Social Studies

New York Union Urges Teaching About R.F.K.

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — November 17, 2008 1 min read

The legacy of Robert F. Kennedy has inspired an unusual alliance over school curriculum in New York that joins the state teachers’ union, a private foundation, the state education department, and the governor.

The guides for grades 4, 8, and 11, titled “Speak Up, Speak Out: Robert F. Kennedy, Champion of Social Justice,” include biographical information, vocabulary, lessons, and activities.

All are urging teachers to infuse the ideals of social justice—which Mr. Kennedy championed as U.S. attorney general and later as a United States senator from New York before his death in 1968—into their lessons through the use of curriculum guides developed by the New York State United Teachers.

The union, an affiliate of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, is sending the guides, which include history and English/language arts lessons aligned to state standards, to schools throughout the state.

The guides for grades 4, 8, and 11, titled “Speak Up, Speak Out: Robert F. Kennedy, Champion of Social Justice,” include biographical information, vocabulary, lessons, and activities. The state education department and Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, have endorsed the materials and are encouraging schools to “examine and memorialize the life and work of a great American ... and a truly remarkable New Yorker.”

Development and distribution of the curriculum materials is a first for the union, which was persuaded to take on the project by the Washington-based Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center.

The union convened teachers from each of the three grade levels to write lessons aligned with the existing curriculum and state academic standards.

For example, a lesson for 4th graders describes the work of the Freedom Riders and the nonviolent protests they organized to speak out against discriminatory laws and policies in the 1960s. It introduces related vocabulary words, such as “citizenship” and “responsibility,” along with reading and writing activities.

“The project allows us to concentrate on the importance in any school curriculum to address social awareness and social responsibility,” said nysut President Richard C. Iannuzzi.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 19, 2008 edition of Education Week

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