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.