Woody Guthrie Elementary School Curriculum
here for text only version
FLOOR-TO-CEILING WOODY GUTHRIE TIMELINE | UNIONS
can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union," sings Woody Guthrie.
He had witnessed exploitation of workers across the United States
and participated in the union movement, especially singing at events
to promote the organization of labor. Alone and as a member of The
Almanac Singers, Woody sang at union meetings during the 1940's.
Bonnie Christensen writes in Woody Guthrie, Poet of the People: "It was clear to Woody that the people needed a voice to speak for
them, a voice to ask their questions. They needed someone who was
not afraid of the bosses, someone who knew what it was like to be
poor. Woody Guthrie became their voice, and songs were his way of
speaking. 'I made up songs telling what I thought was wrong and
how to make it right,' he said."
who read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck will get insights
into what Woody knew about folks trying to organize as well as the
problems they faced.
may read the Dear America series The Journal of C.J. Jackson:
A Dust Bowl Migrant which deals with the same issues. (See Literature
Circles or Classroom Bibliography)
class may listen to the following songs:
- Union Maid
- Going Down
the Road Feeling Bad
- Tom Joad
Woody witnessed the plight of miners, migrant workers, builders
and factory workers, he came to believe that workers would only
achieve justice if they formed unions. The biographies in the bibliography
tell of his involvement at rallies and union meetings, speaking
Entry from Woody's notebook
great way to find out about unions is to invite parents of students
in your class or school who are union members to come in and speak
to the children. Have the class interview the union member. Ask
them why they are in a union, what are some of the protections they
receive and what activities they can share about their particular
Student from Theresa Kubasak's second grade class
illustrates Woody singing "Union Maid"
on bibliographical materials and presentations by parents who are
union members, students can break up into small groups and create
a web together. In the middle of the web they write "Union members
have common goals" with spokes coming out of the center. On the
spokes, they brainstorm what some of the common goals are (fair
treatment, insurance benefits, decent hours, adequate bathroom facilities,
time off, safe working conditions, just wages).
their web, groups can make a union poster reflecting their ideas.
Or instead of a visual image, students could write a mock radio
show script and perform it for the class. Students may tie their
project in to an actual situation in their neighborhood or city
that involves an issue in which unions are involved. For example,
students in Chicago became involved in a boycott of a play that
would not hire union musicians.
from the premiere of the film "Bound for Glory", based on Woody
Guthrie's book of the same title, went to the United Farmworkers.
Investigate Cesar Chavez and the founding of the United Farmworkers.
What problems did the workers face? How were they similar to the
issues faced by migrant workers during the 1930's? What are some
of the achievements of the United Farm Workers? What are some of
the methods they used to achieve more rights for workers?
learning about Cesar Chavez and methods used by his union, students
will naturally come to study nonviolence. Investigate the use of
boycotts, especially the lettuce and grape boycotts. Another nonviolent
tool used by Chavez was fasting. This can be traced back to Gandhi.
What other famous Americans used fasting and nonviolence to change
social policy? What are examples of nonviolent resistance today?
the tradition of unions and Gandhian nonviolence, draw connections
to issues of today. Why would some communities call for a boycott
of Nike or Old Navy? What produce companies are currently being
boycotted because of their treatment of workers?
what ways is Student Council like a union? What issues affecting
students could be taken up by a union? What schools have Student
Unions? For older children may explore issues of the student movement
here and abroad. (e.g. the student anti-war movement in the 1960's
or the student anti-nuclear movement, the student movement in Tiannemen