The 1968 East LA School Walkouts | Facing History & Ourselves
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John Ortiz, Mexican-American student leader at James A. Garfield High School, addressing assembled students during a walkout.

The 1968 East LA School Walkouts

Students learn about education, identity, and activism through an exploration of the East Los Angeles school walkouts, when thousands of students protested unequal educational opportunities for Mexican American students.


At a Glance

lesson copy


English — US


  • History
  • Social Studies




Two 50-min class periods
  • Racism
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement


About This Lesson

In this lesson, students will learn about the relationship between education, identity, and activism through an exploration of the 1968 East Los Angeles school walkouts. Thousands of students in LA public schools (where a majority of students were Mexican American) walked out of their schools to protest unequal educational opportunities and to demand an education that valued their culture and identities. Learning about this history provides students with an opportunity to reflect on the importance of an education that honors the identities of its students.

What does an education that honors all students look like and feel like? Why is it important for students to have such an education?

  • Students will discuss the conditions that sparked the 1968 East LA school walkouts.
  • Students will draw connections between the experiences of the students who participated in the walkouts and their own identities and educational experiences.
  • Students will examine the student demands from the 1968 walkouts and compare the demands to conditions in their own schools.

This lesson is designed to fit into two 50-min class periods and includes:

  • 6 activities
  • 4 teaching strategies
  • 2 videos
  • 2 handouts
  • 1 reading, available in English and in Spanish
  • 4 extension activities

Over the course of several weeks in March 1968, thousands of mostly Latinx students walked out of public schools in Los Angeles in protest because their schools did not offer equal educational opportunities for Mexican American students and did not honor those students’ identities and culture. This series of protests is known as the East LA school “walkouts” or “blowouts.” Before teaching this lesson, learn more about the student walkouts by watching 19:50–30:55 of the episode Prejudice and Pride from the PBS documentary Latino Americans: The 500-Year Legacy That Shaped a Nation

The East LA school walkouts were one manifestation of the Chicano Movement, which promoted the rights of Mexican Americans in the United States throughout the 1960s and 1970s. To learn more about the Chicano Movement, review the reading Background on the Chicano Movement.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before you teach this lesson, please review the following guidance to tailor this lesson to your students’ contexts and needs.

The term “Chicano” is a complex one, which has changed over time. In this lesson, we use the term in its historical context as noted above.

In current usage, the term can be divisive. For some, it is a point of pride. For others, it is a term that divides between different Latinx nationalities and ethnicities or even is a source of oppression. There is ongoing discussion about the use of various terms that people of Latin American descent use to self-identify, which includes attention to personal identities, histories, and when and where a person grew up. In contemporary classrooms, we recommend allowing each individual to use the language that they're most comfortable with for self-identifying.    

To learn more about the complexities of identity, we recommend you review Rubén Martinez’s book The Other Side and Carlos Jimenez and Carlos Ugalde’ The Mexican American Heritage. For a deeper exploration specific to Chicano identity, consider reading the poem “I am Joaquin/Yo Soy Joaquin,” which is used in Extension 2 in this lesson.

Before teaching this lesson, create groups of three or four students for the Big Paper discussion (Day 1, Activity 2). Determine which of the four resources from Big Paper Resources: East LA Walkouts you will assign to each group. One of the sources is visual, which you may wish to take into consideration when assigning sources.

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Lesson Plans

Day 1

  • Tell students that in this lesson, they will be learning about the relationship between education and identity by exploring their own experiences in school and learning about the 1968 East LA school walkouts. 
  • Watch until 5:20 of the video The Danger of a Single Story, Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk. (Note: If time permits, you may choose to watch the entire 18-minute video with your students. The full transcript of her talk is available on the TED website in 49 different languages.) Use the Think, Pair, Share strategy to discuss the following questions:
    • What does Adichie mean by a “single story”? What examples does she give? Why does she believe “single stories” are dangerous?
    • How do schools tell “single stories”—or no story at all—about different groups of people? 
    • What effect could it have on students if they don’t see their stories reflected in their school experiences?
  • Ask students to reflect in their journals on how their own stories or identities are reflected in their school:
    • How is your story reflected in what you learn in school, for example, in the history you learn or the books you read?

How is your story reflected in how you learn in school, for example, in your classroom culture, school expectations, or representation among school employees?

  • Tell students that in this activity, they will explore primary sources that illustrate the connection between identity and education at the time of the walkouts in 1968.
  • Provide students with a short (three to four bullet-point) overview of the walkouts to provide context for the following discussion. For example, tell your students:
    • In 1968, thousands of students walked out of public schools in Los Angeles.
    • They were protesting poor conditions in schools that had majority Mexican American students.
    • Sal Castro, a Mexican American teacher in LA, helped to organize the walkouts.
  • Explain the Big Paper discussion strategy to your students and tell them that they should feel free, during the written portion of the activity, to respond in any language that they choose. Ask your students to move into their groups and distribute one resource from Big Paper Resources: East LA Walkouts to each group. Write the essential questions on the board and ask students to use them to focus their discussion:
    • What does an education that honors all students look like and feel like? 
    • Why is it important for students to have such an education?
  • Give students ten minutes to silently “discuss” their first resource. 
  • After students finish with their first resource, give them an additional ten minutes to respond to at least one other resource of their choice.
  • Then, ask students to return to their original resource and discuss what they learned out loud with their group. If students chose to write in other languages, they can translate their responses for their classmates during the discussion
  • As a full class, discuss the resources that students explored in the Big Paper activity. Ask your students:
    • According to these resources, what story do you think schools at the time were telling about Mexican American students? 
    • How were some students and teachers trying to change the story told about Mexican American students?

Day 2

  • Distribute the handout East LA Walkouts Viewing Guide to students. Read over the questions and then play a clip (19:50–30:55) of the video Prejudice and Pride.
  • After watching the clip, use the Think, Pair, Share strategy to help students process what they learned. First, give students time to respond individually to the questions on the handout. Then, ask them to discuss their answers in pairs, and finally, ask some students to share their responses with the class.
  • Use the Jigsaw strategy to examine excerpts from the list of student walkout demands. Place your students into their “expert” groups. Give students the reading Student Demands from the East LA Walkouts and assign one demand to each group. Ask students to answer the two connection questions in their groups:
    • In your own words, what does the demand you are examining say?
    • How was this demand trying to expand the story told about Mexican American students?
  • Ask students to move to their “teaching” groups. Students should take turns presenting their demand to the group, using their answers to the two connection questions.

For this activity, students should remain in their small “teaching” groups to develop their own demands. Ask students:

  • What changes would you suggest to your school to help it do a better job of honoring all students who go there?

Extension Activities

The East LA school walkouts occurred during the Chicano Movement in the 1960s and 1970s. If you wish to provide your students with historical context on the Chicano Movement, share the reading Background on the Chicano Movement after the first day of the lesson and discuss the connection questions as a class.

Use the poem “I am Joaquin/Yo Soy Joaquin” to explore one conception of Chicano identity with your students. This poem was written by a Chicano activist, Rudolfo (“Corky”) Gonzales in the 1960s, and it explores questions around Mexican American identity that members of the Chicano Movement were grappling with at the time. 

Read the poem with your students. First, use the Connect, Extend, Challenge teaching strategy to engage students’ prior knowledge on the topic and identify new or challenging information. Then, ask students to create a Found Poem using text from  “I am Joaquin/Yo Soy Joaquin.”

Note: This poem includes a reference to rape. It is important that teachers preview the poem, know their students, and build in time and space for individual reflection so that students can respond emotionally to what they are reading and learning. We suggest that you create a class contract outlining guidelines for a respectful, reflective classroom discussion if you have not already done so.

The project Building Connections and Strengthening Community asks students to evaluate the stories told about different individuals and groups in their school curriculum and in the physical spaces of their school. Then, students present their findings and an action plan to the class.

Assign one or more of the following articles about the 2019 LA teachers’ strike to your students:

  1. Los Angeles Teachers Strike, Disrupting Classes for 500,000 Students  (New York Times)
  2. Why the Los Angeles Teachers' Strike Is Different (The Atlantic)
  3. I’m a high-schooler in Los Angeles. I’m standing with my teachers on strike.(Washington Post)

As they read, students should mark information about how the 2019 teachers’ strike was similar to the 1968 student walkouts in one color and information about how they were different in another color. After students finish reading, ask them to discuss what they learned in small groups. Some questions that may be useful to guide their conversation include:

  1. What conditions were similar between the 1968 student walkout and the 2019 teachers’ strike? What conditions were different?
  2. How did the identity and educational experiences of the teachers—as well as students—influence their actions in 2019?

Materials and Downloads

Quick Downloads

These are the handouts, available in English and Spanish, that students use throughout the two 50-min class period lesson plan.

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