class - The Culture Class: Black History Month Meets South Korea
Teaching in South Korea

The Culture Class: Black History Month Meets South Korea

Who would have known that scrolling through your Facebook feed would actually translate into a meaningful classroom lesson? I surely didn’t, but am glad it worked out that way. So this is what happened…

La, la, la, la, la… what the heck am I going to teach?!

giphy - The Culture Class: Black History Month Meets South Korea

I was thinking of lessons and activities for the last few classes of the semester since we finished the textbook.  I wanted to do something more meaningful; since Korean students already assume the foreign teacher is only supposed to play games (I hate that association!).  So, I stumbled across a post on my Facebook feed from the Brothers and Sisters of South Korea page that piqued my interest.

The post read: I prepared a lesson about Black History Month in an effort to feed the tiny brains of students, and teachers, about a race/culture other than their own. However, my co-teacher said, “The Olympics will be better.” I f#ckin’ lost it.

A Prime opportunity

While I wasn’t surprised by the co-teacher’s reaction, I did see it as the perfect way for me to end the semester (#doitfortheculture). The topic was timely, relevant, and interesting to say the least (especially because Koreans aren’t exposed to that kind of information, nor would they seek to hear another side to the American story).

sneaky - The Culture Class: Black History Month Meets South Korea

So, I asked the author of the post for the PowerPoint (PPT). Then I combined that with my magic to create a badass Black History Month (BHM) lesson for my 5th and 6th-grade Korean students.

My BHM lesson was composed of a PPT with key vocabulary and people (I tried to keep it short and sweet), followed by watching the music video Glory by John Legend and Common, as well as watching the movie Selma.

I also did some role-playing in class to make sure the students understood the severity of the race situation in America (and most of the world). In other words, I made sure they were exposed to the Black American narrative.

I named my masterpiece lesson: Culture Class.

*This lesson was for South Korean public elementary students in grades 5 and 6, classes were taught with a Korean co-teacher and translated heavily*

The class is in session:

I started my class greetings as normal and then told the students that our topic was American culture. And that’s when the role playing started… *Cues:

murder - The Culture Class: Black History Month Meets South Korea

I took a page from the book of Jane Elliot and created two groups in the class. I wanted to divide the class in a physical way to demonstrate racial constructs in American society. Since South Korea is a homogenous country (more than 90% Korean), I couldn’t separate the classes by eye color. So, I chose things like birthday months, glasses/no glasses, straight-hair/curled-hair, and black-hair/colored hair to divide the classes. Team A was the superior team and Team B was the inferior team and I treated them accordingly during the class (I definitely had some freedom fighters on Team B by the end of class, though I wasn’t hard on them).

Then we began our discussion about what BHM was, why it was important, the beginning of Black History (which did not start with slavery). We eventually got into slavery, as race-based slavery is a completely foreign topic to Korean students (And most Koreans). I explained how the slaves got to the Americas and who took them there. The students saw a map of the slave trade, along with the flags of the main European countries involved with slavery in the Americas. They learned about  the conditions on the ship. Students understood that although all of Team B boarded the ship, most of the team would not survive to become slaves in the new land.

I also highlighted a few African-American heroes before and during the slavery period, such as:

Benjamin Banneker

Madam C.J. Walker

Booker T. Washington

Harriet Tubman

Nat Turner

I know, I know that there are many, but I only had 40 minutes (more like 25-30) for this lesson in which I had to cover a lot of ground.

Moving on

The plot thickened as I explained the construct of race in America, racism, discrimination, segregation and civil rights. I demonstrated not only with pictures and definitions, but also with scenarios and role-playing. Below are some examples of the class conversation.

Racism scenario:

Me: Team A, you represent the white man in the photo on the screen and Team B, you represent the black man on the screen. The school is on fire and I am a firefighter. I only save Team A because I think their lives matter and I don’t care what happens to Team B.

Students in team B: But why?!

Me: Because of their skin color, I think they are good people and deserve to live.

played - The Culture Class: Black History Month Meets South Korea

Team B looked upset after hearing the news that they had to fend for themselves in the burning school.

Discrimination scenario:

Me: I am a job recruiter (for Samsung/Apple/LG/Google, the company changed with the class) and I have all of your job applications. I will pick one person to join the company. Let’s start…

Me: I won’t consider anyone from Team B, because you’re Team B. So, I will pick from Team A… but I don’t want any females. Now I have (a number) boys left. Well, this (number) of boys are too old. So I have two young boys that are the same age and level of education, but one boy is Korean and the other is a white American. I automatically pick the white dude, because I don’t want any Asians at my company.

really - The Culture Class: Black History Month Meets South Korea

All students: Wow!

Me: How do you all feel about that process?

Students: It’s not fair!

Segregation scenario:

Me: Segregation is separation by race. And what is race?

Students: Skin color.

Me: Yes. So, look at the picture on the screen. (Picture of a segregated water fountain with a Black man drinking from the “colored” fountain) Who can drink from this one?

Students: White people.

Me: What do you notice about the fountain?

Students: It’s clean. New. Nice.

Me: Let’s look at the other fountain, what does it look like?

Students: It’s dirty. (Some students screwed up their faces and looked a bit disgusted)

Me: Who uses this fountain?

Students: Colored. Black people.

Me: Who do you think is included in the “colored” category?

Students: Black people.

Me: No, not just black people. Aren’t you colored too?

Students: Well… yeah. But…

Me: Are you white?

Students: No.

Me: In the west, we consider Asian people yellow people (no offense). So who else would be included in the colored category?

Students: Koreans/Asians.

Me: Yes, that’s right. Anyone that was not white was considered “colored”. We had separate restrooms, water fountains, schools, restaurants, etc.

Students: Why can’t the man (the Black man in the picture) just use the clean fountain?

Me: Because it was illegal. If he tried to use the White fountain, he could be beaten, jailed or killed.

damn 1 - The Culture Class: Black History Month Meets South Korea

Students: Wow! (Some looked uncomfortable, but highly intrigued by this information)

Civil Rights scenario:

Me: Let’s make a list of some things that we need as citizens. What do we need to live?

Students: ?????

Me: *Makes gesture of drinking*

Students: Water!

Me: Yes, we need clean water and air. What else?

Students: Food, clothes, house…

Me: Good! We need a way to learn, so what do we need?

Students: Schools!

Me: Yes, we need education. Now after you get an education what do you need?

Students: Money!

Me: Yes, but how can we make money? What do you get after you get an education?

Students: Job!

Me: Yes! Good job! And if I am sick, what do I need?

Students: Hospital!

Me: Yep, I need health care to be treated. Also, I need to be able to elect my president and other country leaders. So, what do I need to do that?

Students: Vote!

Me: Yes, I need voting rights. So, let’s stop the list there. Team A, you can have all of these rights. But Team B, you can’t have voting rights, education, healthcare or jobs (I drew an “x” next to the items on the board). How do you feel about that Team B?

Team B students: It’s unfair. I’m angry.

Me: How do you feel about your privileges Team A?

Team A students (some students): Yay!

Team A students (other students): So, so.

Me: Why so, so?

Team A student: Because it’s not fair.

Me: You’re right. Both teams are human, but Team B can’t have many things. Team A, would you be happy knowing that Team B can’t have the same opportunity as you even though you are all human?

Team A: No!

Me: Do you think that you both should have the same things?

Both teams: Yes!

Me: Team A, would you want to help Team B have the same rights as you?

Most students on Team A: Yes!

selma - The Culture Class: Black History Month Meets South Korea

Next Up

I introduced the students to some African-American heroes from the 1900s-2018:

Martin Luther King Jr.

Rosa Parks

Mae Jemison

Muhammad Ali

Michael Jackson

Oprah Winfrey

Barack Obama

Media Support

movie - The Culture Class: Black History Month Meets South Korea

After the presentation, we watched the music video Glory and the movie Selma (in the next class). During the movie, most students were attentive and asking questions to the Korean teacher. Class time was limited so I skipped ahead to the action scenes in the movie (none of the classes finished the movie). I forgot that the word “negro” was used in the movie the first time I played it, so I had to brief the students about that word before playing the movie.

That’s a Wrap

After watching some of the movie and the presentation, I felt a sympathetic vibe from the students on their way out of the door. I asked the students how they felt after watching the movie and received some mixed reviews. Some students were sad, some were angry, some were shocked (I mean they looked like their world was turned upside down), some still didn’t care or have an interest (teaching isn’t like Pokemon, you can’t catch ‘em all.)

fine - The Culture Class: Black History Month Meets South Korea

They were exposed to another side of the American history narrative and I am glad that I was able to teach them that, regardless if their interest grew or not. I hope that you enjoyed reading, please feel free to comment and share. Thanks for reading!


Read. Laugh. Share. Enjoy!


Black History Month PPT: 



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