As a teacher in the Talented and Gifted Program in New Haven, I have the opportunity to work with a very diverse group of students. Although the New Haven Public School System is still a very segregated one, the gifted program brings students together who would otherwise not meet. This year’s seventh grade class included African-American, Portuguese, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Italian and German-American students.
Through the use of my curriculum unit written last year, students have been able to learn about other cultures through the use of dramatic plays. These plays, written by various members of racial and ethnic groups, allowed the students the opportunity to peer into the experience of others. Students have also learned that throughout the history of the United States, there have been laws and policies that have discriminated against various groups of people. Although these unjust laws existed, whites and blacks have been able to come together in a show of brotherhood to combat these laws and other forms of racism and discrimination. When studying the injustices of slavery, “Jim Crow “ laws, and the interment of Japanese Americans, my students would sigh in disbelief. I often responded to their angry questions and statements by saying, “It was allowed by law. What was done, was perfectly legal.”
This year, I have written a unit that further explores the legality of racism and discrimination as it existed in America. My unit will present a description of the legal system, explore the U.S. Constitution, for whom it was written, and address its exclusionary clauses. It will explore the effects of racism in education, and present several cases argued in lower courts, that were brought before the Supreme Court, in hopes of a just decision.
My unit discusses the U.S. Constitution as it pertains to equal protection, civil rights and liberties. I also present Article IV, Section 3, (Slavery) Section 1 of Amendment 13, (Abolition of Slavery) 1865, Amendment 14, (Civil Rights) 1868, and Amendment 15, (Negro Suffrage) 1870. This unit will also discuss historical events that took place as a means of redress for unjust laws, such as the civil disobedience of the 1960’s. I will discuss the Civil Rights Act and its impact on America.
After a discussion of portions of the Constitution, I will present students with actual cases that were brought before the Supreme Court. Students will learn the details of The Dred Scott Decision, 1857, in which a white slave owner encouraged one of his slaves to bring suit against him, Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, in which a 1890 Louisiana statute required separate but equal accommodations on railroads, and made it a criminal offense for anyone to try to occupy facilities set aside for those of another race. The interment of Japanese Americans will be discussed in the Korematsu v. United States case of 1944. Students will also argue the case of Sweatt v. Painter, 1950, in which an African American male, was denied admission into the University of Texas Law School because of his race.
The history changing case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka I, 1954, will also be presented, in which Attorney Thurgood Marshall was able to convince the Supreme Court to overthrow the Plessy ruling and end the practice of school segregation. The 1968 discrimination case denying “illegitimate” children Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment will be presented. Students will study and debate the Alan Bakke case of 1978, in which a white male was denied admission to a medical school in California with a quota system. Students will argue these cases based on the tenets of the constitution as it existed at that time. Upon reaching a decision, students will read what the Supreme Court Justices of that day, had to say.
Unfortunately, America has not always dealt justly with all of its inhabitants. Although there has always been racism and hatred, there also has been brotherhood and love. Students will discuss the mentality of the founding fathers and what they believed about racial superiority. They will discuss how prevalent these attitudes are today and if in fact, Americans can be Americans, or if we’re doomed to be a race conscious society. Students will be challenged to think through the possible effects of racism on children during the time periods presented. As youngsters who will probably be in decision making positions in the future, students will be asked to write amendments to the constitution and to write new laws that ensure happiness and freedom for all.