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Teacher Lesson Return to "The Central Park Five"
The Central Park Five
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Media/News Literacy Lesson: The Central Park Five

Reading Comprehension, Discussion, and Written Response

Yusef Salaam Speaks Out on the Central Park Jogger Case: (5:47)
The Central Park Five documentary trailer (2:27)

• Students will explore the effect that media can have on the justice system.
• Students will question the role of media and how it might prejudice the public.
• Students will examine how news organizations might bias the public if they fail to adequately investigate and verify information.

• Exonerate
• Perpetrator
• Conformity
• Indelible
• Notoriety

Before the Activity
• Write on the board, “What is the job of a journalist? What does society expect of news organizations?”
• Ask them to think through these questions and write down a brief answer.
• Ask volunteers to briefly share their responses with the class.

Activity 1: Video and Discussion
Watch The Central Park Five documentary trailer (2:27)

Ask students to write down the answers to the following questions as they are watching the trailer:
• What is the premise of this film?
• What does it have to do with the media?
• Based on the trailer, what are your expectations of the film?

After watching the trailer, discuss the questions above. You may also want to engage the students with the following questions:
• What kind of perspective should journalists assume when facing a controversial/polarizing issue?
• Is it appropriate for different news outlets to represent different viewpoints? Why? Fox News is known as the conservative channel while MSNBC is perceived as the liberal one.
• How might one’s personal convictions affect judgment? Is there any way for a journalist or news organization to truly be neutral?
• How can a journalist minimize prejudice and bias in news reporting?

Activity 2: Reading
Read Jovon Ferguson’s story, “The Central Park Five,” with the students.

Ask students to note any new pieces of information they learned about the case and circumstances as they read.

Watch the interview with Yusef Salaam. (Note: A print version of this interview is available, titled “Growing Up Behind Bars”)

Ask students:
• What did the media miss?
• Are the media to blame for what happened to these boys? Why or why not? Who else is to blame?
• Do you believe the city’s racial tensions played a part in the wrongful convictions? How?
• Both Jovon Ferguson’s story and the Yusef Salaam video describe the dehumanizing metaphoric language (“wolf pack,” “wild animals,” etc.) used by the press in reference to the Central Park Five teens. How can language help shape public opinion?
• Can you think of any other cases where the media escalated a problem by sensationalizing a story without doing a thorough investigation of the facts?

Introduce the excerpt titled “They Were Railroaded,” from the “Voices from the Archives” article. Explain that the piece was written by a teen in 1991 after the convictions of all five of the young men, but before they were exonerated. Ask students:
• What was this teen writer able to do that many journalists were not able to do?
• Why do you think that this teenager was able to identify key points or inconsistencies about the case that most of the city seemed to miss?
• Do you believe this author was biased? In what way?

Activity 3: Writing
In small groups, ask students to come up with questions that they would advise all journalists to ask when reporting a story like this. What would help them be more objective? What might help a journalist see a situation from different perspectives?

Share the questions and discuss them. Ask students:
• Are there questions that stand out as particularly helpful?
• Why might people need to be reminded to do or ask this?

Ask all the students to independently write a paragraph explaining the role of journalists and news organizations. To help prompt thoughtful answers, ask them to brainstorm these questions:
• Why do people read/watch the news?
• What is the job of news outlets like CNN or The New York Times? To whom are they responsible?

Note: An additional resource to help guide this discussion is the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics

Aligned with Common Core Standards for English Language Arts 9-12

Common Core Standards for Reading:
Key Ideas and Details
RI.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says.
RI.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Craft and Structure
RI.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
RI.7 Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.
RI.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity
RI.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Common Core Standards for Writing:
Text Types and Purposes
W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
Production and Distribution of Writing
W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Range of Writing
W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening:
Comprehension and Collaboration
SL.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
SL.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.

Anchor Standards for Language:
Conventions of Standard English
L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
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