An Ode To StudentsRoundup
tags: teaching history
Allison Raven is a PhD Candidate in History at Duke University, writing a dissertation tentatively titled “Separate but Equitable: Race, Liberalism, and Abandoning Desegregation in Austin, Texas.” Prior to beginning her PhD, she taught middle school in Houston, Texas.
Of the many abstract nouns in the world, “injustice” is perhaps the one best suited for seventh graders. Middle schoolers in general have very profound senses of justice, and certainly know when they are experiencingan injustice in school. Homework: injustice. Uniforms: injustice. Ms. Raven counting them tardy when they intended to be in class on time: extreme injustice.
In my second year of teaching middle school in Houston, Texas, I wanted build on that strong sense of moral certitude as part of my course goals. The seventh grade social studies curriculum in Texas focuses on Texas history. A native Texan myself, I can readily admit that Texas history is all too full of examples of injustice. I wanted to make sure my students recognized those injustices and did not leave my class convinced of the Battle of the Alamo’s righteousness. So I set a goal: “Historians will become critical thinkers who recognize injustice.”
This especially mattered to me because of my students’ backgrounds. I taught 147 seventh graders. 85% of my students qualified for free and reduced lunch; 90% identified as Latinx/Hispanic; and 60% of my students began sixth grade the previous year labeled as limited English proficiency. Students rightly questioned the significance to their lives of history classes that focused on dead white men.
I spent much of the first month trying to convince students of the importance of history. We discussed how history can be used as a weapon against people of color, how history can feel cyclical, and having to understand history to understand the present. After a month of school, I wanted to see whether students understood the goal we’d been talking around for weeks. I asked them to write down an answer to the question: “Why is it important to recognize injustice?”
Many students wrote great answers, drawing upon their own connections to history and seeing themselves in the past. Ava’s* answer stopped me in my tracks. “It is important to recognize injustice because every time an unfairness goes unnoticed, the world loses balance.”
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