Free the Jena Six

Revealing Racist Roots: The 3 R’s for Teaching About the Jena 6


Teacher Activist Groups (TAG), a growing network of teacher organizations with a focus on social justice education, collected resources and suggested activities to help teachers and students understand the case of the Jena 6. TAG currently includes New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE), Chicago based Teachers for Social Justice (TSJ), and the San Francisco based Teachers 4 Social Justice (T4SJ). TAG joins the outpouring of organizations and individuals outraged by the events surrounding the arrest and detainment of 6 African American high school students from Jena, Louisiana. Through the publication of a resource guide entitled, Revealing Racist Roots: The 3 R’s for Addressing the Jena 6 in the Classroom, TAG calls upon educators to raise the issue in their schools.

If all students are expected to learn about our country’s justice system, our history, our laws and our rights, what kinds of lessons can we learn from the Jena 6? TAG created this guide as resource for understanding contemporary racial conflict by placing the case of the Jena 6 within a historical framework. The guide makes connections between the following sections:

* The Historical Context of American Racism
* Linking to Literature
* Media Literacy
* Artivism: Responding Through the Arts
* Social Action
* Detailed Mathematics Unit
* Links to organizations & more information

Click the link to download Revealing Racist Roots: Jena-3Rs

Read Pauline Lipman’s Opening Statement from Revealing Racist Roots

The history of almost 400 years of racist violence and legal repression against African Americans is alive today in Jena, Louisiana. The case of the Jena 6 is a modern-day lynching. Six black students at Jena High School in Central Louisiana were arrested last December after a school fight in which a white student was beaten after taunting a black student with racial slurs. The six black students were charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder and faced up to 100 years in prison without parole. Mychal Bell, one of the Jena 6, was convicted in July and potentially faced up to 22 years in prison. The school fight was the culmination of a series of racist attacks that began when black students sat under the “white tree” in the schoolyard. The next day three nooses were hanging from the tree. The school superintendent dismissed the nooses as a “prank,” Black students protested, and the local District Attorney came to the school and told them, “I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen.” Now he is leading the charge to convict these young men.

But the Jena 6 case shows that the legacy of the Civil Rights movement is alive in our youth, communities, and schools. The courage of the six students in Jena, their families, and community members who refuse to be cowed by racist attacks has been uplifted nationally through petitions, demonstrations, legal support, and alternative media. As we write this on September 14, 2007, the outpouring of national support for the Jena 6 has pushed the court to vacate the conviction of Mychal Bell and reduce charges against the other students. But they are still not free and justice has not been done.

The Jena 6 is much bigger than Jim Crow being found alive and well in the South. It crystallizes the pervasive racist police violence, everyday discrimination, and criminalization faced by African American and other youth of color – on the streets and in their schools. The Jena 6 are high school students, youth like the youth in our classrooms with experiences that are all too similar.  Even the youngest students can reflect on the unfairness in this case: two systems of justice—one white, one black—and the importance of fighting back.

Last April several teacher activist groups across the country came together to form a network, Teacher Activist Groups (TAG), to challenge injustice through teaching and participation in social movements. We developed this resource guide because we believe the Jena 6 case is a critical one about which teachers can make a difference. How can the Jena 6 engage our students in an examination of the history and current reality of racism? How can this case open up space for students to examine their own experiences with racism and to build solidarity? The Jena 6 might have gone unnoticed nationally, ignored by corporate media, if activists had not used alternative media to get the word out. This could be a starting point to develop students’ critical media literacy and to explore how media can be used to challenge injustice. The national outpouring to defend the Jena 6 has already had an impact. How can teachers help students find their own ways to act? We offer this guide as a resource, and we call on educators to seize on this critical case to teach and act to make a difference.

                                                                                    Pauline Lipman
September 14, 2007

Download Revealing Racist Roots – Click here for PDF