Chicago Public Schools students react to Jason Van Dyke trial

When possible, relevant, and appropriate, my Chicago Public Schools students apply what we learn about writing to real-world controversies.  Today, they examined the opening statements of the Jason Van Dyke trial, where a white Chicago police officer is on trial for the murder of 17-year-old African American Laquan McDonald.

We listened to a few segments from episode 10 of Chicago Public Radio’s podcast 16 Shots.  Students took notes about the information the prosecution shared.  Then they did the same for the defense.

Using a classroom resource that outlines the elements of ethos (credibility), logos (logic), and pathos (appeal to emotions), each student then made a decision.

Which side’s opening statement uses elements of the rhetorical triangle more effectively?

I used PollEverywhere so they could provide their response publicly and anonymously.

In the class with 35 students, these were the results.

In the class with 31, they saw it similarly:

The responses favoring the prosecution's opening statements are by Fernando, Jazmine, Zander, and Maria.  The responses favoring the defense's opening statements are by D.R., Anahi, R.C, and Kevin (all used with their permission).

As their writing teacher, I see the prosecution using the elements more effectively.  But those who selected the defense provided reasonable responses that are acceptable considering the racially, politically, and emotionally charged context.

When dealing with controversial situations, I always ground our conversation or evaluation in a text.  I wrote about how to do this and why shortly after the Laquan McDonald shooting.  (One senior CPS leader still in a high position considered my criticism of the 2015 CPS-suggested lesson in that blog post "disrespectful."  I still don't understand why.)

When examining controversial situations like this through a text in class, it’s best to let opinions stand.  I didn’t let this become a debate.  It’s just something that, unfortunately, is.  This remained a teachable moment for my students to listen to a text they normally would not have and defend their position reasonably.


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