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Making Civics Real Workshop 7: Controversial Public Policy Issues  
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Workshop 7

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Lesson Plan: Teaching the Lesson: Activity 1

Activity 1: Student Opinion Survey
The first technique used in this lesson is a polling activity. Its purpose is to get students thinking about the topic, offering opinions, defending their positions, and stimulating their interest. JoEllen Ambrose wants students to draw on their own perspectives and what they’ve heard in the news, and to think about the opinions that they bring to the topic. In the polling activity, students consider five statements that describe situations related to racial profiling. Each time, they get a chance to stand up for and defend a position. If they’re not quite sure what their position is, they can initially choose to be “undecided” and later move in the direction they want to support.

Prepare the room by creating three large signs. One should say “Agree.” A second should say “Disagree.” The third should say “Undecided.” Place these signs in different areas of the room so that at the appropriate time, students can gather around or under them.

Introduce the lesson by noting that their study of criminal procedure to date has revealed that our criminal justice system operates with two goals that must be balanced--to provide for order and safety in our society and to protect individual rights. These goals might also be elicited through discussion and illustrated by the depiction of scales on the board. Explain to students that they will begin the lesson by examining situations in which this tension exists and explore where they think the scales should be tipped.

Hand out the survey titled What’s Your Opinion? and direct students to complete it individually.

Go through each of the five statements, each time inviting students to share their views by standing by the sign that most closely reflects their view. The five statements are:

  • Police should be given a free hand to apprehend those who commit criminal acts.
  • Police officers should be able to stop motorists of certain racial or ethnic groups because officers believe that these groups are more likely than others to commit certain types of crime.
  • It is okay for police to stop young drivers for no other reason than the fact that the driver is young.
  • In order to fight terrorism, law enforcement should be allowed to randomly stop people who may fit the profile of suspected terrorists.
  • Our constitutional rights are our only protection against the unlimited power of the police and other government officials.

Note that students who have selected “Undecided” will be asked to choose “Agree” or “Disagree” after a discussion.

Ask three students to defend why they agreed, then ask three of those who disagreed to state their opinions. Invite the “Undecideds” to ask further questions or make comments and then direct them to make a choice, move to their new position, and tell why they moved. Ask students if they found patterns in their answers. Do they lean towards "safety" or "individual rights"? It is important to provide sufficient time for all students who want to speak to do so and to provide a climate in which students feel comfortable sharing personal experiences that might relate to this topic.

Tell students to jot down their initial thoughts to the three questions at the bottom of the survey:

  • What constitutional rights do we value most highly in our justice system?
  • When do the government’s constitutional duties outweigh these rights?
  • Who should decide the delicate balance between these tensions? The public? The police? Elected officials? Courts?

If time is short, this part of the activity could be assigned for homework.

JoEllen Ambrose found that students’ answers became more complex as the statement touched on issues that might affect them personally.

Overview, Goals, and Planning    |     Activity 1     |     Activity 2     |     Activity 3
Activity 4     |     Activity 5     |     Activity 6     |     Scheduling and Adaptations


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