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For Grades 9-12 , week of July 24, 2023

1. DIVERSITY DOWNFALL

The president of Texas A&M University resigned last week after the school’s failed attempt to hire a prominent Black journalist made headlines. Kathleen McElroy is a former New York Times editor who currently runs the journalism school for the University of Texas at Austin. Her work has included research on the relationship between news media and race, and she’s been an advocate for diversity in newsrooms. While McElroy was first offered a tenure-track position at Texas A&M, pushback over her diversity work seemed to gain traction and her offer was reduced to a one-year position, which she declined. University president Katherine Banks resigned shortly after amid the national publicity. Read more about this story in your newspaper or online. Considering the Republican pushback to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives across the US right now, write an opinion article detailing whether you think Texas A&M should have stood by their decision to hire McElroy despite the criticisms.

2. TENSION AT THE EMBASSY

Sweden evacuated its embassy staff in Iraq after protesters stormed the building for the second time, setting fire to the grounds, after an Iraqi Christian refugee was allowed to burn a Quran in Sweden. While disrespecting or intentionally damaging a Quran is deeply offensive in the Islamic faith, Salian Momika stomped on the book outside the Iraqi embassy in Sweden and set a copy on fire outside Stockholm’s main mosque. His form of protest was allowed after Swedish courts ruled that it fell under the country’s legal right to freedom of assembly. Protests broke out in Iraq over the Quran burning. Momika’s actions highlight the difficulties of freedom of speech, expression, and assembly under the law. Discuss whether you think there is a limit to freedom of speech and what types of speech should and shouldn’t be protected. Share your ideas with your classmates to consider different perspectives.

3. NYC SETTLEMENT

New York City settled a civil rights lawsuit with more than 1,300 people who were arrested and/or beaten during protests against racial injustice following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. The city will pay more than $13 million in damages for violating protesters’ First Amendment rights, with each of the plaintiffs being eligible for $9,950. The city argued that the case violated the officers’ qualified immunity, which protects them from lawsuits brought against them for action they took in the line of duty, but the lawyers for the plaintiffs called the arrests the latest “systemic violations” by the police department. Write a short story that summarizes the events in 2020 that led to the arrests that are the subject of this lawsuit and the current facts about the settlement.

4. RUNAWAY SOLDIER

An American soldier, Private 2nd Class Travis King, fled into North Korea where he is now likely detained by the country’s harsh and secretive government. King spent nearly two months in a South Korean prison for assault and was meant to be on a plane home to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he could’ve faced additional discipline for his actions. Instead, he left the airport he was escorted to and joined a tour at a Korean border village in the Demilitarized Zone between the two nations, where he then ran across the border. Read about the history of the Demilitarized Zone in Russia and the other Americans who have been detained in the country. Then, write an article summarizing what you’ve read, including King’s run across the border.

5. COUNTRY CONTROVERSY

A new single from Jason Aldean, “Try That in a Small Town,” and its subsequent music video have ignited controversy over the song’s messaging. Critics of the song say it evokes the mentality of “sundown towns,” the term for communities that threaten or commit violence against people of color. The music video appears to be shot in front of a courthouse in Tennessee that has seen several incidents of racial violence, including the race riots in 1946 and the lynching of a Black man named Henry Choate in 1927. Aldean responded to the criticisms, saying none of the lyrics reference race and the song is instead about a sense of community and taking care of your neighbors. Read the lyrics of Aldean’s new song or watch the music video. Then, write a paragraph describing your reaction to the song and the meaning you interpret from it.

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