Late on Saturday, a verdict was reached in the case of Michael Dunn, the man who was on trial for the murder of Jordan Davis and the attempted murder of three other young men.  While the intentions and motivations of the people involved are in dispute, the facts that are not in dispute is that Dunn shot and killed Davis in 2012.  The case is reminiscent of the Trayvon Martin case and brings us once again to the soul crushing reality that a young man’s life was cut down early and that the laws in Florida make a defense of the murder plausible with their version of self-defense.

So, the question of how to approach this in the classroom arises. Talking about race and justice and the legal system are important and daunting subjects for many teachers.  It is easier to just not talk about issues like this. It is easier to say that it is the job of someone else to have this conversation with kids. But it isn’t. It’s all our jobs to continue to involve students in the issues of the day, give them the resources to inform themselves, help them to analyze a world that is often complex, find their own voice and empower them with strategies for changing a world that struggles to bend toward justice.

A number of different educators worked on a series of approaches that a teacher could use to start the conversation with their students and with their fellow teachers. I offer my take, below, on how I would address this with my 7th graders. I fully recognize that I would have dealt with this differently with my 11th and 12th grade SLA students and I think it is important to look at the ideas in the collaborative lesson planning document as a bank of possible approaches. I challenge you take the time to consider tackling this important issue with our students in an ongoing conversation about justice in our country. It matters.

What Does Justice Look Like?

1.  Warm up: What is Justice? Provide examples. What is injustice? Provide examples. Discuss.  Collect examples on the board or digitally.

2.  Provide students with scenarios that allow them to take a stand on whether something was just or unjust.  Suggestions – students can jot down their thoughts first and then use the ‘stand on a line’ or ‘opinion continuum’ activity for students to indicate where they fall on the just, unjust spectrum with each of the scenarios.

Scenario 1: A family is forcibly interned (confined for political or military reasons) for 2 years because they are American citizens of Japanese descent and the government decided they were dangerous. (Reference)

Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

Scenario 2: Homeowners lost their homes in order to make room for a General Motors plant to be built.  They were fairly compensated by the government for the cost of their property but were not given a choice to sell or not sell.  (Reference)

Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

Scenario 3: 16 year old drives while drunk and kills 4 people. He receives probation and no jail time for the crime.  (Reference)

Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

Scenario 4: Children are removed from their homes and taken to boarding schools where they are taught that their native language is bad and must learn English, take ‘western’ names and adopt western customs in order to fit into American culture better. (Reference)

    Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

Scenario 5: A man was released from death row after 15 years when DNA evidence was used to clear him of wrong-doing in the murder of his cousin. (Reference)

Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

3.  Then introduce the basic facts of the Jordan Davis case, including information on Stand Your Ground and self defense – ask students to write down questions as they hear the facts of the case.  Allow time for question and answer time.

4.  Have students develop statements about how justice and injustice relate to this case.

5.  Play/read different perspectives of people after the verdict.  Discuss the emotions and frustration felt by many Americans as a result of the verdict.

6.  Talk about action steps… if one wanted to speak out against or DO something … what are options.  Brainstorm and then teachers shares ones not mentioned. Such as:

  • Register to Vote – Encourage Parents to Register to Vote
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Discussions with parents/family
  • Use social media to bring about awareness amongst peers
  • Keep up to date with current events and issues of social justice
  • Be aware of local issues of injustice
  • Lead a school wide day on issues of social justice
  • Start a youth group to discuss issues of social justice and bring awareness
  • There are many, many more…

Resources to continue the conversation about social justice: