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        Children of Giant | Lesson Plan: De/Segregation in the Shadow of Giant

        “I think it’s a very important part of history; you cannot deny history. That would be denying who we are and what the United States is.”

        - Olivia Roman, Former Blackwell School student and Marfa resident


        In the summer of 1955, Hollywood movie crews rolled into the small, West Texas town of Marfa to film Giant based on Edna Ferber’s best-selling but controversial novel. Like Ferber’s book, director, George Stevens’ film portrayed critical social issues that were rarely addressed in mainstream movies, including racial prejudice, segregation, sexism, and the plight of the working poor.

        Lesson Summary

        In the shadow of this production, the residents of Marfa, Texas were living the social themes and racial tensions depicted in the movie. The production set of Giant may have been racially integrated, but the town itself -- with its substantial population of Mexican Americans -- was still in the grip of racial segregation. There were ‘White-Only’ areas of public establishments, including the town’s movie theater, where children and adults who featured in Giant were required to watch the film from the balcony when it was released.

        Critically, Marfa’s school system was also segregated. From 1889-1965, children of Mexican descent were educated in Blackwell School, a small adobe schoolhouse that provided education through the 9th grade. The majority of the school’s teachers were Anglo (White) who tried to assimilate the children by suppressing their cultural heritage and language. Students were forbidden to speak Spanish on school grounds, and the staff went so far as to hold a mock funeral for the Spanish language. Teachers filled a small coffin-like box with slips of paper on which the children had written Spanish words. The box was buried on the school grounds during a ceremony attended by the student body.

        Although the 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, determined that segregation in U.S. public schools is unconstitutional, it took more than a decade before towns in East Texas, such as Marfa, finally integrated their education systems and began to address the need for equal opportunity for all students. That process continues in many communities to this day.

        Hector Galan’s documentary, Children of Giant, reveals the long and painful history of de-jure and de-facto segregation in Marfa, Texas before, during, and after the month-long production of George Stevens’ 1956 feature film, Giant. Alumni from the Blackwell School share their memories of Marfa and the summer when Hollywood came to town. In doing so they also reveal the personal cost of systemic discrimination as well as their collective resilience as they reclaim the legacy of the


        About the Film

        Children of Giant unearths the deeply wrought emotions surrounding the de-facto segregation of Anglos and Latinos in the small West Texas town of Marfa, before, during, and after the month-long production of George Stevens’ 1956 feature film, Giant, which tells the story of three generations of a powerful Texas ranching dynasty.

        Based on the controversial Edna Ferber novel of the same name, Giant did not shy from the strong social issues experienced throughout post-WWII America—it brought to the screen an unflinching look at racism, early feminism, and class divisions—daring themes for movie audiences at the time. Starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean, Giant was nominated for 10 Academy Awards® and it would be the last film James Dean ever made. Since its premiere in 1956, Giant has been seen in more than twenty countries and is listed as one of the American Film Institute’s top 100 films of all time. For Latino historians, poets, and filmmakers, the appreciation for the movie Giant runs far deeper. It was one of the first Hollywood features to recognize the racial divide of Mexicans Americans in the Southwestern United States.

        Fifty years later, the documentary Children of Giant looks at the making of Giant—in the very town where the residents who participated and witnessed the making of this great American classic were actually living the controversial themes in the movie. Award-winning documentary filmmaker Hector Galán weaves in rare clips and photos from the feature film with the voices of the Mexican American and Anglo townspeople, cast, and crew. The documentary captures this fascinating conjunction of art and real life in the summer of 1955, providing a remarkable opportunity to look into the prevailing attitudes of the time through a giant Hollywood prism.

        • Director: Hector Galan
        • Executive Producers: Hector Galan, Carolyn Pfeiffer
        • Producers: Karen Bernstein, Evelyn Ledesma Galan

        - From Children of Giant Fact Sheet, PBS International


        Time Allotment

        90 to 120 minutes + Assignments

        Learning Objectives

        Students will:

        • Create a working definition for the word Segregation and understand the distinction between de-jure and de-facto segregation
        • Understand that the concept of education as a right is a relatively modern idea that is still evolving
        • Understnd the social issues that were prevalent in Marfa, Texas during the making of the film Giant and the lasting impact they had on the community members
        • Analyze the impact of segregation within the context of their school community
        • Develop a strategy to identify and challenge de-jure and de-facto segregation in their own community


        Media Resources


        Introductory Activity


        Time: 10 Minutes

        You will need: Small strips of paper in 2 colors, writing paper, white/blackboard, pens/pencils

        Summary: Students will create a working definition for the word Segregation 

        • Write the word ‘Segregation’ on the board before class begins. When students enter the class, ask them to think about what that word means and write a definition in their own words.
        • Instruct students to share their definitions with a partner and refine their definitions together. While they are still working in pairs ask them to think about when they have heard or seen this word used. What was the context? Can you think of specific examples?
        • What are some examples of segregation that we encounter today?
        • What about segregation by gender, age, economic class, etc.?
        • Have pairs share their definitions and examples with the class and discuss and record their responses on the board or a sheet of Kraft paper to refer to later in the lesson.
        • Explain: Throughout history, groups of people have been excluded from participating in society in the same ways that other groups could. Sometimes that would mean denying access to participation (for example: not having the right to vote), and sometimes people would be physically excluded from/separated in institutions like schools, public spaces, or establishments like restaurants. This exclusion is referred to as segregation. The most pervasive forms of segregation have been imposed along racial lines, but individuals and communities have also been segregated based on other factors such as gender, country of origin, economic class, and religion.
        • Using the students’ responses craft a working definition for Segregation. Revisit and refine the working definition throughout the lesson as appropriate.

        Learning Activities


        Time: 30 Minutes (45 with Optional Activity PART C)

        You will need: Small strips of paper in 2 colors, writing paper, white/blackboard, pens/pencils

        Summary: Students will learn that the concept of education as a right is modern idea and consider whether segregation has an impact in their own community.


        • Explain: Some forms of segregation are imposed by legal means others result from social pressures where a dominant group uses their power to deny legal rights to a less powerful group. Ask for two volunteers to look-up “de-jure segregation” and “de-facto segregation.”
        • De-jure segregation: Have the volunteer read out the definition for de-jure segregation and discuss:

        De-jure segregation is the use of the legal system to create a permanent level of inequality. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation, Southern states were unwilling to conform to the demands for racial equality and used segregation to create legal restrictions, generally referred to as Jim Crow Laws. (Other examples include the denial of women’s legal right to vote until 1920, the former ban on legal same-sex marriage in the United States, and Apartheid, the system of legal, racial segregation in South Africa.)

        1. Are there any examples of De-jure segregation from the Think-Pair-Share activity?
        2. What examples of De-Jure segregation can you think of today?
        • De-facto segregation: Have the volunteer read out the definition for de-facto segregation and discuss:

        De-Facto segregation occurs when societal pressures, historical practices, and socialized preferences lead to inequality despite or due to a lack of legal protections. For example, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, banned workplace discrimination based on sex or race, but gender and racial disparities in income, general employment, and representation in senior positions, is still widespread.

        1. Are there any examples of De-facto segregation from the Think-Pair-Share activity?


        PART B: BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION (optional)

        (Facilitator Tip: If this topic has been covered in your curriculum you can skip to PART C)

        • Ask for volunteers to take turns reading STUDENT HANDOUT A aloud (or instruct the students to read quietly as a handout).
        • Discuss using the following prompts, as needed:
        1. What surprised you the most in this reading?
        2. Do you consider education as a privilege or a right?
        3. Why do you think Justice Warren stressed that education is a right that “must be available to all on equal terms?”
        4. How do you think the government and schools systems try to ensure that all students get equal education?
        5. Do you think we have achieved equal education for all students in this country? Why or why not?
        6. How does the reading illustrate what is meant by De-Jure segregation? (Schools could be legally segregated until BvBE)
        7. How does it illustrate the challenges of De-Facto segregation? (Despite BvBE, it took many years to integrate schools across the country and inequality is still an issue for many school communities.)


        PART C: DE/SEGREGATION What are your thoughts?

        • Hand out the slips of paper to each student (one of each color)
        • Ask students to reflect on the definition of segregation, the right to equal education, and the impact of these issues on their own school community. With the class discussions in mind, ask them to consider the following question:
        1. Do you think our school is affected by segregation? Why or why not? If so, in what ways (de-facto or de-jure)?
        • Assign each color as Yes or No (for example Yellow=Yes and Purple=No) and explain that they should answer Yes or No to the question -- Do you think our school is affected by segregation? -- by voting with the appropriate slip of paper.
        • Collect all of the votes and put them aside to be counted. (It is helpful to collect the unused papers at this time as well and keep them separate.)
        • Inform the students that their votes will be reviewed later in the lesson and they will have the opportunity to discuss the reasons for their responses at that time. (Tally and separate the Yes and No votes while the students are screening the film clips.)



        Time: 30 Minutes

        You will need: Computers with Internet access, multimedia projector, writing paper, pens, STUDENT HANDOUT B: The Film in Context, film clips (see below)

        Film Clips:

        • VOCES PBS "Children of Giant" Preview (1:30): o Blackwell School CLIP 1 (5:04): "I didn't realize I was a nobody in that little community."
        • Blackwell School CLIP 2 (2:06): “It was like a little funeral for Mr. Spanish."
        • Blackwell School CLIP 3 (2:04): Legacy of the Blackwell School



        • Distribute STUDENT HANDOUT B: The Film in Context, which provides an overview of Children of Giant and the social context for Marfa, Texas. Review with students before screening the film clips. (This can be distributed in advance of the lesson as a Homework Assignment.)
        • Play the VOCES PBS "Children of Giant" Preview followed by CLIPS 1 & 2. Ask students to record notes about quotes and scenes that resonate with the lesson themes and the previous activity.
        • Discuss CLIPS 1 & 2 using the following prompts as a guide, as needed:
        1. What are some quotes or scenes that stood out for you?
        2. How did the relationship between Anglos and Latinos on the ranches compare to the relationships in the town? Why do you think the experience of Latino community members in the towns was so different than those who worked on the ranches?
        3. One of the ranchers said: “There were times when they [Mexican-American ranch hands] couldn’t sit down to dinner with us, but if they needed something, we were there for them.” What do you think about that?
        4. Do feel like the circumstances for Mexican-Americans on the ranches were better, worse, or just different than those living in the town? Please explain.
        5. What was the most surprising aspect of the Blackwell students’ experience for you?
        6. Why do you think the Latino/a children were separated from the ‘Anglo’ children in Blackwell School?
        7. What do you think Olivia Roman meant when she said, “We did have the same teachers but really it wasn’t quite the same.”?
        8. Why do you think the students were discouraged from speaking Spanish?
        9. William Quintana’s teacher caught him and his friends speaking Spanish and she said, "You better start speaking English or do you want to go back to Mexico and starve?” He responded, “Ma'am I've never been to Mexico, I was born here. What does William Quintana’s story reveal about the assumptions the teachers at Blackwell made about the Mexican-American students? What impact do you think the teachers’ attitudes had on the children’s experience as members of the Marfa community? How might attitudes such as those influence the quality of the education provided to the students at Blackwell?
        10. Could someone summarize what happened at the “Last Rights for Spanish Speaking” also described by former Blackwell student Maggie Marquez as, “a little funeral for Mr. Spanish?" What was your reaction to that story? Why do you think the teachers staged that “funeral?” What do you think they hoped to achieve? What message did that action send to the children about their Mexican-American heritage?
        11. Blackwell school was still segregated when the film Giant was being made in Marfa in 1955, but Brown v. Board of Education established that segregation was unconstitutional in 1954. Why do you think segregation was still being practiced in Marfa a year later?
        12. How do you think the former students feel about the Blackwell school today?
        13. How would you feel about your school if you had a similar experience?



        • Play CLIP 3. Ask students to record notes about quotes and scenes that resonate with the lesson themes and the previous activity.
        • Discuss CLIP 3 using the following prompts as a guide, as needed:
        1. What are the Blackwell students’ feelings about the school today?
        2. Why do you think the Blackwell School Alliance worked to have the building registered as a historic site? Why not knock the school down and use the land for something else? (Joe Cabezuela Blackwell School Alliance quote: “Some day when our grandkids come through here and they see that this building is here…it happened, but we don’t want to forget it.”)
        3. What were his daughter Zaide Cabezuela’s thoughts about preserving the memory of the Blackwell School? (Quote: It was a bad time, but it’s part of our history. It’s something that did happen, and why do you want to hide from it?” My Dad’s passion…is probably the reason why I am the way that I am today. That I’m proud of who I am, that I speak Spanish, that I’m not ashamed of it, that I encourage it.”)
        4. What are your thoughts about the school’s alumni “exhuming” the coffin of Spanish words? What did that act mean to you as you viewed the film clip?
        5. In what ways could the ‘exhumation’ and the registration of Blackwell as a historical site have been empowering for the alumni from Blackwell?
        6. What message do you think the former Blackwell students’ actions send to the next generation?
        7. What would you have done if you were in their place?


        Culminating Activity


        Time: 30 Minutes +

        You will need: writing paper, Kraft paper, white/blackboard, washable markers, pens/pencils

        Summary: Students will consider segregation within the context of their community and reflect on ways they can make their school a more integrated and inclusive community.


        • Share the results from the earlier vote and request volunteers to discuss their responses. Ask if anyone changed their answer after viewing and discussing the clips from Children of Giant.
        • Rapid group brainstorm: Based on our discussions, what are some forms of segregation that we can witness in our own community (school, neighborhood, town)? Record the results on the board.
        • Separate the class into small groups and distribute Kraft paper and markers. Instruct the groups to use the brainstorm as a guide and select a form of segregation to focus on.
        • Using the discussions and the characters from Children of Giant as inspiration, the groups should develop a strategy to identify and challenge de-jure and de-facto segregation and discrimination in their community. STUDENT HANDOUT C will help them define their plan to work toward integration and inclusivity in their community.
        • Groups will share their completed strategies and give and receive feedback from their peers. (Remind students of procedures for giving constructive feedback.)


        • Students will reflect on the lesson and use the following question as a prompt to write a short stream-of-consciousness essay:
        • What role can you play in making your school a more integrated and inclusive community?




        Reporting from Marfa

        • Screen the full film and ask the students to imagine that they are a reporter at the opening night of Giant in Marfa’s local movie theater in 1956. Questions to consider:
        1. What would they notice about the crowd who is attending?
        2. How would the crowd react to the issues on the screen?
        3. Who would they interview to talk about their experience participating in the film?
        • Instruct students to research reviews and articles written at the time and use these resources to inform their writing project. (All resources should be properly cited.)
        • Create a “Newspaper” blog on the school’s Intranet and post the finished articles.
        • Assign each student three of their peers’ articles written to provide constructive comment on.


        Brown v. Board of Education VS. Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1

        • In 2007, the Supreme Court issued a new ruling on school integration that many commentators believe undermines the promise of the Brown decision.
        • Students will compare the two rulings and the implications of recent decision on the future of education in the US.
        • Students will hold a formal debate to examine both sides of the argument for and against the 2007 ruling.


        Taking the Lead

        Have students implement their group’s plan of action to make their school a more integrated and inclusive community. Make sure each plan includes a PSA campaign that uses traditional and social media and includes an event where community members can gather face-to-face for discussion and collaboration.




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