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Teach 'The New Jim Crow' in Your Classroom

Teaching Tolerance is pleasured to announce the release of Teaching The New Jim Crow, a literacy-based teacher’s guide that accompanies Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. It’s free and just a click away

“In many ways, this is a dream come true,” says Alexander in her introduction to the guide, titled Teaching The New Jim Crow. “I have long hoped that a set of materials would be created that would support high school teachers who want to explore the myriad issues surrounding race and justice in our society.”

The guide assists high school educators in teaching the pressing social and racial justice issues central to The New Jim Crow. Key features of the guide include:

  • Abridged excerpts from The New Jim Crow.
  • A collection of 10 lessons closely aligned to the book’s topics and themes.
  • Tools that equip educators to teach about race and racial justice.
  • Alignment to Common Core State Standards.
  • Strategies aimed at text-based vocabulary instruction, close and critical reading, and speaking and listening skills.
  • Text-dependent questions to guide reading and assess comprehension.
  • High frequency/multiple-meaning vocabulary (Tier II) and low frequency, context-specific vocabulary (Tier III). 

Over the course of the lessons, students engage with three essential questions that underpin Alexander’s sophisticated analysis of mass incarceration: 

  • How does the U.S. criminal justice system create and maintain racial hierarchy through mass incarceration?
  • How does the current system of mass incarceration in the United States mirror earlier systems of racialized social control?
  • What is needed to end mass incarceration and permanently eliminate racial caste in the United States? 

Students’ engagement with these questions culminates in the last lesson, “The Fire This Time,” in which they explore Alexander’s call to action—a call to find ways to end racial caste and bring about racial justice in the Untied States. Students explore this message, and ultimately, participate in creative, summative assessments in which they apply their knowledge of racial caste and mass incarceration. 

Teaching The New Jim Crow is an opportunity to introduce your students to social inquiry and critiques of structural inequalities, a combination of knowledge and skills that can foster agency and inspire change. Be sure to keep us posted as you explore the guide and use it with your classroom. You can use the comment section below to leave thoughts or ask questions, or you can tweet using #teachthenewjimcrow.

 Editor’s note: Teaching The New Jim Crow is part of an ongoing partnership with Michelle Alexander that includes a magazine interview and two webinars.

Today is Mix It Up at Lunch Day!

Today is Mix It Up at Lunch Day! Launched 13 years ago, Mix It Up encourages students to identify, question and cross social boundaries. It’s a simple act—students sit next to someone new over lunch. But the implications are profound. Studies have shown that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice. When students interact with someone new, biases and misperceptions can fall away.

Teaching Tolerance is thrilled that thousands of schools across the country are mixing it up today, and this year we are using Storify to feature Mix It Up stories and experiences with everyone in our social media audience! Storify is an online platform that enables us to collect tweets, Facebook photographs and other posts and combine them to create a collective Mix It Up story that will grow all day—and all year as other schools hold their Mix events.

We’d love to hear from you! Use the hashtag #MixLunch in your posts—and then tune in to our Storify page to virtually join in the Mix fun! 

Thank you for bringing the Mix spirit to your school this year, and HAVE FUN!

Countdown to Mix!

Mix It Up at Lunch Day is just a few days away! Don’t be nervous. In our 12 years of experience, we’ve found that Mix It Up at Lunch events generally go off without a hitch. And, even if you do happen upon a few “hitches” along the way, the event will be a success as long as your students interact with someone new.

Keep these last-minute items in mind to keep you on track as you count off the days until Mix:

Make a Publicity Checklist
Do you have your publicity in place? Plugging Mix via these outlets can get the whole school excited.

  • School calendar(s)
  • Morning announcements
  • School website
  • Posters and fliers
  • Press release to local TV, print and online media. (Use this press release template.)

Plan for Photos and Videos
One of the best ways to capture the success of Mix It Up is to give student photographers or videographers the opportunity to shoot the Mix event or interview their peers about their experiences. Also, consider asking parents and school staff to take digital photos and video recordings so all the wonderful moments are captured. (Remember to make sure all your recording devices are charged up and ready to go on the day of the event!)

Please share your images with us via Facebook or Twitter using #MixLunch. (Make sure you get student and family permission before you share!)

Roll With the Day
If there’s some small setback in the days leading up to the event, remember not to panic. No matter what happens, your event will be a success if your students mix it up and have fun in the process. 

Have an Attitude of Gratitude
This wouldn’t have happened without your organizers. A small gift to show your appreciation is always a nice gesture. Think about a gift certificate for ice cream, coffee or a popular local restaurant. And do something nice for yourself, too. You’ve earned it!

Catch up on more Mix 2014 info here.

Second Webinar with Michelle Alexander

Teaching Tolerance is hosting a second webinar with Michelle Alexander on Wednesday, October 29. This time, we will be introducing Teaching The New Jim Crow, a teacher’s guide that helps educators bring The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness into high school classrooms.  

“In many ways, this is a dream come true,” says Alexander in her introduction to the guide. “I have long hoped that a set of materials would be created that would support high school teachers who want to explore the myriad issues surrounding race and justice in our society, and who hope to use my book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, as a resource. I am thrilled that Teaching Tolerance has created The New Jim Crow curriculum, specifically designed for students in grades 9-12.”

During the hour-long webinar, participants will be introduced to the content of Teaching The New Jim Crow. The guide follows the arc of the book and equips teachers with the tools and strategies to distill for their students—step-by-step—Alexander’s sophisticated arguments and analysis of mass incarceration. At the core of most lessons is an abridged excerpt of a chapter from The New Jim Crow. These excerpts provide opportunities to couple literary instruction with substantive learning about pressing social and racial justice issues. Other key features of the guide include: 

  • A collection of 10 lessons closely aligned to topics and themes of The New Jim Crow.
  • Tools that equip educators to teach about race and racial justice.
  • Alignment to Common Core State Standards.
  • A compendium of strategies aimed at understanding the book’s vocabulary, close and critical reading, and speaking and listening.
  • Text-dependent questions to guide reading and assess comprehension.
  • Activities that prompt students to engage in collective action toward change.

The relevance of the topics addressed in The New Jim Crow to high school students goes without question.

“Young people watch the news or hear about these events and they deserve a better education about the causes and consequences of the path that we as a nation have chosen,” Alexander said in her first webinar with Teaching Tolerance. “The recent killings of young men like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown give this topic heightened importance and urgency. Understanding the nature of the criminal justice system in the United States and what can be done to change it is among the most pressing concerns of many, many young people today. That’s why we ought to be willing to tackle these issues in our classrooms.”

Join us on Wednesday, October 29 at 6:00 p.m. (CST) as we preview Teaching The New Jim Crow. You can register for the webinar here. Also, if you haven’t seen the first webinar with Michelle Alexander, an archived version can be found here.

Thinking Like a Mountain

Several years ago, I used Aldo Leopold’s essay “Thinking Like a Mountain” to broaden my students’ perspective-taking skills in matters relating to the natural environment. In this essay, Leopold explains how he and others with him shot and killed a wolf on a mountain just for the excitement of doing so. As he watched the wolf die, Leopold suddenly realized that “there was something in those [the wolf’s] eyes known only to the wolf and the mountain.” Leopold explains how, without wolves, deer proliferate and eat the vegetation that grows on the side of the mountain. Once this vegetation is gone, other plants and animals disappear as well. Without the vegetation to provide stability on the slopes, even the mountain itself becomes at risk for destructive landslides. The entire ecosystem of a mountain changes when wolves are no longer present. The mountain, Leopold suggests, lives in mortal fear of deer and depends on wolves to keep the population of deer in check. 

I paired the discussion of this essay with a “Council of All Beings” group activity. This exercise calls for participants to “step aside from their human identity” and take the perspective of another life-form such as a wolf. (Students could also take on the perspective of a mountain, river, forest and so on.) This exercise was originally created by John Seed and Joanna Macy to help people feel deep empathy for the myriad species and landscapes of the earth.

The response from the students was exactly what I was hoping for: enthusiasm and positive comments about new insights they’d gained. Several students commented on how this activity reminded them to consider more than themselves when deciding on a course of action. While the focus of both Leopold’s essay and the Council of All Beings exercise was on considering how our actions impact the natural world, some students commented on how we should also think about other people before we act.

I was teaching college students at the time but have since worked with elementary teachers who used this same idea with their students, some as young as third grade. The teachers’ responses were overwhelmingly positive. Several teachers noted how all the students loved this activity—even the hard-to-motivate students. In working with the teachers, I suggested these six steps:

  1. Introduce Leopold’s story in a way that’s appropriate to the level of your students. Invite students to comment on why “Thinking Like a Mountain” is a good title for this essay.
  2. Introduce the Council of All Beings activity by briefly discussing the meaning and purpose of a council. If applicable, you might relate this to a student council where students can express their concerns about what happens at their school. Explain that the purpose of a Council of All Beings is to give other creatures a chance to express their concerns about what is happening to them because of human activity. Tell the students that they will each take on the role of an animal and speak for that animal at the council. 
  3. Have each student choose an animal and research how human activity might be impacting that animal. Students should also make a mask of their animal and write a script for what it will say at the council meeting.
  4. On the day of the council, have students sit in a circle and then, one by one, speak for their animals.  
  5. After all the “animals” have spoken, allow some time for a sharing of feelings and thoughts. Encourage group problem solving around the concerns expressed by the animals. Include a discussion about what we could do as humans to help the animals. If possible, identify several specific steps that could be taken at school and at home.

After the council, the students’ masks could be displayed under a “Thinking Like a Mountain” heading.  Some schools, after initial Council of All Beings exercises, have prepared theatrical productions of the council to share with others. One teacher had her students mentor their peers in another class through the steps of preparing for a Council of all Beings.

I found that the Council of All Beings can be used as an effective cross-disciplinary exercise at any level of education. This exercise not only fosters imaginative and critical thinking but also addresses a number of language arts, science and social studies goals. Most important, however, is the way this exercise helps students think outside of themselves and develop a sense of compassion and caring for all living things.

Wilson is an educational consultant and curriculum writer.

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