Confederate Flag Controversy Discussion

After reading an article on a controversy at a Virginia high school regarding the Confederate flag and viewing primary sources related to the flag’s role in history, learners discuss the flag’s symbolism and how the high school should have responded to the incident.


R2: Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas. (Apply this standard to texts of appropriate complexity as outlined by Standard 10.)


Estimated timeframe:

Activity steps

  1. Read the article opens in a new window “Virginia High School Suspends Students Who Wore Confederate Flag Clothing.” Set the Lexile to 1200, or MAX, depending on student reading level (article title will vary slightly depending on Lexile); answer questions as whole group or individually and check as whole group to ensure students understand the article.
    • What is the central disagreement in the article? Why is this disagreement relevant beyond Christiansburg High School?
    • The author wrote that at Christiansburg High School, 8 percent of students are black and 80 percent are white. Why did the author include these statistics, and what conclusions can you draw from them?
    • What do you think Chet Morley meant when he said that “Southern pride is just a little cover-up”?
  2. Use the primary sources below to enhance the student’s understanding of the issues in the text. Have students work in pairs to provide written answers to the questions below. Primary Sources: opens in a new window "Our heroes and our flag" illustration from the Library of Congress
    • What could be the roles of the men in the image? How do you know?
    • What language on this poster sheds a positive light on the flag?
    • How might someone interpret the meaning of the Confederate flag after seeing this poster from 1896?
    opens in a new window “No Friendly Faces” as Little Rock’s Central High School integrates (page 16) Students may need to do a brief search about the “Little Rock Nine” in order to answer the following questions.
    • Why is the location where this picture was taken (Little Rock, Arkansas) important?
    • In contrast to the heroes shown in the poster we just saw, how are the blacks not shown in this picture of Little Rock heroes?
    • How might someone interpret the meaning of the Confederate flag after seeing this image?
    Resources Note: The focus article dates to 2015, but students may make connections to the 2017 Charlottesville protests and the death of Heather Heyer. There are many online resources related to these events, including several Newsela articles such as “opens in a new window 3 Dead, Dozens Injured Amid Violent White Nationalist Rally.
  3. Tell students that they will be holding a respectful classroom discuss to answer the following questions:
    • What does the Confederate flag symbolize? Use evidence from your reading and study of primary sources.
    • Was the response of Christianburg High School officials to the student demonstration appropriate? How should they have responded? What policies should Christianburg or other schools put into place regarding the Confederate flag?
    Encourage students to come to a classroom consensus on next steps for Christianburg High School; you may want to encourage learners to select a student facilitator for the discussion. Allow students to guide the discussion, but step in as needed to keep the discussion respectful and on topic.

Other skills

Extensions can be made to GED® Social Studies Assessment Targets:
  • CG.d.1: the Bill of Rights
  • CG.d.2: personal and civil liberties
  • USH.c.1: slavery
  • USH.c.3: Civil War
  • USH.d.4: Plessy vs. Ferguson and Brown vs. Board of Education

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