For Schools

Grades 7-9: Equal Protection
Different Treatment for Different Folks?


1. Display the "separate fountains" poster in a prominent place in the room, or pass around copies of the downloaded art. Without identifying the source, post the following words from the Declaration of Independence beneath the poster or downloaded art: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

2. Begin class by calling attention to the poster and asking questions related to the scene it depicts (e.g. What do you notice about this scene? Why are the two fountains so close together? What is the purpose of the signs above the fountains? Why would someone feel it was necessary to post these signs?)

3. Direct attention to the words from the Declaration of Independence that you have placed beneath the poster. Ask students first to identify the source of the words and then to suggest possible explanations accounting for the disparity between those words and the what is shown in the poster.

4. Explore differences between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States (e.g. why each was written, when each was written, what each contains), especially the legal authority of each. Emphasize the difference between the moral force of the Declaration of Independence and the legal force of the Constitution of the United States.

5. Redirect student attention to the poster of the two fountains. Explain how the scene illustrates the "separate but equal" doctrine. Point out that racial segregation was constitutionally permissible under the "separate but equal" doctrine. Point out that racial segregation was constitutionally permissible under the "separate but equal" doctrine from 1896 to 1954. Since then, de jure racial segregation (i.e., under the sanction of law) has been unconstitutional. The scene depicted in the poster would not be legally permissible today.

6. Use a current newspaper article or situation dealing with a current equal protection situation to focus student attention on the question of whether the Constitution requires all people to be treated the same in similar situations. Discuss student reactions. Then distribute a copy of the exercise, "Is This Legal?", to each student. Explain what it is and how to complete it.

7. Tally student responses. Initiate discussion by selecting items where the most disagreement appears. Call on students to explain their positions.

8. Have students look at the items in the exercise. This time, ask them to identify the basis for differential treatment (e.g., gender, age, race, physical condition) used in each item. Record responses.

9. Divide students into groups. Give each group one of the categories used in the exercise for differential treatment. Have each group develop reasons for making the distinction on this basis.

10. Ask each group to share the reasons identified. Record them. Then have students compare and contrast the reasons given and why those reasons may be alike or different for the various categories.

11. Point out that our courts have developed a series of tests for determining when groups of people may be treated differently. Indicate that distinctions made on the basis of race, national origin or alien status or affecting groups with a history of unequal treatment are the most difficult to sustain.

12. Conclude by reviewing the main points covered in the lesson. Indicate that future lessons could involve examples of differential treatment and how our courts have dealt with them (i.e., the tests used and examples of how they apply).

David T. Naylor is Professor of Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Cincinnati. This strategy is adapted from an article that originally appeared in the magazine Update on Law-Related Education (Fall 1991).

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