For our lesson, we wanted to place an emphasis on conversation and discussion rather than structured debate. Our lesson began by having the students independently think about and write down themes that they saw. This activity is familiar to our class, so it worked very well to warm them up. Students found themes of: freedom, interracial friendships, motherhood, dehumanization, and tensions between the North and South. These suggested themes prompted a lively discussion, with a lot of student participation!
After this, we split the class into five groups of four for the first of two small group discussions. We had the students choose whichever theme they wanted to talk about, and gave them the option to combine themes, or come up with an alternative theme for the group. We asked students to take notes on what was discussed in the groups, whether that be quotes or ideas, to save for the second small group discussion.
During the first small group discussion, there were a few ideas that stood out to us. One group focused on the origins and implications of Mr. Shelby calling Harry “Jim Crow.” Jim Crow refers to a racist caricature of enslaved Black peoples, usually performed by a white man in blackface. When we returned to a full class discussion, this topic launched us into discussing the long racist history of white people expecting to be entertained by Black people. We found ourselves in an authority position during those discussions, and as such occasionally needed to interject to keep conversations respectful. Our class was a safe space to share ideas, however racist ideology can cause genuine harm and should be disrupted wherever it appears. Prior to teaching our lesson, we were concerned that students may not want to speak up. This was absolutely not the case. Students were excited to talk about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and almost every student participated in some way. In the beginning of the lesson, we saw students focusing more on critiquing the institution of slavery, rather than the text. By the end, however, they were able to use their understanding of slavery to criticize Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This showed that the students understood both concepts and have the ability to independently build on that knowledge, perhaps on their Preface.