Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Court in the Classroom

The latest issue of Perspectives on History, the newsmagazine of the American Historical Association, is devoted to "Controversy in the Classroom." One contributor is James Coll, an adjunct professor of history at Nassau and Suffolk Community Colleges on Long Island in New York--and a detective in the New York City Police Department! His contribution is Taking the Court into the Classroom: Using Legal Cases to Discuss Controversial Topics. In it, he writes:
Like most teachers in the humanities, I am often confronted with a common problem: How do we discuss controversial topics in the classroom without alienating at least some of the students or discouraging viewpoints that may be at odds with a majority of the class?

To address this dilemma, I have been utilizing a classroom exercise not only to inform students about important and topical issues but also to get them involved in the debate.

One of the prerequisites to passing the U.S. history survey courses I teach is the requirement that each student read and report on—both in writing and orally—an assigned Supreme Court case. Like the Court itself, the legal disputes assigned cover many controversial topics.

UPDATE: James Coll responds in the comments.


Jessica said...

I really loved this idea, but was curious to know exactly what the assignment looked like to students and what court cases Professor Coll uses. Is there any chance he can be invited to provide this information in this forum?

Dan Ernst said...

I'll see

James Coll said...

Hello: Thank you for the interest in the classroom exercise on the Supreme Court cases. I have pasted below the handout as well as the cases I assign student sin the class. They are listed in the order we cover them in class so as to create a line of cases to analyze the development of a specific right (free speech cases studied together, search and seizure stidied cases together, etc.). This is just one option. You can also put the cases in the order that they were decided to show how the Court itself has changed in the context of various cases dealing with different issues/rights. The rigid tone about missing the oral presentation is important to me because studying an issue as a line of decisions becomes difficult with a case missing from the discussion.

Enough from me. Here is the assignment:
Case Assignments

Students in this course are required to make a written and oral report on one assigned Supreme Court case. Each report will analyze (1) the facts of the case, (2) the constitutional issue(s) involved, (3) the Court’s decision, (4) the reason(s) for the Court’s decision, (5) dissenting opinions and (6) your opinion of the case and its outcome. The written report should be approximately 4-5 pages per case. Lengthy verbatim quotations from the decisions are to be avoided.

Assignments will be made from the list below on a date to be determined. Students who have not prepared their report by the time the case is up for discussion will receive no credit for this part of the grade. Absence from class when the assigned case is discussed will similarly result in loss of credit.

1. Engel v. Vitale (1962)

2. Board of Education v. Allen (1968)

3. Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002)

4. Marsh v. Chambers (1983)

5. Employment Division, Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (1990)

6. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969)

7. Morse v. Frederick (2007)

8. Texas v. Johnson (1989)

9. R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, Minn. (1992)

10. Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976)

11. Edwards v. South Carolina (1963)

12. National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie (1978)

13. District of Columbia v. Heller (2008)

14. Mapp v. Ohio (1961)

15. Terry v. Ohio (1968)

16. Arizona v. Johnson (2009)

17. Arizona v. Evans (1995)

18. Kyllo v. United States (2001)

19. Scott v. Harris (2007)

20. Ashe v. Swenson (1970)

21. Kelo v. City of New London (2005)

22. Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)

23. Escobedo v. Illinois (1964)

24. Miranda v. Arizona (1966)

25. Griffin v. California (1965)

26. Brewer v. Williams (1977)

27. Rhode Island v. Innis (1980)

28. Maryland v. Craig (1990)

29. Atkins v. Virginia (2002)

30. Roper v. Simmons (2005)

31. Coker v. Georgia (1977)

32. Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008)

33. Baze v. Rees (2007)

34. Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)

35. Roe v. Wade (1973)

36. Gonzalez v. Carhart (2007)

37. Cruzan v. Missouri Department of Health (1990)

38. Lawrence v. Texas (2003)