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Lessons

Rosa Parks: Textbook

Historians arrive at historical knowledge by carefully reading and interpreting sources from the past. Yet most high school textbooks hide this process by presenting history as a series of uncontested, fixed events. Reading and analyzing additional documents can “open up” the textbook and introduce students to the contested and interpretive nature of historical knowledge.

Textbooks can be “opened up” in a number of ways. This lesson focuses on the following method: Direct Challenge – bringing primary evidence to challenge issues of fact or interpretation.

Overview:

In this lesson, students critique a standard textbook account of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. They read and analyze two primary documents and consider how this evidence specifically contests the textbook’s account. First, the teacher elicits students’ existing knowledge about Rosa Parks. Then, students read a textbook passage and two conflicting primary documents. Finally, students write a revised textbook account or an editorial pointing out the textbook account’s deficiencies and how these affect our understanding of this important event.

Learning Goal:

  • Students will be able to use information from primary documents to contest a textbook account of an event.
  • Students will consider how particular versions of the Rosa Parks story can shape or distort our understanding of events.

Materials:

Website:
  • “Robinson” document with notebook questions
  • “Durr” document with notebook questions
  • Textbook – “Rosa was tired: The story of the Montgomery bus boycott” by Herbert Kohl (2005).

Plan of Instruction (approximately 60 minutes)

Step 1: 5 minutes: Introduce lesson

Ask students to list everything they know about Rosa Parks.

Step 2: 5 minutes: Discuss (whole class)

Elicit student responses and write on board. Ask students where they learned this information.

Step 3: 10 minutes: Read and discuss textbook passage

Hand out textbook passage. Ask students to source the document: Who wrote it? In what kind of book would it appear?

Have students read the textbook passage. Ask students:

  • Is this account consistent with what you know about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott?
  • Where is it consistent? Where is it not?
  • What other questions and comments do you have regarding this account?

Step 4: 15 minutes: Read and discuss Robinson (whole class)

Hand out Robinson document and have students read and answer notebook questions. Ask students:

  • How does this source contest or support the textbook account?
  • What specific phrases or information in the sources support your comparison?
  • How might we revise the textbook account to reflect our new information? What sentences need revision? How so?

Step 5: 15 minutes: Read and discuss Durr (whole class)

Hand out Durr document and have students read and answer notebook questions. Ask students:

  • How does this source contest or support the other two sources?
  • What specific phrases or information in the sources support your comparison?
  • How might we revise the textbook account to reflect evidence from this source? What sentences need revision? How so?
  • How is the textbook account as it currently stands incomplete or inaccurate? How does it shortchange our understanding of the Montgomery bus boycott?

Step 6: 15 minutes: Assess

Students respond to one of the following writing prompts (Teacher should choose one to present to the class):

Prompt 1. Rewrite Kohl’s standard textbook account so it is more accurate and complete. Use specific evidence from the two primary documents in your revision. Highlight or underline your changes in the text. Below the revised text, include a few sentences explaining your revisions.

Prompt 2. Your school is considering having all students read this textbook account to celebrate the Civil Rights movement. Write a newspaper editorial in which you take a position on this choice. Use evidence from both primary documents to argue your position.