Beginning this spring, fair housing will be a topic in the national, state and local government course taken by tenth grade students in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). The centerpiece of the new curriculum is a live student debate that was video taped on April 9 for classroom use.
The tape, No Place Like Home: A Mock Constitutional Hearing for High School Students, features students from eight MCPS high schools who argue the merits of a hypothetical proposed amendment to the United States Constitution that would mandate safe and decent housing for children.
The fair housing curriculum is a collaboration of MCPS, Montogmery County Fair Housing Commission, and Street Law, Inc., a non-profit organization that works to strengthen democracy and justice through education about law, democracy and human rights. Support for development of the curriculum has also been provided by the Interagency Fair Housing Coordinating Group and The Fannie Mae Foundation.
The project was initiated after fair housing tests in Montgomery County in 1997 showed - among other things - that almost 50 percent of African Americans and Latinos face discrimination when they try to buy or rent housing. In addition to other county responses to this evidence of a serious community problem, the county's Fair Housing Plan called for public education about discrimination.
One teacher in each of Montgomery County's 23 high schools is pilot testing the curriculum materials this semester. The two-week curriculum unit includes four lessons in which students examine historical, legal and economic aspects of fair housing. The final lesson features a hearing on the hypothetical amendment to the Constitution. This lesson is the basis for the April 9th event, at which Rockville High School students, joined by Gene Counihan, government relations officer for the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority and former MCPS teacher and General Assembly member, acted as members of the General Assembly. Students from seven other high schools acted as lobbyists for hypothetical interest groups. Students then voted on the amendment issue and discussed additional remedies for the housing problem.
The videotape will air on MCPS cable channel 60 or cable-ready 6 on
Friday, April 9th from 7 to 8 p.m.
Monday, April 12th from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Tuesday, April 13th from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. and 10:00 to 11:00 p.m.
Wednesday, April 14th from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m.
Students at schools around the county will have an opportunity to vote on the issue as well. Countywide results will be tabulated on April 15th and reported back to schools via e-mail on April 16th.
Although there is currently no movement in the United States to push for an amendment like the one debated in the video, the process is designed to help students examine in a systematic and balanced fashion why fair housing matters and how unfair housing practices are harmful especially to children.
For more information about the curriculum, contact Nancy McCullough, MCPS teacher in residence at Street Law, at 202-293-0088 ext. 245 or 301-926-0688.