Social Education 59(3), 1995, pp. 154-157
National Council for the Social Studies
1. Focus on relevant problems.
2. Analyze these problems.
3. Make value statements concerning these problems.
4. Draw conclusions and formulate possible actions.
Step one, focusing on relevant problems, should be simple in social studies. Virtually every page of any textbook has examples of and reactions to human problems which were faced in the past and continue to be faced today. Some examples might be:
Step three, value statements, is rarely a part of a formal social studies lesson. All too often students are "allowed" to make value statements in the social studies classroom only to kill time. Such sessions are often little more than shooting the breeze before the bell rings. Fine values-oriented programs have existed since the 1970s in the form of values analysis and values clarification (Raths et. al. 1978), but they are not often implemented in the social studies classroom today.
Step four, drawing conclusions (Engle and Ochoa 1988) and formulating actions upon these conclusions (Newmann 1975), should be the end product of a vibrant and relevant social studies classroom. This end product, however, is dependent upon the implementation of the other three steps: identify and focus on a problem, analyze it, and make value judgments concerning it. Then a decision can be made.
Thank goodness for great minds, such as that of Edward De Bono (1985). De Bono has thought through the problem stated here and has created a simple lesson format that can be adapted for use in the classroom. His writings are primarily concerned with business management strategies, and his book Six Thinking Hats was written with this in mind. Perhaps unknown even to De Bono is the ease with which his ideas can be adapted to the social studies classroom. In the four-step process proposed above, De Bono's Six-Hat strategy is an easy way to implement steps two (analysis) and three (valuing) of our four-step process-the most difficult steps. Six-Hat Social Studies might be a good name for this application of DeBono's business management techniques to the social studies classroom.
How can we apply De Bono's strategies in the classroom? First, break the class into five groups with each wearing real or imagined colored hats. The teacher wears the sixth (blue) hat symbolizing the control and direction given by the teacher over the Six-Hat thinking process. (This writer frequently uses inexpensive colored-paper party hats to lend a festive air to the proceedings.)
The colored hats of the five student groups can be allocated as follows:
White Hats: These students are to present the known facts concerning the problem under review by the class. Just the facts, and only the facts.
Red Hats: These students describe only their raw emotions and feelings concerning the problem, as well as the raw emotions of others involved in the issue at hand. The Red Hats need not be concerned with facts, just emotions.
Yellow Hats: These students analyze the situation and describe the logical negative consequences or events surrounding the issue being discussed. For example-what was a tragic or bad consequence of this problem?
Black Hats: These students are the opposite of the Yellow Hats in that they must analyze and describe the logical positive consequences or events surrounding the issue. For example, what are the good consequences of this problem?
Green Hats: These students leave the facts and their emotions aside and think creatively about the problem, employing different ways of looking at this issue or hypothesizing about future consequences related to the issue. What are some ways to think of this problem that no one has ever thought of before? What are some possible future consequences of the issue?
The brilliance of De Bono's Six-Hat strategy is that it forces students to restrict their thinking to one type of analysis and spreads the whole analysis of the problem cooperatively across the classroom. This greatly simplifies the procedure for each student and makes a potentially difficult task of analysis a more enjoyable cooperative effort by the entire class.
From a developmental standpoint, the Six-Hat strategy provides an easy stepping stone to formal levels of thinking with the possibility of very little individual trauma at the prospect of analyzing a potentially difficult issue alone. As a result, the Six-Hat procedure is a great lesson format for middle school and high school students, as well as undergraduates and graduates. As this approach was originally a business strategy, it is also an excellent technique for department and school-wide staff meetings in which analyses of serious issues such as budgets and the allocation of scarce resources are the foci of attention. Another important aspect of this procedure is that it brings a systems approach to the teaching of formal thinking in the social studies classroom. Operating much as a formal business or think tank, the classroom no longer has to be the domain of the few smart kids who quickly arrive at correct answers and thus limit the participation of everyone else. The Six-Hat social studies classroom is a cooperative venture in which everybody's participation counts.
History is full of complex problems that have created major catastrophic consequences for generations to follow. Let us put on our Six Hats and think about an instance of one such problem-ethnic discrimination.
Ethnic discrimination has been a major problem in North America from the first landing of European colonists, as their encounters with Native Americans and the importation of enslaved Africans demonstrated. Let us take a single year-1939; a person-Billie Holiday; and an event-the recording of "Strange Fruit"; and explore ethnic discrimination, in this instance, in the history of the United States.
This Six-Hat analysis is a composite of several eleventh-grade US history and twelfth-grade government classes in which this specific lesson was used.
Blue Hat (the teacher or student director of the Six-Hat analysis): All right, White Hats, give us the basic facts surrounding "Strange Fruit."
(Students may need time to research basic information on the topic.)
White Hat #1: Billie Holiday was a famous black singer during the 1930s.
White Hat #2: She sang with all the big bands of the era and died of a drug overdose.
White Hat #3: The song is about lynching. The Ku Klux Klan and other white racists used to hang black men from trees.
Blue Hat: Well done, White Hats, you stuck to the facts. A few more facts you might not have found was that Billie Holiday wanted to record the song, but the major record companies would not let her. She recorded it on her own with her own orchestra. It was not played on the radio and she was blacklisted or banned from the major recording companies for many years. OK, Red Hats, give us your raw emotions about "Strange Fruit."
Red Hat #1: If you don't listen to the words, it's a beautiful, haunting piece of music that is very easy to listen to. It's easy to see why Billie Holiday was so famous.
Red Hat #2: It's a horrible song. It's bloody and cruel. It's like a living nightmare.
Red Hat #3: I want to cry, because it is so sad. How could anybody be so cruel?
Red Hat #4: It makes me angry that humans can be so cruel to each other. We see so much cruelty on the news just like this. How can it be?
Blue Hat: Well done, Red Hats, you really have me feeling sad and angry. Black Hats, how about some logical, positive views concerning "Strange Fruit?"
Black Hat #1: You have to admire Billie Holiday. It took immense courage for her to record the song.
Black Hat #2: She likely knew that she would be banned by the white-owned record companies and went ahead and recorded the song anyway. How many people have that kind of courage today to try to do what is right, rather than what is popular and safe?
Black Hat #3: Reading our textbook, it sounds as if the civil rights movement started in 1954 with Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education. But obviously there were many actions like Billie Holiday's that were part of the early civil rights movement.
Black Hat #4: I wonder how many courageous acts by other African Americans went unnoticed in the struggle for civil rights.
Black Hat #5: I'm certain that the song, although banned, strongly influenced a large number of people and made them think about racism in this country.
Blue Hat: Great comments, Black Hats. Now for the Yellow Hats. Are there any negative aspects of "Strange Fruit?"
Yellow Hat #1: The song is full of hypocrisy. The words describe a "gallant" South, but then describe the immense cruelty toward other ethnic groups which also existed there.
Yellow Hat #2: The song is about lynchings in the South. But lynchings took place all over the United States during the 1930s. The Depression was on, many people were out of work, and the racist words of the Klan were very appealing to some people.
Yellow Hat #3: I wonder if lynchings were similar to the accusations of witchcraft in Salem and elsewhere-sort of release valves of a society under a great deal of pressure?
Yellow Hat #4: Did the banning by the record companies drive Billie Holiday to despair and drugs?
Yellow Hat #5: It is amazing how some powerful companies such as the record companies influenced American opinion, even in matters of ethnicity. I wonder how prevalent this is today?
Blue Hat: Excellent comments, Yellow Hats. Very powerful questions we will need to research further someday. OK, Green Hats, give us your creative thoughts about "Strange Fruit."
Green Hat #1: Maybe we should require every student in school to study "Strange Fruit." It might cut down on the racism that continues to exist.
Green Hat #2: A course on Billie Holiday and her music might be an interesting history unit for studying about the 1930s and 1940s.
Green Hat #3: Maybe Billie Holiday should be studied as a civil rights leader in our history book.
Green Hat #4: We should have students ask people who were alive during the 1930s whether or not they saw or heard Billie Holiday.
Green Hat #5: It would be fun to find out whether other songs were powerful and banned, but influenced people later on.
Blue Hat: Great comments, Green Hats. All Hats, thank you for your thoughtful comments. They certainly give us a fuller picture of "Strange Fruit," Billie Holiday, and the racism of the 1930s in the United States. Now that we have completed our Six-Hat analysis, let us take off our hats and make several overall conclusions regarding "Strange Fruit" and the ethnic discrimination of the 1930s. Then we can propose possible actions for us to take.
Decisions and Actions
This part of the exercise is done with hats off.
Teacher: OK, what are some major conclusions we can make about our Six-Hat analysis of "Strange Fruit?"
Student #1: Songs can be very powerful voices of protest that can often last beyond a single speech or written page.
Student #2: Humans can be immensely cruel to each other over such very small differences as color.
Student #3: There are powerful organizations in our society, such as record companies, which enforce the status quo and fight against such change as ending discrimination.
Student #4: A movement, such as the civil rights movement, is composed of many small voices-like that of Billie Holiday-over a long period of time and not just a single voice or leader.
Teacher: Wow, I am impressed with your thoughts, class. Great going! Now let's carry this one step further. What actions can we take to carry what we learned beyond this lesson and class period?
Student #5: I think we should do a formal study of different protest movements in history and try to find out if each had songs, what these songs said, and how much of an influence these songs had on changing history.
Student #6: Let's go one step further and look at current problems in our society that might lead to protest movements. Perhaps we can write a song that could become the focus of a movement.
Student #7: Ethnic discrimination seems to take very different forms depending on the era. Thank goodness lynchings no longer take place. Why is this? We should study the forms of discrimination that evolved when lynchings stopped.
Student #8: And what are the major forms of ethnic discrimination now? Can we combat these forms of discrimination through song? These would be interesting studies to follow up on "Strange Fruit."
Teacher: Excellent work, class. I think we learned a lot today by just following our own thinking and sharing it with each other. Can anyone summarize what he or she learned today about Billie Holiday and "Strange Fruit?"
Student #9: Songs can be a very powerful political medium. Too often we think of them as just being popular voices. They could certainly be a driving force in a revolution or a movement, such as "We Shall Overcome!" in the civil rights movement.
Student #10: Ethnic discrimination can be very subtle, yet a very powerful force that can destroy people. We need to identify current forms of discrimination in our country and work hard to eliminate them.
Teacher: Are there any concluding comments before the bell rings about this Six-Hat type of lesson?
Student #11: It was fun separating thoughts and feelings, analyzing each in groups, and then making conclusions as a class.
Student #12: When can we do this again?
Bloom, B. S., ed. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Company, 1956.De Bono, Edward. Six Thinking Hats. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1985.Engle, Shirley H., and Anna S. Ochoa. Education for Democratic Citizenship: Decision-making in the Social Studies. New York: Teachers College Press, 1988.Newmann, Fred N. Education for Citizen Action: Challenge for Secondary Curriculum. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan, 1975.Raths, Louis E., Merrill Harmin, and Sidney B. Simon. Values and Teaching: Working with Values in the Classroom. 2nd ed. Columbus, OH: Merill, 1978.Van Sickle, Ronald L. "The Personal Relevance of the Social Studies," Social Education 54, no. 1 (January 1990): 23-27, 59.Ron H. Pahl is Coordinator of Secondary Social Studies Education at California State University, Fullerton. He also coordinates the international studies program, Fullerton International Resources for Schools and Teachers.
Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" is available on All or Nothing at All, Verve CD 823246-2 or CS 823233-4. It is also currently available on approximately twelve different recordings by such noted singers as Abby Lincoln, Diana Ross, and Nina Simone.