Martin Luther King:
A Guided Discovery Exercise for History, Political Science, Media, and Wring Classes
It's one thing to sermonize about media insufficiencies and lies my teacher told me; quite another to have people discover these lies on their own. The class exercise below, like many others of mine, belongs to the guided discovery category, and it works like a charm. Most people are astounded by the result, which speaks more to them than 1,000 passive lectures. (Incidentally, I have borrowed the idea of guided discovery from my science teaching, cf: http://www.is.wayne.edu/mnissani/PAGEPUB/SCIEX.htm)
The exercise consists of class discussion/four consecutive in-class writing assignments. If the writing aspect is paramount, it works best in a computer lab. The exercise is made up of 4 parts:
1. Each student answers in writing: What did MLK stand for?
Note; So far, the answers, of about 50 people, of which 30 were African-Americans, were: civil rights, racial equality, freedom of speech--the usual media/textbook half-truths.
2. Now we have a class discussion, pool together our collective wisdom, and each person writes: What did I miss?
Note: this doesn't help much, but it's crucial, for it shows that ignorance here is collective
3. Now I send students to the internet or library, and help them find educational, reliable, sites that cover the whole man, not the media/textbook caricature. They look up actual speeches, and lo and behold, they realize that King stood for justice and peace for all, not just for African-Americans. They see that he was against poverty, that he was in the process of organizing a poor people march on Washington, that he condemned American foreign policies, that he was a bitter opponent of the Vietnam War. Third writing (or discussion) assignment: What did the class as a whole miss?
4. Last question or guided discussion: What's going on here? Why do Americans have a one-sided view of MLK? Who and what caused this curious gap in our understanding of history? What kind of history books/media do we have anyway? What can we do to improve our understanding of history?
Of course, there is an outside chance that someone might know the whole man, right in step 2 above. So far, this didn’t happen in my classes. But the exercise would be just as powerful--or perhaps even more so--that way, for the truth will not come merely from books, but from an actual participant. They can then proceed to step 3, but now merely as a confirmation of the version they have just heard.