With advance notice most workshops can be offered at an introductory or more advanced level in order to cater to the readiness levels and prior knowledge of participants.
Additionally, all of the workshops outlined below can easily be adapted for educators or community members seeking a presentation grounded in important issues in American society, history and literature.
How Silence Gave Students the Freedom of Speech
The freedom of speech is guaranteed by the US Constitution, but that right did not extend to the speech of students in public schools until they began to participate in the Civil Rights Movement. This workshop will explain how American government and law govern the operation of schools and the decisions that school administrators make. The context of civil unrest and social change provides the backdrop for participants to explore the stories of American students, ages 14-17, who were disciplined for their expressive activities and whose experiences created new rights and protections for student voice in the school and classroom. Students will develop an understanding of what constitutes “speech,” as they interact with one another to test the limits of what constitutes student free speech in America.
Religion and Cultural Conflict
The freedom to practice one’s religion is one of the key principles that led to the establishment of America and that freedom is embedded in its founding documents. Yet, the expression of one’s religious belief remains a contested societal matter, particularly in public schools where students from many ethnic and religious traditions learn together. Participants in this interactive workshop will define religion, briefly review the history of religion in American society and how government must remain neutral toward religion, and examine how the diversity of students’ religious beliefs has instigated cultural clashes in schools over pressing social issues. Students will explore the constitutional constraints on religious influence in schools and will apply the concept of religious neutrality to scenarios in which students have been challenged for expressing their religious beliefs in school.
Students’ Privacy Rights
Cell phones are often a person’s most frequently used possession. Many students use their cell phones to photograph their worlds, and to share their lives with one another through Twitter, Snapchat, Slack, Instagram and other apps. Although Americans have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures of their property, there are instances in which their cell phones have been confiscated and searched because cell phones also can be used as tools for bullying, for misconduct that violates school rules, for inappropriate or even criminal activity. Students in this interactive workshop will learn about the US Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, and will apply their knowledge to a variety of situations in which students were subject to searches of their private property and bodies.
Race Segregation in American Schools
Law in the American South required that children were to be segregated by race in schools. There were two systems of education: one was for Caucasian students, the other was for all students of color, e.g., Black, Asian, Native American, and others. These schools were deemed separate but equal until the US Supreme Court held that such segregation was inherently unequal and must be ended. Considered the Supreme Court’s most important education-related decision, Brown v. Board of Education ushered in an era of equal educational opportunities in public education and key federal legislation addressing the rights of students with disabilities, gender equity, and equal opportunities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Where a state chooses to offer a public education, it must be on equal terms. The meaning of equality continues to be debated in US schools. Does equality mean equal treatment? Are there exceptions in which equal treatment is insufficient and equitable treatment may be more important? This interactive workshop builds on the history of school desegregation; and constitutional and nondiscrimination law, challenging students to explore the nature of equality/inequality, and to propose practices to improve the educational experience for all students.
Immigration and the Right to a Public Education
American schools have a responsibility to educate all children, including those who do not speak English and those who have not entered the country legally. This interactive workshop uses the context of schooling to explore social tensions over issues of legal and illegal immigration, particularly in light of the law that protects students from discrimination on the basis of national origin. Participants will gain insight as to why the current national debate is an example of US democracy in action by learning about the nature of federalism, constitutional powers granted to the federal government, and state’s rights.