This year, as one portion of our newly-developing social studies curriculum, we’re doing something extra special for our students and our community. We are finding individuals who have lived through and experienced firsthand some of our most impactful moments in history and asking them to share their stories with us. Some of the events we’re covering are well-known history class staples, while others have been overshadowed by revisionism and whitewashing. We want to empower our students with opportunities to hear about their history from a variety of perspectives in order to approach the world with more empathy and information than any generation that has come before them.
This week in particular, I had the powerful experience of interviewing an intelligent and eloquent woman who worked for the Black sanitation union in Memphis leading up to, and during the time of, the Memphis Sanitation Strike. She and her sisters marched for justice alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr right up until his assassination, and she vividly recalls the energy of the crowd at his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.
In addition to the well known stories from our Civil Rights Movement, Bea and I also discussed many stories, perspectives, and individuals who are often left out of textbooks and retellings. She provided me with insight into events that I had never heard of before but that to the people of 1960s Memphis were common knowledge. Right now you can check out this teaser for her interview and the entire “I Lived It” series, but you’ll have to wait until fall to watch the full thing!
Social justice has always been at the center of my instruction, and the whole EPIC team works to embody and model traits of active citizenship to our students. This summer, I’m on a mission to further enrich our curriculum by building a record of historical accounts for our students told by the people who actually experienced them. I want our students to have opportunities to hear the details that have been left out of textbooks and biographies. Hearing about events and movements from a variety of perspectives will help our students to build empathy and critical thinking skills from a young age while also exposing them to the passion and emotion that textbooks and articles are sorely lacking.
My hope is to interview several individuals on my own in order to model interviewing skills, active listening, greetings and gratitude, turn-taking in conversations, and a variety of other implicit academic and social skills. As we watch these interviews together in the fall and conduct background research on the events, our team can work to help students analyze our written sources with a critical and questioning eye while also focusing on the social aspects of interviewing.
My end goal is to eventually hand the reins over to our students. After some exposure to the concept of interviewing, and with thoughtful guidance, they can start leading the interviews themselves as we work together to increase our record of narratives. They can brainstorm and script interview questions, conduct remote interviews, and even plan and produce the end video products.
From there, it’s all up to the students. Sometimes it’s ok to not have everything planned to fruition. This type of flexibility allows our students agency and ownership to really build something meaningful out of their educational experience. I trust our students to take this project in directions I never could have envisioned. We all know that everything turns out better when our students lead.