A Lesson for Reframing and Reflection through Melba Pattillo Beals’ “Warrior’s Don’t Cry”

POSTED ON BEHALF OF ANNSLEIGH CARTER

As an English teacher, I want to teach books that reframe or challenge our conceptions of history. In high school, I remember reading Melba Pattillo Beals’ memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, which accounts her experience as one of the Little Rock Nine. This is a powerful book because it gives an eyewitness account of the daily struggles she encountered as one of the first African American students to be integrated into a white school in the South. Much of the book focuses on violent conflict, but the book’s introspective narrative style puts the reader in the position to think about and evaluate this historical event in a different way. For this reason, I think this is a great book to teach. I found a teaching unit for the book on zinnedproject.org, which includes lesson plans that encourage several of the pillars of peace education. The unit plan can be found here: http://zinnedproject.org/posts/1447. For a more in depth reading of the lesson plans, register and download the PDF.

While this unit includes a lot of activities, I just want to highlight two: the Writing for Justice Narrative, and the Warrior’s Dialogue Journal: Allies, Perpetrators, Targets and Bystanders. These two activities work very well for this book, but could also be adapted for other texts. The Writing for Justice Narrative takes place before reading the book. The class comes up with a definition of an ally, a perpetrator, a target, and a bystander. Then, students write a personal narrative about a time in which they acted in one of these roles. The point of this activity is to have students personally identify with these roles so that they can have a better understanding of the characters in the book. The Warrior’s Journal then asks them to record personal thoughts about who are the allies, perpetrators, etc. in the book. The lesson notes that students should pay close attention to when a characters’ role changes. The students use their observations from their journals to generate discussions in small groups. Each group comes up with a question based on their discussion that generates a larger class discussion.

I think these activities should be done in a high school English or history class. The book’s content is probably too mature for younger students. However, the activities themselves can be adapted to other more age-appropriate books if you wanted to teach them in a middle school class. The lesson’s goal of personal reflection would be best suited in an older, more mature class.

I think the two pillars of peace education this book/lessons promotes are Nurturing Emotional Intelligence and Reframing History. Through the narrative, students have to reflect on and describe the emotions they experienced in the situation. The objective of that assignment is to prepare students to foster compassion and empathy for the characters in the books (who are actually based on historical figures). The journal also forces students to validate their reading through emotional reflection. Through the process of identifying character roles, and subsequently understanding how character roles change, students reframe their view of history through a more introspective lens. Instead of learning that this event caused a lot of violence, they learn that the event involved a clashing of a lot of different societal roles, and through personal reflection and character identification, the students can think about the situation in a way that is validated by both emotional and analytic thinking.

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3 thoughts on “A Lesson for Reframing and Reflection through Melba Pattillo Beals’ “Warrior’s Don’t Cry”

  1. I really enjoyed this blog! For middle schoolers, I agree that the activities would definitely still work. With our girls, we’ve been discussing recent events involving girls’ education worldwide and allowing them to journal to facilitate larger discussions could be a very beneficial experience. I definitely see these activities fitting in with those types of topics.

  2. I have never read this book, but I have heard from several friends that it was an influential book in their own lives. I actually got a copy for my classroom, and hope to be able to use it in some capacity this year.

    In order to get a better understanding of the national and local contexts for the integration of Central High School, an excellent resource is the book “Turn Away Thy Son” by Elizabeth Jacoway. A history professor in her adult life, Jacoway was a classmate of the Little Rock Nine. Her insight as a witness is invaluable, but her professional training as an historian complicates the book as something more than a memoir.

    Jacoway argues a prevalent fear of miscegenation was the driving force behind much of the violence and unrest toward the students themselves. A lasting impression for me was when she managed to find quotes from President Eisenhower speaking to his fears for the same reason.

    Jacoway looks at the roles of black and white women in Little Rock and helps re-frame the events in terms of the local community struggling on an international stage.

    For anyone interested in teaching the Little Rock Nine, I would recommend this book so that you may gain a better understanding of the events and thus be prepared to offer a greater context, historically and locally.

  3. This sounds like an amazing idea. I love it and have already taken 3 notes in my phone as I read this blog for future lesson plans I can do to incorporate these ideas. I particularly adhere to the idea for students to think about themselves in the very roles the characters of the book played. I think these text-to-self connections are exactly what makes literature real and relevant to people and this role-playing approach is a brilliant way to get there. Thanks for sharing!

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