Pass / Fail

So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

For many high school students, Nelson Mandela's death offers first glimpse of Apartheid

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As the world mourned the death of human rights champion Nelson Mandela this week, more than a few history teachers found themselves skipping chapters of schoolbooks to teach a special lesson.

At Blair High School in Pasadena, many students didn't know who Mandela was - and had no understanding of apartheid. They weren't even born when Mandela was elected president of South Africa in 1994.

"I've heard about him before, but I didn't know a lot about him until today," said Skylar Fearon, a tenth grader at the school.

Fearon was among 35 students in an AP World History course who learned about Mandela's life and legacy on Friday.

"Actually, at first I thought he was an actor that had died," said her classmate, 15-year-old Elena Jacobson. "It's such a big deal that I hadn't realized."

Their teacher, Saul Rico, said as soon as he heard the news, he knew he'd spend Friday telling his students about the 27 years Mandela spent in prison and his crucial role in ending apartheid in South Africa.

"One of my hopes is that after this class that they go back and start reading more of the articles,"  he said.

Talking with students about major news events often falls to history teachers - Rico still remembers the class he taught on Sept. 11, 2001, the day the Twin Towers came under attack, and when the space shuttle Challenger exploded.

But he said state standards don't give him a lot of leeway to adjust his curriculum. On Monday, his AP students will be back to learning about 19th century Latin America.

Another history teacher at the school, Kenneth Edison, wore a Mandela t-shirt Friday to remember the African president and also devoted the day to teaching his legacy.  He's got another lesson plan in the works for the day of Mandela's funeral, Dec. 15.

"With history, the whole point is making connections," Edison said. "It's important to make them aware."

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