Investigative Question

What makes someone heroic? Who are some people who have made a difference in our lives?

In Standard 2.5, students will be introduced to the many people, ordinary and extraordinary, who have contributed to their lives and made a difference. The teacher may pose questions such as What makes someone heroic? or Who are some people who have made a difference in our lives? A picture book such as Rosa by Nikki Giovanni introduces students to an ordinary person Rosa Parks, whose actions made a tremendous difference in the lives of others. Students learn about a variety of men, women, and children whose contributions can be appreciated by young children and whose achievements have directly or indirectly touched the students' lives or the lives of others. Included, for example, are scientists such as George Washington Carver, Marie Sklodowska Curie, Albert Einstein, Louis Pasteur, Jonas Salk, Charles Drew, and Thomas Edison; athletes such as Jackie Robinson and Wilma Rudolph; humanitarians like Clara Barton, Jane Addams, Henri Dunant, and Florence Nightingale; as well as authors, musicians, and artists. Teachers may read biographies aloud as well as utilize biographies written at a variety of reading levels, such as the Rookie Biography series, for students to read independently. As students meet these heroes from long a go and the recent past, they understand the importance of individual action and character in one's life. As students identify and discuss the skills and knowledge that helped these people achieve their goals, they have opportunities to cite textual evidence, write informational reports, and create presentations. Students can also make a difference, They may work together in groups to brainstorm problems that exist at their school and in their community, such as litter or bullying. Students can evaluate and vote on a solution, which (for litter)might include hosting a clean-up day, increasing goals for recycling, or working to change a rule. Students can create a pan and work in teams to carry it out. Together they can then evaluate their effectiveness. For example, is there less litter on campus? Teachers can invite community members who are making a difference on issues important in the students' lives as guest speakers or partners in student projects to make their communities a better place to live. By meeting local "heroes," students will have role models from their own communities who are making a difference.
Heroes are part of the fabric of our families, communities and our nation. Hero(in)es can be family members, historical figures, athletes, or fictional characters. No matter the example, all heroic individuals share similar qualities –courage, bravery, making a difference to others, and contributing to society in some way that is considered important. This Inquiry Set presents opportunities for students to learn about the many ways that ordinary people can act heroically. Students will learn about one hero named Royal Towns through the primary sources in this set. To begin the activity, students brainstorm qualities of hero(in)es which are then recorded on a classroom chart. After sharing heroic qualities, students provide examples of people who they deem to be heroes. Together,students sort the list of heroes into three categories –famous hero(in)es, everyday heroes, and fictional hero(in)es. After the class has a working definition of hero(in)es in general, students will learn about an everyday hero, Royal Towns, who was one of the first African American firefighters in Oakland, California. Mr. Towns was assigned to Engine 22 Company, which was staffed with only Black firefighters. Until the early 1950s, the City of Oakland operated segregated Fire Departments, with most of the African American firefighters stationed at Engine 22 in West Oakland. Integration of firehouses was of utmost concern to Royal Towns, and he spent his career encouraging other African Americans to become firefighters and integrating the firehouses of Oakland with people of all races and ethnicities. The Alameda County Branch of the NAACP decided to bring a lawsuit to end this practice. Ernest Allen Sr. volunteered as plaintiff, and the co-counsels were Clinton White (later to serve as a California Superior Court Judge) and Lionel Wilson (later to serve first as a California Superior Court Judge and afterwards as Mayor of the City of Oakland). While this lawsuit that sought to end segregation in Oakland Fire Departments was unsuccessful, the publicity it generated embarrassed the City of Oakland, which eventually forced the integration of the city's Fire Department. Royal Towns was integral in the effort to desegregate Oakland’s Fire Department. He also served as a leading fire fighter in the city for decades. Moreover, he belonged to and led numerous service groups in his community, including the Boy Scouts. To teach Royal Towns to students, begin by introducing the “hero” chart (below) entitled, “What is a Hero?” and generate examples of different types of heroes with the class. Next students will read the short biography (a secondary source) of Royal Towns. Reading this biography can be done as a whole class out loud, as a partner read, or independently depending on the reading level of the students. After discussing the life of Royal Towns, students will examine the Legislative Proclamation (Source 1) that Towns received from the State of California in 1963. The Proclamation, included in its entirety, is a bit lengthy for students and contains some difficult vocabulary. A “jigsaw” approach to the proclamation provides a more age-appropriate version of the proclamation. The teacher would share the section labeled “whole class,” then divide the class into three different groups to read a portion of the proclamation (for more explicit instructions on this literacy activity, please see the literacy page in this Inquiry Set) After reading the excerpts, the class will share their observations, discuss ideas, and complete the Evidence Chart to answer the questions “What evidence is there that Royal Towns showed courage? What evidence is there that Royal Towns helped others? What evidence is there that Royal Towns did something important? Students also view a set of images of the Oakland Fire Department during Mr. Towns’ tenure with the department (Source 2). Finally, students will compose an opinion piece answering the question, What makes someone heroic? Who are some people who have made a difference in our lives ?Alternatively, students could write a statement answering the question, Was Royal Towns a hero? In what ways would Royal Towns be considered heroic? There are two additional resources that teachers may find useful if students are to explore Towns as part of a research project: Allensworth State Park. The Royal Towns Papers. What is a Hero? A person who is brave or shows courage A person who helps others (make a difference) A person who does something important Examples of Heroes Famous Heroes: Rosa Parks, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ruth Bader Ginsburg Everyday Heroes: Firefighters, doctors, parents, teachers Fictional Heroes: Superman, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson
Teacher Directions:
  1. Students read the short biography (Student Handout 1) of Royal Towns.  This can be done as a whole class, a partner read, or independently depending on the reading level of the students. Make sure that students are familiar with the concepts “integration” and “segregation” as they go through the biography.
  2. Students participate in a collaborative discussion about the life of Royal Towns.  The class records examples from the reading on the Evidence Chart to answer the questions “What evidence is there that Royal Towns showed courage? What evidence is there that Royal Towns helped others?  What evidence is there that Royal Towns did something important?
  3. Finally,  students  complete one  of  the Exit  Tickets completing  the  question  frame.    Students  could also include a drawing of the hero in action.