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Questions and Activities

to be used with the website version of the

Mississippi Freedom School Curriculum


By Kathy Emery and Linda Reid Gold


These questions and activities, taken together, are not intended to elicit a thorough understanding of the Curriculum. Our hope is that these suggestion give teachers and students some help in developing their own questions and activities.


Personal Writing (journal writing, essays, autobiographies):


Items 1-3 can be used particularly for journal writing. As students read the Curriculum, they can write about what they are reading from a personal and non-structured fashion as the basis for more analytical writing or in preparation for discussion.


1. Select quotations from the curriculum and use it as a basis for reflecting on your own experience. Choose a quotation which moves you, for example, one with which you strongly agree or disagree.

2. For each “Concept” introduced by the Freedom School Curriculum, write a response, e.g., a personal reflection, related experience, idea for a new program or vision of . . .

3. Select “Questions” from the Curriculum and respond to them personally. For example, “To what extent do we confer power on others? To what extent is that power real? What wouldn’t you sell?”

4. What is the relationship of ignorance to fear? guilt to fear? fear to hate? Use your own personal experiences to illustrate your answer (See Unit V).



Unit III Questions and Activities

1. What is assimilation? Do the three secondary questions advocate assimilation for African Americans? What is the difference between assimilation and integration. How do your answers to the questions in Unit III affect your position on the resegregation and unequal funding of US public schools today?


2. How can the Freedom School lesson on examining social myths be applied to your experience? (Select an advertisement, a newspaper article, a work of literature which you've read in school, or a lesson from your history text. Apply to it the questions raised by the Freedom School curriculum: What is taught in the schools and through other media? What are the myths of our society? What or whose purposes do these myths serve?)


3. “Concept. What education is.” How would you answer the questions in this section if applied to you and your school? What do people learn in school besides reading, writing an arithmetic?”


4. Compare the “Mississippi Plan” (in Guide to Negro History, Part III, Reconstruction in Mississippi) to the situation in Mississippi the early 1960s. What are the essential beliefs/tactics/ideas of the Mississippi Plan? Do you see any of these tactics in your interactions with authority?


5. Guide to Negro History: Are there any parallels between the presence of Federal Troops in Reconstruction and the presence of Federal Troops in the South during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s (e.g., Little Rock or Oxford)?



Historiography exercise I


The Guide to Negro History contains the following sections:


Brief Synopsis of the Amistad Incident

Part I: Origins of Prejudice

Part II: Negro Resistance to Oppression

Part III: Reconstruction and the Beginning of Segregation


Divide the class into four groups. Each group reads one section of the Guide. After reading one's section, look at the American History textbook (or curriculum) that is used by your school (if there are several, borrow copies of each one. If this is problematic, your local library should have copies of various textbooks). Compare the content, style and organization of the material in your section of the Guide with the comparable section in the American History text (or curriculum) used by your school. Write a report to present to the rest of the class (preferably with visual aids) that reveals the results of your comparative analysis. For example, if there is no mention of the Amistad Incident, is there mention of similar incidents? What kinds of slave revolts are mentioned in the text? What role are Presidents given by the textbook(s) in relationship to slavery? How is J.Q. Adams portrayed in general by the text? Van Buren? When does slavery appear in your textbook/curriculum? How would one’s understanding of slavery be different if the Guide were incorporated into your textbook/curriculum?


Keep in mind the following issues when doing your research and analysis:


1. What are the criteria for selection of the details in both the Guide and the textbook used at your school? What does the Guide suggest the criteria may be?

2. What is the purpose of the textbook; according to its authors (read preface or intro); according to the teacher (interview teacher) who uses the text or, according to those responsible (interview these people) for selecting the textbook for use in your school.

3. Does the textbook version of history inspire political activity on your part, does it discourage it? How so?


Some considerations when doing a comparative analysis: What information is the same in each text? What information is in one but not in the other? Which text promotes the purposes of the Freedom School Curriculum the best? How does your comparative analysis suggest what might be the purposes of the curriculum as defined by the textbook?


Historiography exercise II


The Guide to Negro History suggests that teachers use the structure of the Amistad Lesson Plan as a guide. This lesson is structured thematically as opposed to many history lessons that are structured chronologically. The center of the lesson plan is a chronologically story of the specific incident that Spielberg has now made famous in his movie Amistad. But the lesson plan identifies several issues that “spin off” like spokes from the hub of a wheel. These issues – Slave Revolts, The Case in the Courts, Abolitionism, African Background and Slave Trade – become topics of study in their own right. The theory behind this part of the Freedom School Curriculum seems to be that the students’ interest in these topics is generated by the Amistad story.


1. Using the Amistad Unit as a model, construct a similar lesson plan for an historical incident of your choice. You may want to take a story from your own ethnic, religious, gender, national background or sexual orientation. For gays and lesbians, the story of Harvey Milk might come to mind. Try to pick a story that you are interested in. Then see what issues/topics can be “spun off” from it—i.e. issues and topics that are also of interest because of their connections to the “hub” issue.


2. Contrast the story/theme approach of the Amistad model with those experiences you have had in past history courses.


3. Do history textbooks in your school or in other schools use the story/theme approach? Can you make a guess as to why they do or don’t?


4. Why does the Freedom School Curriculum place such a high priority on “student interest”? Does your school place an equally high priority on student interest? Why or why not?


Unit IV


1. Research/Activity:

a. Each student bring in at least one newspaper article concerning the global economy (anything that has to do with goods made in one country and sold in another, or about changes in one country affecting the economic condition of another).

b. In class, in groups of 4 or 5, each student explains the contents of his or her articles to others. As each student explains or reads his or her article the rest of the group takes notes trying to answer the following questions: (1) Who are the winners? the losers? (2) How do they win? lose?

c. After discussing and taking notes on all the articles, the group writes a joint paper guided by the following questions: (1) Who is making money off of the global economy? (2) What are the explanations for this? (3) Do the explanations justify the money making?


3. Research: After reading the Mississippi Power Structure, research comparable statistics for your state today. For example, what the major job categories and their pay scales in your state? Which racial/ethnic, sex and age groups dominate each category? Much of this can be found on the web.


4. Create a power chart of any of the following: school district, town, county, state, or nation Do you know anyone who has challenged authority? What happened to them when they did? Can you create a composite example from the real life examples that you know of people who have challenged authority? Does this composite example illustrate the power structure chart of your school? town/city? state? the nation?


5. Who were the Dixiecrats? What powers did they have? Does William Greider in Who Will Tell the People ? (PBS video or in book form) make an argument that a similar power structure operates today? What myths support such a power structure?


6. Research Activity: This unit includes the case study on Nazi Germany. One purpose of this study was to study the Nazi methods of control so they “might be applied to a comparative analysis of the Negro in the South in order to gain greater insight into . . . [the]means by which this system can be resisted successfully and overcome.” Does this differ from Alinsky’s following assertion?


In other words, use the Case study of Nazi Germany to evaluate Saul Alinsky’s claim that “Ghandi’s passive resistance would never had had a chance against a totalitarian state such as that of the Nazis . . . George Orwell, in his essay Reflection on Gandhi, made some pertinent observations on this point: ‘he believed in arousing the world, which is only possible if the world gets a change to hear what you are doing.’ It is difficult to see how Gandhi’s methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again. Without a free press and the right of assembly it is impossible, not merely to appeal to outside opinion, but to bring a mass movement into being or even to make your intentions known to your adversary” (pp. 41-42, Rules for Radicals, Vintage Books, New York, 1972)


7. If you were a student in a Freedom School, how would you answer the “Secondary Questions” after having gone through Units I - IV? How would you answer them as a student today?


8.Historiography: Compare the descriptions in the Power of the Dixiecrats with comparable passages in the U. S. history texts used in your school. You may have to be a bit creative in your analysis. For example, if your school text has no mention of the 1948 Democratic nominating convention and the States Rights party, then look at the history of the Democratic Party from 1944-64 and compare that to the History section in the case study. You are looking for different versions or emphasis of the same events or what details are included what are left out. Do such differences lead to different interpretations of the past? What is the significance of these interpretations?


Unit V


1. Read A.S. Neill’s Summerhill. What role did fear play in Summerhill? What role does fear play in your school? What happened to those students who choose not to attend classes at Summerhill? Do you like to learn? Under what circumstances have you learned the best? If TV and cinemas didn’t exist, how might people spend their leisure time? What did students at Summerhill do when they become bored?


2. How do the purposes of this unit “train people to be active agents of change”? Are you and your fellow students being trained to be “active agents of social change? Do you think you should be?


3. ACTIVITY. As a class, re-enact the stick figure exercise. Is it an effective teaching technique? Write a stick figure exercise that would apply to your life today.


4. The truth shall make you free. How does Unit V support this statement. Are you persuaded?


Unit VI


1. What is the relationship between the structure of an organization and the behavior of people within that organization? (Does a town meeting political structure promote different behavior than one person rule?)


2. What is the relationship between values and behavior? Does one behave according to one’s values? Do we need help in behaving according to one’s values, according to how one believes he or she should act?


3. While this statistic varies depending on the definition of the terms of the statement, it is fair to say that the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes 30 percent of the world’s resources. Using the principles and concepts of Unit VI, what questions would you ask of this materially unequal situation? What questions can you ask that addresses a different and more just distribution of the world’s resources? Are the world’s resources (forests, minerals, drinking water) dwindling? Is the world’s population growing? How will the United States middle class maintain its material condition in the face of future changes in resources and population should it choose to do so?


4. What current evidence that material well being doesn’t guarantee spiritual well being? What is the evidence today that poverty undermines spiritual well being?


5. Is there an ethical system implicit or explicit in the Freedom School Curriculum (Is there a list of commandments that forbids or demands certain behavior of all human beings)?


6. After reading the Statements of Discipline of Nonviolent Movements, how would you answer the given questions?

Was “the movement the germ of a new society?”

“Would we want a whole society in which people related to each other as they do in the movement?”


Unit VII

Part 1

1. Why is Part I of this unit organized differently from the other units? (What are the “basic concepts” of Part I?)


2. Create subcategories to Part I. Decide how many there are and what titles to give to each sub-categories.


3. What does Part I reveal about the theory behind “the movement”? the strategy? the tactics?


4. How does the movement define success? failure?


Part 2, I. COFO

5. How does a federation of organizations create “unity”, “continuity” and “identity”?


6. Do any of the projects of the COFO programs strike you as particularly radical or surprising? (What does “radical” mean?)


7. What are the four “phases” of the COFO program?


Part 2, II. Miss Hamer’s Campaign

8. Why should poor whites have voted for Fannie Lou Hamer and not Jamie Whitten?


9. Why is Hamer and not another MFDP candidate (e.g. Aaron Henry) featured by the curriculum?


10. Why did Hamer run for office if she and her supporters knew that they were going to lose?


Part 2, III. Other COFO Political Programs

11. Why is COFO encouraging blacks to participate in the Democratic Party’s precinct, county and district elections when COFO also plans to create a separate Freedom Democratic Party?


Part 2, IV. Voting in Mississippi

12. What is the purpose of precinct meetings? How are they democratic in theory but not democratic in practice?


13. At which level is the most power exercised - precinct, county, district, state convention, state primary, state general election, or the National nominating convention?


14. How can the voting laws so effectively discriminate while being so immune to legal accusations of discrimination?


15. Why might the degree of white violence against black voters in a county be proportionate to the ratio of whities to blacks in that country?


16. Were Freedom Days successful? effective? strategic?


Part 2, V. The Historical Development of white, one party politics

17. Why was the Compromise of 1877 a pivotal moment for black civil rights?


18. Why would “the small town rich man” contribute money to each of the opposing sides in an election?


19. Why might blacks benefit from the establishment of a Republican Party in the South. Why might they not benefit?


QUESTIONS for class discussion based on the author’s Introduction, the Curriculum and Supplemental Documents


1. “To train people to be active agents in bringing about social change.” This is a primary purpose of the Freedom School Curriculum. To what degree is your own study of this curriculum moving you to become an active agent of social change? What are the obstacles in the way of such a change? Must there be a “movement” for individuals to be agents of change? Do individuals start movements (how do movements start?)?


2. How did Kirsty Powell (A Report, mainly on Ruleville) alter the “on paper” version of the Freedom School Curriculum? To what degree did Kirsty Powell implement Noel Day’s advice (Notes on Teaching)? Emerson’s (Non Material Teaching Suggestions)? Did she follow each unit’s directives? To what degree was the “reality” of her experience in Ruleville responsible for this? What implications can be drawn from the difference between curriculum on paper and in practice?


3. Can Ruth Emerson’s teaching theory (Non Material Teaching Suggestions) be accurately described as process rather than goal oriented? Is her approach consistent with the purpose of the Freedom Schools? For example, if the students don’t complete the Citizenship Curriculum, will the students be as effective canvassers as they might be upon completion of the curriculum? Are Emerson and Stembridge (Notes on Teaching) in perfect agreement? fundamental agreement?


4. How does the dominant culture today and the Freedom School Curriculum differ in their use of the following terms: Question, Test, Discussion, Drama.


5. Explain the direct connection between the Freedom Schools and political action. Have you ever experienced this direct connection in your own education?


6. African American culture and traditions were maintained through an oral tradition. The oral tradition is characterized by:

a. a strong sense of community, as community is the “library” of the oral tradition.

b. A respect for elders as containers of history and story.

c. An emphasis on gatherings or rituals as a means of affirming community and sharing stories.

d. An emphasis on the strongly felt, immediate experience.

e. An emphasis on song, music, and rhythm as a means of creating an immediate feeling of connection and of sharing history.


How does the Freedom School Curriculum use the strengths of the oral tradition? How are these strengths evident in the Freedom Movement in Mississippi? In the Civil Rights Movement in general?




Debate Resolution: The basic and secondary questions of the Freedom School Curriculum provide the only effective means of evaluating the Curriculum. (see teaching materials in Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, teaching edition, for a description of how to conduct debates)


For the teacher to share with his or her students: Compare your philosophy of teaching with that contained within the Freedom School Curriculum. Consider the following issues:


- How do people learn?

- What are optimal learning conditions?

- What are the external as well as internal constraints/obstacles that an individual teacher faces when trying to teach in a public or private school today?


Exercise A - Lesson Plans (research, analysis)


1. Identify where in your school's curriculum, if at all, the "concepts" of the Freedom School Curriculum are taught.


a. If taught in a course at your school, are there specific "lesson plans" devoted to the concept(s)?

b. If not taught specifically or explicitly at your school, why not? Does the school believe that such concepts are taught elsewhere? What is the evidence that they are or are not?


2. Write Lesson Plans with the “concepts” of the Freedom School Curriculum but replace the content with that which pertains to your life. Your lesson plan should include the following: statement of purpose; list of materials; introduction; questions; myths that the lesson will destroy. After choosing a concept, you might want to begin by thinking about myths associated with such a concept.


3. What conclusions can you draw about the role "curriculum" plays in the construction of your reality?


Exercise B - Teaching Empowerment (Drama, role-play)


1. Divide the class into groups of four.


2. Each group chooses two people from the following list of roles: a student at your school (present time); the principal of your school (present time); a teacher at your school (present time); a student's parent (present time); a poor white Mississippi 16 year old (1964); a 16 year old Freedom School student (1964); a white northern Freedom School teacher (1964); a black northern Freedom School teacher (1964); a black southern Freedom school teacher (1964); and the sheriff of Hattiesburg (1964).


3. The group writes an imagined dialogue about education and power between the two persons chosen from the list above. Some of the issues you may want to address in the dialogue are: empowerment; talking about one's feelings; class discussion; knowing how power is exercised; what should teachers know before they teach a class at your school; degree of freedom in asking questions; the kind of transformation that occurs when students are allowed to ask questions; connection of history to what is happening now; and role models in history class.


4. Each group chooses two of its members to act out the dialogue in front of the rest of the class. The entire class can discuss each presentation after it is made.



Exercise C - Guidelines for a New Teacher (research, analysis)


In groups or individually: Compose an introduction for a new teacher at a school.


1. Identify a school other than your own. Arrange permission to interview several students at that school.


2. Write an interview schedule in advance of the actual interviews. When writing the schedule (list of questions in the order you wish to ask them during the interview) keep the following in mind:


a. Avoid writing questions to which a "yes" or "no" answer may be given.

b. Have several follow up questions prepared to encourage your interviewee to elaborate upon his or her answers to your questions.

c. Ask questions that will elicit answers that can be used to fulfill your goal of writing "Notes" for new teachers entering that school. The topics that the interview schedule must address are the following: What are the students like? What do the students demand of their teachers? What are the conditions under which teachers teach?


3. Use the data collected (notes and recorded answers) to write Guidelines for New Teachers in the manner of Stembridge's "Introduction to the Summer" (Notes on Teaching in Mississippi)


4. Ask the principal (or some administrator) of the school for which you wrote your "Introduction" to read it and give you his or her responses to what you wrote. Write up the principal's response.


5. Write an analysis of your experience in this exercise. Base your analysis on a comparison of the school you studied with that of the Freedom Schools in Mississippi in 1964. How and why does your "Introduction" differ from Stembridge's? Was the principal's reaction to your "Introduction" predictable? Why or why not? Present results to your class.