Ghost Boys is a profound and moving text. It tells the story of Jerome, a twelve year old Black boy who was murdered in Chicago while playing with a toy gun given to him by his friend. When he is murdered he turns into a ghost who is only visible to a select few people. He watches his family and friends grieve and his community respond. Jerome goes through a journey of learning why he is a “Ghost Boy”, as well as why only certain people can see him. One of those people is Sarah, the young daughter of the officer who murdered Jerome. They teach each other valuable lessons about difference and perspective as they both reckon with an event that seems so beyond their understanding.
Our book club was collectively moved by this text. We felt there were many lessons to be learned from the book, as well as insights into the lives of those who directly suffer from police brutality. We found ourselves holding compassion for all of the characters, even those who had done immeasurable damage. We saw continued themes of identity and (in)justice within this text. Throughout the text we were constantly prompted to examine our own identities and privileges, as well as our implicit biases. The ideas presented in this book call on all of us to recognize the systemic issue of police brutality and the killing of Black boys.
Our process brought us to two main questions: Why is this happening and what can we do? The breakdown of our discussion prompts attempts to deconstruct the implicit biases we hold, as well as our generally misinformed ideas about policing in communities of color. The discussions urges students to be okay with examining themselves as human beings with brains that operate like everyone else's, and this means operating under implicit bias and inherent racism. The experience piece of our assignment is to participate in healthy and brave conversations about race, racism, identity, and racial justice. These conversations are badly needed if we hope to make any progress in manifesting a more equitable and loving world, therefore this assignment is designed to foster informed conversations about race and racism between children, with or without adult moderation.
The Book Related Lesson Plan
This assignment entails open discussion, structured self-reflection, and research of related topics/ideas, concluding with a personal choice of essay, infographic, art piece (with written description of relatedness), poem, or other relevant assignment approved by instructor.
The lesson plan is flexible in the grade/progression levels of each student to tailor to age-appropriateness. The assignment/engagement is to be carried out throughout the process of reading the book. We believe it is important, given the content of the book, to allow structure and support for students in the classroom setting as they absorb this text. The text is heavy and contains many underlying messages, and they can be most effectively processed as they come up, with a cumulative discussion and assignment at the end to tie themes and ideas together.
Classroom discussions and input should emphasize empathy and vulnerability as powerful and necessary tools. Encourage students who seem unenthused to think of something related to the assignment/text that might engage them further, maybe a specific aspect, and work with them to construct this modified assignment. Some students are very uncomfortable sharing outloud, so always provide an outlet for them to share their ideas without anxiety.
First Discussion Prompts:
Before reading the book, have an open classroom conversation (option for quiet, written reflection) about death, what it means, and how people feel when they experience loss. Let the conversation be open and unrestricted. Get a sense for how students understand and process death and loss. Option to share any personal experiences with loss and how it affected the students and their families. Offer opportunities for students to respond to each other, express empathy, and understand loss from a different perspective.
Second Discussion & Reflection Prompt
Within the first hundred pages ask students to write/discuss who they would choose to be seen by, or who they feel would be able to see them if they died. Why would they be visible to those specific people? What would they say to those who could see them? What lessons would they want those people to learn? What aspects of their identity have formed their ideas around who they would be seen by?
Along with the second discussion, have the students complete the Invisible Knapsack worksheet. Engage classroom discussion about student’s experience “unpacking” their respective knapsacks. Explore ideas of identity and privilege.As you read along, allow students to ask questions and discuss openly throughout.
Third Discussion & Reflection Prompt
Provide time for students to research racial bias and police brutality online in a setting where the instructor is there to answer questions and provide a safe place for difficult research. Ask them to look into the history of policing in communities of color and encourage the exploration of historical patterns. What is racial bias? How does it affect individuals on an interpersonal level? How does it affect relationships between communities? How does it affect relationships between communities and police?
Ask students to privately reflect on their own experience with racial bias. Emphasize that racial bias is not a personal fault, but a social phenomenon we are all affected by. How have they been affected by it? How have they engaged in it? How has racial bias informed their understandings of historical or current events? How do they relate racial bias and Jerome’s death? How do the students’ struggles with racial bias reflect those of Sarah’s or her dad’s? Students may share aloud or reflect privately.
Have student’s research the historical victims of policing mentioned in the book. What are the real stories of these people? How do their stories relate to Jerome’s, and vice versa? Why does this still happen in our society? What are some solutions to stop this systemic violence?
Concluding Discussion & Reflection
Ask students to research several current, real life ‘Ghost Boys’. They should choose one person they are particularly interested in to research more specifically. When researching they should consider the following questions:
What was the context of the person’s death?
When and where did it happen?
Is the death debated as being police brutality, or not? If it is debated, what are the different perspectives provided about the reality of the killing?
In the student’s opinion, is there evidence of racial bias within the reporting on the death? If so, how is racial bias informing the public narrative about the killing?
Have the person’s family members spoken out about their loved one’s death? If so, what did they have to say?
What was the public reaction to that person’s death? Were there protests or demonstrations in reaction? Have there been foundations started or legislation introduced?
What are some of the lessons to be learned about this person’s death, from any perspective?
Ask students to use these questions as a framework for their research for their final assignment. This assignment should honor the person in some form. Aspects of their life or passions may be used, or the students may interpret this as an opportunity for representing a solution to the problem. Appropriate interpretation and implementation approved by instructor. If they choose to do a representative piece, such as an art piece, poem, song, or infographic, etc they must answer the questions provided in typed format to show engagement in the depth of the assignment.
Students must also include a reflection of their experience in talking about and reflecting on race.
How has their relationship to race shaped their understanding of it?
How comfortable did they feel with talking about race at the beginning of class discussions?
If not, did they feel more comfortable after the class discussions?
What does race mean to them now?
Is this view different than it was before reading the book or having class discussions about race?
What parts of talking about race are uncomfortable?
After reflecting on these questions, students should write a formally written letter (with instructor guidance) to a government official regarding racial bias and police brutality. They should write about they person they researched and how that person’s death relates to police brutality as a systemic issue.