Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Political Participation, Professional Development, Projects, Required Documents, Teachable Moments, Teaching Tips

Teaching Controversial Topics… like abortion laws

 

Love is a much needed emotion in today’s world and it is always welcomed. It is a great way of cashing in on your own moral savings. Many people donate to charities that they are passionate about, they also donate to

 

As I scroll through social media, it’s hard to miss that Georgia and Alabama have recently passed the nation’s strictest abortion laws. So, naturally, when students walk in they want to know what I think.

I think that certain factions are trying to overturn Roe v. Wade (my standard response, which my students understand.

I’m not about to discuss my views because in my classroom, it’s not relevant.) I will not discuss this right at the beginning of my class because I need time to get to know my students. This is why I do my Civil Liberties and Civil Rights unit at the end of my class. When discussing the 2nd amendment or abortion case law as civil liberties, I need my students to know the procedures and be comfortable in the classroom. In my classroom, opinion is not relevant. You can have your opinion, but we aren’t about to debate gun rights or abortion. My job is to give you information about the Constitution, how to find relevant and trustworthy sources, and teach you how to develop an educated argument.

I’m going to assume that this issue will continue and have already started to consider how I will address it with my students next year. Here are some I have collected to help with #1 and #2 on the 5 ways to improve your practice. If you are curious about #4, I discuss it in The New York Times Op-Ed in AP Government.

  • This USA Today article gives information on the states’ abortion laws. The quantitative analysis could be a great warm up to discuss federalism (Unit 1)
    • How do states have the ability to pass laws that differ from others based on Supreme Court cases?
  • Discussing the sides of abortion in relation to factions and Federalist 10. Abortion will likely be a constant source of division because there are so many factions within the argument.
  • A great source for teachers to learn is Body Politic from Oyez. It features Roe v. Wade, Casey v. Planned Parenthood (and Justice O’Connor’s famous undue burden standard), Gonzales v. Carhart, and Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
    • In my classroom, I skip over Gonzales because of the content. Roe v Wade is a required case, Casey sets a different standard, and Whole Women’s Health is the case I was at the Supreme Court for so I know a lot about it. 
  • The Future of Abortion Laws: “Two leading voices from organizations on different sides of today’s biggest debates over reproductive rights and abortion laws—Catherine Glenn Foster of Americans United for Life and Dr. Kelli Garcia of National Women’s Law Center—join host Jeffrey Rosen to explore the key cases making their way up to the Supreme Court. Garcia and Foster also share their views on landmark abortion precedent like Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and the more recent case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, and predict how precedent might affect the outcomes of challenges to pending abortion laws at the federal level and in states like Louisiana, Tennessee, and Mississippi.” The Constitution Center.
    • I love the Constitution Center so much. The podcasts show both sides and have a very educated discussion based on law.
  • FiveThirtyEight Politics
    • This podcast goes through political ideology, polling, how cases go through the Court system, and the 2020 election. I would assign this to listen to at home or listen to it in class so that I am available to answer questions since I am the content expert.
  • The Words We Live By by Linda Monk
    • First of all, I love this book. Secondly, pages 222-224 has a great explanation of abortion under the 14th amendment.

 

With all controversial topic, knowing your kids and having your kids know procedures in your class is super important.

I plan for the comments that get us off track or may be inflammatory. My standard response is, “I appreciate your opinion, but we need to stick to the facts and get back on track.” I may not appreciate their opinion, but I want to keep my classroom a place where students can make mistakes and learn.

How do you navigate controversial topics in your AP Government class?

 

American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Foundations of American Democracy, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Political Participation, Projects, Required Documents, Teaching Tips, Writing for AP Gov

Teaching how to write better argumentative essays in AP Government

Besides teaching AP Government, I also teach 8th grade. In one of my classes, I have 31 students and the other has 10. Every time we do class discussions, I have to really figure out how to vary the instruction to allow all students to talk and learn. This also allows me to try new techniques!

I’ve also been reviewing the year and my AP Government students just could not fully grasps really using evidence and reasoning. I loved this with my 8th graders and will incorporate it with AP next year, especially after reflecting on my practice as my students are currently sitting in their test.

The set up: We just finished our economics unit and I needed a transition to our final exam, which is a Moot Court on a current case (the students haven’t yet decided which one and yes, I do Moot Court with my 8th graders) Our DBQ is from Voices of History from the Bill of Rights Institute (requires a log in but is free and an amazing resource, including eight of the required cases). We chose to do Kelo v. New London. Let me tell you something, it’s a beast! It also lends PERFECTLY into an argumentation essay.

Day 1: read and annotate the background essay and have a small class discussion to ensure understanding

Days 2-3 (depending on time and length of documents) I split the handouts into sections for groups of 4-5 (depending on class size). In those groups, the students become ‘experts’ in those documents. They answer the questions and think about how to use that evidence to answer the question provided, in this case “Evaluate the Court’s ruling in Kelo v. New London”

Day 4- Four minute Socratic seminars:

  • Students within their groups will have a Socratic discussion regarding their assigned documents and the overall prompt. There are leading questions within the DBQ.
  • I give 4 minutes for the discussion within the group. The rest of the students are taking notes. In my classroom, I have 6 groups, but this can be adjusted for any number of students.
    • For my class of 10, I will have each of them become an expert on a set of documents and talk us through them as I record the evidence on the board.
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I took notes during their Socratic seminars

It’s very simple and can be adjusted to accommodate any classroom. I was able to sit with some groups and help them with some of the meatier pieces. After this round of Socratic discussions, students should be well equipped to write an argumentative essay. My kids killed it because we read AND discussed before they wrote.

If you are doing this with your first DBQ, it’s a great time to introduce the argumentative essay rubric and discuss what is expected of them. At this point, students will write their argumentative essays. (Oh, and the famous Brutus 1) After the first one, you can lessen the time in class needed as the process has been established. For me, the Socratic discussion is the most important part to do in class.

Here’s the clincher- Students either get all the points OR a Z. I learned about this from a college professor. Earning a Z means you aren’t quite done yet. You have the rubric and have seen what you’ve earned, but you also see what you haven’t earned and you have an opportunity to go back and adjust your writing to earn those point. The purpose for this is to get them to a point where they know they have an opportunity for feedback and revision. The end goal is to ensure they know how to write an argumentative essay and how to understand the rubric to get all of the points. Depending on your schedule, you can give up to two weeks (or for me, the end of the unit) to submit their revisions. I realize this will be a lot of front loading, so I may do it as groups to start with. Luckily, I start school in July so I will be able to test it out before many of you are in school.

Continue reading “Teaching how to write better argumentative essays in AP Government”

Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Projects, Required Documents

Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 v. State of Indiana… A Moot Court

It has begun. We’ve started our week of deep diving into Street Law’s Winter SCOTUS in the classroom case, Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 v. State of Indiana. This is the final exam for my AP Government class as well as my accelerated 8th graders. I have discussed how I do this in a previous post. This is how I’m doing it for this year!

We end our semester in AP Government with Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Since this case was argued November 28, the media is fresh and there is a lot of information out there. It’s in the news, it’s on podcasts, it’s part of our everyday lives.

This is how the last week and a half goes:

Preface: I’ve given them case and assignment before to allow them to look it over and decide what they will want to do or what they will be successful at. I’ve developed these roles because I know students show their knowledge in different ways. It’s an ever developing project as I get feedback from my students.

Day 1/2: Listening to oral arguments and discussing what we hear.  I started to write down the cases as they were mentioned, do a bit of research to see if they were worth a look by the students, and list them on the board. (I also get for graduation robes so the students can have robes and be a bit more official)

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Related cases:

  • McDonald v. Chicago (HELLO required Supreme Court case)
  • Bennis v. Michigan
  • von Hofe v. United States
  • US v. Bajakajian
  • Austin v. US
  • Kokesh v. SEC
  • US v. Halper
  • Van Oster v. Kansas

Vocabulary to Know:

  • in rem
  • in personam
  • civil forfeiture
  • stare decisis

 

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Day 3 (Block Day) Full practice exam– not related, but I want one last exam before they leave so I can see where they are at and personalize review assignments for the spring AP test.

Day 4,5: Research case, amicus briefs (example from SCOTUSblog), related cases, etc. I like to do a few days in class so they have each other and me, the content “expert”. There is also a podcast from First Mondays called “8,000 pounds of shark fins”. (Even though the actual case is called United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. Yes, that is real. There is also a John Oliver clip, however I don’t show it in class because… well, we all know John Oliver…

Day 6: Finalize papers and turn in. Run through what to expect with Moot Court. I look through all papers that night to ensure quality before the moot court date.

Day 7: Moot Court (It’s our final exam day and we have 90 minutes)

I will update as we move forward, but wanted to give an overview of what I’ll be doing the next few weeks!

 

Update:

Man, this was fun! I even had a student come up with their own media company to live tweet the case.

 

Things I will change for next semester:

  1. As much as I trust my students, there was an issue of misuse of technology and a student tweeting something with inappropriate language tied to our class hashtag. I had it immediately removed, but it taught me a valuable lesson.  Next time, I will review appropriate use of technology as it relates to using class hashtags and have a set punishment for. It is the unfortunate byproduct of using social media in a classroom. Lesson learned.
  2. Because I had my 8th graders do this as well, they came up with the idea to write a newspaper as they watched! {Twitter wasn’t an option}5th hour
  3. One class got off topic and the Justices were asking irrelevant questions. I need to be better at preparing them as to what to ask.
  4. The Justices in a few classes were on a mission to be tough. Next semester, I will be more specific with what they need to do. I caught one class and reminded the Justices that they are to let the lawyers answer their questions and to not try to trick them.

 

All classes were unanimous in their decisions and had so much fun!

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We had to pack a Court because of class size. 
Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Required Documents

A Case for Reading The Whole Document- Letter From A Birmingham Jail

 

Documents used:
Letter to Martin Luther King A Group of Clergyman (1963)
Required Document: Letter from a Birmingham City Jail (1963) (Annotations)
Background documents (if you have time or students are lacking background)
What the Black Man Wants Frederick Douglass (1865)
Nonviolence and Jim Crow Bayard Rustin (1942)

I originally did this lesson with my 8th graders last year, but will differentiate it for AP seniors. I had gone to a seminar on Civil Rights in America: Speeches and Leaders last January put on by Teaching American History

I had decided to really challenge my 8th graders (who are in an accelerated program) and have them read the entirety of the Letter from a Birmingham Jail. We were in the midst of our Civil Rights unit (I taught them pre-APUSH), and we had already read, annotated and discussed What the Black Man Wants by Frederick Douglass. This set the stage for the bigger discussion on all of the documents culminating with Letter from a Birmingham Jail. 

Now, I know this year that I will not have the luxury of time with my seniors, so I am shortening the sequence but I want the outcome to be the same.

I started this with the Letter to Martin Luther King from A Group of Clergymen. This is an easier document that students can read at home. I do this to set the stage for Dr. King’s letter. I don’t think that the document should be a stand alone. The letter to King, published in a newspaper, is a quick read and I require students to write down what the clergy are asking of Dr. King. This letter basically says, “Don’t tell me how to clean up your backyard.” King wasn’t from Birmingham, and the clergy didn’t feel like and outsider should be able to come in and tell them how to deal with their racial issues. A note that it was also written on Good Friday.

King’s response? It’s OUR backyard. He starts off with “My dear FELLOW clergymen” to off the bat show that it’s an “us” mentality. This document is long, but let me tell you, I gave the 8th graders 4 days to digest it and they knocked it out of the park. I wish I could say I had an amazing lesson plan, but I didn’t. I let it all happen organically and with 8th grade accelerated students, it was magic.

For my seniors, I gave them the assignment on a Friday for homework, and gave them Tuesday after our Civil Rights notes to work on it.

Prompt: Discuss key points that Dr. King discusses in response to the Letter to Dr. King. Explain how this has translated into modern day civil rights.

The purpose of the Socratic seminar was to gain a deeper understanding of the documents.

I broke the students up into two groups. Each got 20 minutes to discuss and since we did this on a block day, I gave an additional 20 minutes to discuss as a whole. Students had so many incredible comments. There were discussion about this being a redress of grievances, as MLK discusses Jefferson and the Declaration a few times. Discussions of Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, LBGTQ+, Flint, and Kaepernick showed students ability to connect the themes to current events.

Questions arose: Was MLK’s optimism born out of necessity? Does the world lack empathy?

Students reflected on the document after the discussion: Discuss the legacy of the Letter From A Birmingham Jail.

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I appreciate the time struggle of the semester crunch, as I only have a few more weeks. However, as with every other document, I attempted to get students to understand the whole document’s themes and connecting it with other parts of political history. And it as assigned mostly at home.

How has your interaction with this document played out in your class? What have you found to be successful?

Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Projects

Supreme Court Hand Turkeys

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and our school is hosting a blood drive. This means sparse classes and excited students. Yesterday, I assigned them a Supreme Court case from the list I made so they could prepare for Supreme Court Dating next week. {My students loved the Bureaucratic Speed Dating we did and last year appreciated the Supreme Court speed dating because they were able to get a lot of info from it!} With the new cases, I want them to have a firm understanding of the case. It’s an easy assignment, it’s fun, and it’s awesome to see what they create! Hand Turkeys assignment.

To really get the cases, we will draw them, talk about them (Supreme Court speed dating), and write about them. I loved the way these turned out! 

American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Teachable Moments

Teachable Moments- Birthright Citizenship

Today, I was reminded why it’s so vital that we teach what we do. The day was going along as I assessed the media unit, and assigned the Supreme Court Speed Dating cases to students because some will be gone tomorrow before the Thanksgiving break. 3rd hour, students came in heated and angry from another class because of a conversation on birthright citizenship. There were tears, there was anger.

I allowed students to tell me what happened with leaving out names, because that information is neither hear nor there. *This is where I tell you to know your class. We called a family meeting because I know my class, and I know what we can/cannot do. Based on the political ideologies we did at the beginning of the year, this will be a good conversation. 

We keep this up all year to remind us that we all have different ideologies. We need to keep it Constitutional.

I listened to the frustrations and boiled it down to the student was upset because the opposition didn’t have as much knowledge (because they haven’t taken Government yet) and therefore, wasn’t making Constitutional arguments.

Immediately, students started to look at the 14th amendment and make their arguments to me. I gently pushed back, trying to explain the other side. And then I had a moment of genius. I asked the class, “Is this something you want to further explore? I have articles and a podcast we can listen to tonight and discuss tomorrow.” That, my friends, was a moment I am proud of because there was emphatic yeses. I put the following links on my Planbook for the students:

Essay from Constitution Center

Breaking Down the Birthright Citizenship Debate

Does the Constitution Require Birthright Citizenship? Podcast

Plyer v. Doe (discussed in the podcast)

The Constitution Center is all in with the new redesign and I love that they have both sides presented in a civil manner. In the current political climate, it’s not often we see respectful, educated disagreements. It’s very important to me that we model this is many ways in our class.

Yes, the College Board standards are important and it’s my job to prepare them for the AP test in May. Yes, I only have a semester to teach. Sometimes, going off the lessons is important and valuable. And when you’re unsure, there’s a mountain of available resources just waiting for your students and you to help dissect the information.

When in doubt, get medical with it (as I explain in an earlier post) 

Stay calm, and teach on.

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Foundations of American Democracy, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Political Participation, Professional Development

My favorite podcasts for AP Government

I absolutely love podcasts! I can listen while I’m driving or out for a walk. I love having my students listen to them as well. I often assign them outside of class, but sometimes we will listen to them if they are short and meaningful. It’s also helpful for my auditory learners or for students that just need a bit of extra information to really “get it”. The green are ones I listen to in class or assign for extra knowledge on a subject! The red are for my own personal knowledge and growth. 

Here are my favorite podcasts for AP Government!

  • Constitutional– I use this one in class and for my personal knowledge.
  • We the People– I have to admit, I love Jeffrey Rosen. And when he followed me on Twitter one day, I about died. THIS is a podcast I have my students listen to because it presents both sides from a scholarly view point. It has been especially amazing for the redesign. I highly recommend this! 
  • The Daily– I listen to this daily. Each day on my way to work. Like clockwork. 
  • Teaching American History– with titles such as “How to Read Federalist #10” , many AP teachers jump for joy. Let’s be honest, we all need to brush up on some of our document knowledge. This is a great resource for teachers who don’t want to be caught unaware! 
  • More Perfect I love using this in class. More specifically, they have a great one on Citizen’s United which can be used with my lesson on the required case. There are 3 seasons and I’ve found they are easy listening. 
  • PBS News Hour- quick, easy, informative, and part of my Alexa morning routine. 
  • Ain’t No Free Lunch– I met Danielle at my Street Law summer and really loved listening to her talk. Her and her friend, Taikein look at current/past issues. I appreciate hearing different points of view because it makes me a better teacher and better citizen. Plus, I am working on expanding my resources so that all students feel represented. And my students love the back and forth. 
  • Slow Burn– Nixon’s Watergate. Clinton’s impeachment. So enthralling and something I listen to so I can strengthen my history knowledge. 
  • Up First– The news from NPR in 10 minutes. I recommend to students who want to listen to the news and keep up. They can listen to it on the way to school or work. 
  • The Wilderness– I started to listen to Pod Save America awhile ago on the recommendation of a friend, but soon found it to be not up my alley. I decided to give this a try because of it’s look at what happened to the Democratic Party in the 2016 and what they need to change. It’s like an autopsy and it’s refreshingly honest. This is a podcast I listen to for my own personal knowledge.  From the website: “The Wilderness is a documentary from Crooked Media and Two-Up about the history and future of the Democratic Party. Pod Save America’s Jon Favreau tells the story of a party finding its way out of the political wilderness through conversations with strategists, historians, policy experts, organizers, and voters. In fifteen chapters, the series explores issues like inequality, race, immigration, sexism, foreign policy, media strategy, and how Democrats can build a winning majority that lasts.”

 


Tell me, what are your favorite podcasts and how do you use them?

Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Professional Development

Moot Court Assessments…Beyond Multiple Choice

After I attended the Street Law Institute in 2016, I started to really look at how I assessed my AP Gov kids. Sure, multiple choice is important, as is learning to write FRQ’s but I wanted to really assess what they learned in my class.

Enter Moot Court and changing the way I look at AP.

Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely use multiple choice and writing for assessing. However, I struggled with giving a final exam that didn’t really match what I wanted to see. I wanted to see the application of the knowledge.

This will be my 3rd year doing it, and I’m already excited for it!

First, I pass out the Supreme Court Mock Trials instructions. I use current cases that I get from Street Law. Last year, we used Carpenter v. USNIFLA v. Becerra, and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. I liked being able to use them in conjunction with the oral arguments because of the news stories in current times. It got the students more involved! Even though the sheet requires the lawyers to write a paper, I let them know it’s more of notes for their oral essay in front of the Court. They don’t actually turn anything in.

I give students a choice as to their role. It has worked out in the past because you have students who do not want to speak, but like the social media aspect. You have students that try new things. {I used this letter for my re-certification for National Boards and it still get me every time. As teachers, we wield a power greater than anything, the power to get kids to believe in themselves}

Throughout the course of the time I allot for this project, we listen to oral arguments {yes, we listen to the full oral argument}. I use oyez.org because as we listen, student can read the transcript and see who is talking. We watch news clips that students find. We immerse ourselves in that world and it covers everything we learned. We look at the Constitution, at the amicus briefs submitted by interest groups, and precedent cases. Each year is a bit different as each class is a bit different.

The day of is always the best. I require students to dress up for Court. I take this very seriously. We do it on a block day to allow for full time. Here is the breakdown of the roles:

Chief Justice: This person runs the show. Just like Chief Justice John Roberts, they are in charge of the introduction, the timing, and reigning in any issues. They also get to use the gavel that I got from the Supreme Court.

Justices: Are responsible for asking questions, knowing their stuff, and making sure the lawyers do too.

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The lawyer present their case in front of the Court. They have to be ready for anything, and after listening to the actual oral arguments, they are. This is the only role that does not require a written paper to be turned in because they are essentially giving an oral essay foe 20-30 minutes. Here is an example of what a lawyer wrote up to start off their case.

Lastly, we have the clerks. There are students who don’t want to speak but still want to be involved. The clerks write a paper, but they also live Tweet during the case. We use our class hashtag as well as #scotusintheclassroom to it’s easy for me to find the information. If you don’t use Twitter, it’s easy to adapt this to writing articles for newspapers. One year, I had a conservative media and liberal media. We had discussed the biases each media had on the particular case and it was their chance to apply it.

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This is my TweetDeck that I keep open during oral arguments for easy grading

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We invited our Accelerated Middle School to witness Carpenter v. US

First semester, we have the luxury of doing two because we have more time. Second semester, with the AP test, means we can only fit in one. This is the primary reason I do Civil Liberties and Civil Rights last in my units.

I have also done this with my on-level classes and my accelerated 8th grade class!

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This year NIFLA v. Becerra, lawyers presenting their case.

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Professional Development

Street Law Supreme Court Institute

Hi. I’ve survived the first week of school. Yes, it’s July. Yes, we start early. Yes, I love it. I love it because I can share my experiences with teaching before most of you do it! However, let me regale you with one of my favorite PD experiences while I attempt to find my marbles after the first week…

During the summer of 2016, I took 5 different PD trips. It was one of those summers that everything just fell into place. I also fell flat on my face upon my return because my summer is only six weeks, and this particular summer lead to me not being at school for the first week because I was at Stanford University learning about the Supreme Court from Dr. Larry Kramer. It was an incredible summer!

I started that summer by attending the Street Law Supreme Court Institute. And boy, was that a way to start a summer! I honestly cannot say enough about this experience, especially as an AP Government Teacher. It was also one of the best groups I have had the pleasure of working with! We still keep in touch via social media as well as seeing each other at different conferences, seminars, and the AP read {shout out to my roomie!}

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This Institute gave me a deeper understanding of the Supreme Court and how it functions. The 2017 binder is available for public view and you can see what the week entails.

For me, the biggest take-aways were as follows:

  1. Learning at Georgetown Law from people such as Lyle Dennison {he was incredible}. We got to have sit downs with former Supreme Court clerks, as well as work with lawyers who have presented cases in from of the Court, and written amicus briefs.
  2. Participating in a Moot Court. I got to be a justice, and the entire process was incredible because this is now how I assess my studentsBAE90E51-46D5-4848-AF64-A0180432B323
  3. Going to the Supreme Court for the last day of Court. This was unbelievable. Sitting in the front row was insane. I have a good view of all the justices, and they had a good view of us. Clarence Thomas looked down his glasses at me. John Roberts noticed us. Elena Kagan looked super excited to see us {come to find out, we got to meet her!} Samuel Alito gave a dissent from the bench on Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt and was noticeably unhappy. At one point, I looked over and saw Nina Totenberg. I was in absolute awe the entire time. It was incredibly quiet and formal. We also ate breakfast in the cafeteria, spotted Justice Kagan and I met the plantiff in the case, Amy Hagstrom and chatted with her about her experience.

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    Amy Hagstom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Women’s Health.

    4. The protestors.

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    Before Court.

     

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    This was after the Court decision in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The Capital in the background really struck me as I walked out and saw this.

    5. That night, we got to have a reception at the Court. We met Mrs. Cecilia Marshall, Thurgood Marshall’s wife. She was absolutely delightful and I may have cried meeting her. We talked with Justice Kagan, and she referenced me BY NAME. So, there was that. I found her to be incredibly personable and fun. Especially because we learned that when she was Solicitor General, she often listened to Lady Gaga on her way to Court.

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    Mrs. Cecilia Marshall

 

Here is the application for the 2019 Institute! I’ve recommended it to multiple people, including a colleague on my campus. This institute made me a better teacher because of the learning I got to do, and the experiences I was able to participate in. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me! I have nothing but amazing things to say about this experience!

With the AP redesign, I have found that having a clear and firm understanding of the Supreme Court has been instrumental in how I teach both the Judiciary, and Civil Rights/Civil Liberties. I posted about how I use Moot Court for my final assessment because it’s incredible how much learning goes on and how much the students LOVE it. 

 

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From this year’s moot court, semester 2– Masterpiece Cakeshop

American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Separation of Church and State

I just returned from my APSI in San Diego and got a lot of great ideas, as well as planned 2.5 units out. I teach a semester class, so using my time wisely is key. My lessons are viewable to the general public, so if you are a newbie who isn’t sure how to break it apart, you are more than welcome to see what I do. It changes, but it’s a rough sketch.

PS San Diego is not the worst place in the world to go to an APSI.

Lord, help me on this one.

The separation of church and state is not explicitly written in the Constitution. It’s one of the things that drives me insane when I see  or hear this as an argument. And inevitably, it comes up in class.

My favorite response? “Please back that claim using the Constitution as your source.” I say it as plainly as possible, because this is a teachable moment.

Crickets.

*Looks at fingernails, waiting for something that will never come. Because you need more than the First Amendment for this argument. 

That day (if I’m on my game) or the next, I hand the students this. It’s a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. It easy to read, accessible for most students, and contains “thus building a wall of separation between Church & State” in reference to the First Amendment.

For reference, the First Amendment (a popular argument) was ratified in 1791. I love this argument because the Free Exercise clause contradicts the Establishment clause. Well played, James, well played. I LOVE Constitutional arguments. I love them because I ALWAYS learn something from my students and the Constitution is up for interpretation!

Then come the inevitable questions.

“Our country was built on Christianity.” What? No. Oy.  I have yet to find a clear answer on this, but I like this essay. It’s a hard answer. AND THAT’S OK. History often doesn’t have definitive answers. That’s why it’s fun to study! When they say this, I ask them to find me proof. Or find me a source that refutes it. And then WE TALK ABOUT IT. I don’t know everything and I never pretend I do. Teach ME, students. (You’d be surprised)

Side note: Jefferson was never really outward about his religious beliefs, and Washington often referred to the Providence as opposed to an outright God.

“Why do we have to say Under God in the pledge?”  (You don’t actually have to. I cite West Virginia vs. Barnette– see you should know your rights!)

And a plethora of other questions. I like to challenge the students to find answers to their own questions. (Legit, y’all are on your phones all the time anyway. Why don’t you use it for something useful instead of watching your best friends’ SnapChat story about a class she should be paying attention in) This leads them to look at sources, find out new tidbits, and use their prior knowledge. In helping students to answer their own questions or find sources to further their curiosity, you capture a way to teach history that stays with students beyond your classroom. This is hard because students just want an answer.

You know what they want more? To best their teacher. Or to show their teacher that they have the answer that the teacher doesn’t (I love that one). Nothing makes me happier that being bested by a student. I leave my ego at the door because at the end of the day, I am not the all-knowing. Some days, I can’t remember if I drank all of my coffee or if it’s still sitting on my kitchen counter. I’m a human.

You may have students who hold deep religious beliefs. Good for them, it’s part of their political socialization! You may have atheists. Awesome! This is a hard topic because it can be polarizing and that is the last thing we want in our classrooms. We can facilitate conversations, model behaviors that are appropriate, and make sure the learning environment is safe for all. So, here are some resources:

Constitution Center Essays (don’t act surprised)

Podcast on the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their fight in the Supreme Court (I LOVE THIS PODCAST)