Freedom Seekers were environmentalists who learned to navigate the land as they escaped slavery. Songs like “Wade in the Water” and “Follow the Drinking Gourd” remind us that history has always been connected to the land we occupy. The lessons featured in this free curriculum, Freedom Seekers: The Underground Railroad, Great Lakes, and Science Literacy Activities, acknowledge the enslaved Africans who had to rely on environmental science principles in their quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These lessons provide educators with cross-curricular teaching opportunities for middle and high school students.
“I didn’t realize that the Great Lakes were linked to the Underground Railroad at all,” said Megan Gunn, aquatic education specialist with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and Purdue University Forestry and Natural Resources. “I grew up near Lake Michigan and never learned how my cultural roots were so closely connected to the natural world, so I’m excited for the next generation to have this educational opportunity.”
The Freedom Seekers curriculum project is a collaborative effort between several organizations and schools throughout the Great Lakes. It is part of a professional development effort for educators to increase their knowledge of the Great Lakes and environmental issues while incorporating Environmental Justice Education (EJE) approaches to K-12 teaching. These EJE approaches leverage cross-curricular connections that focus on increasing the awareness of local issues and history in the Great Lakes region.
These lessons introduce an innovative way students can engage in place-based learning, by discovering their local history with the Underground Railroad and its connection to the Great Lakes.
“We hope you find this resource to be thoughtful and useful for connecting educational materials on the Underground Railroad, Great Lakes literacy and science teaching,” said Monica Miles, former coastal literacy specialist for New York Sea Grant and the person responsible for dreaming up this project. “These activities are meant to be a launching point for students to continue to engage in robust, well-rounded conversations about the Great Lakes, an area with rich environmental resources and cultural history.”