Grades: 6-8, 9-12
Subjects: Civics, Current Events, Language Arts, Social Studies
Overview of Lesson Plan:
In this lesson, students explore the issue of the accountability of children and young adults for their crimes. Through discussion of both specific cases and general topics, as well as through personal writings, students debate and draw conclusions about this complex issue.
Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes
- React to "Convicted at 14," a New York Times editorial about the trial of Nathaniel Tate.
- Learn about the murder trial of Nathaniel Tate by reading "Boy Who Killed Teacher Is Found Guilty of Murder."
Conduct round table group discussions on juvenile violence and juvenile accountability for crimes.
- Respond to these topics based on class discussion and personal opinion by writing an editorial.
Resources / Materials:
- student journals
- classroom blackboard
- copies of New York Times editorial "Convicted at 14" (one per student)
- copy of the article "Boy Who Killed Teacher Is Found Guilty of Murder" (one per student)
Activities / Procedures:
Warm-up: Before class, distribute copies of the editorial "Convicted at 14" from May 17, 2001 on students' desks. (CLICK HERE to get the editorial) Students should read the editorial and then respond to the following in their journals:
- "Which do you think is most appropriate for juveniles who have committed violent crimes:
being tried strictly as adults
being released at 18 or 21
or the 'rolling sentencing' advocated by the editorial writer?
- What examples can you think of to support your view?"
Students then share their responses.
As a class, read the article "Boy Who Killed Teacher Is Found Guilty of Murder," focusing on the following questions:
- What was the verdict in Nathaniel Brazill's trial? What could be his sentence?
- For what act was Nathaniel tried?
- What other 14-year-old black boy has been tried and convicted of murder in a Florida court this year?
- What act did this boy commit?
- How did Nathaniel react to the verdict?
- Why didn't the jury find him guilty of first-degree murder?
- According to Nathaniel's lawyer, did he intend to commit this crime?
Divide the class into groups of four or five. Using the article as a starting point, each group conducts a round table discussion about juvenile violence and juvenile accountability for crimes. While groups may feel free to discuss any aspect of this specific trial or the topic in general, teachers should hand out a list of questions as a guideline for the discussion. Some possible questions are:
Do you think that Nathaniel Brazill meant to kill his teacher? If not, do you think he still deserves to be punished?
- Do you think that it is fair to sentence a fourteen-year-old to life in prison, even if he may come to regret his crime when he grows up? What punishment would you consider fair in such a case?
Would you consider yourself accountable for all of your actions? Do you think that, because you are still young, you sometimes act in a way that an adult would not? Do you think that this is an excuse to commit violent crimes and not to be accountable for them?
Do you think that children and young adults have a different perception of life and death than adults do? How do you think these different perceptions contribute to the committing of violent crimes?
- Do you think that the media has played a role in the recent increase in juvenile violent crimes? Do you think that children and young adults are more affected by the media than adults?
Do you think that something like this could ever happen in your school? What could you do to try to prevent such things from happening?
- During the discussion, circulate among groups to facilitate discussion and mediate the heated arguments that may arise from the discussion of such a sensitive topic.
- After discussion, each group shares with the class he question or comment that was agreed upon by all members of the group and the question or comment that yielded that greatest conflict among group members.
WRAP-UP/HOMEWORK: Choose one of the questions discussed in your group, and write an editorial responding to it. Be sure to use facts and examples to support your response.
Further Questions for Discussion:
- Do you think that young people are more or less violent that adults?
What role do you think parents play in raising a violent child? Do you think parents should be blamed or punished for their children's crimes?
- Do you think that tougher sentences for juvenile crimes would deter children from committing them?
- Do you think that the children and young adults who commit such crimes have a full understanding of what they are doing?
In the United States, at what age do you think a person is considered an adult? Is this age higher or lower than the age at which you think a person becomes an adult?
Evaluation / Assessment:
Students will be evaluated on written journal responses, participation in class discussions, participation in group discussions, and thoughtfully-written editorials.
severe, mandatory, parole, aggravated, clemency, hearing, premeditation, manslaughter, deliberations, overhaul, commute
Plan an anti-violence rally at your school. Invite a speaker to address the school about conflict resolution and anger management, and set up tables around the school promoting peaceful mediation of conflict, informing students about the recent school shootings across the country, and allowing students to voice their opinions on this issue.
Is the correct response to the increase in juvenile crimes more or less lenient punishments for such offenders? Write a letter to your state congressman or governor expressing your opinion on this topic.
Research gun laws and statistics in your state. How easy is it to get a gun? Are there laws about proper gun storage? How many people die each year from gun shot wounds? How many people die from accidental gun shots? Create a poster displaying your findings and concluding whether or not gun laws in your state should be reformed and if so, how.
Learn more about the trial of the other fourteen-year-old black boy from Florida, Lionel Tate. Find out how the victim's mother responded to Tate's verdict and sentencing, and write an opinion paper addressing how much influence relative's of murder victims should have in such a case.
Research the conditions in juvenile hall and compare them to those in adult prisons. Create a chart comparing cell/room sizes, number of people per cell/room, cell/room accommodations, daily activities, and numbers of each type of facility.
The author of the article points out that "Nathaniel... is the second 14-year- old black boy in South Florida in five months to be tried as an adult for first-degree murder." What role does the age of the murderer and victim, location of the murder, and race of the murderer and victim play in murder convictions? Create a chart comparing statistics from Florida to other states.