High School Students: Equal Protection
Equal Education Opportunity for Women: How Should It Be Defined?
by Julius Menacker
(download this entire lesson as a word doc.)
Students will be able to
- Explain the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause. Appreciate the extent to which females have been subjected to unequal treatment in public education.
- Understand the difference in applying the strict scrutiny standard (which applies to racial discrimination) or the intermediate level of scrutiny (which applies to gender discrimination) to determine the outcome of cases such as U.S. v. Commonwealth of Virginia.
- Evaluate and appreciate the positive and negative consequences of a policy requiring all public educational institutions to be coeducational rather than permitting single-sex institutions where the state deems them appropriate.
Target Group: Secondary level students
Time Needed: 3-4 class periods (can be less if a lawyer, judge or other resource person is only available for a period - see "Expedited Procedures" below.)
Materials Needed: Student Handouts (linked below)
- Distribute photocopies of all materials (except for the decision) for student review. Clarify, elaborate on, and answer questions about the materials in a class discussion.
- Divide the class into four groups, one composed entirely of girls, one entirely of boys, and two composed of equal numbers of boys and girls if possible. Have each group appoint a member to report the major results of the group's investigation to the class. Each group should:
- Identify any evidence in your school of girls receiving unequal treatment, compared to that of boys.
- Present opinions about whether single-sex institutions or coed institutions have more advantages or disadvantages.
- After discussing the group reports, help the class identify any significant differences among the attitudes of the single-sex and mixed-sex groups, as well as between girls and boys. Have the class suggest reasons for any differences.
- Create four new groups with the same gender distributions, but with a different mix of individuals. Assign all groups the task of discussing whether or not VMI should be required to admit female students based upon the facts of the case. Ask students to pay particular attention to the matters of the proper level of scrutiny to apply and the issue of the "separate-but-equal" solution proposed by VMI. A reporter from each group should present the major outcomes of the group's discussion, followed by teacher-led discussion of the reports. Again, note any attitude differences that may be based on the gender composition of groups.
- Have students submit papers presenting their decision as judges of this case, supporting their judgment with both legal analysis regarding the Equal Protection Clause and the proper level of scrutiny to be applied in the case and opinions about why their decision is good public policy.
- Pass out copies of the final handout -- the decision in the case. Ask students to reevaluate their decision in light of the actual court decision. Does the Court’s reasoning persuade them? Why or why not?
To do this strategy in one class period, pass out only the following handouts: "A Case of Alleged Sex Discrimination," "Background," "The Fourteenth Amendment," and the "Legal Factors Related to Equal Protection Cases." Divide the class into several "courts" and ask them to discuss the case and the legal principles involved, then come to a decision (step 4 above). Have them report back orally on their decision. Then share with them the handout entitled "The Decision" and ask them to reevaluate their decision in light of the actual decision (step 6 above).
Julius Menacker is a professor and chair of the Policy Studies Area in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This article is adapted from one originally appearing in the ABA's publication, Update on the Courts, volume 4/no.3 (1996).
>>Equal Education Opportunity for Women: How Should It Be Defined?
>>Handout: A Case of Alleged Sex Discrimination
>>Handout: The Fourteenth Amendment
>>Handout: Legal Factors Related to Equal Protection Cases
>>Handout: The Decision
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