Supporting Question 1: Defining Educational Justice | Facing History & Ourselves
Youngsters signal from a window in Hyde Park High School on Monday, Sept. 23, 1974 in Boston a generally peaceful day in the city's attempts at school desegregation

Supporting Question 1: Defining Educational Justice

Students explore the supporting question, “How did African American, Latinx, and Chinese American Bostonians envision educational justice for their children in the 1960s and 1970s?”


One 50-min class period


  • Civics & Citizenship
  • Social Studies




English — US



About This Activity 

Students will consider the meaning of educational justice by reviewing documents and accounts of African American, Latinx, and Chinese American Bostonians’ experiences in Boston schools in the 1960s. Students will then complete a Frayer model graphic organizer and write their own definitions of educational justice.

How did African American, Latinx, and Chinese American Bostonians envision educational justice for their children in the 1960s and 1970s?

Students will write a working definition of educational justice, list its characteristics, and name examples and non-examples.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

The sources that students engage with for this supporting question have been curated to support students in the task of defining educational justice, and these have therefore been pulled from different times in the chronology of the history explored in this inquiry. Each source includes any context that students need in order to complete the formative task. Starting with the second supporting question, students will look more closely at the chronology of this period of Boston’s history.

The term “Negro” is used in the primary source reading Roxbury Parents Write to Mayor Collins. While outdated and offensive today, this word was used by both white and Black Americans as a standard term for African Americans during the desegregation era. It is important to explain to students that this antiquated term is now considered offensive.

This supporting question’s featured sources include two that are labeled for high school. The conceptual level and length of these texts is more appropriate for older students. If you wish to adapt the activity for high school, we recommend that you use one or more of the following texts in addition to (or in place of) the texts listed.

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Lesson Plans


Give each student one of the sources for this activity:

Explain to students that these sources provide evidence about how African American, Latinx, and Chinese American parents and students in Boston in the 1960s and early 1970s defined a just, fair, and equal education.

Ask students to read and annotate the source they have been given. As they read, they should highlight words and phrases as follows:

  • Highlight (or circle) words or phrases that describe education that is just, fair, and equal for all studentsexamples of educational justice.
  • Highlight in a different color (or underline) words or phrases that describe education that is NOT just, fair, and equal for all studentsnon-examples of educational justice. (If necessary, explain to students that a non-example is something that shows a lack of educational justice.)

Note that students will likely end up with a disproportionate number of examples or non-examples, depending on the source each student is working with. This is due to the nature and purpose of the documents themselves.

Give students a few minutes to share their annotations with a partner who has read and annotated the same source.

The class will now use a Frayer model graphic organizer to determine the meaning of educational justice and (for the formative task) create a definition for it.  

But first, because students worked with different sources in the previous activity, begin by briefly summarizing each source. Ask for volunteers who worked with each of the sources to answer the following questions:

  • What kind of source is it?
  • Whose perspective does it represent?
  • What does it say?

Then put students in groups so that each group includes at least one person who annotated each source in the previous activity. Pass out the Defining Educational Justice handout. In their groups, students will use details from the sources they analyzed to fill in the Characteristics, Examples, and Non-examples sections of the graphic organizer. For now, students should leave the Definition section blank. Remind students that even though they have their own copy of the handout, their graphic organizer should reflect input from all of their group members and the sources they analyzed.

Time permitting, you might wrap up the activity with a whole-group debrief in which volunteers share some of the characteristics, examples, and non-examples their groups discussed.

Students will write their own definition of educational justice and add it to the Definition section of their Defining Educational Justice handout. They should base their definition on the characteristics, examples, and non-examples they already listed on the handout during Activity 2.

Materials and Downloads

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The handouts below are used in this activity.

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