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For Grades 9-12 , week of Jan. 28, 2019

1. Diversity and the Oscars

The Oscar awards have been given out for more than 90 years to honor achievements in movies. But for many of those years African Americans and other minorities received few nominations. Several years ago, critics put a spotlight on the problem by circulating a hashtag complaining about #OscarsSoWhite. This year, nominations for top honors have a great deal of diversity. In the Best Picture category alone, nominees include “Black Panther,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “Roma,” and “Green Book.” In addition, Spike Lee has gotten his first Best Director nomination for “BlacKkKlansman” and Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón is up for “Roma.” The star of “Roma,” Yalitza Aparicio, is up for Best Actress, and Rami Malek, who is of Egyptian heritage, is nominated for Best Actor for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Best Supporting Actor and Actress nominees include Mahershala Ali for “Green Book” and Regina King for “If Beale Street Could Talk.” “Beale Street,” based on African American writer James Baldwin’s famous novel, is also up for Best Adapted Screenplay with “BlacKkKlansman.” In the newspaper or online, find and read commentary or opinion pieces about the diversity in nominees for top awards in this year’s Oscar competition. Use what you read to write a commentary of your own detailing why you think greater diversity is good for the Oscars — and good for the film industry.

Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

2. Flight for Freedom

In the Middle East nation of Saudi Arabia, the freedom of women is severely restricted. Under the kingdom’s laws, adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel abroad, marry or even work. Eighteen-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun didn’t want to live like that, and went to great lengths to gain her freedom. While on vacation in Kuwait, she fled her family and flew to the Asian nation of Thailand. There she barricaded herself in a hotel room and demanded she be treated as a refugee. With the aid of social media, she called attention to her case and requested asylum in Canada. When her request was granted, she said she looked forward to living “a normal life” and to serve as an example for other women seeking independence. “Today, and for years to come, I will work in support of freedom for women around the world,” she said through a translator. The case of Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun drew wide attention to women’s rights around the world. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about places where women do not have equal rights with men. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor offering ways the United States and other nations could advance women’s rights in other countries.

Common Core State Standards: Producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task; organizing data using concrete objects, pictures, tallies, tables, charts, diagrams and graphs.

3. $57-Million Internet Fine

The Internet and social media have given users a wide array of ways to keep in touch and share information. They also have raised concerns about how they protect the personal data that users enter to gain access. To protect users’ information, nations on the continent of Europe together passed a broad set of rules to protect privacy, and now the nation of France has used them to crack down. French regulators have fined Google nearly $57 million for failing to fully disclose to users how their personal information is collected and what happens to it. In response, Google said it is “studying the decision to determine our next steps.” Internet privacy and the protection of personal data are issues of growing importance around the world. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about these issues. Use what you read to write a short business column outlining threats to privacy and regulations that would provide greater protections.

Common Core State Standards: Writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

4. Hear Her Sing

Singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl is one of the biggest assignments an entertainer can get. And with the game in Atlanta, Georgia, on February 3, it was no surprise that Atlanta native and music star Gladys Knight was chosen for the job. Her decision to accept the assignment has generated controversy in some circles, however. Critics have questioned why she, as an African American, would choose to sing at the event when the NFL has singled out African American players like Colin Kaepernick who have used the anthem to protest racial injustice and police violence. Knight, a legendary rhythm and blues singer with her group Gladys Knight and the Pips, responded to the criticism by noting that at age 74 “I have been in the forefront of this battle longer than most of those voicing their opinions.” She was singing in Atlanta, she said, “to give the Anthem back its voice, to stand for that historic choice of words, the way it unites us when we hear it and to free it from the same prejudices and struggles I have fought long and hard for all my life.” Gladys Knight’s decision to sing the National Anthem has renewed controversy over protests connected to it. In the newspaper or online, read new commentaries about the issue and Knight’s decision to sing in Atlanta. As a class, discuss her decision in the context of the broader controversy. Take a vote on whether she should have accepted the assignment, or not.

Common Core State Standards: Responding thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarizing points of agreement and disagreement; engaging effectively in a range of collaborative discussions; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.

5. No Pop Diplomas

It’s tough being a college-age pop star. So many concerts, so many rehearsals, so many commitments. Especially when you are supposed to be in class. In the Asian nation of South Korea, seven pop stars learned the hard way that you can’t have it all if you cut those classes. They’ve been informed by the nation’s Ministry of Education that diplomas granted them by Dongshin University had been rescinded because the singers had not attended enough classes to graduate. The students had been enrolled at the school between 2010 and 2013. They included six members of South Korean boy bands and a folk-singer. The students all had been enrolled in the broadcasting and entertainment program of the university. Singers and songwriters often use their songs to comment about life. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about a person whose life would be a good topic for a song. Pick a song you like and rewrite the words to tell this person’s story. Or tell the story of the South Korean pop stars who lost their diplomas. Share songs with the class. Perform them if you dare!

Common Core State Standards: Demonstrating understanding of figurative language; applying knowledge of language to understanding how language functions in different contexts.