Critical Thinking About Love and Legislation in Middle School


Don’t miss out on the educational value of talking about LOVE with middle schoolers! All manner of (1) critical thinking, (2) content knowledge and (3) socio-emotional skill building opportunities rolled into a topic that students are truly interested in. For middle school teachers, what’s not to like??

I recently visited a 7th grade classroom where students were reading and discussing Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a novel set in Seattle that explores family relationships, cultural identity and LOVE during WWII and present day. Henry, a Chinese American boy, and Keiko, a Japanese American girl fall in love at a time when they are not supposed to.

The 7th grade students in this class look so young, yet they are the same age as the main characters Henry and Keiko who first meet in elementary school. What do 7th graders know about Love? What do they think about “forbidden love” and do they understand who has the power to forbid it? I pose some questions.

hotelHow did the United States government get in the way of Henry and Keiko’s love?

They tell me about Keiko and her family being sent to an interment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The students talk about the government’s lack of humanity and deep-seated prejudice against Japanese people. They talk about what can happen in wartime and how soldiers fighting in Europe were not the only people affected by WWII.

Do you know of any other time in U.S. History when our government has ruled against LOVE between people?

There’s a long silence. I scan the earnest faces and can tell they want to know the right answer and proudly share it with me, the class visitor. I can see them thinking. A girl finally raises her hand. “Do you mean, like, how women couldn’t vote?”

Have any of you ever read this book? 

5133bjGD1iL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I hold up a copy of Selina Aiko’s The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage, and the students peer at the cover. No one has seen this book before, but a couple of kids start talking about how people of different races at one time weren’t allowed to get married. There’s a flurry of comments, a bit of confusion and the treasured excitement of students making a connection. (Isn’t that the moment when most teachers realize why they teach?!)

I read a few short excerpts from the book and then ask how the experiences of Richard and Mildred Loving compare with those of Henry and Keiko. The students make lots of good connections, noting differences and similarities, relieved to be doing their job as students. There is a strong consensus that not letting people of different races marry was a terrible law. The class is surprised that is was only 45 years ago that the Supreme Court overturned anti-miscegenation laws. (We wrote that word on the board.)

Do you know of any other time when the Government has forbidden LOVE between different kinds of people?

“Gay people,” says a boy sitting in the back row. “My moms couldn’t get married when I was little but now they can.” Several other students nod their heads, and someone says, “Oh yeah…that’s right. That just happened last year. The Supreme Court made a ruling.” I hold up a copy of The Harvey Milk Story by Kari Krakow and David Gardner.

Do you know who Harvey Milk is?51B5XPJKWVL

“I’ve heard the name before…” one student offers tentatively. The reality is that none of these smart, well-educated seventh graders knows who Harvey Milk is or what he might have to do with the Supreme Court’s historic 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. “Without Harvey Milk,” I say, “it’s unlikely that the Supreme Court would have ruled in favor of this kind of Love.” The 7th graders are taken aback when they learn that Milk and the mayor of San Francisco were assassinated in 1978 for standing up for the rights of gay people. “Assassinated?” one of the more vocal students says. “Why haven’t we heard about this before?!”

What a plethora (another vocabulary word!) of educational opportunities here. Take your pick from these 35 Dimensions of Critical Thought.  I count at least 15 that we utilized during our 30 minute discussion.

I haven’t even shared the SEL focus of our final 10 minutes, when I asked them about their own LOVE relationships. Sure there were some giggles but not a yawn in sight, and plenty of participation and good will. For middle school teachers, what’s not to like??


A. Affective Strategies

•    S-1 thinking independently

•    S-2 developing insight into egocentricity or sociocentricity

•    S-3 exercising fairmindedness

•    S-4 exploring thoughts underlying feelings and feelings underlying thoughts

•    S-5 developing intellectual humility and suspending judgment

•    S-6 developing intellectual courage

•    S-7 developing intellectual good faith or integrity

•    S-8 developing intellectual perseverance

•    S-9 developing confidence in reason

B. Cognitive Strategies – Macro-Abilities

•    S-10 refining generalizations and avoiding oversimplifications

•    S-11 comparing analogous situations: transferring insights to new contexts

•    S-12 developing one’s perspective: creating or exploring beliefs, arguments, or theories

•    S-13 clarifying issues, conclusions, or beliefs

•    S-14 clarifying and analyzing the meanings of words or phrases

•    S-15 developing criteria for evaluation: clarifying values and standards

•    S-16 evaluating the credibility of sources of information

•    S-17 questioning deeply: raising and pursuing root or significant questions

•    S-18 analyzing or evaluating arguments, interpretations, beliefs, or theories

•    S-19 generating or assessing solutions

•    S-20 analyzing or evaluating actions or policies

•    S-21 reading critically: clarifying or critiquing texts

•    S-22 listening critically: the art of silent dialogue

•    S-23 making interdisciplinary connections

•    S-24 practicing Socratic discussion: clarifying and questioning beliefs, theories, or perspectives

•    S-25 reasoning dialogically: comparing perspectives, interpretations, or theories

•    S-26 reasoning dialectically: evaluating perspectives, interpretations, or theories

C. Cognitive Strategies – Micro-Skills

•    S-27 comparing and contrasting ideals with actual practice

•    S-28 thinking precisely about thinking: using critical vocabulary

•    S-29 noting significant similarities and differences

•    S-30 examining or evaluating assumptions

•    S-31 distinguishing relevant from irrelevant facts

•    S-32 making plausible inferences, predictions, or interpretations

•    S-33 giving reasons and evaluating evidence and alleged facts

•    S-34 recognizing contradictions

•    S-35 exploring implications and consequences


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