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'What We Want, What We Believe'

By Wayne Au

My objectives for the lesson were twofold. First, for students to understand some of the social conditions the Panthers were attempting to identify and deal with, and second, for students to then analyze their world today, roughly 30 years later, and begin to identify social issues they would like to address.

I was not focused so much on critiquing the Black Panther Program as in getting students to use it as a jump-off point. I began by initiating a class discussion and asking students questions such as: “What are the most pressing problems in society, in the world, today?” “What do you think is ‘wrong’ within society? Your own community? Your school? Your home? At work, or your parents’ work?”

I tried to find out what feels important to my students as individuals and as a community of learners and to get a feel for what they are personally invested in. Through the discussion, I kept track of comments on the board.

The student responses demonstrated a range of social consciousness. Some students merely wanted to have their parents extend curfew hours while others wanted to be free from harassment in shopping malls. While these could be serious critiques if framed within a context of youth empowerment and racism, the students seemed to keep these issues on an individualistic level. Other students did articulate more far-reaching problems such as more funding for education, citing our crumbling school building and crowded classrooms as evidence.

From there I passed out copies of the 1972 Panthers’ Ten Point Program. I explained that the founding Panthers looked at the needs of their community and developed a vision of what they thought was necessary to find freedom. This vision of freedom manifested itself as the “Platform” of the Black Panther Party, which became better known as “The Ten Point Program.”

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