In 2005, my General Studies A-Level Essay (under exam conditions) was about abortion!!

(107 Posts)
HoveringKestrel Sat 11-May-13 01:15:07

I couldn't believe it. I'm a male but even I was a bit.....wow thats a bit close.....

I ended up getting an A because, thankfully, I will never have that horrible distressing decision to make, and imagined every thought I could think of, both A and B, and explained them, in turn, like it was an internal debate. But I know I will never have such a burdon.

Now I'm 25, I'm suddenly thinking... What right does the education board have to give that to 18 year olds and judge them????

I'm horrified because there could have been girls in that exam room who may have had to make that decision

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

FreyaSnow Sat 11-May-13 13:48:19

LF, I agree with that. Some people are highly triggered by cotton wool. I think the point was that while some men may be highly triggered by abortion, most people triggered by abortion are likely to be women, and so selection of the topic disadvantages women as a group, even if many individual women may be comfortable with the topic.

I didn't bring up the issue of triggers (although I did mention them), because I find it a difficult concept, and it isn't my main concern about discussing abortion as a topic.

lottiegarbanzo Sat 11-May-13 14:31:18

FreyaSnow, your points about topic choice are quite interesting. Isn't the reason many of these topics are chosen, outside history, two-fold; they are contentious, with people holding diverse, sincere views that may affect behaviour in RL and, related to this, laws change. We should never be complacent or assume that our idea of progress will unfold, regression is possible too. Reading The Handmaid's Tale brought that home to me and, while that is fiction, the rise of the Taliban, or religious fundamentalism in the US (and here with e.g. Creationists running schools) is not.

There is probably a third reason, that it's easy to stick with the same old 'classic debate topics', when the interesting thing to do might be to try to identify what topics will become contested within the adult lifetime of the students.

FreyaSnow Sat 11-May-13 15:50:55

Lottiem, yes, I think that teaching pupils about issues because they are rights we may be called upon to defend is a good reason for choosing them. I think that brings up my wider issue with RE which is why we are still teaching it as a subject that gets equal time with Geography or History (I appreciate the Op was talking about general studies, but most teaching on this stuff is in RE). Only a tiny amount of time in RE gets spent on ethical issues. I would rather see the whole subject replaced with something else, perhaps philosophy and human rights. That way pupils would be taught both the tools of reasoning and a wider ethical and legal context to consider these issues in.

Most of the human rights issues my kids study is currently in the Geography curriculum, where it is presented in a much more detailed way, with theory based arguments that require more sophistication to defend or disagree with than the kind of arguments taught in RE. Philosophy or other adjacent disciplines would be preferable to RE or the vagueness of general studies.

cumfy Sat 11-May-13 15:53:04

Well, I hope you answered the question more coherently than this dick.

b4bunnies Sat 11-May-13 18:02:02

FreyaSnow, sorry, you don't know what you're talking about! Or rather, your experience is different from mine.

RE is often taught in one lesson a week, to GCSE, whereas History or Geography would be taught in two, or three. Key Stage Four, for many pupils, is entirely ethical issues, seen from the perspectives of one or more religion/s and including legal perspectives. I refer you to AQA RS B Units 2 and 3. Very popular.

Chunderella Sat 11-May-13 18:25:32

Lottie, you're still missing the point. None of the examples you mention disproportionately affect women students. And none of the ones that disproportionately affect men are things that by definition can only affect men's bodies. So they're not comparable. I'm not sure if there is an equivalent for men, actually, so I don't blame you for not being able to find one.

But if you feel so strongly that students can't possibly take an A-level General Studies paper without dealing with something that will be triggering for some of them, then yes by all means have a section where they must write on cancer or at least read a question about it. That, unlike the abortion question, will not be sexist because it should disadvantage men and women equally.

FreyaSnow Sat 11-May-13 19:12:53

B4b, my children attend different schools and both of them have equal time on RE as they do on Geography or History. One is in KS3 and the other KS4. Fortunately the one in KS4 is doing religion and expressive art module which is at least culturally useful, so doesn't have to deal with religious ethics anymore.

Some pupils may do a lot of ethics at GCSE, but over the entire time together from 5-16, very little of RE is about ethics. When it is about ethics it is either a. primarily about religious ethics or b. secular ethics discussed without any tools of analysis. How useful are religious ethics in a society where most pupils will not grow up to be religious. Wouldn't it be more useful to focus on secular ethics and reasoning through a philosophy course?

b4bunnies Sat 11-May-13 20:00:38

absolutely not. that would be teaching philosophy, not religious studies. i've taught both, to A level, and they are significantly different. both are useful. RS is essential today as in the u k we cannot assume everyone has a western liberal worldview, and we need to know about beliefs that are a strong motivators in people's lives and behaviour.

Maggie111 Sat 11-May-13 20:07:26

There was no right answer. It's an easy question really, I'd have been very grateful - very easy to see lots of pros and cons. Lots of different avenues to take the essay down, turn it into a religious debate if you want to, or a debate of women's rights and so on.

Obviously the people at a real disadvantage are those who hold such firm views on the topic they wouldn't be able to write both sides coherently and then they could choose the other topic.

FreyaSnow Sat 11-May-13 20:44:40

B4b, why do we need to know more about the basis of the beliefs of other people more than our own? Why is it preferable for RE to be compulsory rather than philosophy and human rights? Or do you think that secular pupils will somehow pick up secular modes of analysis in ethics without being taught them? That doesn't happen in any other subject.

And if the purpose is to teach perspectives other than the Western Liberal worldview, wouldn't that be better accomplished by teaching anthropology, of which religion is one part? Or do you believe religious beliefs are more important than other kinds of beliefs each culture holds?

b4bunnies Sat 11-May-13 21:44:44

RE also covers humanism and secular viewpoints. you might wish to re-name the subject 'belief systems' or 'worldviews'. religion matters because it motivates people to accept/not accept the world as it is. philosophy does not do that. i believe, therefore i act; i think too much, therefore i do nothing. grin

FreyaSnow Sat 11-May-13 21:55:12

I doubt many people believe those with religious belief are likely to act and people who follow other philosophical systems of thought do not. If you do, I can see why you would have an interest in teaching to religion to children.

lottiegarbanzo Sat 11-May-13 22:53:48

Chunderella, I haven't missed your point, I just don't agree with you.

I don't think one can avoid topics that may have personal or emotional resonance in some way, in life or in one's studies. Part of learning to tackle an academic question is learning to adopt an element of intellectual detachment. So, if I don't think 'triggering' is something examiners can or should be too concerned about, that applies to all students. Even if twice as many women might experience an unfortunate reaction to a particular question than men, twice as many times zero concern is still zero.

For those who do think potentially emotive issues should be treated more carefully, I find it very odd that numbers affected would not be a concern, as with cancer, only those issues that have a differential effect on the sexes. That might make sense if you were conducting some box-ticking diversity audit but, if you have a real concern for fairness and for the impact of 'triggering' on students' exam chances, that must surely extend to every student disadvantaged and to seeking to implement measures to avoid all such disadvantage.

Essentially we have been talking at cross-purposes. You've been talking about triggering and differential perspectives on issues affecting women's bodies. I was explaining a view that the OP's comments could be construed as patronising and old-fashioned.

There is a very strong historical basis for that view. Until very recently in this country, women were excluded from rigorous eduction of all kinds, then from higher education, then from being awarded degrees even if they'd passed the exams. At every stage paternalistic arguments were employed about what was best for them and what they could cope with. It was believed women's brains were weaker as smaller, that their reproductive organs would shrivel if their energy was redirected to their brains, they'd become social pariahs unable to marry, distracted from reproduction and their natural mode of fulfillment, it was indecent and morally corrupting for them to study certain topics and they would would be irrationally hormonal and emotional so unable to engage with other subjects.

Of course we can see that those were self-serving arguments made by men who found it convenient to keep women 'in their place' but, many of those beliefs and concerns were genuinely held and implemented with the perceived best interests of women at heart. That is why a man saying something that could be construed as 'of course I was all right but I do worry for the poor darlings who might feel all upset facing such an emotive topic, maybe they should only tackle topics someone else has decided are safe for them', however well-meant, can be perceived as patronising and as damning of the ability of women to tackle academic questions in a rigourous way - not necessarily in exactly the same way as an average man (whoever that is) but in a way that uses the knowledge they have to meet the examiners' requirements - as well as seeming to advocate a reduced 'women's syllabus' that puts certain subjects off limits (again). In this a case a topic that's it's particularly relevant for each women to have her own view on and be able to make this heard.

I don't really believe I can possibly have needed to explain that to anyone here but, hey, it's one way of winding the brain down for the night.

tappingonahottinroof Sat 11-May-13 23:25:47

I had to write a balanced debate RE abortion as part of one of my A levels, while pregnant with a baby I had been advised to abort. I was 18 at the time. I managed.

Chunderella Sun 12-May-13 12:17:53

If you think that the examples you offered are in any way comparable to this situation lottie then yes, you absolutely are missing the point.

So let's consider the point you're making. I'm very familiar with the idea that anything other than ensuring women compete on the same level as men is patronising. Probably any of us who attended universities that use the tutorial system and are interested in women and education will be. It's a common enough argument, it's got a logic to it until you interrogate it.

The problem is that when we are talking about education, or really any field where it was male centred for a long time and women have only recently been allowed to enter on anything like a level playing field, that argument effectively assumes that the status quo, the one that was designed around and advantages men, is somehow correct, desirable. Women must adapt to what was created for and by men, anything else is special treatment. Of course, nobody considers that the men are getting special treatment by virtue of the status quo. Well meaning but flawed arguments from people like you, who no doubt identify as feminists and believe they are putting forward pro-woman points, actually feed into this and end up disadvantaging women more. You mean well. But when it comes down to it, yours is an argument couched in privilege. You are able to and indeed want to compete with men on their terms, so the women who can't do so because of their gender are just going to have to miss out. It is not anti-woman or patronising to identify that women don't always do as well as men on an unequal playing field. No doubt men wouldn't do so well if things were reversed. To deny this is to help prevent the playing field from being levelled.

Good for you tapping but that doesn't really tell us anything on a group level.

rabbitlady Sun 12-May-13 18:08:46

teaching to religion to children

wrong again. we don't 'teach religion'. that's for families and faith organisations, perhaps faith schools.

we teach about religion. its different.

lottiegarbanzo Mon 13-May-13 09:01:55

As I said Chunderella, I understood your point but I don't agree with you. Neither did the vast majority of posters on the thread. It is allowed.

In 1985, for my English Language O Level, we had to do a series of essays under exam conditions, each lasting an hour.

7 essays of which the best 4 were put forward by the teachers (cross marked by two teachers) to count for 50% of the marks. They were different types of essays and we had titles in advance so we could prepare notes (1 side of A5 paper, to be handed in with the essay). Types of essays were descriptive, story, etc, and the most contentious was discursive.

The discursive essays were described to us as being a discussion on a subject, where we gave both sides of an argument but had to make clear our own position and reasons why.

From what I can remember we had 5 titles to choose from (and nothing more than the title, you wrote about it however you wanted).

Of those 5 I recall one was about the "woman's place is in the home. Discuss" and one about abortion being a woman's right to choose.

I wrote about abortion, but I wouldn't be surprised if none of the boys did.

Of course, in order to have a decent discursive essay, you need a subject that's going to arouse strong opinions anyway, so looking back I can see why those ideas were chosen for titles. A lot of the things that we might find contentious as adults are things that a 16 yr old will simply not be aware of. But there were 5 different options for each essay, so if abortion was triggering for someone they could avoid it.

We weren't given any preparation in respect of the titles, only prep relating to how to construct a discursive essay.

Chunderella Mon 13-May-13 11:25:07

Nobody said it wasn't lottie and I can't imagine why you would think I'm suggesting it isn't. How bizarre. Also allowed is for people to explain why other people are wrong, even when said people mean well.

jacks365 Mon 13-May-13 11:50:27

Just as its easy to claim that the question disadvantages some women due to being personally affected as it is to claim that it gives women an advantage as they are more likely to have a bit more knowledge as it is more likely to personally affect them.

A question on abortion could be claimed to be detrimental to boys as they would have no personal involvement so not be as fully aware of the arguments for both sides.

While i can understand the argument that some girls could find it a trauma there are also other valid views to take into account too. I personally believe that positive discrimination is harmful to the overall cause of equality.

Chunderella Mon 13-May-13 12:03:06

First of all jack, levelling the playing field is not positive discrimination. Preventing active discrimination is not the same thing as negative discrimination. They are two very different things. Positive discrimination would be setting questions that disadvantage one sex over the other, for example- so actually it is men who are being positively discriminated in favour of in OPs example.

As for your contention that women might be advantaged by an abortion question, no. I assume we all agree that some women who have abortions suffer trauma, and that there will be more women than men who feel traumatised due to personal experience of abortion. There's just no getting round this- it will be triggering for some women, it's inevitable. I do not accept, however, that having been through an abortion will mean that some women will be better at writing essays about it. It may well be that women are more likely than men to be more familiar with both sides of the argument, though not necessarily as there are some women who will have simply grown up with a particular position and not interrogated it. But for the sake of argument, we'll stick to the essay point. Having undergone an abortion makes it more likely that a woman will find the topic triggering, it does not make her better at writing essays about it. So again, not the same.

lottiegarbanzo Mon 13-May-13 12:19:42

You see that's the thing. I don't believe I am wrong. That I am (and most posters here too of course) is merely your opinion.

The new thought I will walk away from this thread with and ponder further is this, (nothing about institutional and structural sexism, which I knew about already) but this; that there is potential for the idea of protecting other people from emotional upset to be used in the same way that protecting others from potential offence is, sometimes. That is, by a vocal minority, convinced that their view of the world is THE view and that they have a responsibility to act on others' behalves, thus patronising everyone else and wasting a lot of their own energy. The potential for 'offence' to be used to shut down discussion has long made me queasy, this is an interesting new variation.

Also, the more I think about it, reflecting on the thread, the more I think covering the ethical issues associated with abortion on an A-level general studies syllabus (so potentially resulting in an exam question) is a really good idea, for a range of reasons.

Students' potential upset about anything, at any age and educational level, is certainly something that should be addressed sympathetically but I believe that restricting the syllabus is not the way to do it.

Thanks for your contribution to my coming away from this thread with food for thought Chunderella. I didn't expect that when I first posted.

cory Mon 13-May-13 12:19:43

Other questions might disproportionately affect other groups. Women/men aren't the only group humanity can be divided in.

My dd's GCSEs in RS and biology both had a section on genetic disorders, new research into genetics and the ethical questions arising from this. DD has a genetic disorder which will affect the whole rest of her life. She has to be prepared to discuss subjects like the testing and selection of foetus with the awareness that one side of the argument will be that people like her should not have been born. This will be similar for a great number of disabled students. Of course it could be traumatic. But genetics is a big part of these subjects: I think it would be wrong not to teach it.

Chunderella Mon 13-May-13 12:29:58

If I have left you thinking that being triggered is in any way the same as being offended or that it can be described simply as emotional upset lottie, then I come away from the thread truly sorry. Both at how wrong you are to think that, and at how I might have contributed to you forming that view.

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