The following are lessons that you might use and modify to implement the ideas in this unit. The onus of the work needs to be on the student in order to maximize the impact on them. Without pushing the students to do the work and the research, they won't experience the learning to the same depth and breath. This unit belongs in a US History 2 or Civics Classroom and it questions the changing nature of American Citizenship. These lessons focus on using the case
Plessy v Ferguson
as a launching point to talk about resistance and change. Once the class understands the points and conflicts of the
ruling, the class can move on to their own research projects for their court cases. With scaffolding and help doing research, Students will see how different groups came together to attack Segregation in schools. Once they've become experts, there will be an opportunity for them to share their expertise and there will be various options to discuss evaluation and assessments.
At the heart of this project lies teaching students how to conduct research and read and examine laws. These are both valuable skills that have a tremendous impact on improving students' skills and how they see and interact with the world. Especially for creating independent learning and critical thinking skills, scaffolding this assignment can really benefit your students well. This is the heart of this unit. Building these skills can have a serious and meaningful impact on your students. What follows is simply a guide to thinking about how you would introduce these issues to your classroom. If you can and wish to, you can modify them to meet the needs of your classroom.
The first lesson involves two parts: introducing students to the research project and the case of
Plessy v Ferguson
. Students need to learn the impact that the
ruling had on American History. Going in depth about the
ruling will also help introduce the questions about power of the courts and the law. It will also serve to bring questions about how people can organize and challenge oppression. Allow ample time for the students to question the ruling, ponder how they would vote, and read Harlan's dissent. Knowing the basics of this verdict influences how students will think and learn about the rest of the case.
This is also an opportunity to bring up discussions about the history of race in America. Homer Plessy, a Louisiana Man of mixed descent, challenged the growing ideas of Segregation and Jim Crow by pushing the laws and states to their limits. Engaging students in a discussion about what makes race or when race happens can lay a solid foundation for meaningful discussion on these issues and for this unit. These discussions can include many resources. You can have students read Frederick Douglas "Speech on the 4
of July" for historical context about race or even use the ABC Series "What Would You Do?"
Episode. Both of these activities will definitely instigate a lot of conversations amongst your students. You can then outline different discussions and ask students to reflect on how race impacts us today.
After this conversation, introduce the situation of
Plessy v. Ferguson
to your students to begin their work on it. There are a number of different avenues you can take to introduce your students to the story of this case. Building off the previous discussions will let you jump right into Homer Plessy's legal situation. After you discuss the facts of the case, examining the opinion will bring up many interesting questions for the students. Some will express anger and confusion about the ruling. When presenting the Opinion, it is important that the writings are selected to maximize student understanding. Giving them the whole opinion would not be constructive as it would overwhelm them.
The best ways of deconstructing the opinion will depend on your students but also on how your students can read and assess what you give them. A couple of successful strategies might include partitioning the opinion among groups or pairs of students. From there, ask them either to summarize the opinion or pull out the 5 most important words from their selected readings. There are of course other reading strategies you may wish to employ, but the goal here is to get students to read, think about, and understand that
Plessy v Ferguson
allowed for the idea of "Separate but Equal" to be Constitutionally sound.
Once students begin questioning how the
ruling can be constitutional, you can incorporate the 14
Amendment. Distribute copies of the 14
Amendment and ask students to summarize it in their own words or pull out key phrases. Have them publicly display their work will help them remember their work and ideas and connect to them later. The Amendment has several important points but for the purposes of this project, make sure students understand the Equal Protection Clause and the Citizenship Clause. Having basic understandings in these clauses will help students understand the work that they will do in their research project.
Having introduced students to the historical and political roots of racism and the Constitution's sanction of "Separate but Equal" the class needs to see how schools began to get involved. Delving into the cultural history of Jim Crow and Segregation will illustrate how schools began to become segregated. These segregated institutions and schools had a tremendous impact on the African American community. If students want to delve into this history, introducing them to the debate between W. E. B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington in how some African-Americans responded to the political pressures of Segregation and Jim Crow. Washington and Dubois were both involved in schools as well and that can bring the classroom conversation back to schools and Segregation.
The goal of lesson one is to make sure that students understand the ruling and context of the
Plessy v. Ferguson
case. If students become angry and fed up with the racism and ignorance of the ruling, a good counter strategy might be to pass them some readings and selections from Harlan's dissent. These readings illustrate how different people felt at the time but also how an alternative to the ruling could have changed America. Reading the dissent will help bring students into a more positive mindset about the situations regarding the
At this time, it is important to introduce students to their project. With
as a background, tell the students that in groups you will assign them to research a case and answer questions. Make sure that they can have access to some kind of technology; otherwise you will need to provide all the articles for your students. Students will need to be given structure and direct questions about how to approach their research.
This lesson involves setting up the students' research project and preparing them to work on their own cases. Either having access to technology or building a library of resources is going to be necessary to facilitate independent work. The best approach you can take here is to give students specific questions to answer and research in order to help them direct their efforts. Without any specific questions, many students will struggle to delve into the pertinent information about the cases. The information in this lesson will focus around providing a list of cases and information for students to make sure that they can complete the project successfully.
Questions can include but are not limited to:
What is the issue at hand?
The point of this question targets and directs students to figure out what is at the heart of the case. They will have experience with this question from their work with
and the internet resources can provide a lot of support here. This question is one of the most basic and will help students determine that the case is about. Without clarifying the context of the case, building deeper understandings will become increasingly difficult and strained for the students. You may need to provide more detailed questions like: "what is this case about?" or "what are the people arguing over?". Making adjustments here will help your students deconstruct their case better.
How did the case come about?
Students will research the context and situation which brought these events forward. This will allow connections to be made to the content discussed in the
ruling and what is being discussed in class. As students investigate the situations around their case, ask them to make connections with what they are learning in class. If you are in a US History classroom, looking at how the case reflects the reality of Jim Crow America and the people living in it. Knowing what brought a case about will definitely inform students more about life during this tragic episode of American History.
Who are the people involved?
This question directs students to figure out the stories of the people who were involved in the case. Why did they get involved? What led them to challenge the status quo? Students here can also be directed into researching the people behind the cases. Where did they come from? This question will help you access the stories behind the case. Push students to look at who brought the arguments forward and who made the arguments and their stories. This should bring about a better perspective on the people who made the case happen.
How does the 14
Amendment affect the case?
Amendment changes the way Americans interact with the law and can address their grievances. Asking students to apply what they have learned about both their case and the 14
Amendment will help them piece together a more diverse view about change in America. This question will also help them to see how the ideas behind the
ruling were dismantled. Together, this question will help students connect their case with their previous work.
What is the ruling of the case?
This, of course, is one of the key ideas that students need to know in order to understand the importance and relevance of the case. Students not only need to know how the Supreme Court ruled in this case but how that impacted Americans across the nation. This information from this question will also help students differentiate their case from the
ruling. They need to see how this case changed the nation and how there was still work to be done in order for more opportunity to occur.
This unit will also include the cases that you may assign to students. Some cases will be more difficult while others are very clear and straight forward. The Cases that are most recommended are
Sweatt v. Painter
McLaurin v. Oklahoma
Gaines v. Canada
Regents of the University of Oklahoma
Brown v. Board
. These cases all involve African-Americans and Schools. If you need more cases, the first recommendation would be to look into the 4 other cases that the Supreme Court combined with
Brown v. Board
. You can include
Gong v. Rice (1927)
which shares a geographic similarity with the above cases but involves Chinese-Americans suing to be allowed to enter the white schools.
San Antonio ISD v Rodriquez (1973)
is a more contemporary case about segregation and school funding but is after the
ruling. The last two cases are only suggestions. The first four are musts if you want to look at how we go from Segregation and Jim Crow to the
The heart of this lesson is about getting students to start answering questions about their cases. If students are feeling comfortable with their case and are able to start finding answers then the lesson has been a success.
This lesson is all about facilitating student research and work. There are two important things for this lesson. The first is to make sure that students are working hard and researching their cases. The second is to help their research progress. The first will involve the teacher reminding students to think about the work they've done in class previous to this. Can they use something from their
Amendment work to help them understand their case more clearly? Direct them back to that work and help them see those connections. That will help reinforce their previous learning and give new insights.
To the second point, have some handy strategies will be useful if students become frustrated with researching their case. Students are often not familiar with all the methods and techniques of using the internet search engines to their best capacity. Teaching students to use Boolean terms and other such techniques will help students focus their work and their effort. With an effort and an eye to refocus students, this research project can proceed with much greater success.
As you refocus your students, be sure to be aware of how much time they will need. Whether they need one, two, or three class periods to research depends on your students, your school's resources, and your class schedule. Be aware of these constraints as planning for this unit occurs.
With any unit, how you finish the students' work can be just as meaningful to them as the task itself. There are any number of ways to assess what your students have done and what is listed here is simple some ideas to complete this unit and round out their learning. Let students know what their final work will be before you go into this unit. While there are a number of choices, I will outline the group presentation and the written assessment that I recommend for this project.
The group presentation allows for students to share information and compare cases. In fact, it would be beneficial to the students to prepare a handout for guided notes that allow them to write down differences and similarities between the different cases. Having them fill out guided notes can help them practice their newly skills of sorting through cases and extracting the pertinent facts. Students will also practice speaking in public as they rehearse and arrange their presentation. Oral presentations are key parts of any classroom and getting students to share the information they've learned is a key skill. With the presentation, you can wrap up with having students discuss cases that were the most similar to theirs or different. Adjusting questions to suit your students will be the best option for your class. During large presentations, one activity I use in my classroom is to write down summary questions on large paper all over the room. When the presentations are done, I have the students with their notes write their answers using evidence and examples.
The last writing assessment I would do with the students is to have them write a letter to Thurgood Marshall. Marshall was the lead attorney for the NAACP and a Supreme Court Justice. In the letter, students will be asked to reflect upon their own educational experiences in comparison with those that they learned about in the presentations and their research. The central question of "Was America better after
Brown v Board
?" will be addressed in this assignment. Providing prompts and focus questions will help students direct their work and connect their research with their life experience. Here is also where you can incorporate modern issues and a few modern readings for students who are struggling with the questions and the topic at hand.
Another way to summarize this experience would be to have all the students write their own opinion to
Brown v Board
. Preface this activity with students having to use their own notes and their own experiences as evidence for their opinion. This activity would best be served by lots of open-ended questions that students can answer for themselves. In my classroom, these activities allow for a great expression and exchange for ideas. As this unit and these lessons wrap up, this activity can provide an excellent cap for the students to reflect on what they have learned. Working with students on these tough issues can mean that they need reflection along with assessment.