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Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers

Freedom of Religion Freedom of Religion — Essential Readings

The following Essential Readings are available below:

  • Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and Socratic Questioning
  • Teaching About the United States Supreme Court
  • Study About Religions in the Social Studies Curriculum

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and Socratic Questioning

prepared by the National Education Laboratory

The Role of Questioning in Problem-Based Learning
The use of open-ended, probing questioning when initiating and perpetuating inquiry into the ill-structured problem is a key component to the success of the PBL experience. A strategy known as Socratic questioning is designed to elicit a wealth of ideas and facts from any group. When using Socratic questioning with younger audiences, considerable patience, coupled with a warm and inviting classroom atmosphere is essential. Socratic questioning promotes synthesis of information into discernible categories of “fact” and “opinion.” This strategy will attempt to:

  • raise basic issues
  • probe beneath the surface
  • pursue problematic areas of thought
  • help participants discover the structure of their own thoughts
  • help participants develop a sensitivity to clarity, accuracy, and relevance
  • help participants arrive at judgments based on their own reasoning
  • help participants note claims, evidence, conclusions, questions at issue assumptions, implications, consequences, concepts, interpretations, points of view, . . . all considered to be the elements of thought (Paul, 1993)

While it is difficult to establish a concrete format for questioning within a variety of circumstances, Socratic questioning includes a taxonomy of questions that may be utilized diagnostically as the teacher/facilitator moderates discussion and verbal inquiry. The categories are as follows:

  • Clarification
  • Probe assumptions
  • Probe reasons and evidence
  • Reveal differing viewpoints and perspectives
  • Probe implications and/or consequences
  • Used for responding to questions

Even young children can appreciate the value of listening skills and respecting the views of others. Participants involved in the PBL experience must be willing to:

  • listen carefully to each other, and take the issues and comments seriously
  • thoughtfully reflect on the issues and look beneath the surface
  • look for reasons, evidence, assumptions, inconsistencies, implications and/or
  • consequences, examples or counter-examples, and respect other perspectives
  • seek to differentiate knowledge from beliefs (facts from opinions)
  • maintain a “healthy” level of skepticism, or play “devil’s advocate”
  • remain open-minded, and not allow themselves to “shutdown” when the views of
  • others do not match their own


Taxonomy of Socratic Questions
The following table has been adapted from: Paul, Richard, Critical Thinking: How to Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing World, 1993.

The taxonomy of Socratic questions, created by Richard Paul, is not a hierarchy in the traditional sense. The categories build upon each other, but they do not necessarily follow a pattern or design. One question’s response will lead into another category of questioning not predetermined by the teacher/facilitator. In keeping with the PBL philosophy, this aspect of the model is most conducive! The role of the skilled teacher/facilitator is to keep the inquiry “train on track,” but, also, to allow the students to “travel to a viable destination” of their own design.

Teaching About the United States Supreme Court

by Sarah E. Drake and Thomas S. Vontz

The Supreme Court is one of the most important institutions in the United States. Thus, social studies teachers should emphasize the significance of the Court in our nation’s history. This ERIC Digest highlights the origin and foundations of the Supreme Court, discusses the changing role of the Supreme Court in the United States, and recommends World Wide Web resources helpful in teaching and learning about the Supreme Court.

Constitutional and Statutory Foundations of the Supreme Court
The majority of the men who met in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787 agreed on the need to create a more powerful central government. Concurrently, however, many of the delegates feared the abusive power a new national government could wield. During the ratification struggle, James Madison, in “Federalist 51,” emphasized the necessity of providing for “auxiliary precautions” to limit governmental power. The judicial branch was designed in part to exercise such precautions on the legislative and executive branches. At the same time, the framers placed checks on the judiciary in order to ensure that no single branch would dominate the others.

The judiciary was the least discussed branch of government at the Constitutional Convention, and Alexander Hamilton in “Federalist 78” later referred to the Supreme Court as the “least dangerous” branch of the proposed national government because it possessed neither the power of “the purse” (legislative power) nor that of “the sword” (executive power). The debates surrounding the Court’s creation reveal a broad consensus that the federal judiciary shall have jurisdiction in all cases pertaining to the Constitution, federal statutes, and treaties. The delegates provided for the Supreme Court to have original jurisdiction only in cases involving “Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party.” In all other cases under its authority, the Court was granted “appellate jurisdiction” (Article III, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution). In addition, the convention delegates agreed that Congress would be empowered to establish inferior courts (Casto 1995, 14).

The Philadelphia delegates granted the President power to make judicial appointments and required the Senate’s approval for such appointments. Supreme Court justices were to be appointed for lifetime tenure “during good behavior” to create an independent judiciary that would act to preserve a limited government and the rule of law.

After ratification of the Constitution and subsequent implementation of the new government, Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789 to establish and organize the federal judiciary. This federal statute established two lower levels of federal courts: 13 federal district courts at the lowest level and three circuit courts at the next level to hear appeals from the district courts. The Supreme Court was affirmed as the highest court of appeals in the federal system. The Judiciary Act of 1789 also provided in its Section 25 that the federal judiciary would have the power of judicial review over actions of state governments. Thus, acts of state governments could be nullified if they violated the United States Constitution or federal laws and treaties that conformed to it.

The Changing Role of the Supreme Court in the United States
The U. S. Supreme Court met for its first session in February 1790. During the first decade of the Court’s existence, the justices had a light caseload (Casto 1995, 54-55). Under John Marshall, who became Chief Justice in 1801, the Court enhanced its authority and increased the power of the federal government at the expense of the states. The most famous case during Marshall’s tenure as Chief Justice, Marbury v. Madison (1803), provided an opportunity for the Court to exercise judicial review about actions or laws of the federal government. Judicial review, or the power of the federal courts to determine whether acts of state governments or the national government are constitutional, was first directed at the state level in Ware v. Hylton (1796); the Supreme Court declared a Virginia statute void because it violated the 1783 treaty with Great Britain. In 1803, the Marshall Court for the first time declared a federal law unconstitutional.

The scenario for Marbury v. Madison (1803) began during the final days of President John Adams’s administration, when he made several “midnight appointments” to the federal judiciary to ensure that the Federalist party agenda would not be totally overturned by the newly elected President, Thomas Jefferson, and his Democratic-Republican party, which held a majority of seats in the Congress. Adams appointed William Marbury, among others, to serve as a justice of the peace in Washington, D.C. Some of Adams’s last-minute judicial appointments, including that of Marbury, were never delivered. When Thomas Jefferson assumed the presidency in March 1801, he ordered his Secretary of State, James Madison, to ignore the commissions. Marbury subsequently took his case directly to the Supreme Court and asked it to issue a writ of mandamus to Madison. The writ of mandamus would order the Secretary of State to carry out his duties by delivering Marbury’s commission to him. Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 gave the Court power to issue a writ of mandamus in cases under its original jurisdiction.

Study About Religions in the Social Studies Curriculum

prepared by the Religion in the Schools Committee and approved by the NCSS Board of Directors, 1984. Revised by the Curriculum Committee and approved by the NCSS Board of Directors, 1998.

National Council for the Social Studies, in its Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, declares that:

Human beings create, learn, and adapt culture. Culture helps us to understand ourselves as both individuals and members of various groups. Human cultures exhibit both similarities and differences. We all, for example, have systems of beliefs, knowledge, values, and traditions. Each system is also unique. In a democratic and multicultural society, students need to understand multiple perspectives that derive from different cultural vantage points. This understanding will allow them to relate to people in our nation and throughout the world. 1

Institutions such as schools, churches, families, government agencies, and the courts all play an integral part in our lives. These and other institutions exert enormous influence over us, yet institutions are no more than organizational embodiments to further the core values of those who comprise them. Thus it is important that students know how institutions are formed, what controls and influences them, how they control and influence individuals and culture, and how institutions can be maintained or changed. The study of individuals, groups, and institutions, drawing upon sociology, anthropology, and other disciplines, prepares students to ask and answer questions such as: What is the role of institutions in this and other societies? 2

Omitting study about religions gives students the impression that religions have not been, and are not now, part of the human experience. Religions have influenced the behavior of both individuals and nations, and have inspired some of the world’s most beautiful art, architecture, literature, and music. History, our own nation’s religions pluralism, and contemporary world events are testimony that religion has been and continues to be an important culture influence. The NCSS Curriculum Standards for Social Studies state that “Students in social studies programs must study the development of social phenomena and concepts over time; must have a sense of place and interrelationships…; must understand institutions and processes that define our democratic republic…” 3 The study about religions, then, has “a rightful place in the public school curriculum because of the pervasive nature of religious beliefs, practices, institutions, and sensitivities.” 4

Knowledge about religions is not only a characteristic of an educated person but is absolutely necessary for understanding and living in a world of diversity. Knowledge of religious differences and the role of religion in the contemporary world can help promote understanding and alleviate prejudice. Since the purpose of the social studies is to provide students with a knowledge of the world that has been, the world that is, and the world of the future, studying about religions should be an essential part of the social studies curriculum. Study about religions may be dealt with in special courses and units or wherever and whenever knowledge of the religious dimension of human history and culture is needed for a balanced and comprehensive understanding.

In its 1963 decision in the case of Abington v. Schempp, the United States Supreme Court declared that study about religions in the nation’s public schools is both legal and desirable. Justice Tom Clark, writing for the majority opinion, stated: In addition, it might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religions or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historical qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, where presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistent with the first Amendment.

Series Directory

Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers


Produced by State of the Art, Inc., in collaboration with the National Council for the Social Studies and the Center for Civic Education. 2003.
  • ISBN: ISBN: 1-57680-679-0