloses how the struggle for survival as a people has impacted Mayan identity in Guatemala and how Mayan cultural identity and their very existence was attacked by the Guatemalan government. The Guatemalan Civil War helps unravel the layers of postcolonial attack on indigenous identity that eventually led to the decimation of indigenous peoples in the Americas. Just geographically north of Guatemala in the Mexican state of Chiapas, the predominantly indigenous Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or EZLN) guerrilla rebel group had an uprising against the social, political, and economic injustices against indigenous people in the region. Students will read and summarize EZLN’s First Declaration of the Lacadona Jungle, then describe the differences between the identity that the Mexican government was imposing on the people of the region and the identity they were attempting to project onto the world scene.10   

African American Civil Rights Movement in the United States

Sequentially, students will then investigate and analyze the cause and consequences of the African American Civil Rights movement in the United States during the 1950’s and 1960’s. One of the significant causes for this movement was de jure segregation which institutionalized segregation in public settings, such as schools, through implementation of Jim Crow laws in the southern states of the US. Another cause was the rise of the violent white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), which primarily terrorized African American communities with little to no consequence from law enforcement in these states. Students will analyze the turning point of the Emmett Till case (1955) where a 14-year old African American boy visiting from Chicago was brutally beaten to death by a group of white men for allegedly  flirting with a white woman in the state of Mississippi. These white men were acquitted on all counts in Mississippi courts, which led to a public outcry from the African American community that charged the momentum in the struggle for equality. 

This section will focus on the various tactics African Americans took to advocate for their equality, such as pushing for legislative change, conducting boycotts, exercising civil disobedience, participating in non-violent public protests, and taking militant stances. African Americans made headway towards equality through one of the most historically significant legislative victories for everyone’s civil rights, the Oliver Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education Supreme Court case. This 1954 case overturned the earlier 1896 decision in Plessy v Ferguson by declaring racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional under the “Equal Protections Clause” of the 14th Amendment. Students will then discuss the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) role in the Brown v Board of Education case and the process of desegregation in the South that had multiple consequences on United States society. Thereafter, students will evaluate the impact of historical actors like Rosa Parks in de facto social conditions that resulted from desegregation and the African community organizing the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott that promoted civil disobedience against the Jim Crow laws of the South. In conjunction, students will examine non-violent public protest tactics that were promoted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the historical impact of pivotal non-violent public protests for African American civil rights such as the protests in Birmingham, Alabama and the 1963 March on Washington D.C.  In contrast to the non-violent protest movements, students will also analyze the militant Black Power movement with groups such as the Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party. Students will analyze Malcolm X’s criticism of the non-violent protest movement and also the Black Panther Party’s 10-point plan11 to understand the various tactics and goals of these groups. 

Mexican American Civil Rights Movement in the United States

Similar to African-Americans, Mexican-American groups used many different methods to fight for equality such as non-violent strikes, militancy, and the use of writing as a form of resistance to make change. Students will discuss the impact of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, and the United Farm Workers’ non-violent strikes against grape growers in the central valley of California. Students will describe to what extent Farm Workers’ actions impacted their inclusion into US society. Students will then compare this movement with the Alianza Federal de los Pueblos that took a militant approach to reclaim land lost in the Mexican-American War of 1948 through occupation and violence. Finally, students will look at various forms of protest through the arts and literature specifically analyzing the impact of Luis Valdez’s theatrical production, “Teatro Campesino,” which displayed the struggles of farmworkers in California; and also Rudolfo Gonzales’ poem “Yo Soy Joaquin” that expresses the Chicana/o’s struggles of confusion, history, identity and call to action.12

Structure and Examples of Writing for Change

The Civil Rights era continued to grow the new postcolonial narrative that questioned the depictions of the most oppressed during Western imperialism and other white supremacist capitalist influenced societies around the world. A section of this unit will cover postcolonial Historiography and the change in focus of historical narratives. This section will discuss controversies such as W.E.B. DuBois’ attack on the racist character in Anglo-American historiography (Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 [1935]); Edward Said’s critique of the Western view of the orient and its impact (Orientalism); Howard Zinn’s People's History of the United States and debated historical narratives in academia; Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s research methodologies on decolonizing research methods to gain a truer narrative; and the Texas history textbook controversy that teaches the struggle for implicit and explicit language in historical narratives. Class discussion of these issues will lead to the historiographical questions of: Where does the truth lie? What is at stake? Can historians be objective?  How can we understand and value limitations of writing through understanding the identity of a person? What are the social, political, and economic impacts of these historical writings? How does understanding purpose, value, and limitations of sources help one be a better historian? 

Teaching Strategies

In order for students to get a rich learning experience out of this content-heavy unit, there will  be a number of teaching strategies and methods used such as Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI), close reading strategies, Constructing Meaning, multi-ability group tasks, various forms of Socratic seminars, and the use of historical thinking skills as an analytical device for students. Most of the course’s lesson plans have Explicit Direct Instruction embedded in them. This model guides teachers by requiring: clear skill and content learning objectives stated to students; learning entry points that activate students’ prior learning; various methods to check for understanding throughout the lesson; delivering information through explicit explaining, modeling, and demonstrating; concept and skill development; guided practice; and a gradual release to independent practice. 

Students will also partake in content-based multi-ability group tasks that will expect students to research, identify their fellow students’ multiple abilities, and collaborate and communicate as a group. These tasks will culminate in whole group debriefs, where students report their research findings, their collaborative process, and are expected to teach the class about the topic they were assigned with the expectation that student audience write notes using specific note-taking tools.

Since there will be challenging text-based evidence that will be analyzed throughout this unit, I will be modeling sourcing documents through close reading strategies where we will read various texts while annotating and identifying origin, purpose, content, and possible value and limitations disclosed based on origin and purpose. Through the development of sourcing,13 students consider the author of the document within its historical context and analyze the intentions and purpose of the document to disclose the author’s perspective and evaluate the sources’ reliability and bias. Sourcing is essential specifically in the discipline of history to fully understand documents and use them as evidence in historical writing and class discussions. 

Another strategy that will be used in this unit are various forms of seminars to foster academic discussion and student understanding of the content. Students will participate in Socratic Seminars guided by historical focus questions to analyze the reliability of documents, historical patterns, historical significance, causes and effects of historical events, and historical perspectives.  I will also have students participate in historical role play seminars by researching historical actors and participating in seminars as if they were a specific  historical figure giving their perspective on specific historical events. 

An additional teaching strategy that I will implement is first person creative writing where students again take on the role of a historical actor and write short pieces such as speeches and diary entries that unveil the perspective of historical figures within a historical context. I will also be assigning a number of historical writing essay assignments that will be implemented throughout this unit based on the prescribed IB paper 3-mark bands which is essentially one of the major course objectives since this class is preparation for a specific IB exam taken Senior year. The paper 3-mark bands at the highest level should meet the following: 

  • Responses are clearly focused, showing a high degree of awareness of the demands and implications of the question.
  • Answers are well structured, balanced and effectively organized.
  • Knowledge is detailed, accurate and relevant. Events are placed in their historical context, and there is a clear understanding of historical concepts. Examples used are appropriate and relevant, and are used effectively to support the analysis/evaluation.
  • Arguments are clear and coherent. There is evaluation of different perspectives, and this evaluation is integrated effectively into the answer.
  • The answer contains well-developed critical analysis. All, or nearly all, of the main points are substantiated, and the response argues to a reasoned conclusion.

Classroom Activities

In the the tradition of the educator and philosopher Paolo Freire, classroom activities will have goals to break the educational structures that create inequities in classrooms. Implemented teaching methods will promote dialogue, critical thinking, problem-solving, and agency.

A lesson incorporated in this unit will be on indigenous peoples struggle for equal rights in the Americas. Students lesson objective is to collaboratively create a dramatic presentation that shows the causes and effects of indigenous people’s struggle for equality in the specific regions of Northwest Canada, Southwest United States, Southern Mexico, Guatemala, the Andes, and the Amazon.  Students at this point would have had some background on the long-term causes of the oppression of indigenous people of the Americas.  As an orientation to the lesson students will watch a 20-minute segment of Sliver of a Full Moon, then students discuss what was the message, purpose, and overall impact of the play. Then they will also discuss how dramatic presentations or plays can be more impactful to a general audience than other mediums. During the orientation students will be introduced to their student groups and their task to create a dramatic presentation on the causes and effects of the civil rights movement of a specific indigenous group of the Americas from the regions aforementioned. Their dramatic presentation will require a script, purpose, and message in manuscript written form and an acted presentation with props and student actors/actresses. Creating the presentation should take about two hours of class time and two homework assignments. I will provide printed copies of the manuscripts for the students so they can use them for future content reference. 

Another lesson discussed comes from a modified version of a lesson created by former history teacher at Lincoln High School in Los Angeles California, Brian Gibbs.  This lesson culminates with students analyzing African American civil rights leaders through preparing and participating in a simulation rally. The sequence of this lesson would come after students had deconstructed the unit level question, “What happens to a dream deferred?”  Students would have already analyzed some of the short-term and long-term causes of the African American civil rights movement and some of the current events in the United States that relate to race relations and equality in the United States.

This four day (83 minutes each day) lesson focuses on methods to gain equality that were promoted by African American leaders. Students will collaborate with a partner to research a civil rights leader, create a life-size poster character profile, individually prepare a speech that introduces their historical character and articulates their historical figure’s promoted methods and tactics to achieve African American equality in the United States. Students will participate in an experiential seminar discussion on what tactics should and should not be used to achieve equality. To incite more discussion on the topic during the seminar students will state their speech and respond to historical events such as Emmett Till case, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Little Rock Nine, Children’s Crusade, and Freedom Summer 1964 and the Watts Riots.

The orientation of the lesson will review research guidelines, like specific use of academic databases, tracking evidence, and analyzing sources considering the value and limitations based from its origin and purpose. The orientation will also display various examples of character profile posters that they will create with their partner.  Pairs will create a life size body character profile where near the eyes, mouth, heart, hands, and feet there will be a caption that will represent aspects of their historical profile based on student research. The eyes will display their vision of African American equality, near the mouth two quotes that show their ideas, the heart will display how did they feel as an African American in the United States, the hands would show their achievements in the struggle to gain civil rights, and the feet displays the direction and methods they believed was best to achieve equality. The suggested materials are poster paper, paints, and markers for the posters; computers will be needed for the research component of the project. Through the research needed to complete their poster, students will be more equipped to write their speech and prepare for in seminar/rally discussion.  After experiential discussion, discussion notes, and hearing speeches -students finally write their own opinion on what they think are the most productive and nonproductive tactics to achieve equality based on their research and lesson experience.

Another lesson from this unit will analyze the ethical dimensions of history and presentism. This lesson will be a one day lesson that evaluates some the roles and connections of ethical dimensions in history and civil rights. The goal of the lesson is to evaluate to what extent should presentist moral judgments be applied to analyze historical actors actions. The lesson will begin with a quick write exercise-- “can you judge a person’s past fashion sense based on today’s fashion rules?” with visual examples of past fashion trends from throughout history. I will then discuss their responses and exemplify some of the controversies of presentism and moral judgment of historical actors. With multiple short biography readings that have different point of views, student will ethically evaluate slave-owning white men in the United States like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and Robert E. Lee. The final segment of this lesson, students discuss in groups of four the pros and cons of avoiding presentism, then independently write on: how much weight should presentist moral judgments be used to analyze historical actors? 


Though combining these units seems like a daunting task I am very excited about the possibilities for stronger impact on student learning and deeper understanding of historical change on a macro and micro level. The connections among identity, foreign policy, and social inequality can help students analyze how to change the oppressive structures that influence people's relationships and interaction dynamics with each other. Students motivation and understanding will hopefully fuel success in this “higher” level courses, thus help change projected academic identity not only for themselves but also for our school community at San Jose High School. Through this unit, I hope that students acquire the initial academic tools for strong historical writing and read text with a critical eye, use writing as a method to gain personal and community freedom, and have the option to rewrite history as more representative and accurate by including their own narrative and identity.


San Jose High School is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school which offers the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP). This unit implements the IB HL Option 2: History of the Americas standards which is part the IBDP two-year high school educational program.

These standards and program are internationally accepted qualification for entry into many universities worldwide. This unit meets the skills and content standards for the IB History Paper 3 examination. They are practicing the skill of historical writing through their study of the content of this unit based on the Paper 3 mark bands and standards. The content of this unit focuses on people and events named that will either be named in Paper 3 examination questions or used as historical evidence answering those questions. The IB HL option 2: History of the Americas Content Standards require that three sections of the eighteen that are listed in the IB History guide must be selected for study in this course. Two content sections of the IB History guide are included in this curriculum unit.

The first section of the two focuses on the Emergence of the Americas in global affairs (1880–1929).  This section focuses on the impact of modernization in the Americas on foreign policy.  How “modernization” shaped the new nations in the Americas, and its effects created the basis for a major changes in the foreign policies and interactions between nations of the Americas. Specific standards studied will be the United States expansionist foreign policies and imperialist power role in Latin America such as displayed in the Spanish–American War (1898); Big Stick policy; Dollar Diplomacy; moral diplomacy. Also studied are the political, economic, social and ideological reasons for the United States imperialist foreign policy and its impact on hemispheric status.

The second section of study is on Civil rights and social movements in the Americas post-1945. This section analyzes the causes, context, struggles, and achievements of civil rights and social movements. These movements represented the attempts to achieve equality for groups that were not recognized or accepted as full members of society, and they challenged established authority and attitudes. One content standard this unit meets is an evaluation of the origins, tactics and organizations of Indigenous peoples of the Americas civil rights movement. Other IB content standard met through this unit is understanding the origins, tactics and organizations of the African Americans civil rights movement in the United States; Feminist movements in the Americas; and Hispanic American movement in the United States. Specifically the African American movement will cover the impact of the US Supreme Court and legal challenges to segregation in education; ending of segregation in the south (1955–1980); the role of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in the civil rights movement; the rise of radical African American activism (1965–1968): Black Panthers; Black Power and Malcolm X; role of governments in civil rights movements in the Americas. Students will need to understand the reasons for emergence; impact and significance the Feminist movements in the Americas. Lastly students are expected to evaluate the Hispanic American movement in the United States specifically the role of Cesar Chavez and effects of immigration reform in the United States. 

Teacher Resources

Bibliography for Teachers

  1. International Baccalaureate Organization. "History Guide: HL option 2: History of the Americas."
  2. Monika Kaup, Rewriting North American Borders in Chicano and Chicana Narrative, 4
  3. Jose Vasconcelos, The Cosmic Race, 403
  4. Jose Vasconcelos, The Cosmic Race, 403
  5. Langston Hughes, “Dream Deferred”
  6. Langston Hughes, “Let America be America Again”
  7. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, eds. This Bridge Called My Back.
  8. bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black.
  9. Mary Kathryn Nagle, "Sliver of a Full Moon Radcliffe Institute."
  10. Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional. "First Declaration of the Lacandona Jungle.
  11. Black Panther Party, "10 Point Platform." Public Broadcasting System.
  12. Rodolfo Corky Gonzales, "I Am Joaquin.".
  13. Stanford University. "Intro to Historical Thinking." Stanford History Education Group.

Reading List for Students

Vasconcelos, Jose. The Cosmic Race. Baltimore, MD The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1925.

Hughes, Langston. "A Dream Deferred." Reading. readalittlepoetry.wordpress.com.


Hughes, Langston. "Let America Be America Again." Reading. Poets.org.


Moraga, Cherrie, and Gloria Anzaldua, eds. This Bridge Called My Back. New York: Kitchen Table:Women of Color Press, 1981.

Hooks, Bell. Talking Back: thinking feminist, thinking black. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1988.

Nagle, Mary Kathryn, "Sliver of a Full Moon Radcliffe Institute." Video file. You Tube. Accessed July 18, 2017.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhTqY7PAZ0I&t=840s.

Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional. "First Declaration of the Lacandona Jungle." News

release. 1993. http://www.schoolsforchiapas.org/library/declaration-lacandona-jungle-2/.

Black Panther Party, "10 Point Platform." Public Broadcasting System. Last modified 2002. http://www.pbs.org/hueypnewton/actions/actions_platform.html.

Gonzales, Rodolfo Corky. "I Am Joaquin." Reading. http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/latinos/joaquin.htm.

List of Classroom Materials

International Baccalaureate Organization. "History Guide: HL option 2: History of the Americas."

Online curriculum centre. https://ibpublishing.ibo.org/server2/rest/app/ tsm.xql?doc=d_3_histx_gui_1501_1_e&part=3&chapter=7.

Stanford University. "Intro to Historical Thinking." Stanford History Education Group. Accessed July

18, 2017. https://sheg.stanford.edu/intro-historical-thinking.

Comments (1)

    Mark Hartung (Pioneer High, San Jose, Ca)
    Subject taught: History, Grade: 11
    Civil Rights Leaders poster and simulation
    Love the ideas that I see in this unit, especially: Students will collaborate with a partner to research a civil rights leader, create a life-size poster character profile, individually prepare a speech that introduces their historical character and articulates their historical figure’s promoted methods and tactics to achieve African American equality in the United States. Students will participate in an experiential seminar discussion on what tactics should and should not be used to achieve equality. I plan to use and adapt this later in the school year when I am teaching about the Civil Rights Movement.
    Thanks for all you do for your students, Mark

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