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Unit Three: Exploring the Truth in Primary Sources

It’s been over 40 years since desegregation and court-ordered busing were implemented in the Boston Public Schools. Looking back on busing can bring up feelings of hatred, remorse, pain, and possibly even happiness. A lot can be learned about this time period looking at essays penned by people with the most information regarding how desegregation effected schools; the students. History can also often be manipulated to fit a specific narrative, and reading student’s essays directly could open more discussion and curiosity in your classroom.

Classroom Activities 

Discussion Journals:

For this lesson, you’ll need to turn your classroom into stations and have your students become investigators. Before they even begin, have the students brainstorm what they already know about busing. Based on their facts, have them think (or journal) how they would feel if they were students in the 1970’s and were about to experience their first day of busing. Would they be nervous, scared, excited? Give them about 5 minutes to think about their feelings. How would they handle them?

Once they are done, have a few share, and open a discussion of what court-ordered busing meant for students in Boston. Paint the big picture for them. After the discussion, talk to them about the plan for the day; looking through essays written by students at a middle school who had just completed their first year of desegregation and court-ordered busing.

1. Have the students start the activity by filing out the front page of the worksheet.

2. Then split them up into four groups and sit them at the stations you created earlier.

** These stations will be tables with paper and colored markers with packets of essays. The idea of these stations is that they will be able to write down their thoughts directly onto the papers as they are reading, and discussing as a group. **

3. Once students are at their stations, have them read the essays provided at their tables. These essays can be groups by students who hated busing, loved busing, wanted out of the school, wanted to come back, etc.

4. As they are reading the essays, have them write their impressions on the table. This could be as simple as writing down the things that surprised them, things they already knew, things they learned, etc. You could also come up with a question based on the selection of packets you want them to answer on the paper. This is where you can get creative depending on the intent of you lesson.

5. Have the students switch enough times that they hit every station.

6. Then have them come back to their worksheets to answer the questions on the back.

7. End this activity with a discussion about these essays. Does looking at these sources make them view history differently? Does it help them see both sides of the desegregation debate?

Lesson adapted from:

Discussion Questions

  • Do any parts of these essays remind you of your school days?
  • What do these essays mean to you?
  • Do these journals change the way you view court-ordered busing? Could you imagine or invent a better solution?
  • Does this information add to, or change, the information you already knew about the Civil Rights Movement? What are the connections in these sources to what we have already learned?
  • How did the decision of court-ordered busing significantly change/transform lives in Boston? How does reading these essays bright that information to light?
  • Did all of the students feel the same about desegregation and busing? What were some of their fears and concerns? What aspects of the situation excited them? What could the reasoning be for the difference in opinion?

Primary Source Sets

Correspondence between Mayor Kevin H. White and a Sixth Grade Class at the Oliver Wendell Holmes School

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