Lessons From Jena

Six African-American high school students targeted for excessive criminal justice prosecution in Jena, Louisiana, will continue to be in the news for some time to come, and that’s a good thing, because we all need to think hard about the attitudes and events that led to the exposure of a racially biased local social structure, including its criminal justice system.

After thinking, we need to do some working.

According to Howard Witt, a national news reporter for The Baltimore Sun, U.S. Justice Department officials told members of a House Judiciary Committee this past Tuesday that they “are weighing an investigation into allegations of systemic racial bias in the administration of justice in the small, mostly white Louisiana town.” (Click here for the article.)

While the Justice Department investigates, what can we teachers do to mitigate and eliminate racial bias in our schools and communities?

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a web project called Fight Hate And Promote Tolerance. Here they present Six Lessons from Jena, that you can use now in your classroom. If you followed the news story, the logic of the lessons will not surprise you.

Teacher Magazine reports, “According to a 2006 survey conducted by Teaching Tolerance, the National Education Association, and the Civil Rights Project, most teachers claim their schools are free of ethnic or racial bias, yet federal studies reveal that one in four students are victims of racial or ethnic incidents during the course of the school year.”

Take this opportunity to help eliminate racial bias in your community, and give us your assessment of the effectiveness of the lessons from The Southern Poverty Law Center.

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10 thoughts on “Lessons From Jena

  1. Free of ethnic or racial bias? WHO are these teachers and where are they hiding their heads? I would add religious intolerance and hatred of gays to the list in my community.

  2. The Southern Povery Law Center is an outstanding organization. It is the proud originator of Teaching Tolerance Magazine, the main vehicle for teachers who desire to combat bias and prejudice in their schools. Thank you for giving SPLC props on your blog.

  3. If people think schools or teachers or students are free of racial bias, they have their heads up their wazzoos. Even in my class, I find students who make fun of others because they are a little different. It doesn’t make a difference if it is color, religion or because they have a speech problem, they are predjudiced. We really need to work on tolerance of ALL people and acceptance of those we “don’t approve of.” Even Britney Spears needs to be accepted and loved.

  4. Bias/prejudice only needs interpersonal differences to manifest its ugly self.

    As a sociology major I learned that the most visible differences are the first to be marginalized, and often most strongly.

    Certainly our job is to teach students to resist all bias and prejudice, and what better place to work than in that arena where it is most visible, and affects the most student and people — race?

    I recommend Beverly Daniel Tatum’s book “Can We Talk About Race: And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation.”

    Look it up on Amazon.com.

  5. Hugh, a smashing job on supporting this cause. It’s amazing how we often lose sight of the prejudices of others and dismiss it as just “playing around.”

    Very well done on your part, like I said. Thanks for doing your part.

  6. Margaret, Miss Profe, anon., Jose, and NYC, I appreciate the appreciation. I also need to show some evidence of the work NYC highlighted in his comment above.

    Monday night, I’m going to post about what we are doing as a school district and board of ed to teach tolerance in our classrooms and by our examples.

  7. we are all referencing eachother! now that is community!

    like jose once commented on one of my posts, venting followed by thorough action (or something like that) is necessary for change..

  8. “After thinking, we need to do some working.”

    Let’s go back to the thinking part.

    Should someone not be prosecuted strongly for initiating a 6-on-1 beating that happens not to be a first offense?

  9. Thanks for dropping by, Matthew.

    I have no problems with legitimate operations and interactions of social institutions with citizens, but something is so obviously amiss in Jena, Louisiana, that the US government is taking an investigative interest.

    The bigger picture is where we, as educators, fit in as agents of positive movement toward a well-functioning, diverse society.

    I’m speaking of teaching racial tolerance on a societal scale, not micromanaging justice in Jena.

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