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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

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?

LunaticFringe Sat 11-May-13 12:51:47

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.

LunaticFringe Sat 11-May-13 12:56:56

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.

LunaticFringe Sat 11-May-13 13:10:21

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!

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