Lesson: Would YOU Stand Up to Injustice?

As we all watch the events tearing apart Ferguson, Missouri, one thing becomes clear:  Our nation needs to find a more productive way to deal with issues of race and injustice. Protests that result in police in battle gear gassing residents and fringe elements tearing apart communities night after night are proof positive that we’ve forgotten — or abandoned — dialogue as a tool for making progress together.

To that end, I wanted to share a few instructional materials that I’ve used to structure classroom conversations with middle school students about justice and injustice. 

What you’ll find are two readings that give kids the chance to think carefully about what fairness is supposed to look like and two sets of “seed questions” that you can use to start conversations in your classroom.  Neither of the readings addresses the Michael Brown incident specifically and none of the seed questions is designed to provoke extreme emotions.  Instead, the materials are designed to be used to guide a Socratic Seminar where kids can wrestle with their own beliefs about the role that responsible citizens should play when our communities are struggling with fairness.

Hope you can use them:

Elizabeth Eckford Reading and Elizabeth Eckford Seed Questions – No story challenges my students more than the story of Elizabeth Eckford and the Little Rock Nine — the first African American students to integrate an all-white high school.  This reading shares Elizabeth’s first-hand recollections of her first day at school.  The seed questions encourage kids to think about what they would have done had they been a white student at Central High School in Arkansas on the day that Elizabeth and her friends tried to attend school for the first time.

Mother to Son Reading and Mother to Son Seed Questions – Langston Hughes was one of America’s best African American poets.  He wrote regularly about the challenges faced by African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s.  One of his best poems was Mother to Son — told from the point of view of an African American mother encouraging her son to keep on climbing through life even if “it ain’t no crystal stair.”  The seed questions for this reading encourage kids to think about just how easy it is to keep climbing in the face of injustice.


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  • Karen

    Helpful materials

    I’m a homeschool parent and these materials are great to start a discussion with my kids about civil rights and justice.  Thanks for providing these!

  • La Roddric Theodule

    The conversation alone is important

    I’m a teacher at a private catholic high school in California.  My school is extremely liberal and forward thinking in terms of addressing, teaching, and giving our students a forum to actively do something about issues of injustice.  I believe the most important thing we do for our students is give them a safe place to have the conversation about these issues because it not only brings the issues to the forefront of their consciousness, but it forces them to deal with the issues.  Often times, it is difficult for adults to engage in meaningful conversation about issues of injustice, especially when there is a racial element attached to it.  As such, we tend to shy away from the conversation and more or less sweep the issue under the rug.  In my opinion, thats part of the problem and it explains why we continue to see these issues popping up.  I appreciate your suggestions and resources for facilitating the conversation in a less emotionally charged manner and I will certainly try using some of those resources with my students at my school

  • Haddenkk

    Bill Ferriter has always been
    Bill Ferriter has always been an inspiring writer for me and this article just proves why he is. He must have a phd dissertation because the stuff he writes is absolutely incredible. I hope to meet this person one day.