Teaching about SNCC at Theodore Roosevelt High School

By Deborah Miller

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U.S. history came alive inside Room B219 at Theodore Roosevelt High School (DCPS) with a lesson about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) through role-playing and actively engaging in decision-making. 

On March 15, 2018, I observed several classes where history teacher Scott Goldstein used the Rethinking Schools lesson “Teaching SNCC: The Organization at the Heart of the Civil Rights Revolution” with his 11th-grade classes. The lesson, written by Adam Sanchez, encourages students to think critically, problem solve and have fun. The handouts provide background about SNCC and invite the class to imagine they were back in 1960 as active members of the organization. 

Working in three small groups, students discuss real issues that SNCC members faced decades ago: #1: Should SNCC focus its efforts on voter registration or direct action? #2: Should SNCC bring a thousand mostly white volunteers to Mississippi? If yes, should SNCC limit the role of these volunteers? #3: Should SNCC workers carry guns or seek out local people to defend its organizers?

After meeting for 10 minutes, each group came to a consensus, wrote their responses, and presented their answers to the rest of the class. They asked who agreed or disagreed. Lively discussions ensued with Goldstein facilitating.

The students were engaged, excited, and energized by the discussion. Many of the issues, particularly about guns, were relevant to today. They also talked about the impact of the media and Black Lives Matter, and expressed the nuances and complications related to learning history. 

In addition to this interactive exercise, the Rethinking Schools lesson includes another activity, “Imagining Bravery: Freedom Rider Letters.” Goldstein asked the students to once again role play and write their parents/family members a letter about planning to join the Freedom Riders on their dangerous journey in the South.

The following Monday, students received a visit from SNCC veteran Timothy Jenkins. He asked them about the social justice issues they face in their lives today.


Deborah Miller is a volunteer with Teaching for Change.

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