Decorative header

Units February 16, 2024

Empowering Equity Through Education: Illuminating Affirmative Action's Legacy

Lesson Summary: Students gain social and historical context for affirmative action and analyze colorblind vs. race conscious approaches to policy through persuasive writing. Downloads: Complete unit resources

This unit was created by the EMERGE Los Angeles team as part of the 2023 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. It is designed for facilitation across approximately 13 class periods with 1-2 additional weeks for student project completion.


Objective 1: Analyze the Historical Context

Outcome: By the end of the unit, students will be able to explain the historical origins of affirmative action policies in the United States, demonstrating an understanding of the social, political, and legal factors that contributed to their development.

Objective 2: Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Outcome: Students will practice constructing well-structured, evidence-based arguments related to affirmative action. They will be able to articulate their positions clearly, using persuasive language and logical reasoning in written essays, class discussions, and visual art projects.

Objective 3: Foster Respectful Dialogue

Outcome: Throughout the unit, students will demonstrate the ability to engage in respectful and empathetic dialogue with peers. They will actively listen, ask clarifying questions, and respond thoughtfully, creating an environment of open and constructive discussion.

Unit Overview:

This unit on the legacy of affirmative action is designed to delve into complex themes and essential questions related to the ongoing debate surrounding affirmative action policies in the United States. Students will explore the fundamental question of whether affirmative action is a necessary tool for addressing historical and systemic inequalities. Themes that will be explored include social justice, equity, race, privilege, and the role of government in addressing systemic discrimination. 

The English Language Arts component of this unit will emphasize critical thinking as students engage with primary source texts, academic articles, and persuasive writing exercises. In Social Studies, students will analyze historical contexts of systemic racism making affirmative action in education necessary. In Visual Arts, students will analyze the 1965 short film Felicia and use it to inspire personal expressions of their perspectives on affirmative action through visual storytelling.

The pedagogical vision underlying the unit prioritizes fostering informed, respectful, and well-rounded discussions among students, promoting the development of critical thinking and communication skills. The scope and sequence involves a gradual progression from historical background to contemporary debates, culminating in a project where students will present and defend their positions on affirmative action, supported by evidence and reasoned arguments.

Performance Task:

Performance Task 1: Persuasive Essay

In a paper of five-seven pages, students write a persuasive argument in which they take a position on the issue of “racism 2.0” that is explored in Tim Wise’s Colorblind.

Prompt: How should college and university institutions respond to persistent inequities in higher education admissions: should they continue to endorse colorblind universalism or should they shift to a new paradigm of “race-consciousness'? Use specific details from the text, 1619 Project resources, and supplemental readings to support your position.

Cite one or more of the assigned readings to argue your position. Also, draw on 1-3 vocabulary words from the Exploring Word Choices for Describing Events assignment to inform your position.

Performance Task 2: Oral History Interview
After watching the short documentary Felicia, students will complete their own oral history interview with someone who was the beneficiary of an equal opportunity program or affirmative action. The completed interview will be turned into a documentary similar to Felicia and/or a photo with a quote caption, and shared during a culminating film festival or exhibition.


Please help us understand your needs better by filling out this brief survey!

Will you use this lesson plan in a class you teach?
By sharing your email address, you are opting in to receive updates from the Pulitzer Center Education team.