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Note: This lesson was originally published on an older version of The Learning Network; the link to the related Times article will take you to a page on the old site.
Teaching ideas based on New York Times content.
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Overview of Lesson Plan: In this lesson, students assess the advantages and disadvantages of affirmative action in employment, university admissions, government contracts and the military. Students then support or refute affirmative action in persuasive essays.
Alison Zimbalist, The New York Times Learning Network
Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes- 1 hour
1. Distinguish between “fair” and “equal” by defining the words and offering examples in which “fair” does not mean “equal” and “equal” does not mean “fair.”
2. Define affirmative action; infer, from the definition, different perspectives that exist regarding whether affirmative action is a policy that is “fair” and “equal.”
3. Explore how affirmative action affects politics, economy and social relations in Texas by reading and discussing “Bricks, Mortar and Coalition Building”
4. Assess the advantages and disadvantages of affirmative action in employment, university admissions, government contracts and the military, focusing in small groups on race, gender, ethnic origin, religion, and age; present their ideas to the class.
5. Support or refute affirmative action in persuasive essays.
Resources / Materials:
-five large sheets of poster board
-copies of “Bricks, Mortar and Coalition Building” (one per student)
Activities / Procedures:
NOTE TO TEACHERS: This lesson plan focuses on issues related to race. Because the topic of race is often incendiary, teachers should be particularly mindful in guiding the lesson. Additionally, teachers should be prepared for students coming across extremely derogatory racial terms in the article that may be upsetting or confusing.
1. WARM-UP/DO-NOW: In their journals, students respond to the following (written on the board prior to class): “Define the word ‘fair.’ Then, define the word ‘equal.’ How are the meanings of ‘fair’ and ‘equal’ similar and different? Write down a situation in which equal would not be fair, and a situation in which what is fair would not be equal.” Students then share their responses.
2. Define “affirmative action” for students. (Britannica’s Online Encyclopedia defines “affirmative action” as “an active effort in the United States to improve employment or educational opportunities for members of minority groups and women. Affirmative action was undertaken by the government to remedy the effects of past discrimination against such groups. It consists of policies, programs, and procedures that give preferences to minorities and women in job hiring, admission to institutions of higher education, the awarding of government contracts, and other allocations of social benefits. The main criteria for affirmative action are race, gender, ethnic origin, religion, and age.”) Given this definition, what can students infer about different perspectives that exist regarding whether affirmative action is a policy that is “fair” and “equal.”
3. As a class, read and discuss “Bricks, Mortar and Coalition Building” focusing on the following questions:
a. Why was it significant that Lee P. Brown was inaugurated as Houston’s mayor?
b. Who is Richard Castaneda, and why would he be concerned about Brown becoming mayor?
c. What situations discussed in the article relate to affirmative action in government contracts, and why are these situations good examples of the power of affirmative action?
d. Based on his statements and reported actions, what are Richard Lewis’ views on affirmative action? What are Brown’s views? What are Castaneda’s views?
e. How do Brown’s, Castaneda’s and Lewis’ backgrounds contribute to their thoughts and actions as related to affirmative action? How do their views manifest themselves through their actions with and dreams for their children and other relatives?
f. How do Brown, Castaneda and Lewis perceive how affirmative action will play out in Houston in the future?
4. Divide students into five small groups, and assign each group one of the following criteria for affirmative action: race, gender, ethnic origin, religion, and age. Give each group a sheet of poster board, a marker and a yardstick, and have them divide their poster board as follows (you may wish to create a sample for students to use as a reference): “Viewing the poster board lengthwise, divide the poster into three columns and five rows. Label the upper left block with your group’s assigned focus (Race, Gender, Ethnic Origin, Religion, Age). Label the upper middle block Advantages and the upper right block Disadvantages. Then, fill in the leftmost column of blocks, writing one of the following in its own blocks: Employment, University Admissions, Government Contracts, and Military. This will create a grid with Advantages and Disadvantages as column titles and Employment, University Admissions, Government Contracts, and Military as row titles.” Then, have each group consider the advantages and disadvantages of their assigned criterion for affirmative action with regard to employment (especially in hiring practices), university admissions, government contracts (meaning work contracted out by the government, such as road repairs), and the military. Groups should fill out their grids based on their discussion. After ten to fifteen minutes, each group presents their poster to the class. Students should then discuss what might help a person get a certain advantage in one of the four areas discussed if he or she was at a disadvantage in some way.
5. WRAP-UP/HOMEWORK: Using the group work and presentations for support of his or her ideas, each student writes a persuasive essay stating his or her views on affirmative action. Students should also incorporate other resources for support, such as laws, statistics, and examples that they may find in books or on the Internet. In a future class, students can debate their views.
Further Questions for Discussion:
–What is the history of affirmative action? Who are the intended beneficiaries of affirmative action and why?
–What opposing viewpoints exist about affirmative action?
–What advantages and disadvantages do you feel you have experienced based on your race, gender, ethnic origin, religion and age?
–What groups are considered to be minorities in the United States? What common experiences do you think these groups share, and why?
–What is prejudice and how do prejudiced attitudes and behaviors appear in our daily lives?
–What effect does prejudice have on ourselves, our schools, our communities, our state and nation?
–What is racism?
–What is the difference between prejudice and racism?
–Do you feel that racism is still a prevalent problem in our society?
–What effect does racism have on ourselves, our schools, our communities, our state and nation? Why do you believe there is racism in America?
Evaluation / Assessment:
Students will be evaluated based on initial journal entries, participation in class and group discussions, group analysis and presentation of criteria of affirmative action and advantages and disadvantages of the criteria in different situations in which affirmative action is employed, and well-supported persuasive essays.
inaugural, apprehensive, alliances, affirmative, frontrunner, aggregate, druthers, municipal, impromptu, calculus, endorse, coalesced, insular, dexterity, indignities, predicated, testament, derogatory, timbre, monolith, demographic, leverage, referendum, mollify, threshold, dictate, superficial
1. Interview people in your community of different races, genders, ethnic origins, religions and ages about their views on affirmative action with a focus on how they have or have not benefited from affirmative action policies. Utilizing information gathered from your interviews, write a “Voices” article that explores the history and impact of affirmative action. Be sure to include meaningful and relative quotes from your interviewees.
2. Research court cases and legislation regarding affirmative action, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), Fullilove v. Klutznick (1980), Adarand Constructors v. Pena (1995), the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI, or Proposition 209) (1997). Examine the different perspectives of those involved, as well as the results. Why was affirmative action supported and refuted in each situation? How do the government, economy and society in the United States today reflect these cases and laws? If you were the judge in each case, how would you have determined your judgment? What would you have ruled?
3. Develop a business profile of your city, detailing the race, gender, ethnic origin, religion and age of business owners. How do these findings relate to the population of your city? How might this information be valuable to politicians?
4. Research highly successful people in business, politics or society in general. What qualities do they seem to share? What stories do African-American, Latinos and other people of color share when they talk about their race or ethnicity in relation to their success? What stories do women share when discussing how their gender relates to their experiences? How do stories from several decades ago compare to stories from the present?
American History- Create an illustrated timeline or book exploring the fight for rights of racial, gender, ethnic, religious and age “minorities” in the United States.
Mathematics- Obtain demographic statistics regarding race, ethnicity and gender in the military, political offices, and local schools and graph your findings. Try to obtain similar statistics from ten, twenty and thirty years ago and graph those findings as well. Then, compare your graphs. How does this data reflect political, economic, legal and social changes in the United States in the past three decades? What would you anticipate a graph for the year 2010 to look like based upon these findings?
Media Studies/Technology- Explore Web sites that support or refute affirmative action. How are views supported? Whose views are offered?
Teaching with The Times- Create a timeline headline, collage or scrapbook documenting current examples of affirmative action in the news.
Other Information on the Web:
The New York Times on the Web’s Racial Issues and Identities: A Guide to the Web ( //www.nytimes.com//library/national/race/web-guide.html ) provides an extensive list of race-related Web sites focusing on civil rights, business and commerce, government and politics, media, reference, statistics, health, organizations and education.
Academic Content Standards:
United States History Standard 31- Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States. Benchmarks: Understands changes in the workplace and the economy in contemporary America; Understands demographic shifts and the influences on recent immigration patterns; Understands various influences on American culture; Understands how different groups attempted to achieve their goals
(CTSS – ‘social’, ‘6-8’, ‘us11’)
Civics Standard 13- Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity. Benchmarks: Knows conflicts that have arisen regarding fundamental values and principles; Knows how disagreements regarding specific issues may arise between people even though the people agree on values or principles in the abstract; Knows sources of political conflict that have arisen in the United States historically as well as in the present
(CTSS – ‘social’, ‘6-8’, ‘civ2’)
Civics Standard 21- Understands the formation and implementation of public policy. Benchmarks: Understands what public policy is and knows examples at local, state, and national levels; Knows how public policies are formed and implemented, and understands how citizens can monitor and influence policies; Understands why conflicts about values, principles, and interests may make agreement difficult or impossible on certain issues of public policy
(CTSS – ‘social’, ‘6-8’, ‘civ3’)
Civics Standard 25- Understands issues regarding personal, political, and economic rights. Benchmarks: Understands the importance to individuals and society of such personal rights as freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of expression and association, freedom of movement and residence, and privacy; Knows important economic rights and knows statements of economic rights in the United States Constitution; Understands basic contemporary issues involving personal, political, and economic rights
(CTSS – ‘social’, ‘6-8’, ‘civ5’)
Language Arts Standard 1- Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process. Benchmarks: Uses style and structure appropriate for specific audiences and purposes; Writes persuasive compositions
(CTSS – ‘english’, ‘6-8’, ‘1’)
Language Arts Standard 8- Demonstrates competence in speaking and listening as tools for learning. Benchmarks: Plays a variety of roles in group discussions; Asks questions to seek elaboration and clarification of ideas; Listens in order to understand a speaker’s topic, purpose, and perspective; Conveys a clear main point when speaking to others and stays on the topic being discussed; Presents simple prepared reports to the class
(CTSS – ‘english’, ‘6-8’, ‘8’)
United States History Standard 31- Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States. Benchmarks: Understands how changes in the national and global economy have influenced the workplace; Understands how recent immigration and migration patterns impacted social and political issues; Understands major contemporary social issues and the groups involved
(CTSS – ‘social’, ‘9-12’, ‘us11’)
Civics Standard 13- Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity. Benchmarks: Knows why people may agree on values or principles in the abstract but disagree when they are applied to specific issues such as the right to life and capital punishment; Knows how universal public education and the existence of a popular culture that crosses class boundaries have tended to reduce the intensity of political conflict
(CTSS – ‘social’, ‘9-12’, ‘civ2’)
Civics Standard 21- Understands the formation and implementation of public policy. Benchmarks: Knows a public policy issue at the local, state, or national level well enugh to identify the major groups interested in that issue and explain their respective positions; Understands the processes by which public policy concerning a local, state, or national issue is formed and carried out; Knows the points at which citizens can monitor or influence the process of public policy formation; Understands why agreement may be difficult or impossible on issues such as abortion because of conflicts about values, principles, and interests
(CTSS – ‘social’, ‘9-12’, ‘civ3’)
Civics Standard 25- Understands issues regarding personal, political, and economic rights. Benchmarks: Understands the importance to individuals and to society of personal rights such as freedom of thought and conscience, privacy and personal autonomy, and the right to due process of law and equal protection of the law; Understands contemporary issues that involve economic rights such as consumer product safety, taxation, affirmative action, eminent domain, zoning, copyright, patents; Understands how personal, political, and economic rights are secured by constitutional government and by such means as the rule of law, checks and balances, an independent judiciary, and a vigilant citizenry
(CTSS – ‘social’, ‘9-12’, ‘civ5’)
Language Arts Standard 1- Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process. Benchmarks: Writes compositions that fulfill different purposes; Writes persuasive compositions that evaluate, interpret, and speculate about problems/solutions and causes and effects; Writes reflective compositions
(CTSS – ‘english’, ‘9-12’, ‘1’)
Language Arts Standard 8- Demonstrates competence in speaking and listening as tools for learning. Benchmarks: Asks questions as a way to broaden and enrich classroom discussions; Adjusts message wording and delivery to particular audiences and for particular purposes; Makes formal presentations to the class; Responds to questions and feedback about own presentations
(CTSS – ‘english’, ‘9-12’, ‘8’)
This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed above.
These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education;
3rd and 4th Editions and have been provided courtesy of the Mid-continent Research
for Education and Learning in Aurora, Colorado.
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