Beyond a Story Well Told: Using Oral Histories for Social Justice Curriculum

Fall, 2010

Source: Action in Teacher Education, v. 32 no. 3 (Fall 2010), p. 55-65.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article describes the process that five graduate students interviewed 11 community members about their memories of racial desegregation in southern Illinois. The author and the project team used these stories to develop instructional materials and a supplementary website (Beyond a Story Well Told) for a middle school classroom.

Their goal was to create an opportunity for students to analyze oral histories for the purposes of citizenship education. The researchers wanted their students to recognize the importance of diversity in a pluralistic society. They wanted to engage students in critical thinking that prepares them for participation in a democratic society.

Identifying Stories for the Classroom
One course of action could have been that of selecting one story to present to students.
This approach could have even helped us emphasize the important roles that everyday citizens assumed in the past.

Corroborating Multiple Perspectives
Once the researchers identified the stories that they wanted students to encounter, they had to find ways that the students could corroborate these various perspectives. The researchers decided that graphic organizers were the best way that they could support students' corroboration of multiple sources.
In this graphic organizer, students can record information about where the participants lived, as well as how and when they experienced segregation in their community. Such questions model the historical thinking heuristics that Wineburg (1991) observed historians using when they analyzed multiple and conflicting sources.

Using a digital environment, the researchers are able to provide multiple representations of each story. First, students are given the opportunity to read, listen, or watch the stories presented in each category (e.g., justice denied).
Second, comprehension questions are supported with a hint feature (i.e., students can opt for the program to highlight important information to help them answer questions).

Discussion and Conclusion

In this article, the oral histories, which the students collected, focus on instances of justice (denied and gained) to help students define and identify examples of heroic acts and develop ways that they, too, can become ordinary heroes.
From this curriculum, the researchers wanted to develop an approach to citizenship education that enlightens and engages middle school students for the purposes of participation in a democratic society (Parker, 2008). The researchers' use of oral histories about segregation in Carbondale, however, gives students the unique opportunity to witness how a national event was and is relevant to their own community.

Parker, W. (2008). Knowing and doing in democratic citizenship education. In L. Levstik & C. Tyson (Eds.), Handbook of research in social studies education (pp. 65-80). New York: Routledge.
Wineburg, S. (1991). Historical problem solving: A study of the cognitive processes used in the evaluation of documentary and pictorial evidence. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(1), 73-87.

Updated: Jan. 23, 2012