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Adults, students to look at civil rights in real time

November 13, 2018

GREENWICH — In a Greenwich High School lecture room Tuesday night, about 100 students and community members will decide for themselves the course of the Civil Rights Movement and equal voting rights for African Americans.

Greenwich High history teachers will transport attendees — members of the League of Women Voters and students from area schools — back to the days between the assaults on demonstrators at Selma, Alabama and Martin Luther King Jr.’s march to Montgomery. These teachers will use a still-new classroom approach: the case study method, which Harvard Business School Professor David Moss developed to illustrate how American democracy operated in real time during defining moments in history.

“It demonstrates that history is a series of decisions, nothing is a foregone conclusion or inevitable,” Greenwich High Social Studies Teacher Karen Boyea said.

Greenwich High was the first school in Connecticut to adopt the method, through the efforts of Boyea, and Jess Keller and Steve Swidler, both U.S. History teachers.

Swidler, Keller and Boyea have led more than 30 case studies since they traveled to Harvard to learn Moss’ system last September. The method is new, but the tools are old-school — notes and discussions — and faithful to how Moss intended.

“It allows students to be a part of history as it’s happening,” Swidler said. “They have to make some critical decisions, which allows them to be critical thinkers.”

The interactive teaching style will be new to many adults, who will have to suspend what they know and see the events as happening in real time, Swidler said.

The topic commemorates the 50-year anniversary of King’s death. After five decades, the presentation of the Civil Rights Movement has changed, organizers said.

“You always have to be able to adapt and search for other angles,” Swidler said. “That’s what case studies are attempting to do.”

As a subject, voting rights resonates with the recent midterm elections.

“The intention behind teaching these cases is to help students and the community recognize the importance of being engaged, and encouraging a public discourse on these critical issues with historical knowledge as people make decisions with regard to voting,” Keller said.

Students and community members will think about the legacy of equality efforts in America and make connections to contemporary equality movements, Keller said.

“The way in which the Civil Rights Movement is taught is changing and will continue to do so,” she said.

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

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