With summer coming to an end and fall around the corner, students and teachers are diving into the upcoming school year. While students are busy getting into a back-to-school routine, teachers and professors are making lesson plans for the upcoming year ... and undoubtedly giving thought to how to broach the June 2022 Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Soon after the Roe v. Wade decision, Elizabeth Pearson, an executive career coach from California, and her two daughters attended a women's march with Ruth Bader Ginsburg-inspired signs in hand. While her girls, ages 7 and 10, are still quite young, Pearson wanted them to feel empowered. She says the march was the perfect opportunity to teach them, "how our government works and the importance of voting in elections and [practicing] self-advocacy."
How will teachers handle discussing Roe?
Pearson expects the ruling to be addressed in the classroom this fall. "It would upset me if they totally excluded it from sex-ed or taught it solely as a female issue," she tells Yahoo Life.
Still Pearson has one caveat for educators. "I want teachers to leave religion out of education," she says. "It's best to focus on the facts and physiology of what a fetus is rather than on religion, which assigns [a fetus] a spirit at conception."
Social and cultural norms aren't the only issues for teachers to consider, however. The Supreme Court ruling itself was founded more on a strict interpretation of the Constitution, leaving teachers to ponder how to take on the daunting task of fairly and accurately teaching the legal underpinnings of such a document.
Nelson Johnson is an attorney who suggests teachers, "give [students] the facts and address both sides of the argument." Johnson says while many associate the ruling as a strict "pro-life versus pro-choice issue," the overturning of Roe can — and should — be addressed from a different angle.
"Most importantly, because we are talking about constitutional law [educators should] explain the Supreme Court's reasoning for sending the issue back to the states," he says, adding that there are, however, roadblocks to this approach. The biggest challenge, according to Johnson, is, "successfully trimming nearly 50 years of precedence and complex constitutional issues down to a single lecture."
Teachers can get help explaining the decision
Nelson notes many remain confused ... even months after the ruling. "You have kids in states where it is still legal to have an abortion thinking they are barred from doing so," he says. "Conversely, kids in states where abortion is now illegal under most circumstances do not realize there are exceptions to that general rule."
Because abortion laws now vary on a state-by-state basis, Johnson believes school districts should ensure that teachers are prepared to teach on the legal and political aspects of the ruling as it pertains to their specific state. If they are not qualified to cover the material in class, there are other suitable options. Schools can, "reach out to a local law school and invite a law student to come and address the constitutional issues at a school assembly," he offers.
A teacher weighs in on adding Roe v. Wade to classroom discussions
Ronnie Gladden is an English professor and author of the book White Girl Within who plans to cover the ruling in his classes this year. While teaching young adults, who range in age from 18 to 30, offers him more flexibility and freedom than teachers of younger students, Gladden believes he faces other challenges.
"I may soon have to be more creative with discussing controversial social topics," he tells Yahoo Life, "especially with regard to abortion."
"I teach in Ohio and it's a fairly conservative state," he adds, explaining this doesn't sway or intimidate him at all. In his classroom, Gladden says he'll stick to the facts and be sure his, "teaching will be inclusive and respectful of divergent views," something that comes easy to Gladden, who thinks of himself as someone who, "values thoughts that are different than [his] own."
It is important that we teach students without a political or emotional bias."Ronnie Gladden
Gladden also believes there's no time like the present. He thinks now is a great time to engage students in meaningful conversations and encourage critical thinking. "After enduring a long stretch of disengagement from students, educators should seize this jolt of an opportunity to re-engage with intellectual stimulation," he says. "Our students are more ready than ever to engage. And why wouldn't they be when this ruling has had such a massive impact on so many fronts?"
Hope for the school year ... and the future
Gladden remembers the student who recently quipped, "my uterus is not a ballot box." While Pearson says her own daughter, just 10 years old, "felt and feels, the impact of the decision very hard."
"She doesn't understand how she can live in such an amazing country, but also one that doesn't value or trust her enough to decide what happens to her own body and life." she explains.
Gladden shares what he believes to be the most pressing thing when addressing the Roe v. Wade decision. "It is important that we teach students without a political or emotional bias," he says.
Pearson agrees, "Our children should understand their bodies, free from shame or judgment," she says, "and our educators can do that if they leave religion and their personal and political viewpoints at the door and focus on the facts, science and equal rights only."
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