Students at Whitman College are teaching lessons on civil rights in Walla Walla Public Schools and young citizens get an important history lesson that many adults lack.
Each year in late January and early February, college students volunteer to help younger students get a taste of an often-neglected history. And this year, with so many people feeling the need to get involved with a cause that matters, the number of volunteers are up in some places, including Whitman College.
In order to talk with each other about contentious issues, we need to have some common reference points. Agreement on current facts is essential for debates on difficult issues, and so is a shared, accurate knowledge of our history.
One of the college students, Mayrangela Cervantes, told me, “I truly believe that if we start educating those around us, we will be able to spread love and understanding, and as a result begin to see positive change.”
She’s a freshman at Whitman College in Walla Walla who participates in a program called Whitman Teaches the Movement, in which students from the college teach lessons on civil rights to Walla Walla Public Schools classes.
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The program has since evolved to include other movements and issues, with different lessons for different grade levels.
Noah Leavitt, associate dean of students at the college, said he and the community-service coordinator got the idea for the program in 2011 when they were thinking about how to update the next year’s recognition of Martin Luther King Day.
Leavitt read a news story that sparked an idea. It said a national report from the Southern Poverty Law Center found elementary and middle-school students knew little, if anything, about the civil-rights movement. The report gave states grades, and Washington was one of many that got an F. (We improved to a D in 2014.)
Leavitt said the first thought was to give Whitman…