César E. Chávez Used Nonviolence to Educate the Public

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Lesson Title:

César E. Chávez Used Nonviolence to Educate the Public

Grade Level:

Grade Four Lesson 3

History –Social Science Standard:

4.1 Students demonstrate an understanding of the physical and human geographic features that define places and regions in California

4.4 Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850s.

4.2.6 Students describe the role of the Franciscans in changing the economy of California from a hunter-gatherer economy to an agricultural economy

4.4.6 Students describe the development and locations of new industries since the turn of the century, such as the aerospace industry, electronics industry, large-scale commercial agriculture and irrigation projects, the oil and automobile industries, communications and defense industries and the important trade links with the Pacific Basin

Correlation to K-8 California Adopted Textbooks:

Harcourt Brace: California. Unit 5: Modern California. Chapter 9. Challenges for California. Lesson 2.

McGraw-Hill: California. Unit 4: California, the U.S. and the World. Chapter 10: Building California.

Setting the Context:

The student will need the background information in the following synopsis on the history of agriculture and labor in California

History of California Agriculture

Since the late 1800s agriculture in California has grown to become a very important part of California’s economy. In the 1850s there were enough farms in California to grow food for the people in California. Then as today, large companies and some very rich people owned much of the farmland.

During the 1860s throughout the 1890s the number of farms grew rapidly from 900 to 18,700. At this time, farmers grew mainly wheat in the Central Valley of California, and they grew enough wheat to feed California, the United States of America, and other countries in Europe. Wheat production was very large and profitable, but in the 1890s farmers stopped producing wheat, because the planting of only wheat was depleting the soil. Nuts, fruits, and vegetables replaced wheat production.

Southern California became an important producer of navel oranges. The Franciscan Fathers, who founded the missions of California, had grown oranges, but these oranges were sour, dry, and full of seeds. In 1873, Mr. and Mrs. Tibbet, who lived in Riverside, California, received two navel orange trees from Brazil. The Tibbets cared for the orange trees and cultivated them, and the trees produced navel oranges that were large, sweet, juicy and seedless. In 1888 the railroads invented the refrigerated boxcar, to transport California navel oranges across the country, and by 1900 agriculture in southern California was flourishing. There were over 5,000,000 navel orange trees growing in southern California, and many people came to southern California at this time to grow oranges and find a better life.

Agriculture has continued to grow in California and today it is the largest producer of agricultural products in the United States. California produces broccoli, apricots, pears, peaches, celery, tomatoes, lettuce, dates, grapes, plums, and figs. All of the avocados and almonds sold in the United States of America are produced in California. Agribusiness is very important to California’s economy and it grosses over 15 billion dollars per year.

The History of Agricultural Labor in California

Since agriculture began in California farmers needed a large flow of labor (farm workers) to care for and harvest crops. In the 1860s to the 1890s farmers hired Chinese farm workers to work in the wheat fields. In the 1870s canneries had become very profitable to farmers, and they hired Mexicans, Irish, and Italian immigrants to work in the fields and in the canneries. Some times entire families would work at the canneries, the men would work in the fields, and the women and children would work preparing the food and canning it. The farmers provided poor housing for the farm workers and their families.

Over the years, there have been farm workers from the Philippines and Japan, but Mexican migrant farm workers have done most of the work in the fields of California. A migrant farm worker is someone who travels from farm to farm looking for work. A migrant farm worker works very long hours, bent over in the sun doing very strenuous work for very little pay. Farmers have always paid farm workers low wages because there were always many migrant farm workers, and if a worker complained about the payment the farmer just hired someone else. Since the 1800s a farm worker’s life has changed very little. Migrant farm workers work very hard, are paid very little and live in poor housing provided by the farmer.

Focus Question:

What nonviolet tactics did César Chávez use to educate the public about the hardships suffered by California farm workers?

Expected Learning Outcomes:

The student will explain that agricultural production in California has always depended on the farm workers that cared for and harvested the crops.

The student will identify and evaluate how César E. Chávez used nonviolence, marches, and boycotts to educate the public on the hardships suffered by California farm workers.


The students will create posters that will identify and evaluate the nonviolent tactics used by César E. Chávez to educate the public on the working conditions of farm workers.

Break the students up into groups of four and have them create posters that will identify, illustrate, summarize and evaluate the effectiveness of the nonviolent tactics such as boycotts, marches, pickets and fasts used by César E. Chávez. One group may work on one tactic or each person in the group could be assigned a different nonviolent tactic.

The groups should discuss the nonviolent tactics, summarize and evaluate why they thought it was effective in educating the public.

The group will present their posters to the entire class or to another group. The posters too can be evaluated and later displayed. The teacher can measure success by evaluating the cooperation of the groups and quality of individual presentations.

The student will write a paper that evaluates how California’s agricultural production and success has always depended on farm workers.

Key Concepts:


Economic Systems

Migration of Labor Forces



Essential Vocabulary:


agriculture: The business of cultivating soil and producing crops and raising live stalk

labor: workers

union: A group of working people that join together to protect their rights

nonviolence: The practice of using peaceful tactics to gain political objectives

migrant farm worker: A worker that travels from farm to farm caring for and harvesting crops.

boycott: In a boycott people join together and stop buying certain products in order to force farmers to recognize a union.

strike: When many people stop working for an employer and demand higher wages and better working conditions.

fast: To stop eating for many days as part of ones religious beliefs

march: Many people walking together carrying flags, banners in order to gain support for a certain cause

La Virgen de Guadalupe: In the Catholic Religion she is known as the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe

huelga: Spanish for the word strike

contract: A legal and binding agreement reached by employers and workers regarding wages and working conditions

media: Agencies that report news are part of the media (television, newspaper, radio, magazines)

support: to help

picket: A group of people who carry signs outside of a place of employment in order to protest the treatment of the employer and to gain support from other Union members.

Primary Sources:

Print out the fourth grade (6-page) biography of César E. Chávez available on the CDE Web site.

Print these photos from the CDE site:

crop duster and workers

Child harvesting potatoes

Darrigo boycott in Feb. 1973

Breaking fast with Helen Chavez, Robert Kennedy Cesar E. Chavez, his mother

César with huelga flag

March picture

farm workers working bent over

living conditions of farm workers in labor camps

violence being used against picketers


Farm workers promoting the boycott in the East

César smiling with the Huelga flag behind him


Map - California’s agricultural production


Start the lesson by posting the pictures of migrant farm workers and ask the students the following questions:

Who are these people?

What are they doing?

What are they picking?

Do you eat _____________?

Do you or anyone you know work in the fields?

Have you seen people working in the fields?

Next, post the picture of a farm worker’s home in the labor camps and ask the following questions:

Describe their home…

How is it like yours?

How is it different form yours? (Venn Diagram their answers about the home on the board)

Do you think they get paid well?

Why/Why not?

Next, post the picture of César E. Chávez and say:

This is César E. Chávez, a civil rights leader. Today we will learn about how he taught the public about the lives and problems of the farm workers and how he worked to better their lives.

Pass out vocabulary list or write the words on the board and discuss the meanings.

Making Connections:

Ask the students:

How many of you eat food?

What is your favorite fruit?

What is your favorite vegetable?

What is your favorite dairy product?

List the answers on the board.

Point out that many of these products are grown and produced in California.

Share the synopsis on the history of California agriculture and agricultural labor with the students. .

Discuss the synopsis by asking the following questions:

What is agriculture?

What was the first main crop grown in California in 1860?

Where was the crop grown and why did farmers stop growing it?

Who were the first people to grow oranges in California?

How did oranges become an important crop in California?

How did the railroads help California agricultural growth?

What does California grow today?

How much money does California agriculture make each year?

Who were the first people to work in the fields harvesting crops?

Who were the other groups of people who have worked in the fields harvesting crops?

Why were people needed to harvest the crops?

Which group of people has done most of the work over the years harvesting the crops?

What would happen the rich agricultural industry in California if there were no one willing to harvest the crops?

Help students understand that agricultural production has always depended on the farm workers that cared for and harvested the crops.

Vocabulary Activities:

Review the meaning of the important vocabulary together and solicit examples for the vocabulary from the students. The vocabulary will be reinforced in the guided instruction and in the assessment presentations of the students.

Have the students produced a vocabulary wall: each student will choose a vocabulary word, write it in large letters, define it and post it on a wall.

Guided Instruction:

Read the six-page fourth grade biography (click here for link to biography) to the students or provide a copy for each one of them and have them read it first quietly and then with you.

As you read it with the students, stop where appropriate to reinforce vocabulary words on the board and review their meaning in context with the biography of César E. Chávez.

Discuss the prejudice suffered by César E. Chávez.

Discuss why César E. Chávez wanted to gain dignity and respect for workers.

Look at the map and point out that Delano, California was a small town and that César taught the entire people from all over the country about the problems that the farm worker faced.

Write the nonviolent tactics on the board in this order as you read the biography:

*César instructed union members to nonviolently picket in the fields even though the farmers reacted with violence against the picketing farm workers, and the national media reported on the injustice occurring on the picket lines in Delano, California.

Make sure that students understand:

César instructed union members to use nonviolence while striking and picketing in the fields in order to pressure farmers to recognize the union and sign a contract which promised better wages and working conditions. The farmers at times would react with violence, and the media would report on the injustice of the struggle between the peaceful strikers who wanted fair wages, better working conditions, and better living conditions and the violent farmers. Because of media coverage, the U.S.A. saw what was going on and many people became interested in the struggles of the UFW.

NBC filmed a documentary entitled ‘Harvest of Shame.’ Many Americans saw this documentary that showed the terrible conditions in which farm workers where forced to live.

*César called for a nonviolent boycott of grapes and asked the public to support the UFW by not buying grapes in order to pressure the farmers into recognizing the union. César sent farm workers to many big cities on the east coast, and had the farm workers organize boycotts and picket lines at the supermarkets that sold grapes. The public supported the farm workers by refusing to buy grapes, and seventeen million Americans stopped buying grapes. The boycott provided an opportunity for any American to support the farm workers struggle for justice and a better life.

*César organized nonviolent marches in which people would walk along the fields and through cities to unify the supporters of he UFW. Many different types of people marched with César. The media covered the marches and at times there were 5,000 people marching while carrying Huelga (strike) flags and religious banners of La Virgen De Guadalupe.

*César also went on many fasts and would stop eating for many days as a personal protest of injustice. The media would cover César’s fasts and his suffering became important to many people. When César would break his fast at times there were up to 8,000 people with him including politicians, celebrities, farm workers and other supporters. The fast became a spiritual nonviolent means of communication between César and the public.

Review how nonviolent strikes, picketing, boycott, marches, and fasts improved the lives of farm workers:

By 1970 most of the grape growers in CA recognized the UFW as a union and signed contracts that would provide higher wages and better working conditions. It was the first time in U.S. history that the farmers had recognized a farm workers union and agreed to treat them fairly. César had given hope to an entire group of people across the nation. The hope was that anything was possible and justice could be gained when people joined together.

Lead students to summarize that nonviolence in itself was a very important aspect of César Chávez’s success.

The students will break into groups to discuss nonviolent boycott, picketing, marching, and fasting. The groups will create posters that are explained in the assessment portion of the lesson.

The students will write an evaluation on how California’s agricultural success has always depended on farm workers.

Integrated Language:

Students will utilize their reading skills as they read the biography, synopsis, and the teacher’s notes on the board. They will utilize active listening skills as they listen to the teacher discuss the biography and they attempt to define and clarify vocabulary words that are presented in context. Speaking skills will be utilized when the students work in small groups and present their posters to the class or to another group.


Students may watch the NBC documentary ‘Harvest of Shame’.

Students may study Mahatma Gandhi and his use of nonviolence to better the lives of people in India.

Students may research the life, philosophy and accomplishments of César E. Chávez in the library or on line.

Students may read César E. Chávez’ own words on unions and the strike at the San Jose State University Web site (search on Cesar Chavez and access from home page).

Students may read a more detailed biography on-line at (click here for link to middle school biography).

Students may view the film “Fight in the Fields.”


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