Discussing sexual harassment with your students in a sensitive, nonpartisan way

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Story

  1. Allegations of sexual harassment continue to roil the careers of celebrities and businessmen as well as politicians, including Alabama’s Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore and Democrat Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota.
  2. Franken, who was accused of forcibly kissing a woman on a 2006 USO tour, apologized last week for his conduct. A second woman came forward on Monday accusing Franken of putting his hands on her buttocks in 2010.
  3. Moore, 70, who is accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl and a 16-year-old girl and sexually harassing several more women while he was in his 30s, denies the allegations.
  4. Sexual harassment is bullying behavior or coercion of a sexual nature, often with the promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. It may consist of inappropriate gestures or touching, sexual remarks one claims are jokes or spreading rumors about a person’s sexual conduct.
  5. Allegations of sexual harassment have turned into a political issue for some individuals looking to defend the accused when they are a member of their party but criticizing the accuser when they are a member of the opposing party, according to Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.
  6. For many years, it was the “default setting” or culture to defend the harassers or the accused, whereas today, the public is more inclined to believe the accusers, predominately women, said Keith.
  7. It will take a long time to figure out how to improve the culture that has allowed for sexual harassment to go on for so many years, but “the floodgates are opened,” said Walter.

Discussion questions

  1. Essential questionWhy is sexual harassment such a damaging experience for those who have been harassed?
  2. Why do you think sexual harassment is illegal in the workplace, including schools? (see EEOC's definition for more explanation, if time permits).
  3. Walter says “the floodgates are opened” with regards to talking about sexual harassment openly. How do you think such discussion could lead to positive changes in how members of society treat one another, particularly how women are treated?
  4. While it may seem as though sexual harassment has just made it into the news in recent weeks, there have been previous news stories involving this issue, including more than a dozen women accusing President Donald Trump of sexual harassment.
    • Why may it be important to learn about these stories and their outcomes?
    • What rights do those accused of sexual harassment have in the U.S.?
    • You may wish to show your students this NewsHour interview with Anita Hill in 2016 with discussion questions.
  5. There are times when current events involves discussing particularly sensitive issues, like sexual harassment. Do you think sexual harassment is an important issue for students to discuss in school? Explain.
  6. Media literacy question: Read the last few paragraphs of the transcript of the Shields and Brooks interview featuring the conservative-leaning journalist David Brooks and liberal-leaning Mark Shields.
    • On the issue of how to avoid sexual harassment becoming a political football, Brooks states, “Just treat everybody the same regardless of party. It’s not complicated.” Do you agree that the issue of sexual harassment should not be a political issue, that is, not having to do with a person’s political party? Explain your response.

Extension activity

For grades 9-12 (talk with your admin for use with 7th or 8th graders), use this Discovery Education lesson plan on sexual harassment which further defines the meaning of sexual harassment for students, the frequency of sexual harassment in schools and the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled schools can be sued if they fail to stop sexual harassment. Take a look at these primary and secondary sources: Court's sexual harassment ruling puts schools on notice and Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education.


Visit PBS NewsHour Extra for more education resources designed to help teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.  @NewsHourExtra

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