The unit will begin with students reading primary sources such as letters from survivors of domestic violence, state and federal laws, judges’ rulings on domestic violence (DV) cases, research papers, and Temporary Protective Orders (TPO). This will show students the many methods that can be used to prevent abusive relationships, the injustices and justices surrounding laws pertaining to domestic violence, and the need for more protections for victims and survivors. Students will then write letters to their local congressmen and women and local judges letting them know about the challenges survivors face within the legal system. This will not only allow students to practice their persuasive and argumentative essay skills, but will also make them more informed about their rights and duties as citizens. Students will research how to contact these community leaders so they can take ownership of their own citizenship. Finally, the students will display a clothesline gallery for their peers and community, thus giving voice to the silenced victims and survivors of domestic violence. The material for this unit will be primary sources from Georgia State’s Special Collections Women’s Collections. Students will be given the opportunity to study actual letters.
To be sure, critics of this unit may argue that the unit is too mature for high schoolers, it does not address violence against men in abusive relationships, it is not academic enough, or it is heterosexist.
We believe that many adolescents will begin to develop habits and test out the ways power functions in different types of relationships during their teenage years. These habits will set the tone for their relationships in the future. It is important that students learn about domestic violence and how to address it before these habits are solidified. We also believe that opening a discussion about relationship violence will allow teens to start discussing what is appropriate behavior in their own lives; they can start to address what they expect, how they respect, and how to handle a situation when it starts showing signs of violence. This unit should provide ample time for confidential discussion and reflection.
We believe this unit is not just about domestic violence but also about power. Much of modern literary criticism centers on power structures; post-colonial, feminist, and post-modern criticism are examples of this. Giving students a foundation for how to discuss power structures through this unit will prepare them for literary theory in later scholastic discussion. One power structure that is pervasive through all cultures is that of men and women. Men have had power throughout most of history, and the structure persists into modern day. Students should be given the opportunity to see this on a local level -in intimate relationships- in an effort to understand the broader social implications of a pervasive power structure. As Linda Christensen says in her book Reading, Writing, Rising Up, “Our society’s culture industry colonizes [the students’] minds and teaches them how to act, live, and dream” (40). She wants “students to wrestle with the social text of novels, news, or history books, they need the tools to critique media that encourage or legitimate social inequality” (41). The lessons learned in this unit will provide students with those tools and allow them to question the “loving” relationships in such famous novels as Farewell to Arms and In the Lake of the Woods -- providing them a framework to understand underlying violence and control that is not written about explicitly.
Students will also be given examples of research papers that use empirical evidence to support claims. Students will learn how to write such papers and how persuasive they can be. This will not only give students the opportunity to cite these papers in their letters to community leaders, but also give them a model for writing research papers in future scholastic endeavors. An example of a particularly persuasive and well-cited research paper students will have access to is “Prisoners of Abuse: Domestic Violence and Welfare Receipt” by Jody Raphael, a director of the Taylor Institute for Research. Students will be asked to assess the validity of research papers, primary sources, and government documents to hone their skills in selecting resources for citation.
While this curriculum may seem heterosexist and in denial of battered men, the reality is that in most cases of domestic violence men abuse women. It is a stance of feminist scholars such as David Adams1 that battering women “serves to create and maintain an imbalance of power between the battering man and the battered woman” (21) The pro-feminist model sees it as “essential to challenge the sexist expectations and controlling behaviors” (23) of batterers. Rather than denying that abuse occurs in homosexual relationships or against men, students can be given the opportunity to discuss the similarities and differences between violence against women and other forms of violence. Once they have read the primary sources, they will be well informed about the topics and can choose to enter into debates about why or why not violence against women is a matter of subjugation. This will teach them how to have informed, congenial conversations about a serious subject matter using primary source documentation to substantiate their opinions2.
1. David Adams says this in his article, “Counseling men who batter: a profeminist analysis of clinical models.”
2. A guide for how to lead student run debate can be found in the chapter “The Craft of Questioning: Questions That Students Ask” in Making the Journey by Leila Christenbury (255).
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Special Collections & Archives
Georgia State University Library
100 Decatur Street, SE
Atlanta, Georgia 30303-3202
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