How the Overturning of 'Roe v. Wade' Will Reverberate Through Classrooms | Big Indy News
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How the Overturning of ‘Roe v. Wade’ Will Reverberate Through Classrooms

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The overturning of Roe v. Wade has far-reaching implications for constitutional interpretation, individual rights, and health care—issues that are at the core of social studies and sex education classes.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not protect a right to abortion, will change the way that teachers of government and civics discuss legal precedent and the right to privacy, and how U.S. history teachers explain the effects of the women’s rights movement. And it may lead students to raise questions in health or sex education classes that teachers in some states are prohibited from answering.

“[The case] actually has a lot more of a ricochet through the teaching field than I think a lot of teachers might realize before they teach this topic,” said Kerry Sautner, the chief learning officer at the National Constitution Center, which provides resources and lessons for teachers.

Teachers’ response to the Dobbs decision will play out against the backdrop of increased scrutiny on how schools are teaching about current events and social issues. Since January 2021, 17 states have imposed restrictions on how teachers can discuss race, sex, gender, or other issues deemed controversial.

“History teachers in particular are feeling a lot of pressure, and feel like there’s a magnifying glass on what they’re doing,” said Sheila Edwards, a middle school history teacher in Covina, Calif.

This summer, Edwards facilitated a civil dialogue course for teachers with the National Constitution Center, in which participants talked about how to approach Roe and Dobbs. “There were some teachers who were in tears saying, ‘I know what I should do, but I don’t know if I can do it,’” Edwards said.

Roe specifically, and abortion more generally, are largely absent from teaching standards—the documents that spell out what students should know and be able to do at each grade. Only 15 states mention Roe v. Wade in their social studies standards, according to a 2018 analysis from the National Women’s History Museum. Most states don’t reference abortion in sex education standards, though six states prohibit discussion of the topic.

Still, some teachers feel like they need to give students an opportunity to discuss the current and future implications of the Dobbs decision.

“Students are tired of the current state of political discourse in this country,” said Allison Cohen, an AP government teacher at Langley High School in McLean, Va. “They want this space where they can have these conversations that aren’t just people yelling talking points at each other.”

Read on for suggestions from teachers, teacher educators, and other experts about where Roe and Dobbs shows up in standards and curriculum—and how teachers might approach these conversations.

Government, law, and the Constitution

Roe was a central precedent in constitutional law, so the implications for government and politics teachers are broad, said Sautner.

Fifteen states mention Roe v. Wade in their social studies standards, according to a 2018 analysis from the National Women’s History Museum. In many instances, Roe is discussed in relation to the reach of the 14th Amendment and the expansion of civil liberties.

Now that Roe has been overturned, the takeaways for students will be different, Sautner said. And there are open questions of constitutional interpretation: For instance, how does the decision in Dobbs affect other cases that convey a right to privacy?

Teachers can also talk about the importance of state law, she said: “There is a lot of this undecided and gray area that is such a brilliant way to teach federalism. Where are the goal posts set by the decision? How are they a little vague and a little unclear, and how are states working around that?”

These are all topics that fit naturally into most high school government courses. But Edwards, the middle school history teacher, said she might discuss Dobbs this coming school year too if her students are curious about the decision. “We have to grab that interest where it lies. So if lies with Dobbs, I’m going to do it,” she said.

In thinking about how she might structure a lesson, Edwards is planning to have students read both the main decision and the dissent. That way, the conversation is less about students’ personal positions, and more focused on their analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of different arguments.

She hopes to convey that these debates are playing out in real time, and that it’s OK for students to feel like they don’t have all the answers. “Saying that you don’t know something is a really wise thing to do,” Edwards said.

For more on how the Dobbs decision is changing government and politics courses, including Advanced Placement United States Government and Politics, see this story.

History and other social studies courses

While most states reference Roe in relation to constitutional precedent, there are a few states—Massachusetts, New York, and Oklahoma—that situate Roe as part of the women’s rights movement.

For example, Massachusetts’ high school standards ask students to “analyze the causes and course of the women’s rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s,” listing topics including Roe, but also the birth control pill, the National Organization of Women, and the Equal Rights Amendment.

And if Roe and abortion aren’t specifically mentioned in most state standards about the women’s movement, teachers can still weave the topics into discussion of that era, said Lauren Colley, an assistant professor of integrated social studies education at the University of Cincinnati.

Abortion history goes back even farther than that, though. States started passing anti-abortion laws in the early- and mid-1800s. By the late 19th century, the procedure was criminalized or restricted in every state, with exceptions for abortions performed by doctors to save a woman’s life, said Leslie Reagan, a history professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the author of the book When Abortion Was a Crime. Reagan spoke at a July 28th webinar hosted by the National Council for the Social Studies.

But in the 18th and early 19th centuries, abortion wasn’t considered illegal under common law if it was performed before the “quickening”—the first time that fetal movement could be felt, Reagan said. It was regularly practiced, and usually induced with herbal remedies, she said.

History teachers in particular are feeling a lot of pressure, and feel like there’s a magnifying glass on what they’re doing.

Sheila Edwards, middle school history teacher in Covina, Calif.

Teaching about abortion, Roe, and Dobbs is one way to talk about reproductive rights and reproductive justice—key themes in women’s history, Colley said. But it doesn’t have to be limited to Roe: There are opportunities to examine other topics through this lens, too. Throughout U.S. history, Colley said, people have fought to have control over their reproductive health and for the right to raise their children.

This thread of historical analysis can be woven through many commonly taught topics—for example, as way to discuss sexual violence during slavery. “Oftentimes teachers talk about the coerced physical labor, but we brush over the coerced reproductive labor,” Colley said.

Taking this approach, though, can be especially fraught right now. Educators say that the growing movement to restrict how they can discuss race, sex, and gender in the classroom has left them unsure what historical events they’re allowed to talk about.

Sex-related topics can feel among the most challenging. Some research has shown that among all taboo topics, teachers are most likely to avoid discussing sex and sexual identity in class, Colley said.

But classroom conversations about abortion don’t have to be debates over morality or religion, Colley said. Instead, she said, teachers can focus lessons on inquiry, asking students to explore the policy implications of the Dobbs decision and examine the history of abortion as a part of social movements.

The anti-abortion movement that strengthened in the years after the Roe decision, for example, has been hugely influential in shaping political discourse around the issue, state laws, and ideologically aligned courts.

Health and sex education

Surprisingly, sex education standards largely avoid abortion to an even greater degree than social studies standards.

Only nine states and the District of Columbia have guidance or policies about whether or how to discuss abortion in sex education, according to a 2022 policy review from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, or SIECUS, a nonprofit that promotes comprehensive sex education.

Of these states, six prohibit discussion of abortion as a potential outcome of pregnancy. South Carolina, for example, bans talking about abortion except in the context of the complications that it might cause.

Two states—Vermont and Colorado—and D.C. are “affirming” of abortion as an option. But even if a state does require courses to cover abortion, it’s not guaranteed that students will learn about it. That’s because not all states mandate that schools offer sex education, and even those that do leave the curriculum almost entirely up to districts to craft. After the Dobbs decision, several news stories noted that many of the states that planned to restrict access to or ban abortion do not mandate sex education.

In the past few years, some states have added additional restrictions to sex education programs. Arkansas, for example, passed a law in 2021 that prohibited schools from contracting with any person or entity that “counsels in favor of abortion.” Also last year, Montana banned schools from working with any provider of sex education that also provides abortion services.

On the other end of the spectrum is Illinois, which adopted the National Sex Education Standards in 2021. The standards span from grades K-12 and teach about topics such as consent, healthy communication, and sexual and gender identity. Their adoption was applauded by advocates of comprehensive sex education, but has received backlash as well from Republican state legislators.

The national standards say that 8th graders should be able to identify abortion as one outcome of pregnancy, alongside parenting and adoption. Tenth graders are expected to analyze the laws that address sexual health services for minors, including abortion, and identify reliable sources of information on the procedure. In 12th grade, students analyze societal factors that can influence decisions about pregnancy options, including abortion.

Illinois schools can choose to opt-out of these standards, and many have done so.



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Adnan Syed of ‘Serial,’ Newly Freed, Is Hired by Georgetown University

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Adnan Syed, who was freed in September after he spent 23 years in prison fighting a murder conviction that was chronicled in the hit podcast “Serial,” has been hired by Georgetown University as an associate for an organization whose work mirrors the efforts that led to his release, the university has announced.

Mr. Syed, the subject of the 2014 podcast and pop-culture sensation that raised questions about whether he had received a fair trial after being convicted of strangling his high school classmate and onetime girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, will work for Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative.

Mr. Syed, who was 17 at the time of Ms. Lee’s death in Baltimore, has steadfastly maintained his innocence.

The university said that Mr. Syed, now 41, will help support programs at the organization, such as a class in which students reinvestigate wrongful convictions and seek to “bring innocent people home” by creating short documentaries about their findings. The program, founded in 2016, “brings together leading scholars, practitioners, students and those affected by the criminal justice system to tackle the problem of mass incarceration,” according to its website.

Georgetown University, which is in Washington, said that in the year leading up to his release, Mr. Syed was enrolled in the university’s bachelor of liberal arts program at the Maryland prison where he was incarcerated.

“To go from prison to being a Georgetown student and then to actually be on campus on a pathway to work for Georgetown at the Prisons and Justice Initiative, it’s a full circle moment,” Mr. Syed said in a statement. “P.J.I. changed my life. It changed my family’s life. Hopefully I can have the same kind of impact on others.”

He added that he hoped to continue his education at Georgetown and go to law school.

The new job this month culminated what has been a remarkable year for Mr. Syed, whose case has again received widespread public attention after a flurry of recent legal activity.

In September, Mr. Syed was released from prison after a judge overturned his murder conviction. Prosecutors said at the time that an investigation had uncovered various problems related to his case, including the potential involvement of two suspects and key evidence that prosecutors might have failed to provide to Mr. Syed’s lawyers.

In October, prosecutors in Baltimore dropped the charges against Mr. Syed after DNA testing on items that had never been fully examined proved Mr. Syed’s innocence, officials said.

Ms. Lee’s family filed an appeal with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals after prosecutors dropped the charges.

On Nov. 4, the court said in an order that the appeal could be heard in court in February.

Marc Howard, the director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative, said in a statement that Mr. Syed’s “commitment to the program and to his education was clear from the moment he stepped into the classroom.”

He added that Mr. Syed “is one of the most resilient and inspiring people I’ve ever met, and he has so much to offer our team and the other students in P.J.I. programs.”

In a Georgetown University article about the hiring, Mr. Syed said that he was in disbelief when he first saw a flier for the program.

“It became this domino effect to see us be accepted,” he said. “It made it become something real in the eyes of others, that there are opportunities. There can be a sense of hope: a sense of hope that things can get better, a sense of hope that I can work hard and still achieve something, a sense of hope that I can still do something that my family will be proud of.”

His attachment to the school was evident on Sept. 19, when he walked out of prison for the first time since he was a teenager.

Amid a throng of reporters and his supporters, Mr. Syed walked down the courthouse steps in Baltimore, smiling. He gave a wave.

And in his hand, he carried a binder with a Georgetown sticker. His graded papers and tests were inside.

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At Berkeley Law, a Debate Over Zionism, Free Speech and Campus Ideals

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“Supporting Palestinian liberation does not mean opposition to Jewish people or the Jewish religion,” the group said in a statement to the Berkeley law community. Members of the group did not respond to messages seeking an interview.

After learning about the bylaw, Mr. Chemerinsky met with the university’s Hillel rabbi and spoke with several Jewish students, but, aside from concerns within the law school, the reaction was relatively muted, he said.

That changed, he said, after Kenneth L. Marcus, the civil rights chief of the U.S. Education Department during the Trump administration, wrote about the bylaw in September in The Jewish Journal under the explosive headline “Berkeley Develops Jewish Free Zones.”

Mr. Marcus wrote that the bylaw was “frightening and unexpected, like a bang on the door in the night,” and said that free speech does not protect discriminatory conduct.

The article went viral.

Mr. Chemerinsky said he learned about Mr. Marcus’s article, which he described as “inflammatory and distorted,” while he was in Los Angeles for a conference. Mr. Chemerinsky said he typed out a response to the article, which was appended to it, and then didn’t think much of it. That afternoon, he was deluged by emails. At an alumni event that night, the law school’s perceived hostility to Jews was “all anyone wanted to talk about.”

In an interview, Mr. Marcus, a Berkeley law school alumnus, said that he was contacted by law students there who were concerned about the bylaw. He said he spent weeks trying to support them and wrote his article after Berkeley did not “rectify the problem.”

Not allowing Zionist speakers, he said, was a proxy for prohibiting Jews. The provisions, he said, are “aimed at the Jewish community and those who support the Jewish community,” even while acknowledging that the policy could allow Jewish speakers and bar those who are not Jewish.

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‘Better Defined By Their Strengths’: 5 Ways to Support Students With Learning Differences

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“People with learning differences are human,” wrote Deanna White, a neurodiversity advocate and parent learning coach in response to a question we posed on LinkedIn. “Unique individuals and wonderful humans that are better defined by their strengths. So stop focusing on the weakness.”

We invited our social media followers across Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to weigh in on the most effective way schools can better support students with learning differences.

Responses ranged from shifting educators’ mindset—like highlighting student strengths—to more far-reaching changes that would require schoolwide or district support.

Focus on students’ strengths

There are many ways of encouraging students to play to their strengths, as educators Winston Sakurai and Phyllis Fagell demonstrated in an August 2022 article by Education Week Assistant Editor Denisa Superville.

They detailed how they shared their own learning struggles as a way to connect with their students. Their personal successes show students, who may be struggling academically or socially, that anything is possible.

Here’s what other educators had to say.

1. Help them understand their learning strengths and challenges and growing them as strong self-advocates.

2. Devoting time and money to developing teachers’ abilities to differentiate.

– Amy S.

By having high expectations and giving them exposure to high-quality materials and experiences, even ones that seem “above them.” They will shock us with their insights every time.

– Angela P. 😒😒🥴

Meet students where they are

In a 2015 primer on the topic, EdWeek Assistant Editor Sarah D. Sparks wrote about how “differentiated instruction”—the process of identifying students’ individual learning strengths, needs, and interests and adapting lessons to match them—became a popular approach to helping diverse students learn together. Respondents largely agreed.

Time to work with every student. If you can meet with a child for a bit of time to help with exactly what she or he needs, it might ignite both learning and understanding.

Alison K.

So many ways…start with environment, a.k.a. The Third Teacher.

  • Reduce obstacles

  • Increase supports

  • Meet kids where they are

(h/t @drncgarrett)

Matt R.

Small class sizes, strong positive teacher/student relationships, differentiated instruction, and reflection.

Yvonne E.

Smaller class sizes

In a 2017 Opinion essay, former teacher Marc Vicenti wrote about “the daily wear and tear on educators when trying to juggle a full teaching load and meaningful relationships with lively young people who all have different needs and experiences.”

“We can either choose to be less effective in our practice or exhaust ourselves—neither of which is beneficial to students or our own well-being,” he wrote.

Smaller class sizes are one way of mitigating the risk of burnout while working to meet each student’s needs.

Small classes, small schools, local control. I am the principal in a pretty small school in a small community and I know every child, and every family and we can build programs to meet our students’ needs. A country run or state run school system can’t do that.

Ryan G.

Increase funding to actually lower the student-to-teacher ratio. This allows teachers to give more time to the individual.

Cathleen W.

Fewer standardized tests

Standardized tests have long been criticized for narrowing instruction and for holding all students to the same standard when “students enter school at varying levels and learn and grow at different rates.”

The backlash against standardized testing renewed interest in alternative ways to evaluate students’ learning progress, like “performance assessments—the idea of measuring what students can do, not merely what they know”.

STOP standardized testing.

Dawn W.

Fewer standardized or timed tests, teaching to mastery, not according to a schedule.

Autumn

Give students a voice

Sometimes it’s best to go to the source to discern how to best tackle an issue. Giving these students a voice can not only empower them in their learning, but also help educators understand how to have the biggest impact.

Ask them how they learn and what helps. Give them a voice!

Grisel W.

Yes! Listening to what students need and giving them a voice is something we need to do for all students, but especially those who need more help in the classroom.

Victoria D.



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