Teaching Institute Looks To Civil Rights Era For Guidance On Activism And Education

Jul 9, 2018

Teachers are sometimes faced with some pretty thorny issues when current events make their way into their classrooms.

Often they get limited guidance from administrators or school boards on what to say and do, but an earlier generation of teachers is stepping up with advice.

On a warm afternoon this summer, when some teachers were on vacation, 20 educators took a bus ride past some of the most significant civil rights sites in Central Virginia. This tour was part of a week-long institute organized by UVA Professor Derrick Alridge, director of the Teachers in the Movement project. 

“We’re in trying times right now," Alridge said.  "Teachers between 1950 and 1980, they were also in trying times around issues of civil rights, social justice, democracy, equity.  So part of the institute for us this summer is to explore what would it be like to put these two different generations of teachers into conversation with each other.” 

Since 2014, Alridge and his colleagues have been taping interviews with teachers from Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia – people who were in the classroom in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s  facing issues especially controversial in the South.

“Some of them did fear for their job security, and some were fired for speaking out.  Some decided that they would not speak out, but they engaged in a form of intellectual activism in the classroom in which they were able to promote ideals of equality and democracy without really speaking out publicly.  That certainly was a form of activism itself,” Alridge notes

This summer’s panel discussions at the Curry School of Education surprised and inspired younger educators like Arch Painter who teaches honors English in Frederick County.  “They may not be out on the front lines holding protest signs and going to marches. Instead, they’re laying the foundations by encouraging students to think critically,” Painter said.

And the words of those teachers may also inspire through the project’s website where video clips are posted. 

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.