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Resources for Teaching About Racism, Racial Injustice, and Human Rights

The following articles have been selected from our three main journals for K-12 teachers: Social Education, Middle Level Learning, and Social Studies and the Young Learner. These articles are grouped by topic for easy reference. Also included are recent current event responses that address racism and call for human rights education.

NCSS Current Events Responses (2020)
Teaching about Race and Racism in the Classroom 
The African American Struggle for Civil Rights 
Slavery and Its Legacy 
Racism against Numerous Minority Groups
Human Rights Education
Middle Level Lessons on Racial Injustice and the Promotion of Civil Rights
Elementary Lessons on Racial Injustice and the Promotion of Civil Rights

NCSS Current Events Responses (2020)

Joint Statement (from the National Coalition Against Censorship, co-signed by NCSS), June 2020
The Free Press in a Time of Crisis 

Joint Statement (from the American Historical Association, co-signed by NCSS), June 2020
AHA Statement on the History of Racist Violence in the United States 

Press Release, May 29, 2020
NCSS Condemns the Killing of George Floyd and Countless Black People

Statement, May 2020
A National Council for the Social Studies Response to Anti-Asian Harassment and Violence during COVID-19

Teaching about Race and Racism in the Classroom

Let's Talk! Teaching Race in the Classroom
Candra Flanagan, Anna Hindley

Teachers can use specific tools and strategies highlighted in this article to foster open, honest, and productive dialogues on race and identity in an educational setting.
Secondary/High School

A Pathway to Racial Literacy: Using the LETS ACT Framework to Teach Controversial Issues
LaGarrett J. King, Amanda E. Vickery, Genevieve Caffrey

Exploring race and other controversial issues in a civil and productive manner develops students’ racial literacies and equips them to be proactive citizens in a democratic society. Secondary/High School

Agency, Advocacy, Activism: Action for Social Studies
Tina Lane Heafner

As social studies teachers, we play an essential role in preparing the next generation with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to become informed and engaged citizens.

Ferguson Is About Us Too: A Call to Explore Our Communities
Alexander Cuenca, Joseph R. Nichols, Jr.

The events in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 can serve as a jumping off point into an exploration of students' own communities. 
Secondary/High School

A Time for Social Studies: Talking with Young People about Ferguson and Staten Island
Beth C. Rubin

This article examines the challenges of teaching about the deaths of African American men at the hands of police in Ferguson and Staten Island in 2014, and shows that when students engage in discussions about civic rights and processes, their sense of discouragement transforms to a sense of empowerment.

Confederate Monuments: Heritage, Racism, Anachronism, and Who Gets to Decide?
Mandy Tompkins Gibson, Gabriel A. Reich

This inquiry, which explores the current debate on what should be done with Confederate monuments, engages students in historical, geographic and civic skills. 
Secondary/High School

The White Gunman, The Anti-Semitic Automaker, and Other Dilemmas of a History Textbook Author
Rosalie Metro

A textbook author reflects on the ethical and ideological choices she made in her quest to create a history book that would be relevant to demographically diverse high school students.  Secondary/High School 

A Mile in Another’s Shoes: A Thematic Approach to Ethnic Studies
Ingrid E. Fey

High school ethnic studies courses that address the perspectives and experiences of people of color are increasingly in demand. The author describes the thematic, inquiry-based approach she developed that reflects her school’s diversity. 
Secondary/High School

Who is Afro-Latin@? Examining the Social Construction of Race and Négritude in Latin America and the Caribbean
Christopher L. Busey, Bárbara C. Cruz

This article reviews the distinctive social construction of race in Latin America and the Caribbean, discussing its historical background and contemporary manifestations. 
Secondary/High School    

Teaching about the Rise of Hate Groups, Neo-Fascism, the Alt-Right, and the Threat to Freedom and Democracy in the United States
C. Frederick Risinger

These recommended sites offer materials, lesson plans, and activities for teaching about our democratic principles.  
Secondary/High School

The African American Struggle for Civil Rights

The Long Civil Rights Movement: Expanding Black History in the Social Studies Classroom
Andrea M. Hawkman, Antonio J. Castro

The lesson presented in this article offers an expansive view of Black history, which moves beyond the limited focus on slavery, reconstruction, and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. 
Secondary/High School

Learning through Doing: A Project-Based Learning Approach to the History of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement
Diana B. Turk, Stacie Brensilver Berman

A project-based approach to studying the civil rights movement can stimulate student engagement and their sense of connection to this historic period. 
Secondary/High School

Constructing a Narrative with Students about Civil Rights Icon Rosa Parks from Her Notes
Cheryl Lederle

A close look at Rosa Parks's handwritten notations on the program from a Montgomery bus boycott event can engage students into a deeper study of Parks, the boycott, and the civil rights movement. 
Secondary/High School

The Rule of Law and Civil Disobedience: The Case Behind King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Howard Kaplan

A class lesson on Walker v. Birmingham, the legal case related to Martin Luther King Jr.'s arrest in Birmingham, can lead to a stimulating exploration of civil disobedience and its role in a democratic society.
Secondary/High School

A Street Named for a King: A Lesson in the Politics of Place-Naming
Jerry T. Mitchell, Derek H. Alderman

As students use geospatial technology to discover streets named for Martin Luther King, Jr., they learn about politics and social power as well as geography. 
Secondary/High School

Voting Rights Act of 1965: In Whose Interest?
Jane Bolgatz and Ryan Crowley

In this lesson, students consider important factors that converged to help civil rights activists win a decades-long struggle for voting rights. 
Secondary/High School  

A. Philip Randolph's Attempt at Equal Economic Opportunity: A Case Study
Joel Walker

The two featured documents from the 1940s offer insight into the African American struggle for economic opportunity in the South and can help teach about the greater civil rights movement. 
Secondary/High School  

 Letter to President Harry Truman about the Murder of Harry T. Moore
Megan Jones

The featured letter to President Truman about the murder of an NAACP official can be used as a springboard into the exploration of the civil rights struggle and violence, as well as the issue of presidential powers. 
Secondary/High School

Teaching about Racial Segregation in Postwar America using Black Like Me
Richard L. Hughes

The memoir of a white journalist who disguised himself as an African American in the pre-civil rights South provides students with greater insight into the evolution of segregation in American society. 
Secondary/High School    

Interviewing the “Lost Generation” from Prince Edward County’s Closed School Era
Helen Stiff-Williams, John P. Sturtz

An oral history project by students in Southside, Virginia, exposes a neglected aspect of the civil rights movement—a generation of young people who were deprived of an education by segregationists. 
Secondary/High School  

Education Equality: What Happens to a Dream Deferred?
Annie Davis, Kimberlee Ried

The highlighted documents from Boston´s desegregation case can serve as a jumping off point into an engaging classroom study of education equality and civil rights.

Slavery and Its Legacy

The American Contradiction: Conceived in Liberty, Born in Shackles
Kenneth C. Davis

The role that racial slavery played in the founding and development of our republic should be woven into the bedrock of how we teach American history and civics. 
Secondary/High School 

Engaging Digital Humanities: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database
Nafees M. Khan

Students can use the large Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database to conduct research and discover the scope of the slave trade over four centuries. 
Secondary/High School 

The Connecting Carolina Teaching with Primary Sources Program
Meghan Manfra and the Connecting Carolina Grant Team

Digital sources like Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl can involve students in a deep investigation of the long-term history and personal impacts of slavery in the United States. 
Secondary/High School  

Using Inquiry and Digital Storytelling to Teach about American Enslavement: Anna, One Woman’s Quest for Freedom
Grant Scribner, Aaron Johnson

An inquiry framed around the experience of an enslaved woman, highlighted in a recent film, offers an opportunity for meaningful student engagement with the history of American enslavement.
Secondary/High School 

Marriage between Slaves: Analyzing Legal Documents from Spain and the United States
Luis Martínez-Fernández

When studying the early colonization of the Caribbean, students will gain a deeper, more nuanced, understanding of the institution of slavery by examining Spanish colonial documents and comparing them with documents from the antebellum U.S. South. 
Secondary/High School 

Expanding Student Understanding of Slavery in America by Exploring an Arabic Muslim Slave Narrative
Michael Apfeldorf

Examining the life of an enslaved West African man in North Carolina who wrote a memoir in Arabic can broaden students’ perspectives on slavery in America. 
Secondary/High School  

Critical Race Theory Meets Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Advancing a Critical Sociohistorical Consciousness for Teaching and Curriculum
Anthony L. Brown, Keffrelyn D. Brown, Angela Ward

The featured lesson examines the role that race played in the history of the United States and in the decision-making of President Lincoln during the Civil War. 
Secondary/High School

Slavery and its Legacies: Marking the Sesquicentennial of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Ana Lucia Araujo

A close look at the struggle to pass the 13th Amendment will ignite a stimulating classroom debate on the legacies of slavery that persist today. 
Secondary/High School 

Jourdon Anderson and the Meaning of Freedom in the Aftermath of Slavery
Robert Cohen and Janelle Pearson

The featured letter from an emancipated slave to his former master illuminates the historical transition from slavery to freedom and is an excellent resource for classes in both history and literature.
Secondary/High School 

Race and the WPA Slave Narratives: A Lesson in Historiography
Michael J. Swogger

The Library of Congress’s Slave Narratives Collection present students with an opportunity to expand their understanding of slavery in America while grappling with questions about interpretations of the past. 
Secondary/High School

Racism against Numerous Minority Groups

Toward Responsibility: Social Studies Education that Respects and Affirms Indigenous Peoples and Nations (NCSS position statement, 2018)

Now You Can’t Just Do Nothing: Unsettling the Settler Self within Social Studies Education
Christine Stanton

Promising practices offer educators opportunities to confront the perspective of white settler colonialism that has permeated the study of the history of Indigenous peoples.
Secondary/High School 

Using the Indian Removal Act to Teach Critical Thinking
Carol Buswell

The featured primary source in support of Native American tribes who were victims of the Indian Removal Act in 1830 can be used to spark a classroom lesson on this disturbing period in American history. 
Secondary/High School 

The Braceros: Mexican Workers in the Jim Crow South, 1949–1951
Jarrod Hanson, Ruben Donato

Primary sources on the treatment of contracted Mexican workers in Arkansas in the mid-twentieth century can launch an engaging lesson on the role of race, economic power, regional differences, and citizenship status in historical events. 
Secondary/High School

Mexican Americans in the Era of World War II: Studying the Sleepy Lagoon Case and Zoot Suit Riots
Axel Donizetti Ramirez

A creative and intriguing lesson plan examining the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles in June 1943, in which naval servicemen clashed with Mexican Americans.
Secondary/High School    

Case Study of Chinese Exclusion Act Enforcement
Joanne Dufour

The featured lesson exploring early twentieth-century U.S. policies towards Chinese immigrants can serve as a jumping off point into a discussion of contemporary U.S. immigration issues. 
Secondary/High School    

Immigration Stories: Using Primary Documents to Help Students Explore Historical and Contemporary Immigration
Andrea Reidell

The featured documents related to the Chinese Exclusion Act can launch an engaging classroom lesson on the complicated history of United States immigration policy.  
Secondary/High School    

Suffrage, Activism, and Education in the Era of Chinese Exclusion: Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee
Sara Lyons Davis

A close look at documents related to the case of Mabel Ping-Hua Lee can be a springboard into an engaging classroom lesson on the Chinese Exclusion Act and its impact on the voting rights of women in the United States. 
Secondary/High School   

Enduring Lessons of Justice from the World War II Japanese American Internment

Nancy P. Gallavan and Teresa A. Roberts
Investigating the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II helps students develop an appreciation of constitutional rights and civil liberties.
Secondary/High School   

Inspiring Citizen Action with Motion Pictures
Danna Bell, Lee Ann Potter

A short 1945 film in the Library of Congress archives starring Frank Sinatra, who stops a group from bullying a young Jewish boy, could jumpstart a range of classroom projects such as an inquiry into post-World War II domestic issues.  
Secondary/High School 

The Bullying of Religious Minorities in Schools: Consequences and Solutions
Ameena Jandali, Henry Millstein

The authors recommend important steps and strategies to help schools and educators reduce or prevent bullying.  
Secondary/High School 

At Risk of Prejudice: Teaching Tolerance about Muslim Americans 
Karima Alavi
Common misperceptions about the religion of Islam threaten to distort views of Muslim Americans and their convictions. The author answers questions about the Muslim faith, community, and beliefs.
Secondary/High School 

At Risk of Prejudice:The Arab American Community 
Zeina Azzam Seikaly
How can we protect our Arab American students from encountering prejudice, educate all our students about the Arab American community, and emphasize tolerance over bigotry? Secondary/High School 

Confronting False Narratives in the Debate over Immigration
William McCorkle, Mikel W. Cole, Mindy Spearman

Examining the featured political cartoons offers students an opportunity to analyze myths about immigration and to consider ways that politicians have historically used nativist sentiments for political gain.  
Secondary/High School   

Equal Protection, Immigration, and Education: Plyler v. Doe
Joseph R. Feinberg, Frans H. Doppen, Matthew S. Hollstein

This lesson on the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment will give students a deeper understanding of the issues framing the current immigration debate. 
Secondary/High School    

Human Rights Education

Human Rights Education: A Necessity for Effective Social and Civic Learning (NCSS position statement, 2014)

What Should We Teach about Human Rights? Implications of International Research
Keith C. Barton

It is important to consider the influence of students’ social context when teaching about human rights.
Secondary/High School    

The World War II Era and Human Rights Education
Stewart Waters and William B. Russell III

This historical analysis and teaching activity offers teachers an approach for integrating human rights issues into the world history curriculum. 
Secondary/High School  

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Hilary Landorf

The document that began as a declaration of human equality and dignity has become the foundation of the human rights movement and a cornerstone of world political dialogue. 
Secondary/High School     

The Bystander's Dilemma: How Can We Turn our Students into Upstanders?
Lauren Woglom and Kim Pennington

By studying moments in history where bystanders made a difference, teachers can motivate students to think critically in the face of social dilemmas. 
Secondary/High School   

Youth in Front: Supporting Youth-Led Social Action
Marti Tippens Murphy

Allowing students to take the lead in a specific social action campaign enables them to take classroom learning about the democratic process to a much deeper level.  
Secondary/High School  

Civics in Action
Jessica Lander

To cultivate engaged citizens, we should ensure that students have real-world opportunities to develop, practice, and apply civic skills.

Understanding the Universe of Obligation: An Approach to Civic Responsibility
Dan Sigward

In the featured lesson, students explore the ways that individuals, groups, communities, and nations define who belongs and who does not. 
Secondary/High School  

Middle Level Lessons on Racial Injustice and the Promotion of Civil Rights

Middle Level Learning January/February 2016

“Benjamin Banneker's Letter to Thomas Jefferson” by John A. Moore provides students with excerpts from one of America’s first Abolitionist documents. Both men were well-known public figures, free and patriotic citizens, and scientists who had worked on the planning and measurement of the new nation’s capital (Washington, D.C.). Both professed to uphold the unalienable rights of man, but one was an independent farmer, the other a wealthy slaveholder. (pp. 1-11)

Middle Level Learning September 2008

“Frederick Douglass, the Constitution, and Slavery: A Classroom Debate” by Vanessa Rodriguez invites students to read excerpts, from different decades, from the writings by the famous American Abolitionist. Was Douglass inconsistent, or did his interpretation of the U.S. Constitution evolve in a meaningful way? (pp. 1-13)

Middle Level Learning May/June 2013

“Harriet Tubman: ‘Emancipate Yourself!’” by Steven S. Lapham and Peter Hanes provides student handouts with images of historical primary sources preserved at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as incidents from Tubman’s biography that are not well known today, but that propelled the global struggle to end slavery at that time. (pp. 1-11)

Middle Level Learning September 2005

“Philip Reid and the Statue of Freedom” by Eugene Walton reveals that an enslaved American solved a technical puzzle, then assisted in the casting of the bronze figure that now stands atop the U.S. Capitol. Handouts provide historical evidence of these events, and a handout with “An Abolitionist Cartoon, 1830” closes the issue. (pp. 1-16)

Middle Level Learning May/June 2012

“Slavery After the Civil War: ‘It Makes a Long-Time Man Feel Bad’”and “The Convict-Lease System, 1866-1928” (three lessons with four readings and two worksheets), both by Christine Adrian, reveal how the institution of slavery was reinvented, after the Civil War, in a new form and then persisted, in many states, for another 60 years. (pp. 1-16)

Middle Level Learning Jan/Feb 2002

“The WPA Slave Narratives: Teaching with Oral Histories” by Paul Horton provides a variety of excepts from this famous historical collection at the Library of Congress and guides students in interpreting what they have read. (pp. 3-8)

Middle Level Learning September 2016

“Voting Rights and Literacy Tests”by R. Z. Seitz and P. T. Chandler includes a handout from a 1956 “literacy test” that was designed to exclude Black citizens from voting. (pp. 8-13)

A “Book Review: She Stood for Freedom” invites teachers and students to learn about “the untold story of a civil rights hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland,” who was attacked along with other young civil rights protesters at a lunch counter, captured in a famous 1963 photo. (pp. 14-16)

Middle Level Learning May/June 2018

“How to Be an American” is an article with handouts that links to two video resources: Judge Lucy Koh: “Be Fully Engaged in Democracy” as well as Karen Korematsu: “You Can Make a Difference.” In a candid conversation (transcribed on the handouts), these two prominent civic leaders, Korematsu and Judge Koh, discuss growing up as the children of immigrants and how they became involved in advancing civil and human rights for all people. Discussion questions challenge students to consider the many “ways to be fully engaged in democracy.” (pp. 1-7)

Videos at

“Conflict, Service, and Civic Involvement” by Sarah K. Anderson. The author describes leading Project Citizen activities with her students, which include identifying a local problem, researching it, proposing a policy-based solution, and putting the solution into action. One of the student-generated questions is: Why are immigrants so often treated differently? (pp. 8-12)

Middle Level Learning September 2016

“Immigration Today: Teaching with Film” by Jeremy Hilburn and Lisa Brown Buchanan.
A discussion strategy “Take a Stand” has students move about the room as they read, respond, analyze, and deliberate statements individually and as a group. There are many variations, and using the strategy after viewing a documentary can help students begin thoughtful deliberation about a challenging or controversial issue. (pp. 1-7)

Elementary Lessons on Racial Injustice and the Promotion of Civil Rights

Social Studies and the Young Learner January/February 2020

First Graders’ Inquiry into Multicolored Stories of School (De)Segregation
Sohyun An

Powerful stories of three Americans—girls of Indigenous, Chinese, and Mexican ancestry—who fought for equal education in America in the last century. Their struggles all pre-dated that of the well-known African-American girl, Ruby Bridges, whose story is included in the first grade unit plan, which includes handouts that can be found in the Pullout.

Why are People Marching? Discussing Justice-Oriented Citizenship using Picture Books
Jessica Ferreras-Stone and Sara B. Demoiny

Teachers, in accordance with NCSS guidelines, can use picture books to spur discussions about justice-oriented citizenship, including protest marches, as a means to understand the past and present.

Beyond Pocahontas: Learning from Indigenous Women Changemakers
Turtle Island Social Studies Collective

Indigenous women have long held positions of leadership, including the position of President, Chairperson, or Chief, among other titles, within their Native nations. The authors describe how students in grades 3–5 can learn about and from Indigenous women changemakers and their professions, communities, and Native nations.

Examining the Evidence in a History Lab: George Washington and Slavery
Cara Ward and Travis Matthews

Students engage with primary source texts, a painting, and a photograph (images created in different decades) to arrive at a more complex understanding of a historic American icon and the society he lived in. A handout features a stereograph, ca. 1860s, “Slave family picking cotton in the fields near Savannah, Georgia.”

Justice Pedagogy: Grade 1–3 Students Challenge Racist Statues
Meir Muller

A ten-week inquiry project is designed to address issues of inequity and privilege. Challenges in enacting justice-focused pedagogy are discussed. A sidebar spotlights Benjamin R. Tillman, Jr. (1847–1918), who served as governor of South Carolina, U.S. senator, and was an avowed white supremacist. His statue was erected on the grounds of the state capitol in 1940.

How Did Slavery Shape My State? Using Inquiry to Explore Kentucky History
Carly Muetterties and Jess Haney

Students analyze an 1855 ad for a “great sale of slaves” and interact with an online map created by a George Mason University professor. “Slide your finger along the timeline at the bottom and watch the institution of slavery grow in this color-coded map of the United States. Zoom to any county by clicking on it and view the original U.S. Census data behind the illustration. You can also view data on free African Americans, total population, and other groupings.”

What Makes a Family? Sharing Multiple Perspectives through an Inclusive Text Set
Christina M. Tschida and Lisa Brown Buchanan
Pullout: Activities for Learning about Diverse Families using Picture Books

Providing students with multiple perspectives that disrupt “the single story of family” helps students be open to diversity and see the complexity of the social world around them. Educators can be ready with text sets (picture book collections) in their classrooms that will engage students in discussions and activities about a concept of “family” that more closely reflects their own social reality. 

“They Want to Erase That Past”: Examining Race and Afro-Latin@ Identity with Bilingual Third Graders
Melissa Adams and Christopher L. Busey

The authors provide pedagogical and curricular insight for discussing global nuances of race and systemic racism with elementary students. They offer an integrated approach to teaching AfroLatin@ identity using social studies, reading, math, and art. 

Cultivating Curiosity and Active Citizenship: Teaching Voting and the History of Voting Rights
Rebecca Valbuena

Fifth graders study the history of voting rights (which have often been denied to African Americans) and create pamphlets to spur voter turnout in their community.

Reading Closely and Discussing the ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech
Elizabeth S. Brown

The author highlights the importance of an in-depth examination of the language of lesser-known parts of King’s famous speech as a vehicle for connecting historical circumstances and current conditions of discrimination. In a sidebar, Susan Goetz Zwern briefly reviews the picture book I Have a Dream, illustrated the Kadir Nelson.  

Somebody Had to Do It: School Desegregation Stories
Millicent E. Brown

PulloutMillicent's Story: School Desegregation in South Carolina, 1963

Millicent E. Brown was one of the first eleven African American students in South Carolina to attend formerly all-white public schools. Millicent’s memoir of that time (provided in a pullout) begins the night before her entry into the tenth grade in September of 1963. A short article provides context and discussion questions for teachers. (p. 16 and pullout)

But They Didn’t Do Nothin’ Wrong!” Teaching about Japanese-American Incarceration
Noreen Naseem Rodríguez

The author focuses on Executive Order 9066 and the resulting incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans, an aspect of World War II rarely addressed in elementary schools. She describes how two teachers used children’s literature and primary sources to teach students about racism, prejudice, discrimination, and civil rights.


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