Is Mass Incarceration the Moral Equivalent of Slavery? Inquiring into and Arguing the Intersection of Criminal Justice and Race History in the U.S.
Partner schools of Argument-Centered Education are taking up the issue of mass incarceration in the United States in their argument-centered social science and civics classrooms. Here’s how they’re doing it.
The United States – as President Barack Obama famously noted in a 2015 speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the NAACP) – has 5% of the world’s population but about 25% of the world’s prisoners. The American prison population went from 300,000 in 1972 to 2.4 million in 2016, according to Amnesty International. What’s more, nearly 40% of the people in prison in this country are African-American, even though only 13% of Americans are black.
Ancient Greece is often considered the birthplace of Western Civilization. When we study the place and time of ancient Greece — in, for example, Humanities, World Studies, European History, Civics, or Government — we are studying seminal antecedents of the United States — social, cultural, educational, political. One angle in this content is to contrast the primary city-states, and Peloponnesian War antagonists, Athens and Sparta.
This multi-layered argument-based project has students study the two city-states through five domains of these comparable but contrasting societies: economy, education, government, military, and treatment of women & slaves. Students engage in close examination of primary and secondary documents, extensive written and oral discussion of the arguments in these documents, and Table Debates (with an argumentative writing component).
Many, perhaps most, critical thinking and argumentation textbooks discourage teaching logical fallacies as a stand-alone unit. John Bean, for example, in his Engaging Ideas: A Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (John Wiley & Sons, 2011), cautions that students will readily forget the names and definitions of logical fallacies when learned in the abstract, and that they are best learned when blended instruction focused on argumentation about specific content.
I’ve always been persuaded by this position and we recommend it in our work with middle and high school teachers. Acquire a facility with the various types of logical fallacy, and invoke them when most applicable in your regular argument-based instruction. Still, no pedagogical guideline like this should be viewed as an absolute rule, and recently we’ve come across a website that might help teachers elevate the place of logical fallacies in their effort to improve their students’ reasoning skills.
The National Book Award winning biography, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Macmillan, 2009), by Phillip Hoose, tells the story of a relatively unknown figure in the early Civil Rights Movement. In March of 1955 Claudette Colvin, then fifteen, enacted Montgomery, Alabama’s first bus protest, refusing to give up her seat to a white woman. She was arrested, spent several hours in jail, and was fined. Her classmates and community didn’t know exactly how to react to what she did at first – it was a spontaneous act of angry protest – though within the next nine months the bus boycott became a reality.
The Debatifier has taken a close look at the legal immigration issue and its complexities, illustrating how the Micro-Macro Debates format can help students unpack and make sense of such a dense and multi-faceted issue, in part one and part two of an extended post. This post will help teachers take an argument-centered approach to the undocumented immigrant issue.
The estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, and immigration enforcement porous enough to allow the number to grow that large, have elicited a great deal of political discussion and societal debate over the past 40 years, though perhaps never so pointedly as in the 2016 presidential campaign. This argument-centered project crystallizes the question at the heart of this national debate:
Do Illegal immigrants pose a significant threat to American citizens?