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Teaching About the Jordan Davis Murder

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[This post represents the work of a group of educators and education activists who wanted to help educators  help students process the verdict in the Jordan Davis murder trial. Many of us wrote from our experiences both in and out of the classroom, and as such, many of us used “I” statements in talking about these ideas. The writers are Melinda Anderson, Joshua Block, Zac Chase, Alexa Dunn, Bill Fitzgerald, Matt Kay, Diana Laufenberg, me, Luz Maria Rojas, John Spencer, Mike Thayer, Jose Vilson and Audrey Watters. You can also link to the Google Doc or the whole thing as a PDF. Everything written below is collaborative. This document is Creative Commons - Share Alike. I only add that as educators, this is a way we can make the world just a little bit better - by talking, by trying, by teaching. There are many other ways our society has to address the issues that Jordan Davis' murder demands we face. But as teachers, we have our classrooms. We can all can start there. -- Chris]

As educators we believe that we have a responsibility to use our classrooms to help young people grapple with and address the messiness of the world around them. In collaborating on this, what we know to be true is that there is more than a single lesson plan here. The issues raised by the Jordan Davis murder trial touch deeply on issues of race, law, social justice, and any and all of these issues could be a course of study. What we hope to do is offer a number of ways for teachers and students to think about the case while knowing that no one way, no one day can possibly speak to all of the challenges this case represents.

What follows is an attempt to organize what was a 15-hour brainstorming session into a few organizing concepts

  1. things to consider as a teacher when tackling this subject,
  2. ideas and resources around teaching about / toward the Jordan Davis murder verdict, and
  3. some concrete lesson plans that teachers could use that examine the verdict from several different lenses.

General Thoughts About Teaching Toward The Jordan Davis Murder and Verdict:

  • Many teachers are a little uncomfortable, maybe even afraid, to have these conversations, but that’s exactly why we need to have them. Importantly, these conversations also need to happen among the adults in the building as well. Many of the ideas in this post could also be used for professional development sessions with the adults.
  • Pay attention to the context of your classroom. If it is a predominately white classroom, please don’t use the minority student as the “expert informant” whose job it is to “tell it like it is.” That’s a whole lot of pressure to put on a kid. On the same note, if you teach in a school where students are mostly African-American (or students of color in general), share how you feel about it, how it makes you angry and sad. Then give them space to talk about it.
  • Give students the permission to process in a way that represents who they are. Some kids want to talk about it. Some want to listen. Some want to blog about it. I’ve had some kids sketch their ideas out in word bubbles or in art while we try to make sense out of the tragedy. Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers
  • I would caution teachers that some kids (including African-Americans) might not feel as crushed by it as they do. Some students have normalized injustice. Some students have seen things that we can’t fathom and it’s hard for them that their own stories of injustice were never deemed “newsworthy.” Some students are just not that interested in the moment in an even that feels “far away” from them. Kids don’t want to feel emotionally manipulated by any adult – especially a teacher. (very important to remember, well said)
  • I think it helps sometimes to make the distinction ahead of time that discomfort doesn’t mean “unsafe.” It might not be a comfortable conversation, but hopefully it will be a safe, trusted environment. I know that I’ve had to go over this concept when talking about racial injustice in immigration policy.
  • On issues that have significant emotional impact, I like to start the class with the opportunity for personal reflection and thought-gathering before getting into group discussion. One process I used was to open the class with a background reading, and give students blank index cards. After they have read the background piece, they write one adjective describing their thoughts on the piece. Then, the cards get collected and displayed in a publicly visible space. This process creates the room for people to all get familiarity with the issue, along with some time to collect thoughts/emotions before starting discussions.
  • Keep developmental level of kids in mind. The way I talked with my older son (3rd grade) is different from how I’ll talk to 8th graders.
  • Plan the lesson, not as scripted, because you cannot script this conversation, but be aware that just having an open-ended conversation with kids may unintentionally create the space where kids don’t feel safe or o.k. to have the conversation. Small group discussions, writing prompts, time for reflections, and the setting of norms for these conversations can help to create a place where kids feel safe to have what will quite possibly be a very uncomfortable conversation.
  • I think it’s important to say that we will not “solve” this problem in an hour-long class, and we have to be thoughtful about owning that upfront.
  • That said, it is important to really be aware of time when dealing with topics like this. it isn’t fair to kids to get so caught up in the conversation as to lose track of time and then just “dismiss” the kids when class is over without giving students the opportunity to have some closure on the conversation you are having, even if many of us are at a place where we have don’t closure on what actually happened.

Associated image: Marchers in Jacksonville, Florida, protest the verdict against Michael Dunn. (Reuters)

 

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