Teaching 'The New Jim Crow'
Lesson 9: Parallels Between Mass Incarceration and Jim Crow
- What are the most salient similarities between Jim Crow and mass incarceration?
- How has racial caste perpetuated in the form of mass incarceration, despite the achievements of the civil rights movement?
- Mass incarceration is a system of racialized social control that, like slavery and Jim Crow before it, operates to discriminate and create a stigmatized racial group locked into an inferior position by law and custom.
- Students will identify similarities and differences between Jim Crow and mass incarceration.
- Students will begin to evaluate Alexander’s thesis in The New Jim Crow.
- Students will reflect on connections between mass incarceration and their own lives and communities.
- Venn diagram
- definitions of select tier II and III words
- mini-lessons or additional information to build students’ background knowledge
Background Knowledge and Knowledge Areas
- Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)
- Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
- philosophies of W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington
- previous excerpts (especially the three excerpts from Chapter 1: “The Rebirth of Caste”)
Tier II and III vocabulary
Have students draw a Venn diagram in their notebooks or use this handout. Allow students time to independently complete the diagram by listing what they already know about how Jim Crow and mass incarceration are similar and different.
Prepare students for thinking about the themes and topics in the excerpt “The New Jim Crow” with the strategy below.
Draw the Venn diagram on the board or a piece of chart paper. Have students write their ideas from the Warm Up on sticky notes and invite each student to contribute a sticky note to the class diagram. This can be done by calling on students or inviting volunteers to come to the board. Briefly discuss the similarities and differences. Gauge student perceptions about the strength of Alexander’s analogy.
Engage students in a close reading of the excerpt.
- First Read. Have students read the excerpt independently and silently, marking the text with Thinking notes. Thinking notes are annotations (highlights, underlines or symbols) that students make to document their thinking during reading.
- Second Read. Have students do a guided reading of the excerpt, using Part I of the Drawing Parallels worksheet. Students can work alone, in partners or small groups. As they read, students jot down notes about Jim Crow in the first column and about mass incarceration in the second. Then, they will mark a + or – in the far-right column to indicate if they think there is, on the whole, more in common or different.
Facilitate a class discussion that centers on an Inside-Outside Circle Activity and the accompanying discussion questions.
Inside-Outside Circle Activity
- Divide your class in half (Group A and B). Have Group A stand in a circle. They are the inside circle. Have Group B form a concentric circle around Group A. They are the outside circle. Instruct the inside circle to turn and face the outside circle. Each student should be facing another with enough comfortable space in between to hold a conversation.
- Read a question (from the list below) to the group.
- Instruct the inside circle to spend two minutes sharing what they think with their outside circle partner. The job of the outside circle is to listen to their partner.
- When two minutes is up, instruct the inside circle to finish their thoughts. Now it’s time for the outside circle to spend two minutes responding to the same question. The job of the inside circle is to listen to their partner.
- Once both partners have shared, it’s time to rotate. Have the inside circle move one space to the right, while the outside circle stays put. You could also alternate which circle moves, in which direction and how many spaces they move.
- Repeat steps two to five.
The following are suggested discussion questions for the activity above. Unlike the majority of previous lessons, where students focused primarily on close engagement with the text, this activity asks students to form and articulate their own points of view.
- What is the most striking similarity between Jim Crow and mass incarceration in your opinion?
- What is the most important difference between Jim Crow and mass incarceration in your opinion?
- Overall, do you think mass incarceration has more parallels with Jim Crow than differences?
- How has reading The New Jim Crow changed or informed the way you think about the civil rights movement?
- How has reading The New Jim Crow changed or informed the way you think about drug laws?
- How has reading The New Jim Crow changed or informed the way you think about our criminal justice system?
- How has reading The New Jim Crow changed or informed the way you think about race and racism?
- How has reading The New Jim Crow changed or informed the way you think about U.S. History?
- In your opinion, who would benefit the most from reading The New Jim Crow? Why?
- How does The New Jim Crow relate to you?
- How does The New Jim Crow relate to your family?
- How does The New Jim Crow relate to your community?
- What is one thing you would like to ask or tell Alexander? What do you think her response would be?
Have students return to the Drawing Parallels handout they worked on during guided reading. Turn to Part II, the Drawing Board. Drawing from Part I, their Venn Diagrams, and things they learned in discussion with their classmates, students will visually represent the analogy Alexander has drawn throughout the book, culminating in Chapter Five: “The New Jim Crow.”
The artistic quality and composition of their illustrations is not what matters most in this task but instead their effort to convey a message or point of view.
Have students write a summary caption for their illustration in the box provided at the center of the page.