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Equal Protection: A Historic Perspective of Educational Opportunity in America

Created by:
Meg Sartain
Greater Egg Harbor Regional

Christopher Neely
Greater Egg Harbor Regional

Madeline Avery
Greater Egg Harbor Regional

Latinos in America

Grade Level:
9 to 12


The purpose of this WebQuest is to familiarize students with relevant court decisions concerning the interpretation of the "Equal Protection Clause" of the 14th amendment. This should enable some discussion of the need for and consequences of the struggle for advancement and full citizenship, particularly by Latinos, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans in the twentieth century.

Historical Context

One recurring theme of American history is the struggle to expand opportunities. Although the Declaration of Independence included reference to "unalienable" rights, many groups have faced significant obstacles in their effort to share in that aspect of the American dream.

In the wake of the Civil War the national government attempted to expand opportunities for some by passing the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Some state governments, particularly in the South, resisted this change, however, and social, legal and political inequities persisted between people of different races well into the twentieth century.

One arena that has often been used to measure opportunity is access to education. Societies that deny education to sectors of their population usually restrict other opportunities for advancement as well.

This Webquest allows students to explore what events, laws and people have shaped access to educational opportunities in the U.S. during the past century.


constitutional principles including federalism and judicial review, equality of opportunity, rule of law, citizenship, and democratic change

Goals and Objectives:

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

1.Understand the historical progression of equal opportunity in American education.

2. Appreciate that the U.S. Constitution is a living document open to interpretation.

3. Identify the concepts of federalism and judicial review.

4. Collect data and compile it into chart form.

5. Utilize information to form and test hypotheses.

6. Express their comprehension and analysis in via verbal presentation.


6.1.12.A.14.b - Analyze how the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to define the rights of the individual, and evaluate the impact on public policies.

6.1.12.A.4.d - Judge the effectiveness of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments in obtaining citizenship and equality for African Americans.

6.1.12.D.4.e - Analyze the impact of the Civil War and the 14th Amendment on the development of the country and on the relationship between the national and state governments.

6.1.12.A.13.b - Analyze the effectiveness of national legislation, policies, and Supreme Court decisions (i.e., the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Equal Rights Amendment, Title VII, Title IX, Affirmative Action, Brown v. Board of Education, and Roe v. Wade) in promoting civil liberties and equal opportunities.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

Computer with Internet access

Student handouts (generated via the WebQuest page "Judicial Webquest" located at http://sites.google.com/site/judicialwebquest/home)

Details of Activity

PART I: Warm-up/Engagement (10 minutes)

Have all students stand. Explain that at different periods in history, not all students had access to free public education. Groups excluded in the twentieth century included children of illegal aliens, and in the late nineteenth century African Americans and many immigrant communities (Irish, Italian and German). Before the Civil War, even girls were not guaranteed a public education in all states. As each group is mentioned, have students who would have been affected sit down. Who is left standing? Students should discuss this form of exclusion and the reasons it took place.

PART II: Complete the Quest (60 minutes)

Divide students into groups and give them time to explore "Judicial WebQuest" (located online at http://sites.google.com/site/judicialwebquest/home). Ask them to read the "Introduction" section, and focus on the "Task" and "Process" which required that each group explore the impact of different Supreme Court cases on public education access:

Plessy v. Ferguson

Gong Lum v. Rice

Mendez v. Westminster

Brown v. Board of Education

Background material is provided for each court case, and teachers should facilitate as needed.

PART III: Judicial Impact (60 minutes)

Students should debrief the class based on their findings within their groups. The rubric included in the Webquest can facilitate in evaluating their performances.

Practice and Reinforcement

Students could be asked to connect the "Separate but Equal" findings of the Plessy case to the concept of Civil Unions offered to same sex couples.

Students could be asked to reword portions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 based on their understanding of history to date.

Students could discuss the concept of exclusion from public education based on their newly acquired understanding of the "Equal Protection Clause." Should anyone be excluded from access to public education?

Please see web references below.

Web Links:
This Webquest offers a view of democratic change.

Full text of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Full text of the New Jersey Civil Union Act.

For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here