What Can Jena Teach Us?

By Elizabeth Rich — October 17, 2007 1 min read
"Racial Harmony," 1970s button from Creative Dynamix

According to a 2006 survey conducted by Teaching Tolerance, the National Education Association, and the Civil Rights Project, most teachers claim their schools are free of ethnic or racial bias, yet federal studies reveal that one in four students are victims of racial or ethnic incidents during the course of the school year.

This week the U.S. House Judiciary Committee began its investigation of the incidents at Jena High School. The hearings follow on the heels of recent news of hate crimes, including the noose-copycat incident at Columbia University and the racial slur that appeared on a bench during a Harlem high school football game in New York City.

Richard Cohen president of the Southern Law Poverty Center, who testified at the hearings, referred educators to his organization’s Teaching Tolerance Web site, specifically to “Six Lessons From Jena.” As a path to early intervention, the lessons include ways to examine a school’s climate, including how to identify and respond to bias incidents and address offensive slang. The latter includes 10 lesson plans that follow content standards for high school students, but can be adopted for any grade level.

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