Chicago Defender News Literacy Curriculum Lesson 7 - Parallels Between Mass Incarceration and Jim Crow

CNL News Lesson

Lesson Outline

Written by:  

Myiti Sengstacke, African American Studies Instructor
City Colleges of Chicago, Kennedy-King College

Michelle R. Yisrael, Reading, English & Literature
City Colleges of Chicago, Kennedy-King College


To examine for The Chicago Defender and other media outlets explores complex questions about the criminal justice system and the history of race and racial justice in the United States.


Essential Questions:

  • What are the most salient similarities between Jim Crow and mass incarceration?
  • How has racial caste perpetuated in the form of mass incarceration, despite the achievements of the civil rights movement?


Students will be able to…

  • Students will identify similarities and differences between Jim Crow and mass incarceration.
  • Students will begin to evaluate Alexander’s thesis in The New Jim Crow.
  • Students will reflect on connections between mass incarceration and their own lives and communities.
  • Recognizing bias -- including your own

Defining bias: Bias is not an event -- it's a pattern of unfairness found in the coverage of a single news organization over time.

Three ways to spot bias:

  1. Look for a pattern over time in a single news outlet's coverage.
  2. Compare coverage of the same stories by other outlets.
  3. Take note of the self-interest of those alleging bias.

Sometimes bias is institutional: Partisan news outlets operate on a business model rooted in taking sides and blurring the line between news and opinion.

Sometimes the perception of bias is rooted not in journalistic bias but in audience bias. News consumers who seek affirmation, not information, distrust or dismiss information that disagrees with their opinions or beliefs because that causes cognitive dissonance.

To avoid cognitive dissonance, news consumers seek out reports that confirm their opinions and beliefs and avoid that which does not.


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