Ethos Education

Ant-Man: To what extent should helping ex-convicts not to reoffend be a priority for the penal system?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Awareness of Christian teaching about judgement, forgiveness and punishment.
  • Understanding of the concept of human rights.
  • Understand different theories of punishment.
  • Consideration of the treatment of convicted prisoners.

Learning Outcomes: 

  • Reflect on the consequences of doing something wrong, particularly the duration of those consequences.
  • Reflect upon the difficulties a released convict has in finding work, based on a clip from the film Ant-Man.
  • Analyse the content of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Evaluate how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights relates to Christian principles about the human condition.
  • Analyse different theories of justice and punishment.
  • Evaluate those theories in relation to the teaching of the Bible.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a job application letter on behalf of Scott Lang (the main character in Ant-Man.)

STARTER:

Ask the students to share with the rest of the class the worst trouble they ever got into with their parents (as appropriate). Let a few students say what they did, and what the consequences were. Hopefully someone will have a story about doing something that led to them being grounded for a period of time. As appropriate, ask them to say the longest period of time that any of them have ever been grounded for (or heard of someone being grounded). Ask if they think it would be fair for someone to be grounded indefinitely for any of the things that they have said they did wrong.

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about the way that we punish people who break the law, and in particular thinking about the lasting consequences of that punishment beyond their sentence.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the following clip from the film Ant-Man (Marvel, 2015 certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain to students that Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a convicted criminal who we first see in this clip towards the end of his time in prison. Ask the students to pay particular attention to his intentions on being released, and what particular difficulties are placed in his way.

Start time:       0.02.29 (in chapter 2 of the DVD)
End time:         0.08.19
Clip length:      5 minutes and 50 seconds

The clip starts with Scott (Paul Rudd) in prison fatigues and preparing himself. He nods to show he is ready, and is then hit in the face by another prisoner. The clip ends after Scott says, ‘I don’t care. I’m out’. If you would prefer a shorter clip, stop the film after Scott is fired, with the last line being his boss saying, ‘I’ll just pretend I didn’t see it.’ Please note that both versions of the clip include the phrase, ‘S-O-B’s’ (which is short for Sons of Bitches). If you don’t feel this is appropriate for your students, please don’t show the clip.

Ask the students why Scott was finding it so hard to keep a job? Do they think that it is fair for someone who has served the sentence for their crime to have difficulty finding honest work because of their prior convictions? Would Scott be less sympathetic if the nature of his crime was different (say, if he had used violence while stealing), or if he was less determined to avoid crime in the future? You may want to point out that subsequently Scott’s need to get his life back on track and earn enough money to support his daughter leads him to agree to undertake the criminal job that Luis (Michael Pena) had lined up for him.

Regardless of their sympathies for Scott, bring the students back to the question of what things someone should lose as a result of being found guilty of serious crimes.

Encourage the students to list some of the things they believe to be fundamental human rights. Brainstorm a few ideas, and ask if any of these are things that people should forfeit as a result of being convicted of a crime. Give out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which you can find at www.un.org/Overview/rights.html. Each copy will take five A4 pages to print out.

Explain that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is designed to outline human rights for all people in all places at all times – including people who have been convicted of criminal offences. Give the students time to read through the document and ask if there is anything in the document that they were surprised to see, or if there is anything that they disagree with.

Now ask students how they think a Christian might answer the question `what are human rights? Read Genesis 1:27-28. Ask the students what they think this Bible passage asserts about human beings? Draw out three key thoughts: that humans are made in the image of God, that they were made as male and female, and that their purpose was to rule over the earth.

Get the students to take each of the three statements and think about the rights these confer on us.

  • Made in the image of God: Possible rights: freedom of independent thought; freedom of belief and worship.
  • Male and female: Possible rights: the right to marry and produce children; the right to fair and equal treatment regardless of gender.
  • Rule over the earth: Possible rights: the right to work and to rest; the right to a fair share of the earth’s resources.

Do the students agree that these are our human rights? How do they compare with the list you made earlier and with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Do the students think there are others, which don’t fall into any of the three categories above? Do these rights apply to everyone in the world?

What do the students think is the purpose of punishing convicted criminals? Ask the students to think of some different objectives that a legal system might prioritise? Here are some possibilities if the students need some help:

  • Deterrent – preventing crimes from being committed.
  • Protection – keeping innocent people safe from lawbreakers.
  • Punishment – making lawbreakers suffer for the things they have done wrong.
  • Rehabilitation – helping lawbreakers not to re-offend in the future.
  • Restorative justice – making amends and seeking to put things right.

Write the different theories on the board as they are suggested. Make sure that the students have grasped the difference between the theories. Ask the students to identify the focus of each theory (deterrent focuses on potential criminal acts; protection focuses on potential victims of crime; punishment and rehabilitation both focus on the lawbreaker; restorative justice focuses on both lawbreaker and victim).

Discuss with the students the strengths and weaknesses of each theory. When you talk about the principle of rehabilitation, refer back to the clip and the way that his criminal record made it hard for Scott to make an honest living, making it almost impossible for him not to go back to a life of crime. You could ask them what attitude a Christian might have to the question of whether people can change the way they are. A possible response to this is that Christians believe that people can change, with God’s help. The Bible provides numerous examples, most notably the apostle Paul. Until Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul was notorious for stirring the Jews up against Christians, and having Christians put to death. After his conversion, Paul was a leading figure in the early church, and devoted his life to travelling across the known world telling people about Jesus.

Ask the students which of the theories they would expect a Christian to be most in favour of. Explain that justice is an important concept for Christians – the Bible describes God as a just ruler, one who acts to ensure that all wrongs are righted and that justice prevails (see Psalm 103:6, to take just one example). Similarly God’s followers are told to concern themselves with justice (see Micah 6:8) and to do what they can to ensure that people receive justice. However, Christians also believe that God will one day judge the world (see Revelation 20:11-15) and restore perfect justice. Christians are told that because of this, they should leave the matter of revenge to God (Deuteronomy 32:34-35, which Paul comments on in Romans 12:17-21).

Other Bible passages that may be helpful to introduce as the discussion unfolds include the following: Exodus 20:13; Leviticus 24:17-22; Psalm 9: 7-9 and 13-18; Amos 5:7-15; Matthew 5:38-42.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Ask the students to write a job application letter on behalf of Scott Lang. The letter should stress his desire to leave his criminal past behind him and make the case for why it would be right for someone to give him an honest job. The letter should also demonstrate the student’s understanding of different theories of punishment and the concept of human rights.

YOU WILL NEED:

  • A copy of the film Ant-Man and the means to play it.
  • Print outs of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Bibles.

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