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English - 'I felt as if I didn't matter'

An experience of segregation sheds light on victimisation

An experience of segregation sheds light on victimisation

Rosa Parks is a real-life heroine. Be it in lessons on PSHE, Black History Month, the Second World War or as an assembly theme, her story of defiance against prejudice is an excellent way of simplifying the issue in a way that primary school children can easily grasp.

Try this on your class: write the following statements on the board and give the children five minutes to discuss the circumstances that might have led up to the event.

A woman is travelling on a bus. The bus stops and a man gets on. All the seats are taken so the man walks down the bus to where the woman is sitting. He asks her to get up and to give him her seat. She refuses. He asks again. She refuses. The bus driver calls the police and the woman is arrested and put in jail.

You can imagine the childish responses to this conundrum. But once the actual reason was given - that Rosa Parks was black and sitting in a seat reserved for white people only - my class simply didn't believe me.

So to help them truly experience segregation, I had to take more dramatic action.

First, I split the classroom down the middle with dividing panels. Then I lined the children up and randomly segregated the class into two groups. Those on the left wore yellow PE bibs and, for the purposes of the exercise, were chosen to be prejudiced against.

As the lesson went on, I made sure to very obviously favour the group on the right, giving them the questions to answer, rewarding them with house points, supporting them in their work and allowing them to finish five minutes earlier than the other children. When they returned to class after break, I reversed the prejudice.

Before the lesson ended, we discussed how the children had felt when they were being prejudiced against, and the answers were insightful. Those on the favoured side had expected the good times to continue after break and were disappointed when they didn't. But the little girl who said she felt as though she didn't matter really caught the mood.

Prejudice does exactly that. It makes those who are being victimised feel as though they don't matter. And that's why the story of Rosa Parks is so inspiring. She stood up for herself and, in doing so, helped thousands more to gain the courage to stand up for themselves, too.

Chris Fenton is an associate headteacher, author and publisher. Email him at

What else?

Try a simple worksheet from ~babyblushes~ to help pupils research black heroes, from Muhammad Ali to Rosa Parks. bit.lyTESblackheroes

For a visual journey through Dr Martin Luther King Jr's life, check out bevevans22's picture book PowerPoint.


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