Gary Fisher teaches eighth-grade U.S. history at Timilty Elementary School in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The school represents the surrounding community -- a largely African American and Hispanic population. Roughly 25 percent of the student body is bilingual. As a magnet school, Timilty also draws students from a diverse range of communities throughout Boston. Comprehensive school reform in the mid-80s resulted in smaller classes, the adoption of student uniforms, and a schoolwide effort to create an intimate school culture in an urban setting.
Mr. Fisher started the year by reviewing early American history, focusing on the agricultural, economic, and political development of the new country. By the time Mr. Fisher began the lesson on the Amistad case, he wanted his students to be familiar with the progression of changes that occurred in the economy and government through 1830. Students had studied units on the Constitution, economic systems, the Industrial Revolution, and westward expansion. Special attention was paid to the concepts of slavery, immigration and labor trends, capitalism, civil liberties, and the origins of the Supreme Court.
The Amistad case was part of a unit called Separation of the Nation. This lesson introduced students to the trade routes along the Middle Passage, the reasons behind the demand for cheap labor, the growing abolitionist movement, and the role of the Supreme Court in determining the rights of slaves. To prepare for the lesson, the class read about and discussed the Amistad rebellion as well as landmark court decisions in African American history. Then they prepared to re-enact the trial in class, with teams of students playing the parts of the judges, plaintiffs, and defendants. The lesson concluded with a class presentation of the mock trial.
Mr. Fisher invited attorneys as guest speakers to talk about the law as an important element in history, as well as the Constitution, the powers of the president, and civil rights. He used the Amistad case to underscore the increasing tension between the North and the South, leading into the next unit on the Civil War.
Lesson Background >>