California’s Diversity: Past and Present
Lessons for the Fair Education Act of 2011

Lesson 2: Discrimination and Civil Rights in California


In this lesson, students examine the history of discrimination in the state of California. First, they read about and discuss social changes in California that have led to the development of civil rights in the state and nation. Then in a jigsaw activity, they examine four case studies of individual Californians who contributed to those social changes: Clara Shortridge Foltz, Yick Wo, W. Byron Rumford, and Harvey Milk. Finally, students debrief the activity with an emphasis on understanding the meaning of civil rights.


One class period.


Students will be able to:

  • Define equal protection and due process.
  • Examine social changes in California’s history and the development of civil rights.
  • Evaluate the contributions of diverse individuals to the development of social change and civil rights in the state and nation.

Compliance With the Fair Education Act

This lesson was designed to comply with requirements under California Senate Bill 48 (“SB 48”), signed into law as the Fair Education Act in 2011. The act amended California Education Code Section 51204.5 to read as follows:

Instruction in social sciences shall include the early history of California and a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups, to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.

The act also amended California Education Code Section 60040 to direct governing boards to “include only instructional materials which, in their determination, accurately portray the cultural and racial diversity of our society….”

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts

RI.8.1. Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

RI.8.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings….

SL.8.1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

RL.6-8.2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

RL.6-8.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.

Materials and Preparation


A. Reading and Discussion: Discrimination and Civil Rights in California

1. Focus Discussion. Assess prior knowledge about the concept of “civil rights.” Ask students what they know about the Civil Rights Movement.

Look for: The Civil Rights Movement was led by Martin Luther King Jr. and others to end segregation in America. It meant schools and other services, even businesses, could not segregate persons on the basis of race or color.

Ask: What does “civil rights” mean?

Look for: These are the rights that we all have just by being members of this society. They are basic rights, mostly to be free from segregation or discrimination on the basis of race, color, or creed. Other forms of discrimination might be based on gender or sexual orientation.

2. Distribute Handout A: Discrimination and Civil Rights in California. Explain that it will describe the ways in which California has dealt with issues of discrimination. The reading should take approximately 10 minutes.

3. After they have finished reading, hold a discussion using the For Discussion and Writing questions:

  • The 13th Amendment ended slavery. Why was the 14th Amendment also necessary after the Civil War? Even though slavery had ended, state governments passed so-called Black Codes that re-introduced slavery-like conditions on former slaves.
  • What are some examples of discrimination in California’s history? How is California different today? Accept reasoned responses. Examples from the reading include discrimination in the state constitution, People v. Hall, the actions of Dennis Kearney, and the forced removal of citizens of Japanese ancestry.
  • Do you think the Supreme Court’s decision in the Bakke case was important. Why or why not? Accept reasoned responses.

4. Then tell students that in their discussion earlier about the Civil Rights Movement, they recalled the name of Martin Luther King Jr. We associate his famous name with civil rights. Often, social change is made by people who are less well-known, too. They are about to learn about four individuals who made such a difference in history.

B. Activity: Civil Rights Jigsaw

1. Divide the class into groups of four. These are the students’ home groups. Distribute to each member of the group a copy of one of the Civil Rights Jigsaw Handouts, A–D. Each handout presents a case study on civil rights from California’s history. If some groups have five, two students will have the same handout.

2. Have students meet in expert groups. Each expert group is made up of all the students with the same handouts — B, C, D, or E. Experts should take a few minutes to read and discuss their handout with each other.
Explain to students that the experts should be able to:

  • Describe the problem or issue happening in California.
  • Explain how the person in the case study helped to change a policy in order to solve the problem or issue.

3. Ask students to return to their home groups and present their case studies to the home group. All students should actively listen by taking notes and asking clarifying questions.

C. Debriefing

Debrief the activity. Questions to ask:

  • Why is it important for us to know about these case studies in civil rights?

    Accept reasoned responses. Students may say that the case studies give a more realistic view of the state’s history. Or they might say one or more case studies give them inspiration.

  • Which of the case studies do you think has had the longest-lasting impact on our society? Why?

    Accept reasoned responses. Students need not compare the worth or value of the case studies. Assume they all had great impact. The key for discussion is which has had the longest-lasting impact.

  • What are other important issues today that might require actions like those we saw in the case studies?

    Accept reasoned responses. Students may refer to issues from Lesson 1: Diversity in California. They may also refer to issues they see in their communities.


The California Three Rs Project co-sponsored by Constitutional Rights Foundation,
California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, and the Religious Freedom Education Project at Newseum

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