Beacon Lesson Plan Library
Why Can't I Vote?
DescriptionThis activity is a relevant way to have students examine the events that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The students assume the roles of black and white voters prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in order to appreciate their own culture, cultures of others and gain perspective of other ethnic groups.
ObjectivesThe student uses chronology, sequencing, patterns, and periodization to examine interpretations of an event.
Materials-Constitution Test for each student
-10 desirable items (i.e.: candy bars, homework passes, etc.)
-journal/checklist handout for each student
Preparations- Make copies of Constitution test for each student (see weblink)
- Make copies of Journal page with writing prompts along with checklist (see attachment)
- Have access to an overhead, whiteboard, or chart paper to record student’s scores
ProceduresNOTE: BEFORE TEACHING THIS LESSON IT IS ASSUMED THAT STUDENTS HAVE PRIOR KNOWLEDGE OF THE RECONSTRUCTION ERA AND THE MANY METHODS THAT WERE EMPLOYED TO PREVENT AFRICAN-AMERICANS FROM VOTING (I.E.: POLL TAXES, GRANDFATHER CLAUSES, KU KLUX KLAN, OWNERSHIP OF PROPERTY)
1. Announce to students as they arrive that today they will be taking a test on the US Constitution.
2. Point out that although the test was unannounced, as US citizens each of the students should have an understanding of the rights guaranteed to them as well as the rules and regulations that guide our country.
3. Inform students that the test will impact each of them differently, but do not give further detail in regards to grade.
4. Tell students that they will have 20 minutes to complete the test.
5. Distribute one test to each student and set the timer for 20 minutes.
6. When the timer goes off, ask students to exchange papers and grade together in class. (10 minutes)
7. Return papers to original students so that they might see their scores.
8. Collect papers and record percentages on the board for all of the class to see. Point out how many people in the class received a failing grade. (Note: a failing grade is expected)
9. Tell the students with the top 10 scores, regardless of their grade, that they will receive a special prize (suggestions: candy bar, homework pass or something that classmates will value)
10. Without further discussion, distribute the journal page with checklist and instruct students to record their feelings to the given prompts while they are fresh. (see attachment)
11. Bring the class back together. Inform the students that in reality their test score will not “count.” Rather, you wanted them to examine the racial prejudice that has become a pattern throughout American History experiencing for themselves what the African-American population has experienced since the years of Reconstruction when it came time vote (i.e.: literacy tests, poll taxes, grandfather clauses etc).
12. Tell students that the test they just took is comparable to a literacy test given as late as the 1960s in many southern states. The purpose of the test is for the test-taker to fail and therefore not be granted the privilege of voting. The test was not announced beforehand and not everyone was subject to taking it (i.e.: white people).
13. Point out that just like some students were given candy bars (or other desirable items of teacher choice), some voters were not denied the right to cast their vote. Lead into a discussion of how it is human nature to desire something even more strongly when it is being denied to you.
14. Allow time for the students to share their own journal entries as a class.
15. Introduce the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by telling students that it was passed to eliminate literacy tests like the one they just took, in response to voter discrimination that began in the years of Reconstruction. Lead a discussion as a class about the implications of the act.
16. Conclude the lesson by asking students to examine other types of racial prejudice that stemmed from the Reconstruction era (i.e.: Jim Crow laws). Make a list at the bottom of the journal page
17. Collect journal entries at the end of the period.
AssessmentsUsing a checklist (see attached file), formatively assess student’s ability to use patterns in history to examine interpretations of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by recording their feelings about racial prejudice. Journal entries should include details about:
-being singled out to take a test without any prior knowledge
-their performance on the test
-the impact of the test
-how the events of Reconstruction led to various forms of discrimination being used to prevent African-Americans from voting, finally culminating in the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act
-what are examples of racial prejudice (i.e.: Jim Crow laws) from each of these events
Extensions-Students create and conduct a survey in their community on racial discrimination, followed by an essay addressing whether or not the patterns established in the 1870s, extending thru the 1960s, are still prevalent today.
Web Links25 Multiple Choice questions based on the Constitution along with answers; changes weekly.
The Constitutional Challenge
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