K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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  • School desegregation pioneers: In this lesson, students will learn about the challenges faced by the first students to desegregate Southern schools. Students will hear oral histories telling the story of desegregation pioneers from Alabama and North Carolina and critically analyze images of school desegregation. They will synthesize the information by writing a narrative from the point of view of a black student desegregating a white school.
  • A record of school desegregation: Conduct your own oral history project: In this unit, students will research the history of school desegregation and will use their knowledge to conduct oral history interviews with community members. Students will reflect on the experience through writing.
  • De facto vs. de jure segregation: This lesson will help students understand the difference between de facto and de jure segregation. Students will listen to three oral history excerpts and discuss the experiences of segregation described in each. As a follow-up activity, students will brainstorm solutions to both de facto and de jure segregation.

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This lesson plan will introduce students to the political, social, and economic issues surrounding school desegregation using oral histories from those who experienced it firsthand. They will learn about the history of the “separate but equal” U.S. school system, the 1971 Swann case which forced Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) to integrate, and the 2002 decision to discontinue busing for racial integration in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Students will compare and contrast neighborhood schools with schools integrated through busing, and listen to oral histories of students who have experienced both types of schools in CMS. Through discussion with classmates, they will create a list of the negatives and positives of both neighborhood and integrated schools. After reviewing and collecting information about the demographics of Charlotte-Mecklenburg County and selected high schools in the CMS district, students will write an argumentative essay. In the essay, students will explain which type of schools they would support, and will defend their arguments with evidence from the oral histories.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • recognize the complexities of public school desegregation, and understand the arguments both for and against busing for integration.
  • relate history to the personal experiences of North Carolinians by listening to oral histories.
  • formulate their own opinions about this controversial issue and express them in an argumentative essay.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

Three 50-minute class periods, or two 90-minute block class periods

Materials needed

  • Oral history audio excerpts:
  • Transcripts of oral history excerpts for each student (available at the links above.)
  • Computer with internet connection and speakers, or a CD player if you have burned your own CD.
  • Online and print resources for student research on desegregation


  • Students should be given basic background information on school desegregation, and should have an understanding of the history of racial segregation in the U.S.
  • Teachers should listen to the oral history excerpts and preview the discussion questions.

Warm-up activity

  • Review with students the important court cases in school desegregation, including:
    • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
    • Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka (I – 1954 and II - 1955)
    • Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971)
    • 2001 ruling by Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that CMS was “unitary” and therefore ending race-based student assignments
    Links to the texts of these court cases are provided in “supplemental information” below.

Activity one: Taking a look at demographics

  1. Review the importance of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) in the process of school desegregation in the U.S. CMS was the district from which the Swann case originated, and was also the district from which the 2001 ruling by the Fourth District Circuit Court originated. This ruling said that CMS had achieved a “unitary” school system, as opposed to a “dual” system of separate black and white schools, and was no longer required to uphold racial quotas in school assignment. This ruling essentially ended busing in CMS and much of the Fourth District.
  2. Emphasize to students that CMS is no longer required to use busing or quotas to make sure that all schools have an equal racial distribution of students.
  3. Visit the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools School Profiles website to review with students the data about the racial make-up of CMS and the high schools in the district. This will enable you to view student demographics from 2006-2007 to the present.
  4. Lead a class discussion about the high schools’ demographics. How have the demographics of the schools changed in the years since 2006/2007?/
  5. In preparation for activity two, ask students to informally interview a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or other relative or community member about his or her memories of school segregation and integration.

Activity two: Listening to the oral histories

  1. Review what students already know about the desegregation of schools as a class, asking them to summarize the relevant court cases.
  2. Ask students to share stories from their informal interviews.
  3. Introduce the concept of oral histories, and discuss their value as we study important events. Mention that oral histories provide a chance for the “regular person” to record his or her experiences, not just the well-known or famous people often recorded in written history.
  4. Ask students to come up with more reasons we should value oral histories — such as allowing minority groups to record and publicize their experiences, making connections between generations, and passing on the art of storytelling. (For more about oral histories, see the LEARN NC guide, “Oral History in the Classroom,” and websites in “supplemental information” below.)
  5. Hand out the transcripts of the oral history excerpts to students, and ask students to take notes on the speaker’s experiences and opinions as they listen.
  6. Play the first oral history excerpt, from Arthur Griffin, and allow students a minute or two to record their thoughts.

    Please upgrade your Flash Player and/or enable JavaScript in your browser to listen to this audio file.

    Download recording (Right-click or option-click) | About the recording

  7. Play the second oral history excerpt, from Ned Irons, and again allow time for students to record their thoughts.

    Please upgrade your Flash Player and/or enable JavaScript in your browser to listen to this audio file.

    Download recording (Right-click or option-click) | About the recording

  8. Play the third oral history excerpt, from Latrelle McAllister, and allow time for taking notes.

    Please upgrade your Flash Player and/or enable JavaScript in your browser to listen to this audio file.

    Download recording (Right-click or option-click) | About the recording

  9. Follow up with discussion questions:
    • Which speakers do you think support desegregated schools? Which support neighborhood schools? Did any of the speakers seem undecided?
    • What are some of the specific negative and positive consequences of integration expressed by the speakers?
    • Ask for any other opinions or thoughts about the oral histories.

Activity three: Discussing neighborhood and integrated schools

  1. Divide students into small groups. Assign one student to be the recorder, and ask groups to brainstorm about the positives and negatives of neighborhood schools (in which students attend the schools closest to their homes and which reflect the demographics of the neighborhood) and integrated schools (which are legally required to have roughly the same racial distribution as the school district, often accomplished through busing). Some prompts that could be given to students:
    • Why would parents want to send their children to a neighborhood school? An integrated school?
    • Which type of school would you prefer to attend?
    • Is a neighborhood school necessarily segregated?
  2. Encourage students to think back on the experiences the class heard in the oral histories, or on stories they’ve heard in their informal interviews, to come up with ideas.
  3. Share the ideas that the groups have come up with among the whole class, writing the ideas for each type of school on the board. Ideas that may be mentioned:
    • Potential benefits of neighborhood schools:
      • Less time wasted on long bus rides
      • A stronger sense of community among students, parents, teachers, religious organizations and neighbors, because they all live close by the school
      • Teachers and parents may know each other through the neighborhood and can more easily communicate
      • Parents may participate and volunteer more if they don’t have to travel so far to reach the school
      • Neighborhood support for academics, sports teams, and extracurricular activities
    • Potential benefits of integrated schools:
      • Wider social experiences, which can teach students to get along with lots of different people
      • Exposure to cultures other than your own
      • Sense of fairness or balance among schools
      • Preparation for working and participating in an integrated society
  4. Distribute essay assignment (included in “assessment” below) and allow students time to begin brainstorming ideas for their arguments.


Argumentative Essay Assignment:

Write an essay explaining your position on neighborhood schools vs. integrated schools. First, review what you’ve learned, reflect on personal experiences, and recall the oral histories to decide which argument you will make. Next, research the demographics of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district. Examine the racial make-up of high schools in that district, and compare them to the racial make-up of the neighborhoods in which they’re located. Your teacher and library media specialist can help you find this information. Begin drafting your argument, making sure to include personal reactions, data from your research, and quotations from the oral histories you heard. How did you feel when you first starting thinking about this issue? Has your opinion changed?

Revise your draft, making sure your arguments are logical and are supported with information from your research and the oral histories. Review your draft for grammar, spelling, and organization, include a References/Works Cited page, and turn in your final essay.

Students should make clear the side for which they’re arguing, and should support this argument with logical points. Their arguments should include at least one point drawn from their personal experiences, one point drawn from the oral histories, and one point drawn from their research.


Supplemental information

Desegregation court cases

Oral histories

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Speaking & Listening

        • Grade 11-12
          • 11-12.SL.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly...
        • Grade 9-10
          • 9-10.SL.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and...

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • American Humanities

        • 12.C.5 Understand how conflict and consensus influences American culture. 12.C.5.1 Analyze the relationship between conflict and consensus in American literature, philosophy, and the arts. 12.C.5.2 Explain the impact of American slavery on American culture....
      • United States History II

        • USH.H.1 Apply the four interconnected dimensions of historical thinking to the United States History Essential Standards in order to understand the creation and development of the United States over time. USH.H.1.1 Use Chronological thinking to: Identify the...
        • USH.H.5 Understand how tensions between freedom, equality and power have shaped the political, economic and social development of the United States. USH.H.5.1 Summarize how the philosophical, ideological and/or religious views on freedom and equality contributed...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 10

  • Goal 3: The learner will defend argumentative positions on literary or nonliterary issues.
    • Objective 3.01: Examine controversial issues by:
      • sharing and evaluating initial personal response.
      • researching and summarizing printed data.
      • developing a framework in which to discuss the issue (creating a context).
      • compiling personal responses and researched data to organize the argument.
      • presenting data in such forms as a graphic, an essay, a speech, or a video.

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 10

  • Goal 5: The learner will explain how the political and legal systems provide a means to balance competing interests and resolve conflicts.
    • Objective 5.01: Evaluate the role of debate, consensus, compromise, and negotiation in resolving conflicts.

Grade 11–12 — Advanced Placement United States History

  • Goal 14: The Beginnings of the Cold War and the 1950s (1945-1960): The learner will assess the causes and effects of United States/Soviet tensions, the Civil Rights Movement and economic prosperity.
    • Objective 14.04: Identify the major events of the Civil Rights Movement and evaluate the role of landmark Supreme Court cases.

Grade 11–12 — Contemporary Issues in North Carolina History

  • Goal 2: The learner will evaluate North Carolina's educational system as related to current concerns.
    • Objective 2.02: Analyze the legal and economic impact of recent court cases on education.