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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

The PillThe film The Pill and this companion Web site offer insights into topics in American history including advances in science and medicine, contraception, eugenics, social engineering, population trends, government involvement in legislating social behavior, conflicts between religious values and societal trends, feminist activism of the 1960s, twentieth century women's movements, women's changing roles in society, women and work, the evolving relationship of the medical profession to the lay public and the growth of the pharmaceutical industry. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into 4 categories: history, society, geography, and civics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.

Geography | Civics | History | Society

1. Read about the Comstock laws. Find out what laws your state had against the sale and/or advertisement of contraceptives as of 1960, the year the FDA approved the Pill for sale. Then choose one other state and find out its laws on this matter as of 1960. (For example, you might want to find out about the laws of a neighboring state, a state in which you lived previously, or a state that you believe would be particularly likely or unlikely to have strict laws on contraception.) How do the two states' laws compare? What factors -- such as the religious background of the state's residents -- might contribute to any differences you see in the two states' attitudes toward contraceptives?

2. Visit the Web page of the CIA World Factbook that lists the fertility rates of various countries. Begin by reading the explanation of the fertility rate at the top of the page. Then divide the countries equally among the students in the class. Students should list the name and fertility rate of each country they were assigned on separate "stickie" notes and then attach these notes to a wall map of the world in the appropriate countries. When all students are done, each student should examine the completed map and write a paragraph that briefly describes what patterns he or she sees in fertility rates around the world.

Geography | Civics | History | Society

1. Hold a class debate on the following questions: "Should public schools make contraceptives available to students? If so, should students seeking contraceptives be required to obtain their parents' consent?" The class will be divided into three groups: one that opposes making contraceptives available to students, one that favors making contraceptives available but only with parents' consent, and one that favors making contraceptives available with or without parents' consent. Each student should imagine that he or she is the parent of a school-age child and should join whichever of the three groups best expresses the position that he or she, as a parent, would take on the issue. Once the three groups have assembled, they should discuss among themselves the best arguments in favor of their position. Then the class should debate the two questions.

2. In the 1990s a new method of contraception was introduced: Norplant, which consists of rods surgically implanted in a woman's arm that release a hormone to prevent pregnancy for up to five years. Because Norplant works automatically and yet can be reversed by a doctor, legislators in some states have proposed that certain categories of women be required or encouraged to use Norplant. Proposals have been made to require women to use Norplant as a condition of receiving welfare, to require women convicted of drug abuse or child abuse to use Norplant, or to reduce penalties for female drug offenders who agree to use Norplant.

Hold a mock legislative hearing to discuss one of these proposals. First, vote as a class to decide which proposal to examine and how it should be worded. Then select one group of students to serve as members of a committee of the state legislature and two smaller groups to serve as witnesses for and against the proposal. Each group of witnesses should prepare its arguments and then have a spokesperson present them to the committee; committee members may question the spokespersons after their presentations. Following both groups' presentations, the committee should debate the proposal and then vote on it.

Geography | Civics | History | Society

1. Divide the class into seven groups and assign each group one of the following topics:

Have each group research their topic and prepare a five-minute presentation for the class on its importance in the history of contraception in the United States.

2. Read about the Comstock laws. The Comstock laws are a prominent example of what is often termed "legislating morality." Another example is Prohibition, the outlawing of the sale of alcoholic beverages, which (thanks to the Eighteenth Amendment) was the law of the land in the 1920s and early 1930s. If you are unfamiliar with Prohibition, find out about it using the Internet or the library. What similarities do you see between the arguments made in favor of Prohibition and those made in favor of the Comstock laws? What similarities do you see between the arguments made against Prohibition and against the Comstock laws? In your opinion, does the fact that both Prohibition and the Comstock laws have been repealed proved that "legislating morality" is unwise? For example, do you believe that existing laws against narcotics should be repealed?

3. Read about the roots of the Pill, women's roles in the 1950s, and the Pill and the sexual revolution. Using the information in these readings and the film, write a brief essay that explains (a) why the Pill was a milestone both in the women's rights movement and in the sexual revolution, and (b) in which of these two areas you believe the Pill has had a more important effect.

Geography | Civics | History | Society

1. Divide the class into three groups and assign one group the era before the sexual revolution, the second group the sexual revolution itself, and the third group the post-sexual revolution era. (For the purposes of this activity, regard the sexual revolution era as approximately 1960-1980, or from the introduction of the Pill to start of the AIDS epidemic.) Each group should make a presentation to the class on how attitudes toward sexuality during its era can be seen in various areas of mainstream popular culture, such as books, magazines, films, television shows, or popular songs; each group must present at least three examples that were produced or take place in that era and that reflect the dominant attitude toward sexuality during that time. (All examples must be approved by the teacher before the group makes its presentation.) Groups might want to include visuals or even play musical excerpts as part of their presentation. Once all three groups have made their presentations, the class should discuss how views of sexuality have changed over time.

2. As a class, create a chart that lists the various methods of birth control -- including abstinence -- and the advantages and disadvantages of each. A good place to begin is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration article, Protecting Against Unintended Pregnancy: A Guide to Contraceptive Choices. In evaluating each method, be sure to consider not only its ability to prevent an unintended pregnancy, but also its ability -- if any -- to protect against the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

3. From a current or recent movie, television show, magazine, book, Web site, popular song, advertisement, or other public source, find one example of a depiction of sexuality that you regard as responsible, and one example of a depiction of sexuality that you regard as irresponsible. (In choosing your examples, you might consider questions such as whether individuals are presented respectfully, whether individuals are unhealthily thin, and whether violence is shown or implied.) Show or describe these examples to the teacher and explain the reasons for your choices. If the teacher approves the choices as appropriate for class discussion, describe or show them to the class. After all of the presentations have been made, discuss as a class whether students agree with the examples that were presented.

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