Using Major Court Cases to
Teach Social Justice
Social justice, or rather social injustice, has been the topic on every news channel, website, and everywhere on social media. And for good reason. Recent events surrounding the many deaths of black men and women at the hands of white police officers and the protests calling for action have brought to light a myriad of issues, chief among them being systemic racism.
However appalling and incomprehensible, systemic racism is not new and is no longer lurking in the shadows. Students are reading about it, hearing about it, and adding to the discussion. Some students are even living it. This makes it all the more imperative that social justice and social injustice be a significant part of the curriculum in today’s schools to give students the tools they need to think critically about and participate in the discourse.
Make no mistake, injustice is everywhere and perpetuated by every institution, especially the legal system. This is why it is crucial to study court cases that highlight systemic racism and help shape society’s response to it.
Every semester I teach at least two courses on social justice, and there never seems to be enough time in the term to address all of the nuances that the subject entails. A cornerstone in these courses is the study and analysis of court cases pivotal in the fight for social justice.
The topics and areas of discussion (and debate) tantamount to social justice include individual versus collective rights, intention versus outcome, categorical versus hypothetical imperatives, and law versus justice, all of which address the social injustice perpetrated through the legal system. I recommend teaching the following cases:
- The Scottsboro Boys
- Mississippi Burning
- Brown vs Board of Education
- The OJ Simpson Trial
- The Leo Frank Trial
- Emmett Till
- The Rodney King assault case
- Rubin “Hurricane” Carter case
- Amistad Trials
- Dred Scott v. Sanford
- Massie Trials
- LAPD (King Beating)
- George Zimmerman (Trayvon Martin) Trial
In my classes I provide the philosophical background of these cases to help shape the debate over the topics mentioned above. To achieve the level of critical thinking, discussion, and debate, while keeping students engaged and tuned in, I have students create infographics and posters of these court cases.
Infographics and posters are an excellent way to engage students at the top levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (analyze, evaluate, create). My students really enjoy these activities because they can be used to review for an exam, prepare for a debate, and can even be a great alternative to essays!
These two assignments are perfect for online learning! Your students can follow the rubric and create their poster or infographic online and then submit through Google Classroom! I find that showing examples helps a tremendous amount, so I now do this part through Google Meet. I share my screen and walk through the steps and the sample projects.
I have an Infographic assignment I use when teaching the Scottsboro Boys trials, but you can do this activity with any of the trials mentioned above. Here is what is included:
- A rubric that shows students what is expected in their finished product. It provides a colorful guide in the form of an Infographic created from Easelly.
- Same guide in a black and white printable format.
- Instructions for students as a PDF.
- Instructions that I give my own students – in a partially editable interactive format using Google Slides
- Instructions for teachers.
- Tips for teachers and students.
- Student examples
Here is an example from the Massie Trials:
Here is what is included in my Poster Project on famous trials:
- Two rubrics: one that includes philosophy and one that does not
- Editable student instructions
- Instructions for teachers
- Example websites for students to create their posters
- Tips for students and teachers
- Student examples
- Example citation page
Here is an example of a poster when studying the Rubin “Hurricane” Carter case:
Other products related to social injustice:
If you have any questions about any of my products, please leave me a comment!
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