What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

How the Kavanaugh saga became a teachable moment for schools

Before last week's Kavanaugh hearings, our Student Reporting Labs asked teenagers around the country: should adults be held accountable for actions when they were younger? In some schools, a weighty conversation about consent, assault, allegations and consequences was already underway. Now William Brangham talks with Education Week’s Evie Blad about the new urgency around this teachable moment.

Read the Full Transcript

Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, how some schools are dealing with a very difficult questions surrounding consent, assault, allegations and consequences.

    That conversation was happening prior to the claims made against Judge Kavanaugh. But, as William Brangham tells us, this new information, this new situation has given momentum to what some see as a teachable moment.

    It's the focus of this week's education segment, Making the Grade.

  • William Brangham:

    In a minute, we will look at the different ways that schools are grappling with this moment in time.

    But, first, let's hear from some students.

    Before last week's hearing with Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, our own ®MDNM¯Student Reporting Labs asked teenagers around the country this question, should adults be held accountable for the things they did when they were younger?

    Here's some of what they had to say.

  • Jalyn Haynes:

    As a teenager, you're always told how what you do now can affect your future. So I think accountability is really important.

  • Bridger Stoddard:

    I think once that they have paid the consequence, then should just move on from it and it should be over with.

  • Beatrix Bautista:

    During your teenage years, you're more prone to, like, make mistakes and learn from them. But it does depend on, like, the severity on the mistakes that you do take part in as a teenager.

  • Zachary Gephart-Canada:

    I think that a big part of being a teenager is doing irresponsible things that probably are not in our best interest in order to learn and grow from them.

  • Jared Miskin:

    I do believe that some of the actions, some of their major life choices that they make as teenagers, they should be held accountable for.

  • Henna Punjabi:

    When it comes to things like rape allegations and drug possession and DUI, those things stay with you for life for a reason. And I think that those things, we should bring up later.

  • Eneida Weinman:

    This generation is more aware of protecting their brand, because we have social media, unlike my parents' generation, where they could do something and it not be documented or seen by everyone in the school.

  • Hunter Dest:

    Social media, literally, like, everyone finds out about everything, so nothing's technically ever gone.

  • Terry Clayon:

    As teens, we got to watch what we post, because you reap what you sow, and then it can eventually come back on you later.

  • Patrick Phillips:

    Say, you're getting a job. Like, they can look on your Facebook and see all that stuff you post and think, hey, it's not the person I want to hire.

  • William Brangham:

    Those were students from across the U.S. interviewed by the NewsHour's Student Reporting Labs.

    How schools and administrators and teachers deal with this event is a whole different issue.

    And here with me now is Education Week's Evie Blad.

    Welcome back.

  • Evie Blad:

    Thank you.

  • William Brangham:

    So, this is a very fraught moment for the country. And I'm curious what your reporting is showing as, how are schools handling this?

  • Evie Blad:

    It's obviously a very divisive issue.

    And it's one that students bring their own personal experiences, the things they're hearing from their family and friends and their own understanding of the news and events to the table.

    It fits in with the context of civics education conversations that had been pretty intense in the last couple of years, as students have been more engaged with the news and with a really divisive political climate.

    It also fits in with this understanding of the MeToo movement, which folks had hoped that students would be listening and personalizing some of the conversations about consent and power and decision-making. But this is one of the first big high-profile stories in recent years that has centered on behavior that took place when both the alleged assailant and the alleged victim were in high school.

    And so, in some ways, students can relate to it and personalize it a lot more easily.

  • William Brangham:

    I was really struck in the reporting about how, during the course of the hearings, when they were being televised, that calls to sexual violence hot lines went up, by one account, almost 200 percent.

    And I'm curious, has that happened at the schools as well? Have children been somehow moved by this to say, I'm now going to share my own story?

  • Evie Blad:


    We talked to some victims advocacy groups who said, it's a little too early to tell exactly how this is affecting women in certain groups or people in general.

    But there are groups that are trying to kind of capitalize on this moment, trying to use it to take — to help students to personalize, think about and process issues like consent. They started a hashtag called #MeTooK12. They're encouraging people to share their stories about experiences they had when they were younger.

    And some of the biggest learning for students that's happening about these issues is not discussing the allegations specifically against Judge Kavanaugh, but some of the secondary stories that are coming out of it.

    When the president tweeted recently that he believed that Dr. Ford should have or would have shared those allegations with police when she was younger, there was a hashtag #WhyIDidntReport circulating on Twitter…

  • William Brangham:


  • Evie Blad:

    … that talked about some of the barriers and some of the reasons that this can be a really complicated issue for victims.

    And that could be a teachable moment for students.

  • William Brangham:

    Obviously, we live in a very diverse country, different religious traditions, different cultural values.

    How does — I mean, when you talk about the issue of consent in particular, do schools teach that as part of a sex ed curriculum?

  • Evie Blad:

    What schools teach in America about sex education is a really varied patchwork.

    A lot of what is decided about what is taught in the classroom is set by state mandates. And states have very different ideas about what schools should teach, what they should be prevented from teaching, and what decisions should be left up to them.

    There is a growing movement to focus less on specific behaviors, contraceptives, and things like that, and to focus more broadly on decisional — decision-making and developing a personal ethic.

    And there are some conversations about consent that are coming into play, having students discuss real-life situations, the difficulties of the decisions they may face, the impact of those decisions.

    And there are some states that are really moving forward with some — some new mandates. And California, for example, a couple of years ago created a law that requires schools that teach sex ed in K-12 and to teach affirmative consent, which is basically yes means yes, rather than no means no.

  • William Brangham:

    In every school?

  • Evie Blad:


    But that is far more progressive than some states' policies, which are a little more restrictive, because there's a social climate in some areas that says, this is more the role of the family.

  • William Brangham:

    Back to the Kavanaugh-Blasey Ford hearings.

    Do you know, did schools actually run the hearings? Did they show them in class? Did they show excerpts? What did your reporting show in that regard?

  • Evie Blad:

    There wasn't a universal response. But we heard from some teachers who said this was sort of an unavoidable news moment.

    And so some of them showed clips of the hearings in their class to have discussions. Some of them allowed students to livestream it and allowed some…


  • William Brangham:

    Just on their phones even?

  • Evie Blad:


    And then a lot of them are having conversations about, how did we get to this moment? I think there's a lot of assumptions among older adults about what they're bringing to the table in how they think about the Kavanaugh hearings.

    We heard from a school in San Francisco that was having actually a teach-in on Anita Hill. And we're hearing schools talking about the gender balance in the Senate, and some less controversial issues that aren't related to sex and consent that are related to, say, the separation of powers.

    We have got all three branches at play here. And there are some basic questions that students can toss about in their mind. Why is the Supreme Court so important? Why are people so emotional about it? What does it mean when a party has control of the Senate? What would it look like if this confirmation hearing were happening when the president and the Senate were of different parties?

  • William Brangham:

    Evie Blad of Education Week, thank you.

  • Evie Blad:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment