Action Education – Learning From Jena

By Fred McKissack

Photo: Sean Gardner/Reuters 
A protester raises a fist during the Sept. 20 march in support of the Jena 6 in Jena, La.

The sight of hundreds of buses rolling into Jena, La., carrying tens of thousands to rally for the Jena 6 was a reminder that the fight for civil rights is very much relevant even in 2007. The protesters brought home the disgraceful fact that there is a two-tier justice system in America that is based on race and class.

The issues surrounding the case — justice, racism, poverty, and equity — are ones that ought to be discussed and examined in the classroom. There’s a lot to learn from struggle for justice in Jena, according to the three teacher activist groups from across the country who collaborated to create the resource guide titled Revealing Racist Roots: the 3 R’s of Addressing the Jena 6 in the Classroom.

“If we want our students to understand why events like this are still happening in the year 2007, it is critical that teachers help students reveal the roots of racism,” said Bree Picower, an assistant professor at New York University. “We hope this resource will provide educators with tools to engage students in these difficult, yet important, discussions.”

Download the resource guide in PDF version or Word for free at or

Photo: Sean Gardner/Reuters
A protester displaying a painting of a woman wrapped in the U.S. flag and a noose marches through Jena, La.

On Dec. 4, 2006, six black students were arrested and eventually charged with attempted murder for allegedly beating up a white student, outside of the Jena High School gym. It was the culmination of months of skirmishes between black and white students that began when a black student sat underneath a tree at school that, according to unwritten rules, was reserved for whites. The next day, three nooses were hung from a limb of the tree — a wretched reminder of a strange fruit that many Americans thought had died generations ago.

The three groups that assembled the resource guide are the New York Collective of Radical Educators, the Chicago-based Teachers for Social Justice, and Teachers 4 Social Justice in San Francisco. They are part of a larger network called Teachers Activist Groups of which Rethinking Schools is part of.

In addition to the resource guide, people can stay abreast of the Jena 6 struggle through