This summer all 11th and 12th grade history students read the New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Each history class incorporated discussions and activities related to the book in the first few weeks of school. Joseph Daniels shared with me what his advanced and regular Hiroshima to 9/11 classes did with the text.
JD: We started our first unit on the summer reading with discussions about race and racial identity as social constructions (versus the biological components of common ancestry). These discussions helped to frame how our institutional structures of control (e.g., transatlantic slavery, Jim Crow, etc.) depend upon strong underlying ideas of racial difference. The classes explored Alexander’s arguments and discussed how these underlying ideas of racial difference have led to another form of social control, i.e. mass incarceration.
JD: In one of our culminating activities, our class explored ways in which to (1) identify the effects of mass incarceration (and the “school to prison pipeline”); (2) analyze the factors which contribute to this societal problem; (3) create concrete “action steps” to address one element within the broader problem. The students generated a list of action steps. From these, they also started to list a set of potential steps they might take. A few of the students’ ideas are below:
- Pair with a partner school around issues of educational equity
- Mentor at-risk students/peers at a partner school
- Create a Friends School network for amplifying activism to end sentencing injustices
- Create opportunities for after-school programs to keep students involved in healthy activities