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Fact Sheet: Political Divisiveness in the Classroom

This is the latest in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students. The previous post in this series discussed how to support inclusion when teaching controversial political issues.


Has the toxic U.S. political climate spread to the classroom? Yes, according to a recent UCLA survey, which asked public high school teachers how the divisive national political environment has affected the classroom environment. Here are a few highlights:

Stress and anxiety. The current political climate has increased stress and anxiety for both students and teachers. Teachers reported that over half of all students have experienced more stress and anxiety. Among teachers, the numbers are worse: nearly 68 percent of teachers have reported more work-related stress and anxiety.

Classroom environment. Polarization, incivility, and fake or unsubstantiated news have become more common in the classroom. More than 20 percent of teachers reported an uptick in contentious or disrespectful behavior during class discussions. Nearly 28 percent said that derogatory remarks about other groups have increased. And more than 40 percent of teachers stated that students are introducing fake or uncorroborated news more often than in the past.

Leadership. Overall, leaders in schools and school districts have done little to temper the current political climate. Only 27 percent of teachers said they received direct guidance and support from school or district leaders on how to foster civil discourse and understanding in school.

Even though political divisiveness has infiltrated classrooms across the United States, the survey also identified some positive trends. Many teachers stated that they are working to promote civil discourse and understanding, demonstrating that teachers are taking the lead to address these issues. The survey also found that the politically divisive climate has made students more politically engaged, which is both an aim and a benefit of teaching controversial political issues. And perhaps more than anything else, the survey has highlighted the pressing need for political and information literacy.

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SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

First Meeting of the UN General Assembly: January 10, 1946

“The whole basis of the United Nations is the right of all nations–
great or small–to have weight, to have a vote, to be attended to…”

–US Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965)

Representatives of 26 Allied nations fighting against the Axis Powers meet
in Washington, D.C. to sign the Declaration by United Nations, January 1, 1942.
via Library of Congress [public domain]

 

On this date in 1946, the first General Assembly of the United Nations met at Central Hall Westminster in London. Delegations from 51 nations were present. The General Assembly adopted its first resolution on January 24 of that year, which called for the “control of atomic energy to ensure its use only for peaceful purposes” and “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction. ” It is interesting that many of the issues considered in the first meeting are still relevant today. Among them were food security, refugees, peacekeeping and nuclear weapons. View a collection of photos from the first meeting of the UN General Assembly here.

The Charter of the United Nations outlines the functions of the General Assembly, which are to discuss, debate, and make recommendations on subjects pertaining to international peace and security, including development, disarmament, human rights, international law, and the peaceful arbitration of disputes between nations.

The General Assembly is the main decision-making and representative assembly in the UN and is responsible for upholding the principles of the UN through its policies and recommendations. It is the only one of the six bodies in the UN where all member states have equal representation: one nation, one vote. Led by a president elected from the member states, it meets from September to December each year, and in special sessions as needed. From its 51 original members, the UN has grown to include 193 member states in 2018, each with a vote in the General Assembly. Today’s United Nations is actively involved in a wide range of areas, which include peacekeeping, peacebuilding, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance.

Flags at United Nations by Naoki Nakashima from New York, USA
via Wikipedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Notable Actions

Three of the General Assembly’s most notable actions are listed below:

1948: Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document contains thirty articles that outline the global standards for human rights, and includes the basic rights and fundamental freedoms to which all human beings are entitled.

1950: ‘Uniting for Peace’ Resolution. The United States initiated the landmark measure that states in the event that the Security Council cannot maintain international peace, a matter can be taken up by the General Assembly.

2000: Millennium Declaration. World leaders came together to commit to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty, by setting eight targets to be achieved by 2015. They have become known as the Millennium Development Goals.

Screen Cap from SIRS Issues Researcher United Nations Leading Issue

 

SIRS Issues Researcher provides student researchers insight into the United Nations through its Leading Issues feature. Each Leading Issue includes a topic overview, a timeline of key events, statistics, articles that present the global impact of the problem, and primary source documents that foster an understanding of the history, evolution and continuing impact of the United Nations. Related Leading Issues like Diplomacy, Ethnic Relations, Genocide, Globalization, Sovereignty, Universal Human Rights, U.S. Foreign Aid, and others are also covered in-depth.

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Top 10 Leading Issues of 2017

SIRS Issues Researcher’s Leading Issues is a go-to source for pro/con, debate, and argument assignments. Over the past year, students gravitated to these top 10 Leading Issues and their Essential Questions of debate.

SIRS® Issues Researcher provides background and current analysis necessary for the research and understanding of 356+ current and pervasive Leading Issues. Analysis and opinions cover the pros, cons, and everything in between on the most researched and debated social issues. To learn more about SIRS Issues Researcher, see our LibGuide. You can also request a trial.

In the News: Teens Need More Sleep

Sleeping Teen

Photo by sampsyo on Foter.com / CC BY

Do you see teens who appear to be sleepwalking to their first-hour classes? Are students sprawling across their desks in your classes, struggling to keep their eyes open? It’s easy to blame these symptoms of sleep deprivation on staying up too late or too much screen time, but public health officials instead say the cause is early school start times.

The issue of school start times is being debated around the country. In California, the State Assembly is nearing a vote on a bill that would require middle and high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics show that sleep-deprived teens have a greater risk of being overweight, suffering depression, and being involved in automobile accidents, and those that get enough sleep have better grades, higher standardized test scores and a better quality of life.

Certainly, switching to a later school start time will create problems in scheduling school buses, after-school activities, and sporting events. But it could also reduce tardiness and absenteeism.

School Start Times & Students' Sleep

School Start Times & Students’ Sleep (Credit: CDC)

So do the benefits of a later school start time outweigh the inconvenience it may cause for administrators and parents? The debate is sure to continue. You and your students can follow the debate with the latest articles in ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher:

The Economic Case for Letting Teenagers Sleep a Little Later

New Instructions at High Schools: Take a Nap

Why Letting Teens Sleep in Could Save Lives

SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

 

America Recycles Day Teacher Resources

Today marks the 20th anniversary of America Recycles Day, the only nationally recognized day dedicated to the promotion of recycling in America. America Recycles Day is an initiative of Keep America Beautiful, and this year, the initiative is encouraging people to take the #BeRecycled pledge to commit to recycling.

Each year on America Recycles Day, I like to take stock of my efforts to reuse, reduce and recycle. My latest effort is to create a compost bin for my garden. This day also reminds me of one of my favorite activities to do when I’m visiting my family in New Hampshire.

Transfer Center, Moultonborough, NH

Transfer Center in Moultonborough, NH. Clockwise from top left: free books, art and dishes; bookshelves with free paperbacks; interior of transfer center with recycling bins for cartridges, old American flags and more; free furniture; exterior view of one of the buildings; and box of free china. (Credit: Amy Shaw)

I love Lake Winnipesaukee, Mount Washington and just about everything else the Granite State offers, but my very favorite place to visit in New Hampshire is one its transfer stations, where I help my mom bring her recyclables. Set in the countryside and surrounded by mountains, is Moultonborough’s Transfer Center, where not only can you drop off your recyclables and waste, but you can also pick up some free books and other items while you are there. (Some of the china and the picture of the girl in the pink dress in the collage below above adorn the rooms of my place in Florida!)

In honor of America Recycles Day, check out three ProQuest Guided Research products that contain K-12 resources on recycling and related issues. I’ve also included handpicked links to lesson plans and classroom activities.

Three ProQuest Products with Recycling Resources:

Science Fair Explorer

SIRS Discoverer has an interactive Science Fair Explorer feature with a recycling bin, which contains lab activities and more.

Are your students working on a class project or writing a paper about recycling? Encourage them to delve into the following three ProQuest products for editorially-selected information:

  1. SIRS Discoverer–a multidisciplinary database geared towards elementary and middle school learners–includes an interactive Science Fair Explorer tool to help students discover science fair topics. Click on the Recycling Bin in the Science Fair Explorer tool to access activities and experiments related to recycling and related environmental issues.
  2. eLibrary–one of the largest, user-friendly general reference tools for K-12 schools and libraries–offers many editorially-created Research Topic pages on environmental issues, including these two which are perfect for America Recycles Day: Recycling and Waste Management. These pages include links to resources that editors handpicked from eLibrary’s more than 2,500 full-text magazines, newspapers, reference books, and transcripts—plus more than 7 million pictures, maps, weblinks, and audio/video clips!
  3. SIRS Issues Researcher–an award-winning resource for pro/con issues (2015 CODiE Finalist, 2014 Library Journal Best Databases)–contains a Recycling leading issue. Students can access links to supporting viewpoints for the following Essential Question: Should recycling programs be mandatory? The Recycling Leading Issue also contains an overview, timeline, critical thinking questions, and a variety of full-text articles and multimedia.

Six Recycling Lesson Plans for Educators:

Introduce your students to the concepts of reducing, reusing and recycling with these fun activities:

  1. Do-It-Yourself Podcast: Recycling (Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
  2. Guest Lesson: Recycling as a Focus for Project-Based Learning (Source: The New York Times Company)
  3. Lesson Plan: Create Sculptures with Recycled Materials (Source: Scholastic Inc.)
  4. Lesson Plan: Recycling Scavenger Hunt (Source: Peace Corps)
  5. Lesson Plans: Recycling: Reduce, Recycle, Reuse (Source: Public Broadcasting Service)
  6. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Resources for Students and Educators (Source: Environmental Protection Agency)

Fun Fact

According to the EPA’s most recent data, there has been a steady growth in recycling and reuse activities, which has led to the creation of 757,000 jobs and generated $36 billion in wages in a single year!

Share with Us!

Do you have thoughts about or experiences with teaching about recycling? We’d love to hear them! Tweet us #ProQuest.

Learn more about ProQuest products for schools at http://www.proquest.com/libraries/schools/

Let’s Debate…Libraries vs. the Internet

Libraries have long been considered the premier houses of information; librarians, the keepers, and distributors of knowledge. The advent of technology–and with it, the Internet–has slightly shifted this perspective, particularly over the last two decades. Students and researchers now have a choice: “Do I research in the library? Or on the Internet?”

Both hold value, thus the debate. And the decision may not be an either/or answer.

What are your feelings about this topic? Is one more worthwhile than the other? Can one be replaced with the other? To explore the pros and cons, check out the Let’s Debate infographic below.

Libraries v. the Internet infographic

 

How to Support Inclusion When Teaching Controversial Political Issues

This is the latest in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students. The previous post in this series examined U.S. teens, politics, and information literacy.


Today’s top political issues are controversial for a reason: they affect our lives. Students are no exception, which is why classroom discussions about controversial political issues risk offending or alienating students, especially those who are marginalized by society. Shielding students from discomfort is tempting, but avoidance goes against the aims of learning about controversial political issues, one of which is political literacy.

But maintaining a safe, welcoming, and accepting learning environment for every student is essential. Fortunately, there are ways to ease some of the negative aspects of teaching controversial political issues. The following strategies, which have been adapted from Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy’s The Political Classroom, will help you support inclusion in the classroom.

Know your students. At the beginning of the semester, get to know your students’ views, political ideology, and personal circumstances by conducting an anonymous survey.

Choose wisely. Based on the survey results, pick political issues that are relevant, ethical, and most likely to facilitate learning.

Time it right. Schedule the least controversial issues first, and then build up to more controversial issues as the semester progresses. Evidence suggests that students become more respectful of one another once they know their classmates. Students also develop stronger civil-discourse skills over time.

Do your research. Before teaching an issue, research it thoroughly. Being informed gives you confidence and helps you keep class discussions relevant and free of false claims.

Ensure civility. During class discussions, enact and enforce the norms of civil discourse. Most students are unfamiliar with how to engage in civil debates, especially given today’s political climate. Your guidance is essential.

Get feedback. At the end of the semester, get feedback from students by conducting another anonymous survey. Ask students about what they learned and their overall experience, including whether they felt uncomfortable, offended, or alienated. Learn from the feedback, adjust accordingly, and repeat the process next semester.

Of course, there are no perfect solutions. No matter what you do, some students may become offended or alienated during discussions involving controversial political issues. But by following the strategies outlined above, you will help make your classroom more inclusive for all students.

Stay tuned for more posts in this series on teaching controversial political issues to students.

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SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

Leading Issues in the News: Protests in Sports

Washington Redskins Kneel During the National Anthem

By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA (Washington Redskins National Anthem Kneeling) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

At the beginning of the 2016 NFL preseason, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited a firestorm of controversy by sitting down during the national anthem. He explained his reason for sitting as follows, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.” In the 49ers final preseason game, Kaepernick kneeled during the anthem instead of sitting as a way to show more respect to military members while still protesting the anthem. Throughout the 2016 season, several NFL players joined Kaepernick in “taking a knee” during the anthem.

The protests became more widespread at the start of the 2017 season after President Donald Trump said NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem. In the games following Trump’s comments, more than 200 players kneeled while other teams linked arms in solidarity.

The protests are not confined to just the NFL. Soccer players and WNBA players have protested by kneeling or by staying in the locker room during the national anthem. Major league baseball player Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland Athletics knelt during the anthem, while NHL player J.T. Brown of the Tampa Bay Lightning raised his fist while standing on the bench during the national anthem.

Although the protests have generated controversy, they have also started conversations over racial discrimination, police brutality and freedom of expression.

This is not the first time athletes have used the world of sports to make a stand over social issues.

Protest at the 1968 Summer Olympics

Extending gloved hands skyward in racial protest, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City on Oct. 16, 1968. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman is at left. (AP Photo) (Credit: Public Domain)

At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised a fist while the national anthem played during their medal ceremony. The gesture was viewed as a “Black Power” salute and became front page news around the globe. The athletes stated they were there to express African-American strength and unity, protest black poverty, and remember victims of lynching.

On October 17, 1968, the International Olympic Committee convened and determined that Smith and Carlos were to be stripped of their medals for violating the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit.

Forty-nine years later, that moment at the Olympics continues to reverberate through sports.

Learn more about the current national anthem protests as well as the historical context by visiting SIRS Issues Researcher and eLibrary. Not a customer? Free trials are available.

Recent Supreme Court Decisions Offer Primary Sources on Leading Issues

Educators, do you and your students need primary source materials on current controversial social issues? Look no further than SIRS Knowledge Source’s U.S. Supreme Court feature. SIRS editors hand-select Supreme Court decisions based on their relevance to student research and support of SIRS Leading Issues. Users can access Supreme Court cases via the Supreme Court feature in the Government Reporter product, or in the Advanced Search feature in SIRS Knowledge Source by choosing the Primary Sources tab in article results (All available primary sources will appear in the search results).

SIRS Knowledge Source Advanced Search Screenshot via SIRS Issues Researcher

The Court’s most recent term, which concluded the last week of June, saw quite a few compromise decisions since the Court operated without a ninth justice for most of the term. After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, the Court was left with only eight justices for 14 months while the White House and Congress battled over its membership. But in April, President Donald Trump’s first nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed and joined the Court to create a conservative majority.

Current Supreme Court Justices. Front row, left to right: Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Back row: Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. (Credit: Franz Jantzen, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States) [public domain]

While there were not a lot of high-profile cases, the Court nevertheless handed down some important decisions involving freedom of religion, gay rights, capital punishment, treatment of prisoners, property rights, free speech, child protection laws and election law. Below we highlight some of the decisions from this term, and their relevance to SIRS Leading Issues topics.

* Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools (Feb. 22, 2017): The Court ruled in a case involving the use of a service dog by a child with cerebral palsy that a student or their family can sue a school district over a disability issue without exhausting all administrative procedures under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

(Related Leading Issue: Education Policy)

* Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 (March 22, 2017): The Court decided that schools can’t settle for minimal academic progress by students with disabilities.

(Related Leading Issues: Autism, Education Policy)

* Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc. (March 22, 2017): The Court determined that designs on cheerleading uniforms can be protected by copyright law.

(Related Leading Issues: Cheerleading, Copyright Infringement, Sports)

* Moore v. Texas (March 28, 2017): The Court ruled that the outdated medical standards used by the state of Texas to determine that a convicted murderer was not intellectually disabled and thus eligible for execution violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, as well as Supreme Court precedent.

(Related Leading Issues: Capital Punishment, Treatment of Prisoners, Mental Health)

* Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman (March 29, 2017) The Court decided that the New York General Business Law was not unconstitutionally vague under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

(Related Leading Issues: Freedom of Speech)

* Cooper v. Harris (May 22, 2017): The Court determined that North Carolina’s new congressional districting plan constituted an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

(Related Leading Issues: Racial Discrimination, Elections, Government Ethics)

* Sessions v. Morales-Santana (June 12, 2017): The Court determined that disparate citizenship rules for children of unwed mothers and fathers violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

(Related Leading Issues: Illegal Immigration, Immigration)

* Matal v. Tam (June 19, 2017): The Court ruled that the government can’t reject trademarks that might be disparaging or offensive to some people.

(Related Leading Issues: Controversial Mascots, Ethnic Relations, Freedom of Speech)

* McWilliams v. Dunn (June 19, 2017): The Court decided that an indigent defendant whose competence is a significant issue at trial is entitled to a psychiatric expert, who is independent of the prosecution.

(Related Leading Issues: Criminal Justice, Death Penalty/Capital Punishment, Mental Health)

* Packingham v. North Carolina (June 19, 2017) The Court ruled that the North Carolina law prohibiting registered sex offenders from accessing various websites, where minors are known to be active and have accounts, regardless of whether or not the sex offender directly interacted with a minor, violates the First Amendment.

(Related Leading Issues: Freedom of Speech, Social media, Child protection laws, Convicted felons)

* Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer (June 26, 2017) The Court decided that the exclusion of churches from an otherwise neutral and secular aid program violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion.

(Related Leading Issues: Freedom of Religion, Church and State) 

* Pavan v. Smith (June 26, 2017) The Court ruled that an Arkansas statute that precludes both names of a same-sex married couple from being listed as parents on a child’s birth certificate is an unconstitutional discrimination, considering the Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which legalized same-sex marriage.

(Related Leading Issues: Gay Liberation Movement, Same-sex marriage, LGBT rights, Human Reproductive Technology) 

U.S. Supreme Court Conference Room via U.S. Supreme Court [public domain]

Each case in SIRS Knowledge Source’s U.S. Supreme Court feature includes a full-text PDF version of the opinion, as well as a concise and easy-to-understand summary explaining the question before the Court and its decision. Cases can be browsed by subject heading, topic, by Constitutional Article and Amendment, or alphabetically. You can also find biographical information on current and past justices, a reference article that explains the role of the Supreme Court and its history, a full-text version of the U.S. Constitution with amendments and historical notes, a list of supplementary references for students and educators, and more.

The Supreme Court’s upcoming term for 2017-2018 began on October 2, and the justices have already agreed to hear 33 cases. These cases involve immigration (President Trump’s controversial travel ban); more gay rights issues (a showdown between religious freedom and state anti-discrimination laws); government surveillance (the use of cell phone location records by police without a warrant); election law (a state’s attempt to clean up its voter rolls, and another election redistricting case); and gambling (sports betting at casinos and racetracks); among others.

Stay tuned for decisions in these important cases, and keep SIRS Knowledge Source in mind when you need easy access to primary source material for lesson plans or student research.

Don’t have SIRS Knowledge Source at your school or library? Free trials are available.

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Fact Sheet: U.S. Teens, Politics, and Information Literacy

This is the latest in a series of posts on teaching controversial political issues to students. The previous post in this series discussed how educators can choose controversial political issues ethically.

In December 2016, the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research polled 13- to 17-year-old U.S. teenagers on politics and government, civic engagement, and information literacy. Here is an overview of the results:

Politics and government. Overall, teenagers have a pessimistic view of U.S. politics and government. About 8 in 10 believe the nation is divided on important values. Many teenagers find little commonality with those who are different from them, such as people who live in other geographical areas and people in other political parties. Additionally, a majority of teenagers have negative views on the system and functioning of government, including how political leaders are chosen and the ability of government to solve problems. Despite teenagers’ pessimistic views, over half believe that the American dream still exists, and most have positive or neutral views on the future of the country.

Civic engagement. Teenagers have a high level of civic engagement. In fact, almost 9 in 10 teenagers have taken part in at least one civic activity, the most popular being volunteering and raising money for a cause. Fewer teenagers are involved politically, perhaps unsurprisingly given their age and their views on politics and government. A majority have never expressed their political beliefs online, and a whopping 88 percent have never participated in a protest, march, or demonstration (though this may have changed some given the high number of protests, marches, and demonstrations in recent months).

Information literacy. A majority of teenagers reported learning about information literacy skills in school, but a sizable number of teenagers said they have not. One-third had never discussed how to evaluate the trustworthiness of online content. Some 40 percent never discussed the value of evaluating evidence used to support opinions. And 42 percent never discussed how to find varying social and political viewpoints online.

There are some lessons to be learned from this poll. First, civic engagement is high among teenagers, but this fails to translate into political participation. Educators should focus on teaching students how they can be a part of the political system and effect change. Second, teenagers believe that they have little in common with those who are different from them. Educators can help break down barriers and close this empathy gap by exposing students to different people, ideas, and viewpoints. And third, too few students are learning the necessary information literacy skills, especially as they relate to cyberspace. With the spread of fake news, educators should prioritize strengthening information literacy skills for the digital age.

Stay tuned for more posts in this series on teaching controversial political issues to students.

Subscribe via email to Share This and never miss a post.


SIRS Issues Researcher is a pro/con database that helps students understand today’s controversial political issues with editorially selected analysis and opinions that cover the entire spectrum of viewpoints.

Don’t have SIRS Issues Researcher? Free trials are available.

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