Mr. Gordon, History Teacher:
In 8th grade history's unit on Jamestown, Mr. Gordon posed the question, "Is it human nature to divide people by race?" The unit began with a discussion of a New York Times map of New York City's population, which showed that neighborhoods today are heavily segregated by race. Some students theorized that people generally prefer to live with people who share their culture, while other students thought that perhaps the segregation was not done by choice. We examined evidence on both sides, including psychological studies about racial preferences and learning about policies in the 20th century that led to residential segregation, such as Redlining.
We then went back in time to apply this same question to the Jamestown colony. Through analyzing primary and secondary sources about that period, students concluded that African, European, and Native American people did get along at first. However, wealthy English landowners began to fear that servants and enslaved people would rise up against them. In response, they passed laws to keep their workers divided, such as those banning interracial marriage, which over time created social taboos that pit people of different races against one another.
By the end of this unit, students began reflecting on their own experiences in racially integrated and segregated settings. They wondered how their own lives had been impacted by the laws and policies we examined, and what forces had shaped their own ideas about race.
Here's an excerpt from an essay on the topic by 8th grader Tatiana Bresler:
"Sometimes laws and rules can be implanted into our heads at a young age and it can make us feel as if these laws and rules are moral and the right thing to believe. And in the past rules have been made to separate different races and some still affect us today. In 1691, a law was passed by the General Assembly of Virginia to make it illegal for whites to marry people of other races. The act says “It is enacted from now on, if any English or other free white man or woman shall intermarry with a negroe, mulatto, or Indian man or woman”. This law made it seem wrong to marry other races, but the making of this law also shows that other races were marrying each other, because why would the government make a law about something that is not happening? This shows that people in charge segregated other races making citizens and fellow generations to come think something is wrong."