Explaining civil rights / nonviolent protest

Discussion in 'General Education' started by otterpop, Jan 25, 2018.

  1. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    Jan 25, 2018

    We read a story today about a famous civil rights leader and it mentioned that he taught others to protest injustice (with specific examples of the injustices they faced, like being banned from a diner and treated very poorly) in nonviolent, peaceful ways.

    My students were pretty engaged and interested, but a few of them couldn't get their heads wrapped around the nonviolent part - why were they not punching these jerks in the face or breaking windows?

    We talked about how there would probably not have been consequences for the white people who initiated the racism but would have been harsh consequences for the minority groups that were defending themselves - hence the need for nonviolent protest.

    But I'm just wondering, how might you explain this concept to an upper elementary group? They're old enough to understand the situation somewhat but I also didn't want to present them with history that they were not ready for.
     
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  3. Belch

    Belch Companion

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    Jan 26, 2018

    Obviously your students don't understand the concept of being a minority. Minorities don't punch people they assume to be jerks, because the consequences are rather obvious to anybody with a few brain cells rattling around in the ol' cranium.

    Are there no bullies at your school? If so, you could explain it like trying to take on the school bullies who have no problems with instigating violence from those they see as inferior.

    Instead, non-violence is an appeal to moral values which hopefully even the bullies understand.

    However, since your students are the bullies (i.e. they have no problem thinking in terms of violence), I really look forward to future replies. Maybe other teachers can provide some ideas to teach the violent majority how to be non-violent.
     
  4. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    I remember teaching a unit on civil rights and the era, and it was very powerful. This was for 5th. I didn't specifically teach them the moral conclusions they might draw, but took about a month to present background, photos, biographies, articles about the topic. They were absolutely shocked that hosing down of protesters could happen in our country. They were shocked by the hatred of officials and public servants. I had a amazing book of photos of the era and I think they had the most impact.
     
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  5. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    I think this is an interesting concept that I'm just starting to fully grasp, but still sometimes question the efficacy of.

    My take on it is that non-violent protests are an indirect way to fight for your rights by appealing to the sensibilities of the larger population. If it was violence against violence, then either side can justify their actions even if they are unjust.

    If it's non-violence against violence, it amplifies the injustice being done, because the non-violent protestors are obviously not doing anything to evoke the unjust response.

    That's my take on why it was so effective in the civil rights era. However I think that it is not as effective today as it was then.

    Part of it is because those engaged in today's non-violent protests are not really just being present to highlight the injustice being done. For example, non-violent protests blocking traffic. While they're not violent, they're not really in the same vein as teenagers sitting peacefully at a soda shop waiting to be served, or an organized march that's had the proper things filed. Basically, the other side can justify the protestors blocking traffic being arrested or having other consequences, because their actions are impacting others

    Another part is that when non-violent protest was being used in the civil rights era it was a relatively new strategy (well, new to them; I think things like this cycle throughout time). Now though, people know what to expect and they often dismiss it with statements like "Oh here come the crybaby's whining about _____ again." Because of how easily it's dismissed and perhaps how unclear the injustices are to people (or how much they're willing to turn a blind eye to them), it's easy for people to ignore non-violent protesters these days. They also happen very frequently now, because everyone wants to emulate the civil rights protests of the past. Point is, non-violent protest rarely works anymore. We have to wait an era for it to become new and shocking again.

    Because they are no longer effective, those who are looking to be heard (including this newest generation) have to resort to other methods, which of late include violence, property destruction, digital doxxing, etc. These methods aren't as effective in producing change because as mentioned before people can't always justify the reactions or they can justify the injustices because of the way the protestors are behaving.

    Everything here is just my opinion about what I see as a fascinating topic.

    EDIT: But I just realized you want to explain it to upper elementary students and this is probably not helpful to you. Sorry!

    Maybe ask them to imagine a non-existent student, and another student was picking on this student. Would they be more likely to feel sympathy for the student if the student sat there calmly and took a name calling, or if the student got up there and punched and kicked the other student and called him names back. Then have them imagine if it was a group of students like Belch was saying and in order to fight back, he needed to get the rest of the class on his side to tell the other group to cut it out?

    I don't know really. Elementary kids are not really my wheelhouse.
     
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  6. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Jan 26, 2018

    Non-violent protests worked because they almost insured violence against themselves. That is how extreme racism was at the time. (I don't want to discuss racism now because we are talking about during civil rights.)

    You have a good explanation. I agree with much of what you are saying.
     
  7. MrTempest

    MrTempest Companion

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    Jan 26, 2018

    In high school I use the following approach. I start off talking about how young black civil rights activist were trained prior to engaging in these non-violent protests. That they were spat on, hit, tossed things at them, blew smoke in their faces and called them every ugly words (…yes, every word). They did this to simulate what they may encounter during the protests. They needed to be disciplined enough to not react to what they encountered. Then I ask the student, “Why do you suppose that they trained these kids so they would not react?” I lead them to the fact that that if one protester slipped the whole story of what happened could be twisted to, “Unruly Black Protestor Hits Patrons.” MLK used the media to showcase the awful things whites were doing to blacks who were merely acting civil and non-aggressive to appeal to other in the nation who were unaware of what was going on. Any slip on the protestors side would ruin this objective.
     
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  8. viola_x_wittrockiana

    viola_x_wittrockiana Comrade

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    Jan 26, 2018

    For the civil disobedience part, I would go back to the inspiration with India and Gandhi. India wanted independence from England, just like America did, except this was much later in time, shortly after WW2 ended. India didn't have the power to fight for independence, but they could "fight" by holding protests and disrupting the status quo by refusing to buy British goods or pay British taxes. This ultimately led to Indian independence. If they had been violent, the rest of the world would have supported a British counterattack because England "legally" owned India. It would have been like the Civil War when part of the country we owned decided to leave and got violent.

    It's really much more complicated and tied to key religious values in India, but that's a level that 5th graders can understand.
     
  9. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    Jan 26, 2018

    Thank you all for the great responses. I appreciate every one of them. Reading this, I'm thinking that these concepts are pretty tricky for a ten year old. I think that the best analogy would be - if someone hits you on the playground, should you hit them back? But I also think that this would generate a variety of responses.
    This is the closest example to the discussion that we had, but I think that it was just a hard concept for them to grasp. Still, having the discussion at least introduced them to the topic. Some information on the peaceful protest training was actually in a story we were reading in our textbook, which is why why "not reacting" was a topic of discussion. One student said he disagreed that that was one of the ideas of their training, so we ended up talking about what the consequences would have been if they had reacted.
     
  10. webmistress

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    Jan 27, 2018

    Great discussion/topic otterpop
    I'll just say, try not to make an analogy, because no analogy will truly help them grasp what it's like to have dogs biting you and water hosing knocking you down because of your skin color. The playground bully might be a bully, but it's just not something that's similar.
    Just have them imagine if they or their parents were the ones being beat by powerful authorities because of skin color. They have to realize that they will never be in the shoes of the exact Civil Rights protestors.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2018
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  11. webmistress

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    Jan 28, 2018

    Jus thought of this: 14 year old Emmett Till's murder was the catalyst to the Civil Rights movement. They should know about that to get a clearer picture of everything.

    Also some kids may ask "If the protests were so peaceful, then why was MLK still killed." That's a key question!
    Civil Rights protestors were still considered to be violent at the time. There was and still remains nothing a Black protestor/person can do to ever be seen as "peaceful." They had very few legal rights, hasn't improved honestly today, but that's another topic.

    Kids need to also realize that the movement was never completed because MLK was assassinated.
    It's also complex because he wasn't 100% non-violent, that's the way certain things have been written to focus only on that aspect. But as they grow to look at videos and read his other speeches, they will see that there is an entirely different side to MLK, where he felt people had a right to defend themselves.

    Have them imagine that they are hated by millions because of their color, and that it's legal in a sense for someone of the opposite skin color to beat or take their life. (14 year-old Emmett Till as an example).
    Emmett Till's murder was a main motivating factor for the Civil Rights movement. Kids need to know, what led to his murder and ultimately, the verdict. Even after they learn the nightmares of that case, they'd need to realize there have been thousands of Emmett Till's, and still are, everyday.
    The difference is Emmett's mother wanted the world to see his deformed face so the world could see the "Ugly face of racism." His casket is in the Smithsonian African-American History museum.

    The bully analogy will make them downplay or try to rationalize horrific crimes against humanity and human rights violations.

    Protestors are not trying to appeal to the masses, protestors know long before they hit the streets that the masses have already failed and have no moral compass. What protestors try to do is bring voice to injustices and basically fight for their right to stay alive. A question is, why wouldn't the majority population join them and why did so many sit at home and watch those horrors without taking action for their fellow Americans?

    The movement wasn't 'effective' though, the leader and many others were assassinated. The laws that changed really just became rewritten and more modernized as to where it would be more difficult to prove injustices.

    There's been some justified slave uprisings, but other than that there's never been a time when Black people organized to ever be violent against white supremacy. The power is just not there.
    The Civil Rights protestors were hated just as protestors, largely peaceful, of today are hated.

    We have to be careful not to glorify what happened during the Civil Rights movement because it was a bloody time, not much different than today's peaceful protests.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2018
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  12. AlwaysAttend

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    Jan 28, 2018

    Really...
     
  13. physteach

    physteach Companion

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    Look at the protests against police brutality in the NFL. These men were literally taking a knee and silently protesting a system that is murdering Black men and women. Yet it was viewed, by many, as an actual attack on America and there were portions of the population that were calling for vile retribution. For kneeling.
     
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  14. AlwaysAttend

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    Has anyone arrested or beaten them for doing so? What rights of theirs are being infringed upon. They are protesting and not being told to stop.
     
  15. physteach

    physteach Companion

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    Colin Kaepernick lost his job and the president has regularly derided them and called for their firing, which is actually the government telling them not to continue/threatening their jobs. Also, my point was that even when being peaceful with protests, Black men are still treated as though they are protesting wrong. Which was the original post - that nothing done is seen as "peaceful".
     
  16. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    His protest was seen as peaceful.

    Seen as being wrong is a different subject altogether. When you make a non-verbal and non-violent protest it has to really show what you mean without having to explain it. So, when protesting during the American Anthem, it non-verbally shows that you are against the country and those who fought for the rights of the people in this country. I bet if he protested during the coin toss or chose some other way to protest that more matched his point, people might not have been so offended.

    The other issue is using your job as a platform to protest. Some jobs will allow it. Others do not.
     

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