1. Students in today's schools have only a sketchy idea--if they have one at all--about the civil rights struggles in American that occurred twenty or thirty years before their birth. Therefore, it will probably be necessary to begin this activity with some background on the era, both from web sites (some of which are listed below), from text materials, and from library books and other materials.
2. When students have a general knowledge about the time period, have them focus on school desegregation as one aspect of the overall Civil Rights Movement. Beginning with an understanding of the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, students can be introduced to the particular case of Little Rock's Central High School, which is illustrative of the effort to desegregate schools in the years following Brown.
3. The web sites listed below have been selected especially to provide both primary and secondary resources for historical research on the desegregation of Central High School. Students may be organized in various ways: they may understand the research in small groups, they may do pieces of the research individually, they may form topical "committees"--but first, let them wander around in these websites for a bit, becoming familiar with sub-topics and resources that interest them.
4. When they have "wandered around" enough (perhaps one class period), discuss with them the following questions:
- What were the underlying issues in the desegregation of Central High School?
- Who were the major "players" in this drama?
- What themes keep reappearing in the material, particularly in contemporary newspaper accounts, both from the local papers and from the school paper?
- What were the major arguments for and against desegregating Central High School?
- What was the role of President Eisenhower in the desegregation of Central High School?
- How did desegregation proceed after the TV cameras and the National Guard left?
- What happened to the "Little Rock Nine"?
- What can we "take away" from this experience that is useful to us today? (For an interesting perspective on this question, see President Clinton's speech on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the event).
5. When the research is complete, students can demonstrate knowledge and understanding in several ways: they can produce a "newspaper" about the event; they can do a series of PowerPoint presentations to explain the event to younger (elementary) students; they can write formal research papers on aspects of the event; they can write biographies of major "players" in the event; they could write a play about the event (which, of course, would take longer than a week!), they could produce a website about the event (the excellent Civil War site, Valley of the Shadow, might be an interesting model), etc. It is suggested that, after students have become immeresed in the research for a while, they participate in the decision of "what to do" with the material.