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 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

CrazyLottie Sat 11-May-13 01:19:47

I don't think it's a bad thing to educate students on matters such as abortion.

gloucestergirl Sat 11-May-13 01:23:45

I think that it was good to get both boys and girls to think about it. It is so easy to ignore and pretend that getting pregnant happens to other people.

AgentZigzag Sat 11-May-13 01:24:18

What's made you think about an exam question you had 8 years ago?

It's unusual, most of people have forgotten the questions before they've crossed the road outside the exam room.

HoveringKestrel Sat 11-May-13 01:25:48

But to judge on the responses they give? The concept is good, but not everyone would have responded so well. Do you not think it was ill judged?

HoveringKestrel Sat 11-May-13 01:26:47

I remember it because it was my A-Levels and was the only A I got.

TheChaoGoesMu Sat 11-May-13 01:26:58

I don't think the education board are judging you. Its just about how well you debate a topic that counts? No?

HoveringKestrel Sat 11-May-13 01:30:11

Maybe the debate argument is correct, but it was general studies.....not philosophy.

ravenAK Sat 11-May-13 01:31:25

Which exam board was it?

HoveringKestrel Sat 11-May-13 01:34:36

AQA I think. Bare in mind it was general studies, so everyone had to take it!!

AgentZigzag Sat 11-May-13 01:38:03

Is it that you're asking whether an exam question ( 8 years ago confused) put the girls taking it at a disadvantage because it was a subject they might have to face in the future?

That they would be too overcome with emotion at the thought of an abortion and what they would do, they were unable to put the points they wanted to make across as well as you did?

It's a bit odd because you've not linked it to anything relevant happening now, in 2013, how it's affecting you/the girls in the exam/wider society.

It's like it's been needling you for 8 years and you've suddenly decided to explore why they chose that particular question.

TheChaoGoesMu Sat 11-May-13 01:42:44

Does it matter that it was general studies rather than philosophy? Surely its still just about looking at every angle of a subject and discussing it? Isn't that what education is about? Getting you to think round the subject matter?

ravenAK Sat 11-May-13 01:44:43

Well, no. It's compulsory in some Sixth Forms to study GS as an enrichment subject (in which case you may as well come out with a qualification), but many Universities don't count it, so the sky would not have fallen if you'd chosen not to attempt that paper.

Why does it make a difference that you're male?

HoveringKestrel Sat 11-May-13 01:46:51

No AgentZigzag I think you have me slightly wrong. I'm not worried how that exam question effected a community, nor am I a saint who is arguing the injustice.

I just think, in retrospect, it was slightly inappropriate.

I got an A so I didn't suffer for it.

But since growing up, I can't help but think it was a slightly idiot topic to judge people on.

Because surely there is no ultimate right answer.

ravenAK Sat 11-May-13 01:48:45

In English Language GCSE, the texts chosen for the Non-fiction paper are deliberately uncontroversial - to the point of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

This is so that no student is disadvantaged in demonstrating their ability to understand/summarise/discuss language use by finding the subject matter alien to their experience, or, alternatively, triggering.

GS is supposed to teach critical thinking & debate of a topical issue.

Also, it's an examination set by adults, in a non-compulsory setting.

ravenAK Sat 11-May-13 01:49:23

sat, not set! Although hopefully set by adults too.

HoveringKestrel Sat 11-May-13 01:49:34

----I should explain that the other option was to discuss a car advert (with illustration) and discuss gender equality.

HollyBerryBush Sat 11-May-13 06:04:04

Those who take language to A Level have to research and understand everything about a place in the country they are studying. I mean everything, from national to local politics, education, health, demographics, labour force, conscription.

The oral examiner may just fling in something bizarre such as 'what effect have teenage pregnancies and abortion rates had in Vladivostok compared to a wider Russia?'

The French A2 oral conversation, choice by candidate, included "the effects today of Nazi Germany and X concentration camp on the province of Y". That was the candidates themed topic. If felt sorry for the oral examiner TBH because the 17yo candidate knew his stuff inside out and it would have been a grim conversation!

What right does the education board have to give that to 18 year olds and judge them????

The examiner isn't judging their morals, but their ability to rationalise, discuss and persuade.

RedHelenB Sat 11-May-13 06:07:28

I think you've missed the point about General Studies - it's not about right or wrong answers but by being well informed and able to present a point of view.

RedHelenB Sat 11-May-13 06:09:21

So someone could argue abortion is terrible or a woman's right & each would get an A as long as they recognised the other point of view and could counter it.

maddening Sat 11-May-13 06:27:46

What has brought this to your mind now so long after the question?

AuntieStella Sat 11-May-13 06:48:06

What was the actual question itself?

raisah Sat 11-May-13 07:51:29

Its not a bad topic to ask a question on as it such an emotive subject which has the ability to divide public opinion. The examiner is looking at the candidates ability to critical analyse the topic, a skill needed for further study. Critical thinking skills is lacking amongst many UG students nowadays.

Booboostoo Sat 11-May-13 07:59:16

I teach philosophy (admittedly at HE level but the point is exactly the same) and that includes a huge number of extremely controvercial issues such as abortion, euthanasia and other wider moral and political issues. The whole point of the assessment is to judge the person's reasoning skills in arriving at their conclusion rather than the conclusion per se.

So in a simplistic world where the question was "Is abortion right or wrong?" (questions are usually much more nuanced), the correct answer is not "yes", "no" or even "maybe", but rather the demonstration of clear reasoning, awareness of the literature, ability to express one's own view, an understanding of how one's own view relates to other views, critical response to objections, etc. If you look at the marking criteria you will see they list thinks like 'clarity', 'independent thinking', etc and not 'agrees with examiner's personal view on topic' or similar!

Dawndonna Sat 11-May-13 08:01:12

Under exam conditions, the right answer is an equal and balanced argument. At A level I wouldn't expect a definitive answer either way, however, if your argument is balanced and backed up with empirical evidence, I would consider giving it a reasonable mark. It's not about who agrees or disagrees, it's about the construction of the argument, how well it holds and is presented and whether or not it is backed by evidence.

As lots of posters have said, they were not judging your conclusion, but your reasoning and ability to get there.

I teach RE and my year 11's will answer questions on abortion in their GCSE exam next week. No one is judging whether they agree with it or not, they need to see that they can look at both sides of the argument, evaluate religious views and come to a conclusion. It's the ability to do that that is being looked at.

manicinsomniac Sat 11-May-13 09:17:44

Nothing wrong with discussing it academically at 18, surely?

I came across it younger than that. My GCSE RE syllabus centred around Christian, Muslim and Societal views of marriage, divorce and abortion as far as I can remember.

I don't think that was a problem either.

CloudsAndTrees Sat 11-May-13 09:18:55

At A level age, I can't see the problem. My ds has discussed the ethics of abortion in RE in Y8. From what he said it was a very tame (at a boys only school) but I think it's good to get them developing and questioning their views on these things.

ubik Sat 11-May-13 09:21:26

It's not what you say

It's how you say it

They are looking fur a well structured coherent, balanced essay. It is not looking for a right answer.

carabos Sat 11-May-13 09:35:01

Gosh haven't things changed? In 1981 my GS A level essay was about trains...

TheseFoolishThings Sat 11-May-13 09:37:37

You know when you read an OP and it just leaves you scratching your head and wondering WTF..................?
Yeah - that just happened to me.

hiddenhome Sat 11-May-13 09:39:02

I think this is a stealth boast because you got an A isn't it? grin

Fluffypinkcoat Sat 11-May-13 09:54:42

I kind of agree with you, OP. I think it could have been very difficult for a girl who had had to make that decision and weigh up the different sides of the debates making the choice for herself to then have to go and relive that debate as part of an exam. Especially when colleges don't always make students aware that it isn't a compulsory exam (our college told us the opposite!).

And its not an exam sat by adults. Plenty of us at my college were 17 when we sat ours. Summer babies.

Chunderella Sat 11-May-13 09:54:48

Actually I can see OPs point. Odds are it would have been triggering for at least someone. Thousands of students sit that paper every year, usually of an age to have been fertile for perhaps half a decade. Some of them will have had abortions. It seems more likely that a female would find this upsetting than a male, though I accept that some men might also have abortion trauma eg if a partner had a termination that they disagreed with. Its possible to come up with controversial topics to discuss that aren't so likely to be triggering. When I did mine in 2002, it was the royal family. Even raving republicans like moi don't usually find them actively traumatising.

lottiegarbanzo Sat 11-May-13 10:20:01


It's a great topic to ask teenagers to debate because they may have thought about it, many will have strong views and they should certainly be able to say something. Just what you need for a question testing your discursive writing skills.

You seem to have misunderstood what was being tested (which I find really odd for someone able to get an A at A-level). Of course there is no right answer (this isn't GCSE multiple choice FFS!), yet there is a lot to say on both sides and any student should have some awareness of the range of views and be able to consruct an argument that acknoweldges this.

I wrote an essay on abortion for GCSE English at 15. I'm not sure if I chose that topic from a list of possible discursive titles, or if we all did it. I do recall arguing passionately pro-choice, spurred in part by knowing my English teacher was a pro-life Christian, with whom I also discussed (argued) the topic in the margins of lessons. I got some argumentative comments and an A. Great practice for that type of writing (and at least I knew what I was being assessed on).

Dawndonna Sat 11-May-13 10:22:31

lottie What did you write for your Spanish? wink

But that's why they set it, because there is no right or wrong answer, to see how you could debate it, and obviously you managed it well.
I think mine was about conscientious objectors. I think they put questions that students (particuarly 16 and 17 year olds who are very opinionated ) will have a passionate view on, to see if they can out their beliefs/opinions to one side and argue for both views. I teach re and citizenship and we do the same, its not what their opinion is, its if they can see it from more than one side and argue effectively.
I also think there is absolutly nothing wrong with giving students emotive subjects to talk about, it helps them to develop their opinions and be compassionate to others.

lottiegarbanzo Sat 11-May-13 10:41:50

Ha grin

Just came back to veer wildly off topic - but, a school friend did have an abortion at 15 (and could have chosen the other question in your example, if she hadn't wanted to address the topic at a broad, discursive level - quite different from writing an account of a personal experience) and what did outrage me was the poor quality of personal and social education we were offered.

We had some PSE lessons about how babies develop at exactly the time she was arranging her abortion. I asked the teacher in a slightly oblique way (probably not very then) whether she would cover anything about uwanted pregnancy and options available. She looked at me blankly, stuttered a bit and said no. The idea that this might be relevant for any pupils, or her responsibility to discuss seemed very far from her awareness.

Btw, OP, you put your point is a way that sounds as if it based in genuine concern and a spirit of discussion and I do appreciate that experience of looking back at school events a few years later and thinking 'really? how did that happen without anyone challenging it? How very odd'. A thought though is, have you considered one possible interpretation of this sort of concern, which is that girls are too wrapped up in their emotions and reproductive experiences to function intellectually in a reliable way? I know you didn't mean that at all but, if I was writing an essay on the desirability of certain exam questions, I might throw it in as an example of the sort of old-fashioned view that once denied girls equal access to high quality education.

somedayma Sat 11-May-13 11:01:42

so there were 2 questions options? What's the problem then? confused

We used a test with a similar discussion topic as practice in class (possibly the same one, I did my A Level exams in 2007), and our coursework was on teen pregnancy/parents. I thought that they were really good to discuss really, I came from an area where both were common occurrences yet they weren't really spoken about, so it gave us a chance to talk about something that we otherwise were positively encouraged to ignore (in an area with the highest teen pregnancy rate outside of a city only a few years before!)

I remember feeling very relieved at having a teacher who was encouraging us to discuss our feelings and thoughts of both teenage parenthood and abortions and then to debate it a week or so later. I was put on the team that had to debate being for parents of a teen girl being informed if she had an abortion, it was really bloody difficult but got me to focus on the debate rather than the subject, which is why they choose controversial topics!

In my school not everybody had to take it and we had a choice between General Studies or Critical Thinking to take for a term before dropping one if we wanted too.

MrsHoarder Sat 11-May-13 11:20:07

I think I can see where the OP is coming from. Some of the girls sitting that exam may well have had an abortion in less than ideal circumstances and have found that exam question triggering. Even if they didn't answer it its a bit much to throw it in front of them without warning in an exam (already a stressful situation).

I didn't do GS (my college made it compulsory but I didn't want to go and rightly judged that I was highly unlikely to be thrown out due to wider academic record) so would like to know if topics such as abortion were discussed in the class leading up to the exam?

GCSE RS included abortion and other sensitive topics, but my teacher always warned us when a new sensitive topic was coming up in the next lesson with an offer to come and talk to her beforehand (and get a library study pass) or in the lunch break straight after the lesson if you wanted to discuss the topic in confidence. At the time I thought she was a bit over-soft but now I see her point. And a topic which has been discussed in the class and is known to be likely to be one of the exam questions is a lot less "sudden" than a this is a topical subject question.

complexnumber Sat 11-May-13 11:26:21

OP, you managed to mention the fact that you got an A at an A' level 3 times in 6 posts!

I think you are being patronising to believe that an 18 y/o male is more able to 'cope' with such an issue than an 18 y/o female.

I, too, think you have missed the point of the exam entirely, and I can't help but think it's a little bit weird that you should be dwelling on it 7 years later (you remember what the other questions were about?!)

Move on.

TheBigJessie Sat 11-May-13 11:32:02

I see the OP's point, actually.

I was doing a past paper in another subject, a bit ago, and one of the questions involved a made-up problem page. One of the imaginary correspondents was a new widow. My teacher winced, and said that she was glad her colleague, then presently in a very similar position to the correspondent, hadn't had to deal with that paper.

That said, abortion is actually a topic on the specification for General Studies, so it isn't entirely out of the blue, is it?

Chunderella Sat 11-May-13 11:45:52

I really can't see how it's being patronising or old-fashioned to suggest that an emotive topic that affects women more than men is likely to be more triggering for women than men. We know that some women do find abortion a traumatic experience. To fail to recognise this may well disadvantage women, it won't disadvantage men.

I went back to collage, as a mature student. My question was on legalising prostitution. Lots of topics are triggering, I was on a "drugs awareness" course and one of the students had to leave the room when a documentary was being shown, because her parents were heroin addicts. Abortion is an excellent subject to show of your ability to rationalise your view point and compare and contrast that with the opposing view, as long as there are two choices of topic, so not to put a student at a disadvantage, then no subject matter should be taboo.

ImperialBlether Sat 11-May-13 11:50:54

This is the strangest post I've ever read! OP, you didn't have to answer that question, did you? There was a choice. Therefore, anyone who had gone through an abortion could have answered the other question.

Do you really think examiners are judging you in that way? They have a markscheme and your marks are allocated according to how you match what's on there.

lottiegarbanzo Sat 11-May-13 11:58:11

What could be construed as patronising (and I don't think the OP meant this but do think he should give it some thought), would be to suggest that young women are not able to detach emotionally, sufficiently to engage in intellectual discussion, thus some topics may be considered off-limits to them. Thus they cannot roam free in a challenging intellectual environment in a way that men can.

Of course there may be topics that are considered too 'emotionally triggering' for young men, as a class of people, to be included on an exam paper (interesting thought experiment, that).

There are of course all sorts of topics that could be upsetting for all sorts of individuals. Finding a way of dealing with that mentally, is part of developing maturity, both personally and academically. In the latter case it is a fundamental part of what it is to address a subject in an academic way, so a core academic skill.

MrsHoarder Sat 11-May-13 11:59:11

So it is discussed in class first? I'd say that's ok then. The way the op read was like they'd just picked any controversial topic at random.

Chunderella Sat 11-May-13 12:07:12

I very strongly disagree lottie. And would go so far as to say that actually, the idea that its wrong to make reasonable accommodations for women and expect them to behave like men is damaging to women. And let's be clear, in expecting women not to find abortion triggering you are expecting them to behave like men, simply because it is more likely to be triggering for women than men. Incidentally, I did think about whether there would be a topic that could be equally emotionally triggering to young men. Circumcision was the only one I could think of, though not sure that's the same thing really. Either way, I wouldn't put that one on there either.

Oh and the people who keep saying you don't have to take general studies, as though that's some kind of suitable response, need to have a good strong word with themselves. Women ought not to access the education they want if they don't want to deal with triggering? Fuck that! The problem is with posing questions that are more likely to disadvantage women than men, not women who have abortion trauma wanting to take an A level!

lottiegarbanzo Sat 11-May-13 12:16:19

There was a choice of questions, there's your accommodation.

I do expect the vast majority of 18-yo women not to find an academic disucssion of abortion 'triggering' as most haven't had one. To be denied the opportunity to tackle a question on such a juicy ethical topic, because I'm a woman, would be outrageous.

So, I'd have chosen that question, anyone uncomfortable with it would have chosen the other one.

Chunderella Sat 11-May-13 12:21:44

Pretty piss poor accommodation given that you'd have to read it first- plenty of time for triggering.

And yes, probably the vast majority of 18 year old women won't find an abortion discussion triggering. The point is that it is likely that more of the will than men. This means there is an exam question that is more likely to disadvantage women than men, and there's nothing the women can do to mitigate this risk other than not be women or limit their education to avoid it. That is what is truly outrageous. It is perfectly possible to test a student's ability to debate and tackle controversial questions without picking something that, because it is more likely to disadvantage women than men, is sexist.

FreyaSnow Sat 11-May-13 12:22:46

My son has covered the topic in RE. He is not doing the morals and ethics module at GCSE, so will not be examined on it, but presumably other pupils will. I have two issues with it:

1. The topic is generally taught in terms of a set of arguments about whether abortion is right or wrong. Pupils are expected to present both sides of the argument and then express a supported view of which is right or wrong. That is setting an Overton window on acceptable views that should be discussed. It is similar to if pupils were asked whether or not it is acceptable to imprison people from the UK for being gay. Why should that discussion even be had? We live in a country where abortion is legal as is homosexuality. DD's RE class has covered the topic of if homosexuality is ethical. Why teach people that we should consider not supporting those laws? Why not choose another topic? It is not being taught as a historical topic of no longer acceptable views like witch trials.

I read DS's essay and asked why he'd covered the points he did. He told me they were meant to cover both sides of the argument. They had been told there were no right or wrong points of view, but DS said the teacher didn't really believe that as a pupil had asked if it was then acceptable to say the Holocaust was okay, and she was sent out of class.

2. The topic is solely about the bodies of women. There is no topic taught, as far as I'm aware, that only applies to men. So we are choosing to focus on judging women and are not choosing to offer a topic that is primarily about judging men. There are many topics about ethics that could be taught that apply equally to everyone.

I'm sure many people disagree with me on what is an unacceptable view. I'm not saying they shouldn't be allowed to express them. I just don't see why their views are given some kind of rubber stamp of approval by being discussed as opposing acceptable views in school.

lottiegarbanzo Sat 11-May-13 12:34:09

Actually I've written an essay on abortion in the last couple of months (come to think of it!) as part of an OU course. The task was to assess the success of a particular analogy. There was no alternative option for that assessment, wich counts towards my final mark.

Did I consider for one moment that, as a grown up woman who's had all sorts of reproductive experience, both happy and difficult, and known a lot about other people's, I should be given the option of a question with less potential personal resonance for women? Was I shocked that a more gender-neutral topic had not been selected? Do I think for a moment that anyone studying at this level should be given dispensation for an inability to tackle an academic question by engaging with the, very unemotional, material presented in an appropriately academic way? No, no and no.

And yes, I am proud to consider myself a feminist and would be outraged about something that actually denied women access to education, like declaring certain topics of limits to them. There's a world of difference between expecting women to exhibit the same characteristics as men, which certainly could be built into the way educational courses are constructed, and declaring whole subject areas off limits because a few people might find a topic sensitive.

TheBigJessie Sat 11-May-13 12:47:19

lottie was that an at home TMA, though?

Lots of things, which can be discussed in an academic context, can be extremely triggering, and that's worse in an exam than at home. For example, there's a fair amount of poetry about bereavement- parents, children, siblings, spouses.

I would not be happy about an unseen poem on that subject in an literature exam, for example. Even if there's a choice of poems to discuss, the candidate (male or female) may already be in tears after beginning to read the one about bereavement!

TheBigJessie Sat 11-May-13 12:50:46

I think the big question here is: is abortion in the specification? I assumed it was, earlier. Did all the candidates actually attend a General Studies lecture course, or were they just enrolled on the exam? Would everyone have been aware that it could come up?

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Chunderella Sat 11-May-13 12:53:02

Oh well lottie, since it's all about you that's fine. As long as you can write about abortion without being triggered, there can be no issue. Clearly your right not to have any limitations on what exam questions you answer is much more important than other women's right not to be disadvantaged by their gender in further education.

Now I'm sure most women would be ok writing about abortion, I could write a fucking good essay on it myself. However, we have here a topic that will inevitably disadvantage more women than men, I assume that is agreed? So if you think that isn't a problem, you have no problem with women as a group being comparatively educationally disadvantaged, totally avoidably, because of being women. Because that is what this does. It's not like abortion is an essential part of the General Studies exam, either. I managed to get an A level in the subject without writing on abortion, as did many thousands of people who took the same paper.

FreyaSnow Sat 11-May-13 12:54:01

Lottie, you're not at school though. You made a choice as an adult to do that course. The fact that you feel happy to study that and make that choice is solely about you, not women as a group. You're not somehow better than women who don't want to study that, or get to make that judgement for them. People sign up to study all kinds of highly emotive subjects at university; that is their choice. My friend studies ritualistic murder of minors. I wouldn't study it or expect it to be a topic examined in school.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

TheBigJessie Sat 11-May-13 13:00:43


Did you have any idea that those topics could come up?

complexnumber Sat 11-May-13 13:00:52

FreyaSnow I had never come across the 'Overton window' notion before, thank you for that.

However, I wonder if such a window, however wide it may be, needs to exist in order for rational discussion to exist.

Recently a 16 y/o student of mine gave a presentation to the class that related to arranged marriages, she was discussing her subjective feelings towards being told she was now engaged by her grandparents, against her objective view.

It was jaw-dropping stuff, dealt with in a way that I cannot imagine many involved 'grown-ups' would manage.

FreyaSnow Sat 11-May-13 13:01:08

LF, on your course were you taught that arguing that supporting apartheid was acceptable? If not, I fail to see how the topic is equivalent.

I don't see how choosing a more gender neutral than abortion is dumbing down.

b4bunnies Sat 11-May-13 13:05:06

and your point is?

what a non-issue. the aim of the question is to give students an opportunity to build a case, support it with evidence, probably consider more than one point of view, and reach a conclusion. they can do that on any topic but a controversial one with many recent news examples can be an interesting choice.

this year, as last year, and the year before, Religious Studies GCSE students will answer questions on abortion, including 'Do you agree?' evaluation questions. not because anyone wants to judge their moral standards but simply so that their ability in evaluating arguments for and against controversial issues can be assessed.

FreyaSnow Sat 11-May-13 13:06:07

CN, yes, I don't think we can say some views should never be discussed. But in many situations we end up discussing certain topics and certain views within that topic will have a focus on them, and in a school those should be selected carefully. There is obviously an issue that pupils will change that by discussing personal experience, and the teacher has to respond to that well.

5madthings Sat 11-May-13 13:06:15

I did general.studies and the ethics section etc. This should have bedn covered in classes so pupils will.have known a question on abortion may be in the exam and therefore it shouldnt be totally unexpected.

When i did a level english literature we did some war poetry, the usual ww1 and ww2 stuff but also some more modern/uptodate stuff.

My dad fought in the gulf war and when we were younger we lived in area affected by border disputes so bomb scares and shelling etc and the noise eyc associated with this were part of my childhood. We had to write our own piece if war poetry, i did so and my experienves actually helped me write a really good piece but i did find it emotional. I took myself out of class for a few mins to compose myself.

There are so many subjects that can be triggering for people, we cant not cover them. We can just make students aware if what may come up in the exam so they can prepare themselves.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

lottiegarbanzo Sat 11-May-13 13:20:16

I'm not studying an emotive subject, I'm studying philosophy, that's part of my point, this essay was not on an emotive topic, it was concerned with assessing the academic merits of an analogy, really very dry. Anyone who did have a personal difficulty with any topic covered could talk to their tutor about finding ways round it.

In the OP's case, the students will have covered a range of topics in class and been given an idea of the sort of topics that could be on the exam. Anyone who felt unable to face a question on abortion, or organ donation, or road deaths, or drugs, or violent crime, could have talked to their tutor,
who would presumably have advised them to prepare for questions on a range of other topics, so that if such a question came up, they could answer the other one.

If you take this idea of emotional triggers further, then I'd suggest that more 16 and18 yos will have known someone close die of cancer than will have had an abortion. So no questions on GCSE papers that mention cancer. None on deaths in cars or through drugs perhaps. Unfortunately, facing emotional triggers, based on personal experience, is part of life.

The difference there is we are thinking about the experience of individuals. While issues that really do disadvantage one sex as a class should be addressed, with abortion we are talking about something that will have affected a small number of, female, individuals, not the same thing.

There's a real danger, if you move from considering issues that affect some individuals to applying consideration to one sex, as a class, your consideration becomes a restriction on an entire sex, based on gross generalisation. Not so far from thinking that because one woman suffers very badly with PMS to the extent of needing time off work, all woman are unreliable because they have periods.

FreyaSnow Sat 11-May-13 13:20:59

LF, it isn't equivalent then. Many people will oppose sanctions without arguing that it is okay to subject black people to apartheid. The level of trigger to discussing sanctions is not equivalent to hearing people debate whether apartheid is in principle justifiable.

TheBigJessie Sat 11-May-13 13:21:05

Maybe we have to have questions, which may trigger some individuals, in order to test people's abilities to discuss.

Therefore, people must be prepared! 17-18 year-olds should not be dumped in A-level General Studies exams without any preparation.

complexnumber Sat 11-May-13 13:22:41

"There are so many subjects that can be triggering for people, we cant not cover them. We can just make students aware if what may come up in the exam so they can prepare themselves."

I would hope that we are not just dealing with these issues because they may turn up in an exam, surely it is because they 'turn up' in real life.

TheBigJessie Sat 11-May-13 13:29:09


Like most people, I have had various upsetting experiences happen to me. But I wasn't graded on my ability to write an unexpected essay on it, that had the potential to affect my chance of meeting a university offer, or my job-hunting prospects. I just had to deal with them in the normal way.

FreyaSnow Sat 11-May-13 13:31:04

Lottie, the issue of abortion is not one that only applies to the women who actually have them. It applies to the bodily autonomy of all women, and usually discusses issues around sexual conduct, behaviour during pregnancy etc. My son's lessons included discussion of whether women who don't want to get pregnant should have sex at all. There is no right to opt out of RE for pupils who don't want to cover the topic.

Anybody might get cancer or be in a car accident; those are issues that we all have to consider and we can't avoid teaching children about the link between smoking and lung cancer or road safety. Only women get pregnant and while we do have to teach the facts about pregnancy, abortion and miscarriage in Science, there is no reason to teach a topic in RE which is about whether or not we should reduce the legal rights of only women. There are plenty of topics that don't target one particular social group.

lottiegarbanzo Sat 11-May-13 13:34:32

I think there is a danger of veering blindly into censorship by over-sensitivity and reducing educational quality as a result.

FreyaSnow Sat 11-May-13 13:39:11

All schools censor because there is very limited time in the curriculum to discuss the vast range of ethical issues available. By choosing to study abortion schools effectively censor other ethical issues that are not looked at as a consequence.

If they choose to study issues like abortion and homosexuality, they are choosing to censor a curriculum that would be equal in terms of sexual orientation and gender, by not teaching it.

lottiegarbanzo Sat 11-May-13 13:42:38

Young men are far more vulnerable than young women to death or injury though dangerous driving, violence outside the home, gang involvement and suicide. Four more topics off the curriculum then.

Surely what matters is how topics are discussed, not what topics.

So OP, how does our discussion rate against that in your general studies classes? I'd say you've done well on quantity at least!

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.

jacks365 Mon 13-May-13 12:39:04

I'm afraid chunderella that you come across as an I'm right and you are wrong and these poor women need protecting person. I find that insulting. I have to live in the real world and in the real world abortion is an issue and as such should not be hidden away and ignored. If it has to be faced in real life then it can be faced in an exam, trying to pretend something doesn't exist to protect a small minority of people is positive discrimination.

Chunderella Mon 13-May-13 19:52:12

I'm afraid jacks that as you have only said that I am 'I'm right and you're wrong' and not any of the other people on the thread who have refused to change their minds, it looks rather like it's my stance rather than my disinclination to change it that you object to. And yes, women certainly do need protecting from sexism in education. I make no bones about insisting on that. The idea that this amounts to positive discrimination assumes that the status quo is not in itself discriminatory. And you can't get round the fact that it is, because more women than men will find abortion triggering. Anything that leaves more women disadvantaged, by virtue of being women, is no level playing field. The issues, then, are whether you think this matters and whether you think anything ought to be done to remedy said discrimination.

jacks365 Mon 13-May-13 20:57:18

Chunderella my point is that trying to protect a section of society from real life is discriminatory. We can not wrap people up in cotton wool to avoid topics. Abortion is talked about on the news, some jobs have to deal with it these are real life situations that have to be faced. As long as an alternative is given then i don't see an issue, i find the assumption that i need protecting from something that may potentially affect me as an adult insulting. I can make my own choices in life.

i am not stating i am right and you are wrong but that you are coming across as not considering that anyone else could have a valid but differing view.

I truly believe that trying to put things in place to protect people from a perceived issue such as this has a negative overall effect. What it creates is an atmosphere of poor women need protection and can't deal with real life that has a knock on effect of preventing women from being taken as seriously.

Chunderella Mon 13-May-13 21:30:34

The thing is jacks that some of this isn't a matter of opinion, so I would be totally incorrect to consider that anyone else might have a valid but different viewpoint. Your view that the negatives of ensuring women aren't discriminated against in this way would outweigh the positives is a legitimate one- after all, none of us can ever be sure what the future consequences of doing something will be. Could be that you're right and I'm wrong about that one, yes. And nobody can tell you how to feel. But the suggestion that correcting the discriminatory status quo is in itself positive discrimination flies in the face of logic. Anyone who says that is incorrect, and if I were to suggest otherwise I would be unequivocally wrong.

Additionally, this isn't all about you. The fact that you wouldn't be triggered and disadvantaged by an abortion question is of no help to the people, disproportionately women, who would. Obviously it's up to you to decide whether this is more or less important to you than being perceived as a person who wouldn't find an abortion discussion triggering.

BergholtStuttleyJohnson Mon 13-May-13 21:32:27

Can't be arsed to read the whole thread. I sat that exam too (and got 98% grin). It was the "conflict" paper and was on abortion and euthanasia if I remember correctly. The purpose of it was to test persuasive/discursive writing. There was no right or wrong answers. It could have been upsetting for some students but that could actually have made them perform better if they had a very strong view. The whole point of that paper was that it was emotive topics. What made you think of an exam paper from 2005?

LynetteScavo Mon 13-May-13 21:34:54

The examiner isn't judging their morals, but their ability to rationalise, discuss and persuade.

Exactly this.

But if you were 18, and had just experienced an abortion, I imagine it could either really go in your favour, or against you....depending more on your personality, rather than your academic ability.

jacks365 Mon 13-May-13 21:40:08

I suppose its what's the greater good. Is it right to make allowances for some women and lets be honest we are talking a small proportion in this instance if it has a detrimental effect on the majority.

No in an ideal world all prejudice would be wiped out but unfortunately we are human with faults.

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