PrintOne Fifty-Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • Read case overviews and Court opinions on the Supreme Court cases Plessy v. Ferguson 1896 and Brown v. Board of Education 1954, and answer questions from this reading.
  • Access to computer lab with Internet access
  • Attachment One: Plessy v. Ferguson 1896 Reading Guide
  • Attachment Two: Brown v. Board of Education 1954 Reading Guide
Teacher Preparation 

I recommend you view the video The Ernest Green Story. This video (produced by Disney Studios) gives students a feel for the "tone" of the country in the late 1950's, and gives insights and background information in a very well done video. In this unit, learners use the Internet sites www.civnet.org and www.affirmativeaction.org and the PBS video Eyes on the PrizeEpisode Two, to research the history of Affirmative Action in the United States. Learners read Supreme Court briefs, opinions, and dissenting opinions on Plessy v. Ferguson 1869, Brown v. Board of Education 1954 and 1955 and United Steelworkers v. Weber 1979. 

Explore the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957, and then examine where Affirmative Action proposals and government policies stand today. In the course of this unit, learners develop answers to the questions "Can government policies promote diversity and equality in society?" and "Do we need Affirmative Action programs in the twenty first century?" The class decides how a variety of other Core Democratic Values relate to the issues involved, and how the CDVs are interpreted differently by opposing sides of the issues. These cases and issues are covered in preparation for a mock "Supreme Court" Affirmative Action trial. The "Court" will be presented the facts of the case, hear oral arguments, and "decide" the case. The class will then compare its own decision (and dissentions) with those of the actual case.



  1. Anticipatory Set: Give learners this scenario: Imagine there are two public schools in your area. School one is a beautiful new building with state of the art technology, catered food services, and only the best, most creative teachers. On the other hand, school two is old, overcrowded and dingy. There is no access to technology and only the government-sponsored hot lunch program. The teachers are overworked, and for the most part, only putting in their time until retirement by giving out worksheets almost every day. Since these are public schools, you decide you want to go to school one. When you go to the school to enroll, you are told that you must pass a background check before you can be admitted. Since you have always been an honor student and very active in extra curricular activities, you are confident that this will not be a problem. In fact, you are a bit relieved, thinking that you will be attending school with high-achieving peers. In a few days, you get a letter from school one stating that they are sorry but you do not meet enrollment requirements. Confused, you call school one, only to find that your grades and extra curricular activities were not considered in determining your enrollment status. In fact, the only requirement for enrollment is that your parents must have an income of at least $150,000 per year, and as your family income falls well short of that number, you are required to attend school two. Ask the class if this is legal, and ask for reasoning behind their answers.

  2. In the computer lab, give students the Attachment One: Plessy v. Ferguson Reading Guide Discuss vocabulary words and instruct them to fill in the definitions.

  3. Instruct the class to access the Internet site https://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=163&invol=537Skim through the Overview, the Ruling (Opinion) and Justice Harlan's Dissent.

  4. Instruct the class to fill in Attachment One: Plessy v. Ferguson Reading Guide. Ask students to volunteer whatever they know about the case Brown v. Board of Education. Establish that it was the case that overruled Plessy.

  5. Give students Attachment Two: Brown v. Board of Education Reading Guide. Discuss vocabulary words and instruct them to fill in the definitions.

  6. Instruct the class to access the Internet site https://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=349&invol=294and skim through the overview and ruling (Opinion), and fill in the reading guide.

  7. In large group discussion, the class orally compares/contrasts Plessy and Brown.


Learners complete and turn in Attachments One and Two, Reading Guides for Plessy and Brown cases.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Explain and give examples of how a democratic constitution requires and protects philanthropic behavior as a democratic principle.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Provide examples from history of how the relationship between government and the civil society sector has changed.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Identify constitutional principles that protect minorities in a republic. Relate these principles to the role of nonprofit organizations.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.10 Discuss the results of private citizen voluntary action intended for the common good on public policy changes.
      2. Benchmark HS.11 Discuss why organizations in the civil society sector work to protect minority voices.
      3. Benchmark HS.14 Give examples of how citizens have used organizations in the civil society sector to hold people in power accountable for their actions on behalf of the public.
    3. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Describe how the common good was served in an historical event as a result of action by a civil society sector organization.
      2. Benchmark HS.5 Identify positive philanthropic historic acts or events that helped build the community, state, and nation.
    4. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss a public policy issue affecting the common good and demonstrate respect and courtesy for differing opinions.
      2. Benchmark HS.4 Analyze and synthesize information to differentiate fact from opinion based on the investigation of issues related to public policy. Discuss these issues evaluating the effects of individual actions on other people, the rule of law and ethical behavior.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.6 Identify and discuss conflicting viewpoints of how philanthropic actions relate to democratic principles.
      2. Benchmark HS.7 Describe the concept of the individual's "reserved power" to act and how this idea relates to the growth of the civil-society sector.