Silhouette Project 10th graders reflect on the history of civil rights

Our claim is:

Student work at Four Rivers has demonstrated increased artistry and craftsmanship, products that use complex texts and evidence-bases writing and an increased diversity of product formats.

The Four Rivers schoolwide targets that this porecy addreses are:

In 10th grade, students spend the first semester learning about societal transformation. They study the transcendentalists in their American Literature class, and they begin an extensive study of civil rights in US History II. Students study US History beginning with the threat of Southern secession all the way through the global conflicts of the 21st century. Primary sources, readings, discussions, and activities are centered on the themes of freedom, civil rights, activism, conflict, and power. After looking at how our country almost split and how it was, or was not, reconstructed in post-Civil War America, students will discover how race relations and class conflict became almost insurmountable obstacles in the way of establishing a peaceful union. An in-depth investigation of the fight for civil rights exposes its roots in slavery, the continued struggles during the 1950’s and 1960’s, and the unsolved issues that remain today. An overarching theme throughout most of the year is a call to action. As a kick-off to their civil rights study, they meet with a professor of African American Studies at UMass who was an active partcipant in the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. He tells some stories, shares his perspective on civil rights then and now and answers their questions.

Students listen to Prof. John Bracey sharing stories and perspective on the Civil Rights Movement

Students begin building background knowledge about the evolution of civil rights through a series of assignments. They look at case studies from before the advent of the Civil Rights Movement and they also look at case studies currently in the news. Students read articles and books and answer text-dependent questions. They do both analytical and imaginative writing that requires them to communicate what they have learned. The following links to student work demonstrate the complexity of student work, in that it requires them to use higher-order thinking in their reading and writing, and to think about the topics they study in a way that asks for transfers of understanding of concepts across time periods.  Students answered text-dependent questions in response to the book "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander. and also to chapters in Howard Zinn's "The People's History of the United States." Students researched and wrote about events that fueled the start of the Civil Rights Movement. They analyzed case studies (this one on the Boston Police Department) connected to contemporary issues and they learned about current movements that are focused on the securing of rights for citizens. They finished their BBK with an essay addressing the question: Have we secured civil rights in the 21st century?

As a final product, students prepare to create an artistic representation of their answer to the question: Have we secured civil rights in the United States? Each student chooses an issue in current events to use as both evidence to support their answers and as the topic of their project. Then they are introduced to the work of the artist, Kara Walker, who creates complex and evocative silhouettes focused on the experience of African Americans during and after slavery. The students look at examples of her work, discuss the meaning and the effect of the images and brainstorm what kinds of images might best describe the issues they have chosen to represent. Then they get to work! Each student creates a silhouette and an artist's statement that makes clear the connection between their art pieces and their stance on the state of civil rights today. Below are three examples of silhouettes and for the last two, the artist statements that accompanied them.

This student's artist statement was nowhere to be found, but the artistry and craftsmanship of the silhouette is so striking that we wanted to include it anyway!

The silhouette project asks students to translate a social/historical concept into an image. That's hard for any artist and for some students it's very challenging. The students also know that craftsmanship and the attention to detail is what makes this kind of artwork successful, because they are working only with outlines, and no interior definition at all. They tend to work with such care and an effort to be precise. This is especially evident in the Jim Crow Diner silhoutte, where one can see in the legs of the crows and in the wings the places where this student made exceptionally exact cuts in the paper to achieve the birdlike qualities of crows.

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