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Units January 21, 2022

Justice for All: How Laws Preserve and/or Restrict Rights

Lesson Summary: In this introduction to the concept of laws and justice, students will evaluate the ideals put forth in the Constitution, and analyze to which extent they have been accorded to all people of the United States. Students will analyze various primary sources in order to understand how founding documents and laws were created to protect the institution of slavery and establish legal discrimination based on race. Downloads: Full justice for all unit
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This unit was created by Educators in New Brunswick Public Schools, part of the 2021 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. It is designed for facilitation across 7-9 80 minute class periods and was implemented in a Grade 8 US History I and Government course.

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Evaluate the fundamental principles found in the Constitution and  explain why the ideals put forth have been denied to different groups of people throughout time.
  • Demonstrate the ways that the Constitution provided direct and indirect protection to slavery and imbued enslavers and slave states with increased political power. 
  • Read and interpret primary & secondary sources in order to explain the legacy of slavery in the United States.
  • Explain how laws are written to protect privilege and power.
  • Cite evidence to explain how early enslaved Africans and free Black people used the legal system to fight for justice and freedom.

Unit Overview

The U.S Constitution sets forth ideals that act as the guiding principles of our democracy.  The Constitution itself is the nation’s fundamental law, and the ideals and values found within are protected by the democratic principle of Rule of Law. Due to the economic importance of the institution of slavery in the 13 colonies, the founders wrote legal protections for slavery into the Constitution that founded the nation. Not only are these protections contradictory to democratic ideals and values, they set in motion a legal system that would establish systematic racism as the rule of law in the United States.

In this introduction to the concept of laws and justice, students will evaluate the ideals put forth in the Constitution, and analyze to which extent they have been accorded to all people of the United States.  Students will analyze various primary sources in order to understand how the protection of slavery was the primary impetus for creating laws that protected the rights of land owning white males while denying rights to enslaved and free Black people. Students will also follow the development of laws after the abolishment of slavery, in order to understand how laws continued to protect the privileges of wealthy white people. Students will use this history to evaluate whether or not all laws are just and to explain the systemic racism that permeates all aspects of American life.

Performance Task

Explanatory Writing - Throughout American history, various groups of people have been denied rights, power and access to wealth.  Choose one group of marginalized people and explain, through examples, how they used the justice system in their fight to gain rights, power and access to wealth. Were they successful?

This unit focuses mainly on the history of laws that have restricted the rights of African Americans in the United States.  This performance task requires students to apply their knowledge in order to identify and research other marginalized groups that have been subjected to unfair laws in this country.  Students will choose one group from a list (including, but not limited to, Native Americans, Asians, Muslims, LGBTQ+, Women), students will follow the same format from class to research the history of laws concerning this group. From their research, students will be able to evaluate the ideals found in the Declaration of Independence and explain why these ideals have been denied to certain groups. Student research will be presented in the form of a research paper, documentary or display.

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